This is the third in a monthly series of articles written by John Barsness (www.riflesandrecipes.com)
There are several ways that binoculars help big game hunters, but the biggest is in locating animals before they see us. Serious glassing means looking long and hard, often searching for parts of animals or hints of movement.
Big game animals are alert for exactly the same things, because their lives depend on discovering danger in time to escape. Often their eyesight is better than ours, so adding magnification to our eyes barely puts us on the same level.
Many hunters make the mistake of using their binocular only after they see something. By then it’s often too late. Instead the most effective way to glass is while remaining still, looking for the tell-tale signs of nearby game. Also, too many hunters think of glassing as only an open-country tactic, when one of the most effective ways to glass is while still-hunting in thicker cover.
To many hunters still-hunting means walking slowly through the woods. Much of the time this is worse than walking fast through the woods. One of the things prey animals are always alert for is something moving half-slowly nearby. Often they’re less alarmed by somebody simply hiking along, as if hunting were the last things on their mind.
Instead, real still-hunting involves long periods of standing still, mixed with moving so slowly that (hopefully) any nearby animals won’t notice us. This is hard to do, but binoculars can help make it more successful. When we’re standing still we should be glassing for any sign of nearby animals—but again, very slowly.
One of the worst things we can do in thick woods is raise our binocular quickly when we start to glass. Quick upwards movements tend to alarm to prey animals, because they’re a sign of alarm: squirrels climbing a tree, birds flying up into a branch, other deer lifting their heads. So raise your binocular very slowly, and after thoroughly glassing in one direction turn your head slowly to glass another.
Usually in thicker cover we see part of an animal first, and often when it’s moving. Deer tend to move their heads and ears more than any other part of their body, even when bedded down, and when feeding they raise their heads often to look around. Also, both mule and white-tailed deer have pale markings on their heads and necks. These will often stand out, especially during the dim hours when deer move most often. Sometimes we’ll see antlers or horns before seeing the rest of the animal. I’ve spotted weird branches in the woods that turned into deer or elk antlers before any other part of the animal became visible. (At other times, of course, they remain weird branches.)
The same thing has happened in
Binoculars also help even when grunting and rattling for whitetails. I hate treestands, and much prefer just sitting somewhere in the woods, where if I get bored I can still-hunt for a while before sitting down again. (Probably this is a result of growing up in the West, where there’s so much public land to roam.) After grunting or rattling I just sit there with my rifle across my lap and my binocular in my hands, looking hard through the woods—and I do mean “through.”
One of the great things about binoculars is that their shallow depth of field can “fuzz out” the layers of branches and leaves that often obscure an animal’s form. Once while guiding for deer on the
Many hunters assume that small, low-powered binoculars are best for thick-cover hunting, but I tend to prefer at an 8x30 or 8x32, and sometimes even carry a 10x with at least 40mm objectives. These are far brighter than any compact binoculars, and the higher power helps fuzz out branches—and judge antlers.
Small, relatively low-power binoculars are ac