An old adage holds that “the legs feed the wolf,” but the legs can’t chase what the eyes can’t see.
That’s true for bowhunters, too. Whether you’re chasing Western big game on mountainsides or Eastern whitetails in thick cover, you’ll boost your success rates with proper glassing techniques. Before heeding that advice and buying the best “glass” you can afford, you must understand the many variables in finding the best gear for the job.
Binoculars and spotting scopeshave their place in bowhunting. Binoculars are lightweight, portable, and great for glassing on the go. Spotting scopes help bowhunters pick apart the landscape from extreme distances. Generally speaking, Western bowhunters prefer spotting scopes for spot-and-stalk hunting, which means locating animals before sneaking in for a shot.
Before deciding what’s best for you, consider how you usually bowhunt. Whitetail hunters who spend most of their time in treestands won’t need a spotting scope. They should find a pair of binoculars with a wide field of view and an optical system that performs well in low light. That usually means an 8×42 or 10×42 configuration. Realize, too, as you increase magnification you sacrifice field of view. That’s important for hunting whitetails where you usually can’t see past 200 yards. A wider field of view delivers faster target acquisition. Further, these binoculars usually have lower magnifications, which perform better in low light.
Spotting scopes also come in configurations ranging from compact models with relatively low-powered magnification, such as 11-33X, all the way to high-powered variables at 27-60X. The more compact models with less magnification are ideal for bowhunters who cover lots of ground and demand the lightest equipment. High-magnification spotting scopes shine in terrain where you can see extreme distances. They’re also a difference-maker when bowhunting areas with antler restrictions. If you can determine the difference between a 4-point bull elk and a 5-pointer, you’ll save yourself a wild-goose chase for animals that won’t meet the minimum restriction.
Whether you’re using a spotting scope or binoculars, also bring a tripod. It helps you stay steady as you pick apart the landscape. Today’s tripods are lightweight and packable, and they aren’t just for spotting scopes. Mounting adapters let hunters use binoculars on tripods, giving them wider fields of view when scanning big areas. Tripods also let bowhunters glass longer and more steadily, and without the annoying shake of handheld binoculars. You’ll dissect small details without getting fatigued.
Rather than looking for entire animals standing in the open, look for small details that give away your quarry. Focus where you expect animals to be, like shaded areas on hot days or a sun-bathed southern exposures when temperatures drop. Most game animals bed within some type of cover, so look for them among trees, deadfalls or topography breaks. A slightly twitching ear or sunlight flashing off tines can pinpoint your buck or bull.
That tactic also works for bowhunters who spend most of their time perched in treestands. Glassing from your stand can help you find nearby buck sign, giving you clues for adjusting your setup. Watch for slight movements. You might spot a buck in his bed, which gives you the option of calling to him, studying how he reacts, and then crafting your next call or move. You just might coax him in on a string.
When you must pick apart vast landscapes, break them down into visual grids and search within each space before moving to the next. Use features to separate each grid, like large trees, rotting logs or water sources. You’ll quickly narrow down a large landscape and won’t feel intimidated by what first looked like endless cover.
Optics are essential for every hunter. By understanding the landscape you’re hunting, and watching how wildlife relates to it, you’ll spot more animals, increase your stalking opportunities, and add more meat to your freezer.