The Best System for Glassing Big Game

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The Best System for Glassing Big Game

“Spotting scope” is kind of a misnomer. Yes, you can spot critters with one, but it’s not the best use for your big glass. The right way to

“Spotting scope” is kind of a misnomer. Yes, you can spot critters with one, but it’s not the best use for your big glass. The right way to glass for big game in open country is to do your initial spotting with a binocular and then bust out the spotting scope for a closer look. I know this from hard experience. When I was a young and green, I used to scan distant hillsides with my spotter, thinking that all the extra magnification would help me pull antlers and flanks and rump patches from far-off meadows and timber edges. Instead, heat waves distorted my vision, the field of view was too tight, and I had to stop regularly because I got a headache.

These days I start my glassing with a 12x binocular. But I’ve also added a piece of equipment that has made a huge difference: a binocular tripod adaptor. You might not think at first that attaching your bino to a tripod would be so much better than simply resting it atop, but it is—and you will spot more critters than you would otherwise.

What Makes This System Better

A binocular is the best optic for finding animals because the dual eyepiece design doubles your field of view. And the lower power, compared to a spotter, is an asset not a shortcoming. As long as you buy quality class and get yours in 12x or 15x, you’ll have the perfect combo of power and a larger viewing area—and the ability to glass for hours without have to reach for the Ibuprofen.

bino adapter

When you mount your bino to a top-end bino adapter and attach that adapter to a tripod, you get the same level of steadiness as when slapping a spotter on a tripod. The shake is eliminated, and you can pan and scan in a grid pattern smoothly across the terrain. Compared to using a spotter, this allows you to glass more country, glass it more quickly and thoroughly, and I promise you’ll find more game.

photo of binocular on tripod
The author attaches a 12X binocular to a tripod using a stem-style adaptor. Jace Bauserman

I used this glassing system on a recent bighorn sheep hunt, and it was ultra-effective. Over 19 days, I not only spotted numerous rams, but I also put my 12X bino on piles of mule deer and elk. When I located a group of rams or another animal I wanted to take a closer look at, I swapped my bino for my spotter, and then I could zoom in and evaluate headgear. There were also multiple times when the binocular locked on to a log, twig, branch, white plastic bag, etc. Oftentimes, these things look like an animal, but when the spotter comes out, it’s easy to see that they aren’t. This is the purpose of a spotting scope—clarification and confirmation.  

photo of hunter looking a game
After spotting a group of bighorn sheep with his binocular, the author switches to a spotter for a better look. Jace Bauserman

One quick tip worth mentioning here is that you should pay very close attention to details when you locate game, or what you think is game, with your binocular before switching to your spotter. Too often over the years, I’ve gotten excited, rushed the process, not taken landmarks around what I was looking at through my binocular, and then been unable to find it again when I switched to my spotter. 

Two years back, while glassing for bull elk, I was sure what I was looking at with my bino was nothing more than a fallen tree branch behind some brush. By the time I switched to my spotter, the light had changed, and because I didn’t take landmarks, I couldn’t relocate what I was looking at. Luckily, my buddy kept his pan head locked, so the head of his tripod didn’t move during the swap. What I figured to be a branch turned out to be a 330-inch bull elk bedded against a giant ponderosa pine.

The Perfect Setup For Glassing Game

When packing in for high-country mule deer, sheep, or elk, the bino around my neck is a 12X model, and this is what I attach to my tripod. My spotter is Leupold’s SX-5 Santiam HD 27-55×80. I run a  Leupold Alpine CF-425 Tripod, and Leupold’s Quick-Stem Binocular Tripod Adapter is in my pack. If I’m close to the truck, I prefer Leupold’s Field Clamp Binocular Adapter. Both adapters work with almost all binoculars, though the Field Clamp version is more versatile. (There are also plenty of good adaptors offered from other makers worth looking into.) The Field Clamp is also a tad heavier than the Stem, so I prefer the latter for off-the-beaten-path hunts.

photo of binocular on tripod
The author’s binocular attached to a tripod with Leupold’s Field Clamp adaptor. Jace Bauserman

When I arrive at my glassing area, I take a quick scan with my 12x binoculars—in case there are easy pickings—then I set up my tripod and attach the binos via the adapter. When using a stem-style adapter, you need to remove the small logo-branded set screw in the bridge of the binoculars and thread in the bino-adapter screw. The process is simple and takes seconds. If you opt for a clamp-style binocular adapter, you simply open the jaws and then close them around one of the binocular barrels.

bino clamp

Once your binos are secured, adjust the tripod settings before you start scanning. Be sure you can swing the head left, right, up, and down smoothly, but with some tension so things aren’t sloppy. Take your time and scan thoroughly. If you find a critter you want to take a closer look at, leave the pan head of your tripod locked, then remove the bino adapter and replace it with your spotting scope mount. It’s that easy.

Don’t forget the part about locking the pan head, like I did with that big bull. Most of all, don’t get the larger process backward by starting with your spotter. Glassing sessions should begin with binoculars, and the spotter only comes out for clarification before you start your stalk.

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