Glassing – Finding The Animal in The Rough Terrain

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Glassing is a way to cover country without physically walking it while spotting animals that you could not see with your naked eye. It allows you to keep a relative distance from your targets. It lowers the chances of making them aware of your presence or bumping them. Hunters often spend large amounts of time sitting quietly, glassing an area to find buck, elk, or big game to pursue.

What is glassing?

Glassing is when you look for animals from a spot-and-stalk position. The activity got its name from the equipment that is usually involved: spotting scopes or binoculars. It involves sitting in a specific spot, scanning the country around you to locate animals.

Picking the Right Place for Glassing 

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The sweet spot to glass from strongly depends on the area but always involves having an unhindered view of your surroundings. This will often mean finding a spot on higher ground. The idea behind this is that the more country you can see, the better chance you have of spotting an animal. Having said that, you don’t want to skyline yourself, so pick a place that has some rocks or bushes that you can use as a backdrop.

When glassing, carefully look at the entire area available to you. That includes using your spotting scope to scan areas that are far away. At the same time, don’t only focus on further away areas. Spotting an animal closer by could give you a target to pursue today. On the other hand, glassing further lying areas could see you spot an animal that you can pursue on your next hunting trip.

Plan your spotting locations according to the time of day and where you will likely see game. You can do this based on where animals were seen previously, finding spots near water sources, or identifying game trails. Glassing with the sun behind you is easier on your eyes and reduces reflections off your gear. The sunlight will also naturally illuminate areas that you are glassing, and that could make for easier spotting.

Remember that once you have spotted an animal that you want to pursue or decide that it is time to move to a new spot, you will need to move down from your current glassing spot. While spots higher up could give you a better view, it will also take more time to move closer to your target and from one vantage point to the next. If the terrain allows, go for an area that can offer you a few different glassing spots within easy reach of each other. Each new spot should provide you with fresh ground to glass.

In some areas, the best glassing spot may be lower than in other places. These areas include hanging valleys, open basins, or semi-open hillsides where the terrain makes it impractical (if not impossible) to glass from overhead, which means it is better to glass from the bottom up.

You will likely spend a considerable amount of time in your glassing spot (sometimes hours on end), so choose one that is relatively comfortable. You may need to consider one that provides a degree of protection from the elements. Areas with a slight breeze and shade could be welcome on hot days, while sunny spaces that offer wind protection will work well when temperatures start to drop. Remember that the sun can reflect off anything from your watch to your rifle barrel and even your tripod legs, not to mention the lenses of your glassing gear. Keeping these in the shade (or covered as much as possible) will help avoid scaring game away because of reflections from the sun.

You also need to consider the direction of the wind. This is especially important if you are glassing closer to your target area. In this case, choose a location that is downwind from where you expect to see game to avoid scaring them off.

Spotting techniques.

Spotting involves something called a ‘game eye.’ That is your ability to see game amongst their natural habitats. It does not have so much to do with how good your eyesight is, rather how well you can pick game out from their surroundings. This skill is developed through practice and cannot be taught. It takes time, dedication, and patience to achieve a good game eye.

When you have a large area to glass, the best way to do it without becoming overwhelmed or missing anything is to divide and conquer. That means you divide the area into logical chunks and scan each area thoroughly before moving on to the next. A good rule of thumb is to start glassing areas that are easier, like vast open spaces, before moving on to terrain where animals are camouflaged easier. Once you have scanned these areas for animals that may be easily seen, it is time to direct your focus to any places animals may be hiding in that space. Look around the edges and any brushy patches.

Moving on from these open spaces, you can focus on larger areas of brush. Look for holes or sheltered areas. Pay special attention to shadows and areas near game trails.

Slow down more as you progress to more complicated terrain. Change your binoculars for a spotting scope to get a better view of what could potentially be an animal. Ideally, you can make a mental note of these areas to focus on with your scope once you have made an initial scan (or a few) of a site with binoculars. This will avoid the need to switch back-and-forth from binoculars to glass, potentially drawing attention or risk the sun reflecting off of either while you are changing from one to the other.

Another method for glassing is called the grid pattern. This method of glassing works better in areas where distinct differences in typography are not noticeable. Divide the surface area up into smaller zones. Then methodically scan each section from top to bottom or bottom to top, moving along horizontal lines (similar to how a printer moves over a piece of paper). Look from left to right (or right to left), then aim your gaze either marginally more up or down and move the opposite way. You could also scan in a vertical grid instead of horizontally. Try to align each pass to overlap with the previous to make sure you don’t miss anything.

When using binoculars, try moving your eyes along the field of view instead of constantly moving the binoculars. This will enable you to see things in more detail, including parts of animals like deer antlers or a leg protruding from behind a bush or a rock that you may overlook otherwise.

Equipment needed for glassing.

Glassing involves binoculars and a spotting scope. Binoculars give you a larger field of view and generally place less strain on your eyes. They work well to give an area an overview. Once you have scanned a space and identified areas that need a closer look, you can focus on them through your scope. Spotting scopes can be used to scan faraway locations, but they tend to make your eyes tired quicker. If this is the case, give your eyes a break from glassing often. Keeping your eye fresh is vital when you need to use your rifle scope to locate your target and make the shot.

Low-quality bino’s (or spotting scopes, for that matter) are likely going to place a lot of strain on your eyes and give you a headache. Investing in a better-quality glass will likely have enhanced functionality and give you more clarity when you do spot an animal. This will help you identify the type of animal and whether it is a legal hunt before you pursue it. More than that, good optics will last much longer, bringing you many happy hunting days.

Remember that you will be covering a lot of ground while carrying your pack, your gear, and your weapon. While high-quality optics are recommended, it is a good idea to balance the quality of your optics with their size and weight.

Glassing becomes much more manageable and effective if you use a tripod. The tripod keeps your binoculars or spotting scope steady, allowing you to see even the slightest movement far off. The tripod also enables you to lock your glass in place once you have spotted an animal so that you can find it easily when you look again or are trying to find it through your rifle scope. Using a tripod will make your glassing more comfortable, which means you will be able to glass for longer. If you cannot use a tripod, resting your elbows on your knees could steady your binoculars or spotting scope.

Glassing takes time and patience. You often sit long hours gazing through your optics, scanning terrain for a target to pursue. Finding the right location is critical to your success, as is using effective glassing techniques and a good quality pair of binoculars or spotting scope. Finding a comfortable spot and using a tripod will make glassing a more enjoyable part of your hunting trip.