Every year I spend a good number of hours behind my spotting scope. Yes, this is partially because the vast Western land I often bowhunt calls for long glassing sessions. Mostly, though, I just love watching game. Whether it be elk, pronghorn, turkey or deer, I’m a certified scope-to-eye nut.

Through the school of hard knocks, I’ve learned a lot over the years about my spotting scope and how to use it properly. I know the concept sounds simple: Put the glass on the animal and look at it, right? But in truth, becoming proficient behind a quality set of glass isn’t that simple. Here are five spotting-scope tips sure to make you more proficient behind your glass.

Find Your Spot

When you arrive at a particular spot from which you plan to glass, look the terrain over. I immediately try to find a flat, rock-free square section of dirt. Why? First, I want to be as solid as possible, and a flat surface promotes stability. Second, I want a flat surface on which to fold and lay my Therm-a-Rest Lite Sol Sleeping Pad. This little beauty (I purchased the small size) tips the scales at a don’t-notice-on-your-pack 10 ounces and folds up quickly and easily. Whether sitting or kneeling, this pad – which I consider a must-have item – ensures hours of ache-free glassing. Third, I prop my pack up behind me and use it as a backrest. This method isn’t super effective when kneeling, but when glassing on your rump, it will save your lower back.

Set Your Scope

Once I have my glassing pad in order, I set my tripod and attach my Meopta 20 – 70 X. Before I start glassing, I adjust the legs and set the scope to a comfortable positon. (Know your tripod and all of its adjustments before you start glassing for game animals. You want to be able to adjust quickly and efficiently.) Typically, I start out my glassing session kneeling, so I adjust the tripod accordingly to achieve ideal height. Then, before I start glassing, I put my eye to the eye-piece and make sure everything feels right. If you’re straining or if the setup feels at all uncomfortable, stop and readjust. The last thing you want is a headache, and if you ignore what your eyes and body are telling you, a pounding annoyance won’t take long to set in.

Scan First

Now that you’re comfortable and your scope is set perfectly, start scanning with your binoculars. Oftentimes you will find the animal or animals you’re looking for quicker and easier by simply scanning the landscape with your binos. Once you find an animal or animal you want to take a closer look at, move to your spotting scope. Aim the scope in the general direction of your targeted animal and use your dial to zoom the scope all the way out (in the case of my scope, out to my 20-power setting). Zooming out allows you a larger field of view and you can locate the animal quicker. This is an especially handy tip if the animal you’re spying is on the move. You want to find him quickly and get a look before he disappears. Center the animal in your scope and then start zooming in a little at a time, adjusting your scope’s focus wheel as you go. Don’t immediately go from your lowest power setting to your highest. This causes a terrible blur effect, and it’s easy to panic and move the scope off the object. If this happens, you will be starting over. Zoom in slowly, being sure to keep one hand on the scope’s focus dial and the other hand off to the side. Placing your non-glassing hand on the tripod will only cause the tripod to shake. Once you achieve clarity at a desired power setting, remove your hand from the focus dial. Remember, you don’t want even the slightest shake when you’re looking an animal over. (Note: Learn your spotting scope inside and out. Practice the above-mentioned glassing techniques on stationary objects: rocks, bushes and the like before you start observing live critters. You want to be able to adjust both your power and your zoom without ever having to peel your eye from the eye-piece.)

Buckle In

Let’s say you make your initial binocular scan and don’t turn up an animal. Don’t fret. Now it’s time to divide your glassing terrain up into grids (no bigger than 30- to 40-acre sections at a time) and start dissecting. Personally, I like to set my scope on 30 power and slowly scan a grid from left to right. When I come to brushy sections along the way, or simply a section I feel could easily hide an animal, I zoom into 50 power and slow everything way down. Does it work? Just this past weekend I located four different pronghorn – all shooter bucks – bedded in heavy sage brush on a distant hillside using this technique. My initial binocular scan didn’t pick them up, and I seriously doubt my 30-power left-to-right dissection would have uncovered the tips (that’s all that was showing) of their ebony horns inching above the silver-tipped sage.

Beat The Sun

My last big spotting-scope tip is how to deal with those super-frustrating heat waves. Whether you’re glassing midday speed goats or bedded mule deer in a pristine alpine basin, heat waves can quickly distort your view and make glassing more difficult. The first trick to beating the sun is to zoom out. The more zoomed in on the object you are, the more nature’s thermal waves distort your view. Zoom out to a lower power setting and your heat-wave glassing hours will be much more enjoyable. Secondly, wait for passing clouds. Pure bluebird days are rare, and passing clouds quickly reduce heat waves and give you the opportunity to zoom back in on your targeted animal. The minute the sun pops back out, zoom out again.