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Difference Makers in Strategic Glassing

Aug 13, 2015 |  #hoyt #bowhunting #compound

This is the second article of a two-part series on pre-season glassing by Marlon Holden. Click here to view the first article on concealment. 

Let’s walk through the details of what sets the best apart from rest when it comes to spotting deer. These keys can help you spot deer more frequently and faster than anyone you know. Strategy when glassing is the key to unlocking big-time success afield.


My Experience: 

Lets start with my own humble beginnings. For me, it was sink or swim. My hunting buddy (or so I thought) told me, “whoever spots it stalks it, end of story.” Consequently, I sat around giving him signals most of the time. It sucked.  

In a lot of ways, though, I’m glad it worked out that way because I became so obsessive, so competitive, so driven to spot the buck first, that it became my last dying wish!  I worked at it until I could out-glass him and then started hunting with new friends. This was a tough path that proved well worth it, because I now enjoy the results of glassing big open country and knowing how to strategically pick it apart. I take pride in earning the animals I stalk by spotting them myself first.            


Let’s talk glassing set-ups and reasons for the set-up you should run. First, make certain that you buy the best you can afford, whatever that may be. Be willing to save for an entire year, it is worth it.  Do not be hasty and buy low grade equipment – It will yield low grade results in the loan run. 

Field glass will, and always should, consist of 10X42’s around your neck paired with a 20-60X65mm spotter. The 10X42 field glass and a spotter serve as a base to build on, but you don’t have to stop there. Consider collecting quality glass to increase long term field success.  For example,  I utilize VORTEX 10X42 Razor HD’s, 12X50 Razor HD’s, a Razor 20-26X65mm straight spotter for backpacking and a 20-60-X85mm straight spotter for truck glassing, along with two Razor HD 30X fixed power wide angle 85mm straight spotters bolted together for the ultimate set of Big Eye’s. 

Because I have all of this glass, I have everything I need to cover any terrain I want to hunt, and feel that I am effective in hunting it the right way. I honestly belive that the more you invest in your glass the better your long term results will be. This is not to say you have to spend top dollar to put food on the table for your family, as it can get very pricey. But find a balance, and push the envelope if you can; high end glass will result in more opportunities in the field, there’s no doubt about that.

If you take the opportunity to save and purchase excellent glass, the results will pay dividends. This glass will most certainly add at minimum 30 minutes per day of optimum glassing time (15 minutes on each end of the day) leading to more game spotted.  Take that half-an-hour over a 10-day hunt and you just picked up 5 hours of literally the best glassing time. That time really adds up over the years. This is no joke. This simple key to success cannot be stressed enough. Good glass and good practice will add trophies to your wall.


A good set-up gives you the tools to find better bucks in low light. 

Performance in lower light conditions is a great reason to invest in better optics, which many people are aware of. But other traits make a difference as well, such as edge-to-edge flatness to reduce eye fatigue. Excellent glass will leave your eyes in much better condition after a long hunt. Recent technological advancements in lens coatings, whether it is UV, Scratch resistance, anti fog, or anti-reflective, are all small advancements that do make a difference in the field.    

By nature, everyone is looking for the latest greatest, lightest, fastest or newest technology in their hunting equipment. Your glass should be no different. Many people sit back and shrug it off as being not that big of a deal, but the fact is that the best athletes utilize the best equipment they can access. 


Now that you have your glass, the mountain can be approached from many different angles. However, it is best to approach it with the rule of thirds in mind. Create an imaginary grid breaking the mountain apart into 9 sections – Top, Middle and Bottom – Left, Middle and Right. Once you have the terrain gridded in your mind, scan the sweet-spots that appear likely to hold animals. After a quick scan, checking each section in an orderly fashion, if you have not found anything then you should slow down.

I cannot tell you how many times I have done quick scans and picked up animals right off the bat!  Early morning Gray Light provides these opportunities pretty easily, since most everything is still out feeding before bedding up for the day.  Once the sun is higher in the sky, though, you’ll notice that the quick scan is more of a ‘get lucky’ scan and you’ll have to really dig in, push the rocks out of the way, get comfortable and tear the mountain apart for a while if you want success.

