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Glassing isn’t exactly the hardest skill to master when it comes to hunting, essentially, it’s a giant game of Where’s Waldo. That being said, there are a few glassing techniques you can employ to help take your glassing game to the next level.
First and foremost, get your binoculars on a tripod. Whether your binos cost $200.00 or $3,200.00, you’re going to find more game and be more comfortable while glassing from a tripod. If you need help finding a better set than what you have, start with Binoculars 101.
There are plenty of options as far as how to mount your binoculars to a tripod. In most cases you should be able to use the Outdoorsmans stud and adapter system. Our system is the best on the market as it allows for a quick connect and disconnect and it locks your binoculars onto your tripod when used properly.
The main benefit of using your binoculars on a tripod is that it reduces handshake and any unwanted movement to nearly nothing. In short, this reduction of shake will allow you to pick up even the smallest of movement within your field of view.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been picking apart the landscape and noticed an ear flick or the slight turn of a deer’s head behind some brush; it’s movement like that, that you will not see while hand holding your glass.
Another big benefit that comes with eliminating hand shake is that it reduces eye fatigue. Essentially, our eyes fight extra movement and try to stabilize the sight picture. Over the course of a few hours, this constant battle will result in headaches and eye strain, thus reducing the amount of time you can spend actively looking for game.
The quality of glass you are using does make a difference.
Another huge factor for me is making sure I am in a comfortable position. When I sit down to glass, I plan on being there for a while. You can’t shoot anything if you can’t find it right? So putting myself in a comfortable position is one of my top priorities.
Personally, I try to find a flat rock to sit on, or, if possible, find something that I can lean my back against as this helps to reduce some discomfort over a long period of time.
I also use an Outdoorsmans Glassing Pad. This lightweight pad is super slim and not a burden at all to carry around in my pack. I am able to use this pad flat on the ground or on a rock to add some comfort to long sits. It also helps tremendously if you need to kneel to be able to see above brush. On a side note, I’ve also used my glassing pad as an impromptu shooting bag.
Another great option to help keep you comfortable is a walking stool or a Hillsound BTR (Better Than a Rock) Stool. These little stools weigh about a pound and have a payload of 240lbs.
So now, you’re comfortable, you’ve got your binos on a tripod and you’re ready to start picking apart the landscape. First and foremost, I like to make sure I am in my spot, and ready to glass prior to the sun coming up.
It’s no secret that deer and elk like to move early in the morning and late evening. When I first sit down, I like to hit “hot spots”, places where my experience tells me that I might expect to see game.
At this point, I am not gridding, I am looking at saddles, cuts, clearings, sun/shade lines, thick to clear brush transition areas, as well as open hillsides. This is referred to as Sore Thumb glassing as I am looking for anything that sticks out or is moving. This is helpful because I can move at a little bit of a quicker pace and cover more ground.
As the morning drags on and the sun climbs higher, I start looking at some more high contrast areas, I focus on skylines, or meadows, really, anywhere that color, silhouette or shape pops against the background. Again, I start looking towards transition areas as I am expecting to see deer and elk moving out of the sun and into the shade or towards water or bedding areas.
We’ve all fallen into the trap of “gridding” the landscape, glassing in a systematic grid pattern to try to leave no stone unturned. To be fair, I have spotted animals in this fashion, however, it is hard to sustain your engagement and retention. Instead of gridding, I have been trying to think about glassing a bit differently while pushing through that midday/afternoon lull.
I’ll start by looking at the landscape with my bare eyes. I will locate the canyons, draws, timber patches and where one landform obscures the other. I then look at these areas in my binos and try to pick them apart a little bit. This will help me understand the shape of the landscape and allows me to look for potential travel corridors or bedding areas.
Remember, the land you’re looking at is 3 dimensional, there’s always something that you aren’t seeing. Next, try to get a handle on the scale, and depth of what you’re looking at. Look at landmarks both in and out of your binos.
This helps you narrow down the size and shape of what you’re looking for. Essentially, at this point in the day you’re potentially looking for bedded animals, a lot of the time, that buck or bull is obscured and you can only see an antler tip, or an ear flick. Being able to recognize the size of that ear or antler at distance will help you discern between an actual antler and maybe an antler shaped branch.
Now, this method of glassing requires repeated passes over the land, but it’s more of a targeted search rather than mindless gridding. Now that you know scale, you’ve learned the landscape a little bit, it will be easier to discern between a fallen log or the horizontal line of a deer’s back. This method really supplies the raw material for our best method, empathetic glassing.
Don’t forget about your instincts and your experience. As the sun comes up and the temp starts rising, think about where you might find game, what would deer be doing at this point in the day? As it gets hotter and hotter here in AZ, I tend to start looking for possible bedding areas and water. Then I try to find pathways to a from those areas. What route will they take to get to that timber patch or water hole?
Use your instincts and experience to help narrow down where to look. Try to understand and anticipate the animal’s motivations and tendencies. Ask yourself, if I was an animal, what would I be doing right now? Am I trying to get out of the wind? Into the sun? Feeding? Rutting?
Using your binos, walk through these possibilities, and since you’ve made those initial observations and have a better understanding of the land before you, you’re better equipped to see the landscape through the animals' eyes.
This also helps to sort of predict the future; What will a herd of elk do in two hours as the sun gets lower? Again, walk through those scenarios using your binos. Think about how you would get down to water from a specific patch of timber.
If you were going to get up from your bed and start feeding, how would you move through the landscape? Get a handle on how the wind is blowing down range and use that information to inform where and how you search for game.
I enjoy this method of glassing as it helps to keep me engaged. I am constantly thinking and that helps to keep me from falling asleep in my binoculars.
On that note, I want to briefly mention a product that has really helped me stay focused and retain the information I’m taking in. I always take Edge by Wilderness Athlete when I glass. It really does seem to help me quite a bit and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. I always equate it to reading a book. Sometimes when I read, I’ll find that I have a hard time focusing and by the time I get to the bottom of the page, I have no clue what I just read.
I find the same thing happens from time to time while I glass. I’ll scan across the landscape and, even though I looked over everything within my field of view, I couldn’t describe it from memory. Edge helps me stay focused on the specific task at hand which, in turn, helps me retain and remember the information I am taking in. These little pills have really been a game changer for me.