Become a Better Glasser

By Chris Denham
Copyright Western Hunter Magazine

I've had the unique privilege of "growing up" in the world of hunting with high-performance optics. Over the years, my hunting partners have included some of the best hunters and professional guides in the West. One major skill that separates "good" hunters from the "best" hunters has been their ability to spot game with optics. Notice that I used the word "skill" and not "talent". A skill is a developed ability, whereas a talent is something you're born with; you either have it or you don't.


Spotting game with optics has very little to do with eyesight. With the diopter adjustment set properly, anyone can attain an equal image quality (assuming the optics are the same). There are no excuses; if your buddy consistently spots more game than you, it's because he has done a better job of perfecting his skills. The good news is that it's never too late to start learning how to be a better glasser.

Learning to Read
Spotting game quickly is just like learning to read. In first grade, we all learned to read by dragging our finger under one syllable at a time and saying it out loud. With more practice, you could read silently without your finger to keep you on track; the words got longer and the print got smaller. By the time you got to high school you only had to see parts of a word and your brain started filling in the blanks. In fact, the brain makes evaluation based on the shape of a word. The reality is the more you read and challenge your skills, the better reader you'll become.

From the first time you ever saw a deer, you've been learning to "read" deer. At first you needed to see the entire deer and in good light, but as that deer walked behind some brush, you learned to recognize the shape of its head or the color of the hair. With more exposure to deer in their natural environment, your brain recognized these small pieces of information and told you there was a deer standing there.

The more time you spend watching animals through your optics, the faster your brain can store new images for later use, but you have to continue to exercise this skill in order to improve. One exercise I like to do is once I find the first deer of a hunt, I'll spend 10-20 minutes just watching that deer. For me, it "reminds me what a deer looks like", provides scale relative to the trees and shrubs around them, what color phase they are in, and how fast/slow I need to cover the country. This is also a very effective way to train a young hunter or a novice.

Tripods Make Life Better
There is only one way to speed up the learning process and that is to buy a tripod and mount your binocular on top. We covered this subject in greater detail in the Fall Issue of Elk Hunter Magazine, so I'll keep this pitch brief, but it bears repeating. Imagine trying to learn to read while somebody else held the book and kept moving it around slightly. It wouldn't take long to just give up on the idea of ever learning. With a binocular securely mounted to a tripod, the image is perfectly still, allowing you to more easily detect motion and differentiate between shapes and colors. I will guarantee that you'll increase the number of animals and the detail you'll be able to see.

Develop a System
When you're sitting in prime habitat and the sun starts to rise, we all think there will a giant buck behind every bush. This causes us to bounce around the hillside looking for the perfectly obvious animal. This is okay for a few minutes, but eventually we need to settle down and work the country in front of us with some methodology in mind. Glassing in a grid pattern is the most obvious and effective method. Start at the bottom or closest terrain and work your way left or right, then move up half a frame so that only the top half of the image is new. You're essentially looking at everything twice and giving anything you missed on the first pass a little time to step out where it can be seen. Again, this system is much easier to execute if you are using a tripod.

Give Your Eyes a Break
Your eyes are operated by muscles, and like any muscle, they can only work so hard before becoming fatigued. During long glassing sessions, you need to give them a rest every now and then. Early in the hunting season, I'll take about a one-minute break every ten minutes or so. Eventually you'll recognize the signs of fatigue and naturally want to stop and rest. If you're hand-holding binoculars, this is especially important, because you're working not only your eye muscles, but also your hand, arm, and particularly your shoulder muscles. Also, your brain is sorting through an unknown amount of information; if you don't take a break, you'll eventually become apathetic and lose concentration, causing you to miss things.

At the end of a long day of hunting with your buddies, who really wants to be the guy that spotted the fewest deer? With a plan in mind and some determination, it won't be long before you'll be working on your graduate degree in glassing.

This article originally appeared in Western Hunter Magazine and appears courtesy of Western Hunter Magazine. Western Hunter Magazine is your best resource for hunting information for all western species. Whether you are interested in elk, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep or moose we will bring the adventure to your mailbox! Our subtitle is Gear - Tactics - Information - Adventure and we take each of these seriously. We only feature the finest hunting gear available from the finest makers in the world. If you are looking for information or looking to buy, we will steer you in the right direction. In each issue you will learn tips and tactics from the most experienced hunters in the west. With articles on field judging trophies, glassing techniques and calling strategies, we guarantee you will learn something new in every issue, and will continue to become more knowledgeable and skilled Western Hunter.