Remember to be patient. If you know the animals are there don’t act hastily – you have to hunt on the time of your quarry, not on your time.  The animals don’t care that you made a sacrifice to be there, or that your wife wants you home for dinner. Slow down. Allow time for an animal to get up and switch beds. Be there long enough to be able to catch that small move. Patience has helped me spot a lot of big bucks over the years, so hold out, no matter how mentally difficult it seems.

Often times, the tough hunts are the hardest to be patient on. It’s easy to make the mistake of covering huge amounts of country and move all over the place trying to turn up an animal to hunt.  Remember these two mottos:  “Don’t leave animals to find animals” and “Don’t continue to hunt country simply out of habit”. If you know that the genetics are in a particular area and you are seeing game, it is simply a matter of time before you find what you are after.  It is all a matter of staying the course at that point.


Good strategy yields good results. 


Equally important to your glass is the tripod you pair it with.  Something like an Outdoorsmans Tall Tripod, with a pan adapter and pistol grip, is a sweet set-up you cannot go wrong with.  When you need to be mobile, I advise getting yourself set up with an Outdoorsmans Small, you can interchange the other components at will later on.

I have found that as a general rule, carbon fiber tripods will give you a better weight ratio for the most part; however they will suffer whenever you get any wind in the equation.  Case in point, this past winter I was helping my buddy Chad on his father’s hunt and he had a SLIK carbon tripod next to my Outdoorsmans tall.  We had around 12-15 mph winds and I was having no issues with my 15’s.  When I looked through his glass, though, the carbon tripod simply could not cancel out the vibration in its legs.  This is one area where lighter isn’t always better, so do some research before you pull the trigger.

Referring back up to breaking apart the mountain, a smooth pan-head or pistol grip is essential in order to ensure that you don’t lose your place on the mountain in your glass. Cheap pan-heads will act “sticky” and will not pan smoothly.  As you can see, your glassing set-up is more of a “system” than an item. All components are necessary in order to have a great experience behind your glass.  Once you have the opportunity to work with a solid set-up, you’ll never want to use anything less.

Difference Makers:

I distinctly remember a hunt some years back where I had just purchased my 10X42 EL Swarovskis. We were in Southern Arizona and I was attempting to help a buddy of mine find a Coues buck to go after.  I vividly remember setting up a nice spot to glass from before sunrise, kicking away some small rocks and sitting down.  As I looked through my new glass, I was stoked at how much better they were than my old Nikon Monarchs.  It wasn’t a minute later that my buddy started shouting out “I got one!” Then a few seconds later “I got two more… “ This went on for around five minutes or so as I frantically searched in the early morning gray for nothing.  I turned to him and said, “Where are you looking? I haven’t even found one yet!”  He told me to come over. I sat in his spot and peered through those tripod-mounted 15X56’s and felt like I i was in a different world. The “AHA!” process struck me square in the forehead! Seeing all of those bucks, right under my nose in that pre dawn light, changed everything. I knew I needed to save up for 15’s. 

Fast forward to today that I now carry a set of VORTEX big eyes around. yes, because they are that worth it, and NO, I don’t carry them that far from the truck.  It is an obsession, it started years ago when I knew nothing about optics; let alone how to find animals.  Most wont ever experience that obsession for optics, and may not need to. However, there is one thing I want to make very clear, that cannot be stressed enough:  do yourself a huge favor and give yourself the appropriate tools for the job at hand. 

There is no substitute for adequate preparation, and optics are an element that you are in complete control over. It is human nature to say “I don’t really need Swarovski’s” when we have a Nikon budget, but don’t let that philosophy win. Optics isn’t the place to cut corners. 

I hope these tips help put you on a path to good optical equipment, and good strategy to go along with it. I hope you gained some useful insights that will give you an edge on your next hunt! 

Good luck out there!

~Marlon Holden