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Article 3: How to glass for animals
When it comes to alpine hunting the best hunting method to employ is spot then stalk hunting, this basically means that you find the animal before you start hunting it.
Well that sounds great you might think, but how do I actually find the animals in the first place? After you’ve done your research and decided on a hunting area which you believe will hold the animal or animals you are looking for, the next step is probably the most difficult of all; spotting the animals.
Your single most important piece of gear when alpine hunting is your binoculars. Your binoculars are your main tool, without them you cannot locate game at any distance, which means you cannot employ the spot then stalk method, which in turn means you might as well turn around and go home. I did my time between the years of 16 and 20, walking 100’s of kilometres in the New Zealand mountains, seeing very few animals. The biggest breakthrough I made while developing into a hunter was when a friend’s father lent me a pair of binoculars. Previous to that most of the animals I’d shot had seen me first. In fact on separate occasions the first two chamois I shot had whistled at me, that was the only reason I located them, not a great method to employ… walking round the Southern Alps waiting for an animal to let out an alarm call.
Many hunters are still making a lot of basic error’s like I was back then, they may have the binoculars and all the fancy gear, but they’re generally spending too much time walking and not enough time glassing and then when they are glassing they’re doing it at the wrong time of day.
Over the next two years my success rate improved dramatically to the point where as a good fisherman expects to go fishing and catch fish, I now expected to go hunting and find animals.
The years rolled by and my optics improved, the old Tasco’s were replaced by a set of Leupold’s, which were superseded by a pair of Leica’s. I soon found myself with a hunting business and a primary role of locating free range animals and judging trophies for paying clients.
Which binoculars do I need?
Choose a pair of binoculars that are right for the job. In the mountains 8x magnification is not enough, 10x is ideal, 15x is good from a tripod or solid rest. Fifteen’s, as they are commonly referred to are becoming more popular, but they are heavier and bulkier, great from the bottom of the mountain, but more bulk and weight to carry up. I use ten power binocular’s with a sixty power spotting scope for closer inspection.
You don’t need the world’s best binoculars, but you do need reasonable ones, something in the $500 – $1000 range is adequate for most alpine hunting situations. If you can afford to spend more, great, if you can’t try buying a cheaper rifle, they generally all shoot straight; spend the money you saved on your binoculars.
How to clean your binoculars and keep them in a useable condition
Firstly, spend some time cleaning the lenses and focusing the bino’s to suit your eyes. Cleaning while hunting is best done with a lens cloth, these are great in dry conditions, I have one clipped on beside each eye piece, they push up out of the way into little stuff bags. Unfortunately lens cloths are absolutely useless when they’re wet, chances are when you’re mountain hunting that you’re going to get wet, so what do you do? Simple, you do what you have to so that you can use your binoculars, if that means wiping them with toilet paper, that’s what you do. Yes, toilet paper may not be ideal for the lenses, but it’s great at absorbing moisture and snow. Keeping your binoculars in a useable condition can be a real problem in bad weather. Obviously if the weather is disgusting you’re probably not going to be glassing, but if you are making your final approach on an animal and the weather turns to rain or snow, you need to be able to see what you’re looking at, this obviously applies to the rifle scope too. Scope covers are good, but they have to come off at some stage.
Here’s a tip, keep your toilet paper and extra cleaning cloth in a sealable plastic bag. Leave it in the top of your pack, or somewhere easy to get at. I often tuck a cloth or paper up my sleeve, or anywhere that it will at least stay dry for a few minutes. I learnt this the hard way while stalking a Wapiti bull in extreme conditions. A fierce wind and a sideways driving rain had shut down my ability to glass and even look through the rifle scope. My toilet paper and everything else about me and on me was wet through, the only piece of dry material I could find was a small part of my under pants. You try stretching your underpants out through your wet weather gear to rub on your rifle scope, quite an act, all the while with a trophy bull standing within range.
Standing up glassing is okay, but the more points of contact you can have between your binoculars and your body the steadier you will be able to hold your binoculars. Sitting down is best for glassing from long range with elbows on or inside your knees. I often find myself with my left hand gripping the binoculars as normal, but with my right hand I have my four fingers running along the side of the binoculars with my thumb under my chin, this provides another point of contact and further stability, try it.
On final approach, or when within range, kneeling down on one knee is a good position; it allows you to sweep the binoculars in a wide arc and allows you to change position easily while keeping your profile low.
How to glass – time of day
There is way too much to cover here in a few paragraphs but I will identify some key points. You are best to glass at ‘optimum time’ when the animals are standing up and moving. Colour and movement are the two things you are looking for. During ‘optimum time’ you have both colour and movement to look for, which increases your chances of spotting an animal. During the middle ours of the day you are best to do what the animals do and have a rest, it is possible to spot bedded animals through the middle hours of the day but in a lot of cases this is a low percentage option. You are relying on spotting colour only and you are looking for a sitting animal which is half the size of a standing animal, by all means throw your bino’s up and check out your target areas, you may spot something. But do this as you’re having lunch, or heading off when nature calls (tip – always take you bino’s to the loo, often you will walk away from your hunting buddy for privacy, around a ridge where new country awaits etc, have a glass before you do your business). Glassing during the middle of the day is not something you should actively do. Effective glassing requires a lot of concentration and can be mentally draining, you are best to conserve your energy for ‘optimum hunting time.’
Glass your target areas
During ‘optimum time’ glass your target area’s first and glass them over and over again, ‘you can never do too much looking.’ Don’t be afraid to glass areas where you don’t expect to see animals as well, another of my favourite sayings is ‘if you don’t look you don’t see.’ If you think you’ve glassed a particular area enough times, glass it again, remember it can all change very quickly, all you need is for an animal to move out of cover or stand up and all of a sudden ‘there’s one.’
Tip: every now and then, always sweep your bino’s around the skyline.
Use the sun
The sun is your best friend in the mountains, good sunlight and visibility allows you to glass further. Use the sun to your advantage! In New Zealand most of our alpine valleys run east to west or west to east, either way the sun will come down the face of western side of the valley in the mornings. I can’t stress enough that glassing with the sun is the key element to long range glassing. The sun illuminates the colour of an animal’s skin making animal’s easier to spot. As the sun strikes the tops get set up in a good comfortable position. As the sun line slowly works its way down the face of the valley keep glassing backwards and forwards along the line using the sun as a guide. Glass your way down as the sun comes down, keep glassing until ‘optimum time’ is over or the sun reaches the valley floor. In the right conditions you may be able to glass a sun line over 10 kilometres long all the time looking for that little spot of abnormal colour that the sun has illuminated. You can use this trick to a lesser degree as the sun is moving up the eastern side of the valley in the evenings.
Don’t give up
It’s often hard to maintain concentration especially in cold conditions, wear warm clothes, especially gloves. Cold fingers are no good, if you are warm and comfortable your concentration is better. In the morning you’ll be out of bed in position waiting for glassing light, in the evenings when everyone else has headed for camp hold on a bit longer, look one more time, that’s when it all happens.
Target area: A promising area you want to hunt or an actual area where you have identified your target animal.
Optimum time: Morning period and evening period when animals are most visible and active.