Glassing Techniques for Western Game / How to Glass for Deer and Elk

Glassing Techniques for Western Game / How to Glass for Deer and Elk

By Neil Large

Getting Started

To consistently glass up game, hunters must learn to polish their craft and become as proficient as possible with their given set-up. This consistency comes with practice; unfortunately there are no “Cliffs Notes” versions to learning the finer points in glassing techniques. There is also no substitute for time spent behind the glass and no room for a negative attitude while glassing. I would like to share a glassing method that works very well when utilized correctly and will surely result in spotting more game.

Tools of the Trade

Let’s assume that you have already selected a glassing set-up. A typical glassing outfit consists of a pair of 8x or 10x binoculars, a set of 15x (or larger) binoculars and a good tripod. A spotting scope is not always needed but comes in handy every so often when determining “if” something is an animal or to decide if the animal you just glassed up deserves a closer look. Keep in mind that optics can be relatively expensive, the term “You get what you pay for” has never been more true than in the optic world. As a rule of thumb, purchase the best optics you can afford and the ones that seem the most clear to you. My current set-up consists of 10x and 15x Swarovski SLC’s and a 20-60×80 Vortex Razor spotting scope all at different times mounted on top of a Manfrotto tripod.

It is also necessary to be somewhat comfortable while glassing, so I suggest either a cushion or small glassing chair to keep you behind the glass. Drinks and snacks, as well as any other “creature comforts” you may need will help you stay in the field from dawn to dusk searching for your trophy. A good back pack is needed to carry your gear in the field, the Badlands 2200 has served me well for years but there are comparable styles and brands that will work out as good or better for each individual.


The Glassing Arena

Choosing good glassing spots is arguably the most important variable in the glassing equation. Sure, you can realistically glass anything from anywhere, but by understanding the terrain and how animals use it you have taken a huge step towards success. Typically a large tract of land can be seen from one centralized glassing location. The need to re-position slightly may arise to gain another perspective of the area as the day progresses to glass into the shadows for animals looking to get out of the sun. Choose an area that affords you a commanding view of the surrounding country. Climb a hill, walk to the edge of a canyon, glass a big mountain; do whatever it takes to give you the advantage seeing as much country as you possibly can, within reason.

While choosing an area, remember that walking or standing animals can be seen much further than bedded animals, which may require you to be closer to effectively glass them up. A bedded coues or mule deer buck can be tough to spot and hunters may want to glass at a relatively close range to pick them out from their surroundings. Do not overlook glassing up to a couple miles in open country, especially when looking for elk and bears as they tend to contrast their surroundings making them easier to spot at a distance


Glassing a Grid

After an area has been chosen, it is time to get down to business. Glassing a grid is a simple yet effective method to ensure complete coverage of a terrain feature therefore limiting your chances of missing an opportunity. There is more than one way to skin a cat so to speak, ask 10 different hunters how they glass and you may get 10 different answers. The following style has worked well for my hunting partners and I over the years resulting in very few “skunked” outings. As each hunter becomes more comfortable behind the glass, they typically develop their own style that works for them. By using the grid method correctly, most hunters will eventually begin to understand what it takes to glass up game, later building upon it if so desired as they tailor their own glassing styles.

Imagine that you have climbed a 400 foot knob and plan to glass a mountain that encompasses about 180 degrees of your view while situated + or – 1200 yards from the mountain as you begin your grid. For the purpose of instruction let’s start on the bottom left side of the mountain.  From the starting point, pan your binoculars up, stopping each time you have moved them 2/3 field of view (FOV)-the visible area within the optics- until you have reached the top of the mountain. Next, pan right 2/3 of the FOV before glassing downward until you have reached the bottom of the mountain. Overlapping the FOV each time the binoculars are moved is crucial, as it is necessary to cover the entire mountain with your glass without skipping anything. Once you have reached the bottom, pan right once again 2/3 FOV and resume glassing in an upward fashion. Continue this process until you have glassed the entire mountain with scrutiny. If you have yet to find what you are looking for, repeat the process. It may take several passes like this before spotting game; patience and a positive attitude will keep you behind the glass while you wait for an animal to materialize.

After several outings, you will begin to notice areas that animals typically like to hang out at different times of day. Sometimes an area seems particularly “deery”; these areas should be hit first with a small grid before glassing the entire terrain feature. During mid-day, hunters should glass all available shaded areas first to look for bedded animals before gridding the entire mountain or canyon side. The beauty of glassing is that each scenario is situation dependent which keeps it interesting while challenging hunters to make the right decisions about which areas to glass. For instance, the south and east facing areas usually receive more sunlight which results in more food for the animas we like to hunt. These are good morning and evening spots as the animals typically eat during these times, although animals will certainly bed in these areas too. Pay attention to the angle of the sun and reposition if necessary to take a peek into the shadows on the lee side of vegetation, rocks or other topography. The north side of a terrain feature usually has more shade resulting in good bedding areas in these locations.

Remember,  with each movement of the binoculars, you must typically stop and scour your FOV for animals, or more likely, parts of animals (more on this later). When you are sure there is not an animal within your FOV, resume the grid. The period of time in which you are stopped with each movement depends upon your ability, time of day, and amount of vegetation within an area. A general rule is to glass faster early, late, or in very open country. Hunters should glass slower as the day progresses until evening, or when you must try to discern an animal among vegetation; especially if looking for bedded animals.


Before settling into a grid pattern, sometimes it pays off to simply scan the area with your binoculars.  Take a look at anything that looks suspicious, or something your gut tells you to look at.  If animals are standing in the open, scanning may be all it takes to find them.  While scanning, I sometimes employ a “mini grid” to an area of interest such as a bench, saddle, thicket of browse, or a spot I have seen game in the past.

What to Look For

There is no way around the fact that glassing effectively takes many hours behind the glass.  Each time you glass up an animal, whether it is an entire elk, the rump of a mule deer buck in a stand of oak brush or the outline of a bedded coues bucks main beam glinting in the sun, you are mentally storing that image in your subconscious.  By continually glassing up game, your subconscious becomes aware of what you are looking for and will alert you when you see it.  There is nothing quite like the feeling when you glass-up a trophy animal, especially if it was a particularly difficult “glass up”

Sometimes you will see an entire animal standing in the open while glassing, however, more often than not, only a small portion of an animal will be visible through the glass.  It is best to look for pieces of an animal, or subtle movements through your FOV, to key you in on their presence.  Legs, rumps, faces, ears, and antlers are some of the most obvious pieces that stand out while glassing.  By learning to focus on the smaller details of an animal’s make up, and then relying on your subconscious to piece it together, you will be surprised at what you have been missing.

Game species are very adept at remaining hidden; successful hunters are able to discern their well-camouflaged bodies amidst the landscape. Look through foliage, pay attention to anything that seems “out of place”, notice an ear twitch or tail flick, the subtle turn of a head; anything that will bring the game out of hiding.  Above all, be diligent!

By following these simple guidelines, anyone with patience and drive will be able to master the art of glassing for game. Eventually, hunters will find the grid to be very soothing as they rely on their sub-conscious to find animals for them.  Hunters new to the art of glassing must remember to remain focused and positive in order to become proficient.  Good luck out there, with a heavy dose of patience and persistence you will be able to glass up bedded bucks in no time!

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