By Dana R. Rogers —
Using binoculars and a spotting scope to locate target animals is very important when hunting in an open-country setting. Hunting any big game in the Dakotas usually entails mostly open and rolling terrain where one can see a great distance in the horizon. What may seem like a desolate landscape is often quite capable of holding game — you just have to find it.
Being primarily a bowhunter, I have to get quite close to my target, but glassing from long distances applies to both firearms and bowhunting. By using quality optics you really can save a lot of time and energy and cut down on wasted effort.
Let’s go over a few things that have helped me save some boot leather and time when hunting here in the Dakotas.
Keep it simple by using a few obvious solutions to steady yourself. The brim of your cap, your knees and even your bow can really help steady your arms and hands when glassing with binoculars.
If you are glassing freehand and wearing a ball cap, you can definitely decrease the shakes and steady your body by grasping the brim of your cap and cupping your binos under the brim. Far too many people push their hat up and out of the way rather than using the bill as a brace. If you haven’t done so already, try it and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how it helps you steady your field of view.
While glassing it’s always easier to freehand sitting down than standing up if you have the proper elevation for your field of view. If you are glassing from a high vantage point with a pack or slight incline behind you, take a seat and use your knees. By resting your elbows on your knees while in a seated position you can further increase your stability.
Another quick spot-and-stalk or even treestand tip to steadying your glass is to hold your bow close to your chest and rest your binoculars on the top limb. It’s a very quick thing to grab your binoculars, rest them on the limb and get a good look at something when you are on the move.
Those are all some great tips to add to your quick glassing repertoire, but if you are looking over some seriously large country, then you know that packing a tripod and even your spotting scope really adds to your bag of tricks. Even with binoculars using a tripod can be a huge benefit. Sometimes it’s not practical, but it really does help with stability, especially at longer distances.
If you are going to be hunting properties and landscapes where you can venture a mile or more, you really need a tripod to help in glassing up game. It doesn’t have to be an expensive tripod, just something you can use a quick-attach system or even a Velcro strap to steady your binos.
Your mounting system can benefit you a few different ways. First, it will give you the ability to spot movement. Using a tripod greatly reduces the shaking that results from freehanding. Even something as miniscule as your heartbeat can make your optics shake.
In addition to a tripod, I always carry a window mount in my pickup. You can often use that to glass from county roads or distant two-track ranch roads and really cover a lot of ground if the situation allows.
Hopefully you already have a good set of binoculars and perhaps even a quality spotting scope. I’m not going to go into brands, because there are a lot of great companies and products on the market. If you haven’t done so already, just be sure to buy the best glass you can afford, as high-quality optics are a critical piece to any hunter’s arsenal and can really save you a lot of time and energy if you use them properly.
Take Advantage of the Tools
While you’re hunting, make sure you’re using vantage point, weather and patience to your advantage. By gaining elevation without alerting game to your presence you can really get a leg up on your hunting. Using your vehicle on the perimeter is fine in certain situations, but hopefully you’ll be backpacking or walking into an area where you can locate a knoll or ridge that offers a good, secluded vantage point with a great field of view.
The time of day and the weather are also key pieces to any glassing puzzle. You’ll want the sun at your back or overhead so that you can minimize shadows and allow you to look deep into any cover or terrain features.
Here in the Dakotas, it’s often pretty windy. Though deer, antelope and elk are used to bucking the wind, they also try to shield themselves from it much of the time. If you focus your glassing efforts on the downwind side of a hill or coulee, you may find that many animals will use the terrain or other landscape features as protection from the wind.
Thermal conditions are another thing to take into account when trying to figure out where to glass. When it’s later in the season and cold, I usually start the morning off by glassing south-facing slopes and east facing slopes, as those sides of the hill will get hit by the sun first. After a cold night, big game often enjoys getting out on sunny hillsides. Toward the afternoon, I usually switch my efforts to glassing more in the shaded areas, where an animal may lay down for the day.
Early in the season when the weather is typically much warmer, I seek out shaded areas where animals like to cool off. Antelope aren’t typically affected as much by heat, but deer and elk most definitely are. With that in mind, I spend a lot more time glassing shaded areas than any of the sunnier spots when I’m in pursuit of an early season deer out on the prairie.
Don’t overlook any distant water sources if you can glass them from far. Also, if you are in mixed, rolling-timber country you’ll want to focus on the northern and eastern slopes once the midday sun reaches its zenith. These areas tend to be denser than others, so make sure that you really slow down and pick apart everything in front of you.
Slowing down and picking everything apart before moving to another location can’t be emphasized enough. When you get to whatever glassing spot you’ve chosen, make sure to scan the entire area for anything that seems obvious, like brushy patches, shaded areas or darker vegetation that appears to get more water and provide better forage. Once you’ve done that and your breathing and heart rate have calmed down from the hike, take time to slow down and really start to grid the area with your optics.
Make mental notes of areas that stand out, and glass them with your binoculars from a steady rest. Once you’ve scanned the area in a grid pattern or if you note something you need to hone in on, unpack that spotting scope and your tripod and dissect the distant attractions. Hopefully you find something that piques your interest, and then you can formulate a plan for a downwind approach and a successful shot opportunity.
About the Author: Big-game columnist Dana R. Rogers grew up in central South Dakota before serving in the U.S. Air Force. He now lives in the Black Hills and can be reached with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.