September 04, 2020
I met Arizona guide DuWane Adams back in the mid-1980s on my first Coues deer hunt. It was about that time that Adams began mounting a large binocular to a tripod so he could more comfortably and efficiently glass for hours on end for deer and elk. Around the same time, Zeiss introduced its 15x60 binocular, a behemoth optical instrument that weighed a ton—but when mounted on a tripod, it took glassing to another level entirely. I quickly bought one and became a believer in the technique.
Today, mounting 12X to 15X binoculars on tripods has become relatively common for serious Western hunters. However, buying an expensive binocular and tripod doesn't make you a better glasser any more than buying the latest high-tech golf clubs wins you a PGA tour event. You have to know how to use them, then spend hours behind the lenses as you hone your skills.
READ THE GRID
"You have to have patience and know where to look if you want to be a good glasser," Adams told me on one of our early hunts. "The more you hunt, the more you can look at a piece of ground and know right away where the deer and elk will probably be hanging out. So you focus most of your glassing time on those areas. But you also have to cover the entire mountain, slowly and carefully. I do this by what I call scrolling.
"You set up your glass, get comfortable and start picking apart the mountain," Adams said. "I start at the top left corner, focus my glasses on the area and don't move them for a bit. That's very important—you move your eyes around the stationary lens while not moving the binocular."
After scanning that area, if you don’t find an animal, move the glass to the right until it stops on the right-hand edge of the previous spot you were glassing and start looking all over again. Repeat the process, each time moving your field of vision to the right. Once you’ve reached the outer edge of the spot you’re hunting, you drop the view straight down, refocus the glasses and let your eyes again do the moving. This time you move them right to left across the terrain. You keep doing this until you’ve covered the entire area.
Adams emphasizes that the best time to locate game animals is on the cusp of daylight, when they are most active.
"You have to not be afraid of the dark," Adams says. "Hike to your glassing spot in the dark and don't leave until you can't see after the sun goes down. These are the best times to find bucks and bulls—especially the big, old guys."
LITTLE THINGS, BIG DIFFERENCES
There are several nuances to this glassing technique that make it so effective.
The first goes against the grain of traditional hunting theory: Instead of glassing with the sun at your back, you glass with it off your shoulder.
"I set up in the early morning so I’m glassing the southeast sides of ridges," Adams says. "That's where most of the high-quality food grows, so that's where the deer and elk will be in the early morning."
Both you and the sun will move as you scroll, so the sun will not always be off your shoulder. But, as long as the wind is right, avoid scanning toward the sun. At about 9 a.m. Adams starts glassing the northeast side of the mountain, which is where bedding areas most commonly are. This is when deer and elk begin filtering in to bed down. He concentrates on glassing these areas for the majority of the day.
"The last hour or two of the day, I want to be in a place where I can glass both the southeast and northeast sides of the ridges, hoping to catch animals as they transition from bedding to feeding areas," he says, noting that anything you can do to keep the setting sun out of your lenses will make the process more effective and less tiring.
Adams also emphasizes that most of the animals will not simply be standing out in the wide open, though sometimes you’ll find one there. To find the most game, look for horizontal lines, (animals’ backs) in a sea of vertical lines (trees and other vegitation).
"If I see something that just seems out of place, I slow down and give it extra scrutiny," he says. "When glassing the early-morning feeding areas, I might glass a bit more quickly since animals tend to be up and moving. Once I start glassing the bedding areas, however, I slow way down since you’re more likely to only see a piece of the animal."
One important thing Adams taught me was how to use this practice as an all-day hunting plan. "Sometimes we might find a buck or bull we want at a distance of a mile or more as it heads into a canyon to bed," he says. "There's no way we can get a shot right then, but we can mark the spot and take our time to move into position so that we can hopefully catch him as he leaves that spot to feed in the evening. I can’t tell you how many big muley bucks my clients have taken this way over the years."
Adams also emphasizes the importance of comfort when glassing all day. With a tripod, you can alternate between sitting and standing. "Standing saves your back and also enables you to see over tall brush," he says. "For when you're sitting, it's important to have a lightweight seat cushion with you. Sitting on hard or frozen ground makes it impossible to efficiently glass for hours."
When glassing long distances, it can pay big dividends to have a buddy along. That way, when you spot the animal you want to prusue, one hunter can make a move to get the shot while the other keeps his eyes on the animal and gives the shooter directions as he makes the final stalk.
TRY A TRIPOD
It's not just oversized binos that benefit from a tripod, Adams says. "It's impossible to hand-hold any binocular and keep it steady for any length of time. With a tripod, the picture you see is perfectly still and crystal clear—it's almost like watching TV. Plus, you avoid the arm fatigue that will cause the glass to wiggle. Once you pair a bino with a tripod, you’ll never go back."
When you start seriously glassing off a tripod using the scrolling method, you'll be amazed at what you see. You can adjust the tripod so your body posture is extremely relaxed, allowing you to work the glass for hours on end. By sitting in one place you don’t disturb the area, and animals will act naturally and relatively unafraid. By letting them do the moving, their chances of seeing you sitting still are virtually nonexistent. It's a deadly way to hunt mature animals.
What to look for in a quality tripod
You can use just about any tripod with a threaded mount for a binocular or spotting scope. Like anything else, the very best are very expensive, but can be worth it if you’re going to use it seriously for a lifetime. The best can be used while you are either sitting or standing and can be compactly folded up for easy transport to backcountry spots. The tripod you choose must be stout enough to support a heavy binocular and/or spotting scope in a stiff wind without wobbling. Here’s a look at three in different price categories.
GOOD: Bushnell Advanced 60-Inch Tripod
Extends to 63 inches in height and includes a three-way pan/tilt head with large mounting platform. Three padded foam leg cushions allow you to adjust the tripod without burning or freezing your hand in extreme hot or cold. ($119.99; bushnell.com)
BETTER: Vortex Optics Pro GT Tripod Kit
Extends to 67 inches and weighs just 4.4 pounds with the included three-way quick-release pan head for fast set-ups in the field. A balance hook holds extra weight for stability in windy conditions. ($299; vortexoptics.com)
BEST: Outdoorsman’s Tall Tripod
This is built to bombproof specs, but you need to add a head, which bumps the price a lot. Extends to 60 inches and weighs a feathery 48 ounces. ($499; outdoorsmans.com)