September 28, 2010
Learn how to look with binoculars -- instead of through them -- to unlock the whereabouts and mysteries of trophy big-game animals on your favorite piece of hunting ground.
The savvy hunter who carries quality optics and, more importantly, holds a good understanding of putting that glass to work effectively, is a far more efficient hunter. He is a more deadly predator. This hunter spends as much time, or more, sitting on his rear glassing, probing and searching with binoculars as he does heeding wanderlust to see what lies over the adjacent ridge.
When fresh sign is abundant but you're failing to spy game -- or if you find yourself flushing more game than approaching stationary targets -- slow down, take a seat and put your binoculars to work for you. You just might be surprised how much game your favorite hunting area actually holds. Photos by Pat Meiten.
The general consensus among any group follows, "Those who work hardest enjoy the highest degree of success." Few would argue this statement, although it's where the effort -- and the nature of that effort -- is invested that makes the difference (blind luck aside) between success and failure.
In hunting, every hunter wants to see more game. Every hunter wants to enjoy regular success during his/her precious time afield. And working harder as a hunter usually involves things such as hiking farther to reach more productive ground. If you're one of these hunters, you're likely spooking more game than you see. More to the point, you probably often walk right past the very game you seek!
THE LEARNING CURVE
I'm as guilty as any hunter. When I was young, big-game hunting was all about hiking farther -- the goal: never stop moving from daylight to dark every day. I normally got my buck or bull, but with age came a dawning that I could punch tags -- and earn bigger antlers -- with much less effort if I engaged my intellect instead of my legs.
Guiding taught me this, if inadvertently. I was in my late teens and early 20s and invariably was saddled one weekend with middle-aged city slickers who otherwise were chained to a desk five days a week chasing the golden ring. Guiding these dudes meant a lot of waiting.
To keep myself busy while the clients caught up or were panting feverishly to pull air back into their famished lungs, I fiddled with my binoculars. In the interim, I often spotted game animals through those timeless eyeglasses that I would have surely missed seeing.
BACK TO BASICS
Before you can stalk, you must first find your game. This is the "spot" in "spot and stalk."
Careful glassing is the most efficient and, sometimes the only avenue to locating distant, skittish or bedded game animals. You'll do well to make the best of the limited prime time of early morning and late evening. During this time of day, you'll mount a commanding vantage as you discover hunting sites while looking over as much promising habitat as possible. It's a simple matter of using quality optics to carry your gaze effortlessly across deep canyons and up high ridges, covering miles with your eyes in hours that otherwise might require days on foot.
Compact, easy-toting binoculars that feature 8x32 magnification specs are standard-issue in the whitetail woods. But sitting down for the "look" that can be long, indeed, when glassing for mulies is improved when the specs of your binoculars are something along the lines of 10x42.
In fact, there are many variations of these numbers across myriad binocular products. The first number indicates magnification or power; the second is the width of the "objective" lens measured in millimeters. The larger the magnification-to-objective ratio, the better the glass cuts into deep shadows and penetrates the dim light most common when game moves best at daylight and dusk.
Bigger glass also holds more steady in the hand, allowing long hours of probing without eye fatigue.
More recently, serious big game hunters in the West have adopted even bigger, and more powerful, glasses in the 15x60 class. These heavy binoculars require a tripod and mount for steady use (hand-holding reveals your every heartbeat). For many, they are the last word in long-distance glassing across wide, rough country where big game often thrives.
Hunters who put optics to work for the most benefit possible develop a "system" to assure more game is spotted instead of passed over unknowingly.
Their first step toward effective glassing means learning to see with binoculars, not merely look through them. When you see with optics, you're holding your binoculars rock steady while moving only your eyes within the available field of view. Move to the next patch of ground only when you're satisfied there's nothing to be seen in that quadrant. Take your time. Trust your intuition. Penetrate deep shadows. Avoid quick and random panning across terrain, expecting to spot game as it passes through the field of view; it's all too easy to miss a small or inconspicuous patch of rump or hide that might give game's position away. Random glassing of the terrain also quickly invites eye-strain and headaches.
Next, learn to "read" the terrain thoroughly. A ridgeline, hillside or valley should be viewed left to right, top to bottom. As if I'm reading a book, I glass slowly across a line of topography until I run into blue sky or exhaust my field of view. Only then do I start on the next "line" -- overlapping slightly with the previous view -- and begin anew. Skip the sunny spots when the day is hot. It's likely all the game has sought cooler temperatures in the shade.
Sharp demarcation between sun-drenched areas and dark shade also can reveal game movement. Shifting light can flush animals from their beds to escape warming sun, and movement is always easier to detect than a stationary subject.
PLANNING AN APPROACH
After game is spotted, create a sensible plan of approach before continuing your hunt. Factor the wind direction and the animal's direction of travel. Is it milling about or is it bedded down? Are there surrounding animals? Does the terrain offer disguise for the animals?
Most important, perhaps, you should make mental notes of the landscape an animal occupies before rushing headlong into a stalk. Bedded animals allow more time for your contemplation. Traveling critters demand your more decisive action. Earmark obvious landmarks -- a rock outcropping, a conspicuous dead tree -- for later reference. Things can look completely different once you enter the immediate area, and it's easy to become disoriented while stalking.
In some instances, allow your
quarry to bed before beginning your stalk. This is more often the case in high alpine or desert habitat where animals bed at the edge of timberline or in sudden coulees -- anywhere cover proves thinner than areas where vegetation is thick or the terrain is flat. This is especially true when animals are traveling; and, it's the rare elk that is not going somewhere. Actually observing an animal bedded in thick terrain can enter the realm of pure luck.
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When fresh sign is abundant but you're failing to spy game -- or if you find yourself flushing more game than approaching stationary targets -- slow down, take a seat and put your binoculars to work for you. You just might be surprised how much game your favorite hunting area actually holds.
Hunt hard. Hunt smart. Optics and systematic glassing skills are part of this program.