Glassing the West for Deer
by Shelton Boggess
I was introduced to glassing at an early age, and grew up behind my dad’s pair of 15×56 Swarovski Binoculars. At the age of five, I remember sitting behind those powerful binos on a Northern Arizona Coues deer hunt, watching, while my dad took a shot at a mountain lion. He didn’t connect, but shortly thereafter, I witnessed my first harvest of a big game animal, a respectable Coues buck. For the next ten years of my life, I was helpless, finding animals on my own. However, my dad and I made a great team. He would find all the animals free handing his 10×42 Swarovski’s, and I would study each herd looking for a trophy buck, while glassing with the 15s on a tripod. Though this method was effective, I knew the time would come when I would have to find game on my own.
Through competitions with my dad, I constantly improved my glassing skills. However, on my first Coues deer hunt, I was 15 and still relying heavily on my dad’s skill behind the glass. I harvested a beautiful buck on that hunt, and realized the necessity of glassing to achieve success, while hunting the vast topographies of the West. The following summer, I got my driver’s license, and an amazing gift: my very own glass, Swarovski 10x42s! From that moment forward, glassing became an obsession, almost as exciting as the kill. As I write, and reflect on my past 15 years in the field, chasing Western big game including Coues deer, mule deer, elk, black bear, and javelina. Based on my experiences, here are a few tips that I hope will help you glass the West for White-tailed deer, as well as all big game species.
To be a successful glasser, it is necessary to have the right gear, and have it easily accessible and well organized.
- Binoculars: Do NOT compromise on glass, spend some money, it will be worth it over the long haul. Ten-power binoculars will work, but I suggest 12–15X. Several brands are available including: Swarovski, Leica, Vortex, and Leupold.
- Tripod: Free handing your binos, just does NOT work to glass seriously and successfully. A tripod is a must have! Select one with these characteristics: sturdy, durable, and lightweight, that matches your personal preferences. Slik, Bogen and the Outdoorsmans make some of the best tripods.
- Backpack: A good backpack is vital to carry and organize all of your gear. Take the time to have a pack fitted to your body type, especially the torso and waist. Consider all of the gear you may be carrying when selecting the size of the pack, such as tripod, spotting-scope, binoculars, adapters, lens-cleaning supplies, along with the rest of your hunting gear. Select a pack that fits your organizational preferences, regarding compartments, hydration-bladder, pouches, and tie-down straps. Tenzing, Eberlestock, and Outdoorsmans make some of the finest packs for hunting; I use the Outdoorsmans pack.
Where you choose to begin to glass is extremely important. While scouting, find areas with elevation that allow you to oversee a large area. If you don’t have time to scout prior to the hunt, it’s a good idea to be on the highest vantage point around come opening morning. The right spot will allow you to get a feel for the country, spot and observe deer movement, and know where other hunters are pressuring deer. Get comfortable with an area, and then home in on smaller, more localized vantage points where you have observed deer movement. Getting closer will allow you to field judge bucks more easily, and make a stalk more likely and less difficult. When choosing a location, it is also important to account for wind direction for two reasons: 1) to avoid having your scent blowing through the area that you are hoping to pick apart, and 2) deer hate the wind, which is a benefit, concentrating deer movement to the less windy side of the hills cutting the areas to glass in half.
The more time that you spend behind your binos, the better your chances are of finding a buck worth pursuing. It is vital to make it to your desired glassing point, and to begin glassing with the first available light, when deer are on the move. Bucks especially, begin to make their way towards shaded areas, when uncomfortable light hits them, making them more difficult to spot. This usually occurs around mid-morning. However, do NOT stop glassing at this time; instead, turn your attention to shady pockets with plenty of cover. Deer will continue to mill around and feed in the shadows before they decide to bed down. Still, this is not your cue to go back to camp. In many cases, bucks are bachelored until late in the season, and this often times pair’s mature bucks with immature bucks. A reliable hunting technique is to bed deer and then pursue them. Younger bucks have a tendency to want to stretch every hour or so, giving up their position, as well as the general position of other bucks. A faithful, dedicated hunter will glass throughout the day, all day. A big mistake hunters’ make—I’ve made it myself—is to give up too early. Mature bucks may not even stand up, much less move around, until long after sunset. Glassing until dark gives you the opportunity to find these illusive, older bucks, providing a great place to look the following morning.
Deer are creatures of habit. As a general rule of thumb, once you have an understanding of what deer prefer in a given area, you can concentrate your efforts in those places. Deer like protection where they feel safe, usually near thick cover. Knowing where to look for deer is imperative in the glassing process. Begin by looking in obvious places, skylines, silhouettes, and open terrain; it only takes seconds to check these areas. Next, move to areas where you have seen deer movement in the past—remember deer are creatures of habit. With the obvious places covered, focus your attention on the more difficult areas, thick cover and shadows; pay close attention for any type of movement.
- Get a sense of scale: It’s important to understand the general size of deer in relation to their surroundings. Knowing this, will help you pick out anomalies like an ear or antler when scouring distant topography.
- Know what colors to look for: Deer blend into their surroundings well, but different lighting or shadows can make them stand out. Do NOT look for a particular color; look for deer and parts of deer.
- Look with your bare eyes every now and then: Often times I find my eyes glued to the binos. This happened on a recent hunt. While I was staring through the 15s, I heard my younger brother whisper, “There is a deer feeding by right below us!” When I looked with my bare eyes, a 100-inch Coues buck stood within 100 yards.
In my opinion, glassing is the best part of the hunt. There’s something about the challenge, and the mystery of what you might see that gets me excited. Regardless, if you are a novice or a veteran glasser, challenge yourself to improve your skills as a hunter; it could prove to be the change you need to find the buck of your dreams.