Glassing Strategies for Success

When the terrain allows, glassing is the best way to find and pattern big game without altering them.

Glassing Strategies for Success

One of the most beautiful things about hunting, in my opinion, is how personal it is to each of us. A hunter isn’t bound to one way of doing things. Each of us walk our own path and end up with a particular set of experiences. Those experiences both shape us and ultimately hone our hunting prowess. Our actions in the field are a reflection of those events and our surroundings.

Living in Arizona, I have been fortunate to spend a ton of time looking through optics in order to find animals. It’s just the way we do things down here in the desert. Wide-open spaces and cagey critters call for a less intrusive approach. It isn’t just about putting binoculars to your eyes, though. There is a method to the madness and a strategy for success behind the glass.


Why Is Glassing So Effective?

Before diving into the “how” let me briefly cover the “why” behind glassing. Out here in the West especially, we are fortunate to have an overwhelming amount of country to hunt. While the best type of scouting in my opinion is done by burning boot leather, that is a tall order for the amount of ground we’ve got and a heck of a lot of walking. It also can be fairly intrusive to just walk around. You never know when you’ll bump something while doing so. Seeing a deer get up and run away might be exciting in the moment, but only so much intel can be gathered from that. You’re watching a scared deer, rather than a relaxed deer. Watching a relaxed deer is far more beneficial. Glassing allows us to observe animal behavior from afar without impeding on their natural routine. By knowing such things, we can have a better idea of how to approach actually hunting them. The less intrusive we can be on their routines, the better chance we have of success.

Another area where glassing really shines is in efficiency. Instead of spending time walking all over the place, let your glass do the walking for you. Sitting up high and surveying the landscape let’s one keep an eye on not just one area, but multiple areas as a whole. A hunter can cover miles of country behind their optics all the while enjoying a nice cup of coffee and beautiful sunrise. It’s a good gig and saves a ton of time. Doing this will allow one to eliminate certain pieces of country, too. This enables a hunter to put their focus on the spots that matter most.

Mounting your optics on a tripod is an absolute game changer for finding what doesn’t want to be found.
Mounting your optics on a tripod is an absolute game changer for finding what doesn’t want to be found.

Find ‘Glassable’ Country

The first step in the glassing game is to find “glassable” country. Dog hair-thick forests aren’t a great place to do this, because we simply can’t see. In order to glass, one needs to have a view. Getting a good view is really all about gaining elevation. Topographic maps are a great place to start with this. Once you’ve narrowed down the country that you’d like to glass, notate the high points. Also, pay attention to ridge lines attached to them. These can often offer great routes to other potential glassing points. That brings me to my next point — points. A Point or knob usually offers great vantages with what is sometimes a 270 degree field of view. The more a hunter can see from one spot, the better.

A hunter could also glass from below looking up. This could prove advantageous, especially if it was being done along a dirt road or trail. It would allow the person to keep traveling along said path to keep mobile with their glass. With that being said, your view will be much more limited than if you were looking from above. Trees or bushes can cover up line of sight when looking from below. Depending on the height of grass, picking up bedded animals from below could also prove more difficult. If glassing from below is your only logical option, then do it. However, being elevated will always win out.

As far as the actual country itself, we need to focus on things such as burns, being above timberline, deserts/high deserts, sage, etc. Topographic maps can only go so far here. The best way to do this nowadays is by using Google Earth, onXmaps, or some other mapping app. These offer satellite imagery of the landscape and will give a pretty good idea of what kind of country you might be heading into. Remember, we need a view to use our glass. Without it, our powerful optics become powerless.

10x42 binos are a great all-around magnification for both freehanding and glassing from a tripod.
10x42 binos are a great all-around magnification for both freehanding and glassing from a tripod.

Mornings vs. Evenings

Now, that we’ve established why glassing is so efficient and how to go about finding areas to glass, we need to put this stuff into action. A gateway to success with using optics to find animals is by knowing where to be at certain times of the day. The answer to this is a reflection of how animals will naturally use the landscape. First thing in the morning, animals are usually up and feeding. From there they will go to bedding areas to rest until evening. So, what does that mean for us? Well, we need to be looking at feeding areas first thing in the morning and bedding areas after the fact.

A good rule of thumb is to glass sunny hillsides in the morning and shady ones afterwards. This will usually put the sun at your back first part of the day and leave you looking into the sun the last part of the day. The reason for this is the shade and where feed tends to grow on a hill. South-facing hills tend to get more sunlight, which generally means there will be more feed. North-facing hills tend to get less sunlight and generally have more shade for bedding. Throughout the day, the shade will move, and the animals will move with it. Of course, rules are made to be broken, but sticking to this is a great way to approach any given area.


