By Michael Deming
I had been pulled off the side of the road watching three bedded bucks for about an hour when a truck pulled up behind me. The bucks were close to a mile away and tucked into the shade. One of the guys walked up on my side of the truck and asked, “What are you looking at”? I told him that I was just looking for a buck to put my tag on and didn’t share with him that I was currently watching several good bucks, with one of them over 180” B&C. I asked if they had elk or deer tags and what were they looking to harvest. Two of the guys had deer tags and the other had an elk tag and with only one day left in the hunt, they were willing to shoot just about any buck or bull they could find.
At this point, I asked if they had checked out the mountain I had my scope focused on. They said that they had spent the last hour a little higher on the mountain looking through their binoculars at the exact mountain without seeing anything. They didn’t own a spotting scope or anything higher in power than 10X binoculars. I didn’t share with them the three bucks I was watching, since I hunt this unit each and every year and will likely try to harvest the big guy the following year. So, it was obvious, even though they were glassing, they didn’t have the right tools for the job.
My personal philosophy is to not leave the truck until I’ve found the animal that I want to harvest. That statement holds pretty true, but I will occasionally hike to a look-out point where I can spend hours behind some top-end optics.
I’ve got a great friend, who shall remain nameless for this article, who knows that I’ve taken some whopper bucks over my career. He has hunted with me on numerous occasions and he is the poster child for fitness. He could walk me into the dirt on any given day and often has. His passion is big mule deer and he has walked thousands of miles trying to find one to put his tag on. He is that guy that says, “You just have to get away from the crowds or over that next ridge to find the big ones”. He is a great hunter, but depends way more on his legs than he does his patience and good optics to find his trophies. He even committed to me the last time we hunted in Colorado to stay put in the truck until he found that trophy buck. It lasted about three days before he was putting on ten miles a day. At the end of the season, I had tagged an old, mature 180” buck. We spotted him fifteen hundred yards off of the highway, up under a rock bluff and we made a good stalk to five hundred yards and took him. My buddy took a four-year-old, 165” buck on the last day, which he packed out several miles.
Three deer from the same unit taken in three consecutive years.
You can cover more miles with vehicles and optics than you can ever do on foot. I’m not a road hunter by any means, as the big bucks we find are usually bedded and seldom on their feet when you are driving around. The key is having high-end optics as well as good observation points to look from. Regardless of whether I’m hunting a unit that I have years of experience in or checking out dirt for the very first time, the observation points are key. You can find these types of places on Google Earth pretty easily and I spend hours on end looking at places I will hunt. I always try to make at least one solid scouting trip before the season to get onto these observation areas and see what I can find. The other thing to do on these trips is to drive as many of the roads as you can and see where they go. Being able to find animals at long-range doesn’t do you much good if it takes you several hours to walk over to where you last saw them.
The other important thing about this article is optics. You need the right tools for the job as well as focusing on what you can afford. Having a set of binoculars is the key to starting your searches. Out west, a pair of 10X is a good start and that is what I have around my neck at all times. However, a set of 15X binoculars set on top of a tripod is going to allow you to cover a lot of ground from one location. Having binoculars puts much less fatigue on your eyes than using a spotting scope, so if you have to choose between a spotting scope and high-power binoculars, I would recommend the binos. Being able to sit somewhere comfortable and glass for hours on end is the key to finding trophy animals.
The next step up in glassing long-range is the spotting scope. I utilize these to not only look for trophy animals, but to determine trophy quality. With limited primetime movement in the morning and the evening, the last thing I want to do is burn up several hours trying to get close, only to find out this really isn’t an animal worthy of my tag. Being able to crank up your spotting scope to 60- or even 70-power and observe an animal at a few miles is key to increasing your success.
Although there are many big game animals taken by those hunters burning up the shoe leather, I must say that I’m thankful for those guys and gals, as they often boot a big buck out of a hiding place that otherwise isn’t visible. But, the majority of truly big trophies are taken from hunters who have learned to use their optics much more than their legs.