Spotting an animal is often the hardest part of elk hunting. Elk are experts at blending into their surroundings. Brush and shadowy timber make for excellent cover. Glassing helps you find animals not visible to the naked eye.
Spot and stalk elk hunting relies on a good pair of binoculars to help you find an animal, follow it and form a hunting strategy. Once spotted, your binoculars help you verify if the elk is considered legal.
What’s the best way to glass for elk? The answer varies from hunter to hunter. No matter what, you need to choose quality binoculars and know how to scan an area. Don’t be afraid to use several glassing methods until you find what works for you. Try these tips when glassing for elk on your next hunting trip.
First: Choose Your Binoculars
You don’t want to be in the backcountry without a way to enhance how far you can see. Elk can hide in the hills, trees and canyons around you. High-quality binoculars let you see the land ahead, providing a clear and crisp image of the habitat.
Binoculars are preferred for glassing elk. You should refrain from glassing with a scope. Anywhere your scope points, the barrel also points. Glassing with a scope has the potential to be dangerous, and it doesn’t provide the same depth of view. Save your scope for when you’re ready to take a shot.
Before you buy binoculars, you should know what to look for. Consider these factors as you hunt for the right pair:
Hunting binoculars can range from $100 to $4,000. Good equipment is usually worth the price tag, but you don’t have to spend thousands for a pair of binoculars that will do the job—and do it well. If you’re serious about hunting, you should expect to spend at least $150 on binoculars.
How powerful should your binoculars be? How much magnification do you need? Binoculars are labeled with two numbers. The first number refers to the magnification. If the binoculars are marked 10×40, objects will appear ten times closer when looking through the lenses.
The best binoculars for hunting possess 8x or 10x magnification. Higher magnification power can be difficult to use because it picks up more movement.
The second number found in binocular descriptions is the size of the objective lens, which is at the front of the equipment. The 10×40 binoculars mentioned above have a 40-millimeter lens.
Larger lenses let in more light but are heavier to cart around. You may want larger lenses for early mornings and evenings when the light is low. Most hunters find that 32mm to 42mm lenses are enough.
Binoculars with bigger lenses are more cumbersome, and they may contribute to fatigue. However, small binoculars won’t have the same image quality. When shopping for binoculars, remember that you’ll have to carry them around for miles.
Field of View
Your field of view is the binocular’s range of vision. It’s the distance visible in front of you when you aren’t moving your binoculars around.
Your field of view narrows as magnification increases. Narrow fields of view provide clearer images of elk once they are located. Wider fields of view are better for spotting elk and other moving animals.
Put binoculars up to your face. Then begin to pull them away. How far away are your eyes before you can no longer see the entire field of view? This measurement is called eye relief. You should look for binoculars with longer eye relief distances if you wear glasses or sunglasses.
Second: Experiment With Glassing Methods
Not all hunters glass for elk the same way. Some hunters start glassing from the closest points to the farthest points. You’re more likely to startle an animal that’s close to you than one that’s farther away.
Other hunters prefer to start glassing the corners of the area first, working their way to the middle. Some would rather glass what’s closest first, what’s farthest second and what’s in between last.
You may change glassing methods based on the terrain, weather or your comfort level. You can mix these strategies. You’ll have plenty of time to blend them because the best glassing is slow and deliberate.
- The grid system. You can glass for elk by imagining a grid within your binoculars. Choose a direction and scan the area. Scan left to right, then up and down, following the “grid.” If you don’t spot anything, wait 10 to 15 minutes and look again.
- The continuous scroll. Another way to glass elk is to move your binoculars from one side to the other slowly. As you move them, you’ll focus on the main field of view. You’ll move your binoculars across the area until you reach the other side. Repeat this process with the next point.
- The freeze frame. Think about scanning the area frame by frame. Hold your binoculars in one spot for 30 or 40 seconds and watch for movement. Reposition your binoculars, whether in your hands or on a tripod, to the next frame and hold.
The type of terrain can change how you glass. Always glass over unique land features multiple times. Elk could be hiding in the creases and shadows you see.
You can simply scan from left to right on a clear hill. Looking at a canyon, you should scan up and down, slowly working your way left to right. It’s easy to lose your point of reference scanning a canyon from only side to side.
Third: Follow These Tips for Glassing Elk
1. Look with your eyes first.
Don’t miss what’s right in front of you. Always scan an area with your eyes alone before using binoculars. Your naked eye has a wider field of vision, so you may catch movement in the distance.
2. Don’t look for the entire elk.
Elk stick close to the timber during the day. They like to be in meadows near wooded areas, which means they may have quite a bit of cover. Instead of looking for a 700 lb. bull, keep an eye out for antlers, hooves or flicking ears. Look for body parts, changes in color or tones, shadows and movement.
3. Glass once, then glass again.
It’s best practice to continue glassing the area, even if you didn’t see anything the first time. Scan an area more than once in case you missed something—or an animal moved out from behind cover.
4. Set up a tripod.
A light tripod makes glassing for elk less tiring. Heavy binoculars can weigh on your arms and upper back over long periods of time. A tripod shoulders the binoculars’ weight and provides a steady image if you’re prone to shaky hands.
5. Glass south-facing slopes first.
Planning a late-season elk hunting trip? Late in the season, you may want to glass south-facing slopes before other areas. Snow melts faster on these slopes, enticing elk and other game to feed there first. When the elk come, you’ll be waiting.
Glass Elk on Your Next Adventure
Glassing requires patience and stamina. It’s all about watching and waiting. No elk hunting trip would be complete without the challenge. When you finally spot an elk through your binoculars, your adrenaline kicks in and your hunt can begin.
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