The Art of Grid Searching

Like I said earlier: This glassing thing isn’t just about putting a binocular up to your eyes. Randomly looking at various areas on a hill might prove fruitful every now and then, but in order to really scan country, grid searching it is the best option. In order to do this as efficiently and effectively as possible, I’d highly suggest mounting one’s optics on a tripod. This will really let a hunter scan slowly and see what doesn’t want to be seen. In doing so, when an animal is spotted, you’ll be able to lock the optics in place on the tripod head. Once this is done, your chances of losing the location of that big buck or bull drop dramatically. With optics locked on the animal, someone could literally watch him all day.

Grid searching enables you to scan every bit of country in a much more organized way. Whether you grid side to side or up and down, you’ll know what you’ve glassed much easier after the fact. I like to break areas up into sections and grid search each of them one at a time. This has proven to be less taxing and breaks up the monotony of just looking through the glass nonstop. For instance, if I have three different hillsides in front of me, I’ll grid search one with optics, then look around with the naked eye, then I’ll move onto the next with optics. I’ll continue this throughout the whole time I am at the vantage point.

Here in Arizona we are blessed to have a unique little whitetail to hunt called a Coues deer. Their other name is the “gray ghost.” They acquired this name because they tend to have the ability to show up out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. Coues deer also blend into their habitat incredibly well, which translates into lots of meticulous glassing in order to find them.

When I’m grid searching for Coues, I’ll take it one step farther and grid within the grid. Along with moving my optics side to side, up and down, I’ll lock them in place and grid search an area just with my eyes. Once I’ve done that, I’ll pan to the next spot, continuing the main grid search, and do it again. When your optics are locked in place like this, it makes seeing movement much easier, not to mention that antler protruding out of the grass. Even if you’re not hunting the elusive Coues deer, this is a great tactic for all animals, and especially when looking for bedded ones.

The author’s 2019 archery mule deer buck he harvested in Colorado after days and days of glassing.
The author’s 2019 archery mule deer buck he harvested in Colorado after days and days of glassing.

Final Thoughts

When I was a kid, I used to play puzzle games where you’d have to find a certain object in an image among a ton of other objects. A popular one was called Where’s Waldo. Many hours were spent on my part staring at these books trying to find Waldo. Fast-forward to present day and I’m still playing the game, but now it’s out in the mountains with a binocular or spotting scope. Glassing takes some practice and a lot of patience, but there is no better way in my opinion to learn and actually see animal behavior before you. We are predators and the more we know about our prey, the better chance we have of bringing home the bacon.

Just like I said at the start of this article, hunting is a very personal thing, and there is more than one way to do it. I think the same can be said about glassing. The tips I’ve discussed here are merely a result of where I live and my time in the field. They are by no means the only path to success. With that being said, I promise that they work, and with them you’ll be able to build a foundation and start your own path to success.


Sidebar: Match the Glass

I’m of the opinion that the glass one carries should somewhat match the country that they are hunting. For instance, it wouldn’t make sense for someone to carry a 15X56mm binocular in dense forests with very little visibility. It would make more sense to have something with a wider field of view and less magnification like an 8X binocular. In contrast, that 8X bino would suffer while glassing for miles looking for high-country mule deer or Coues deer. A hunter would be better off using something like a 10X or 12X binocular on a tripod paired up with a spotting scope. Having the right tools for the job are only going to aid you.

Sidebar: Binocular or Spotting Scope

This is a long-standing debate that I don’t think will ever see its end. The biggest advantage of a binocular is being able to use both eyes at once. It is so much easier to glass comfortably with two eyes open. Binoculars can only reach out so far, though. A good spotting scope will allow one to really turn up the magnification and pick apart bedding areas. The downside of this is being able to use only one eye. This can often cause issues in the form of headaches or eye strain. I’ve found the best way to use a spotting scope is by keeping both eyes open, but covering one with my hand. Some folks will use an eye patch.

Making the choice between bino or spotting scope really depends on what kind of country you’re in and how much you care about inches of antler. A good route is to carry both if glassing is a priority. An example would be carrying a 10X binocular on your chest and maybe a 65mm spotting scope in your pack.


Sidebar: Do You Need to Break the Bank?

Back before I knew just how valuable glassing was, I used to regretfully carry around a cheap binocular that seemed to summon a headache within minutes. It was agonizing using that bino. After I looked through better glass, I got it. There was no eye strain and headaches anymore. Suddenly, glassing all day wasn’t out of the question.

Do you have to break the bank for good glass, though? The short answer to that is “no.” Buy the best optics you can afford, but there is no reason to go broke. A $300 to $500 binocular will work fantastic and do what you need them to do. Higher priced optics do come with their perks, though, including an overall clearer image, better edge-to-edge clarity, and better performance in low-light conditions.

Photos By Josh Kirchner


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