If you want to see Western big game success, you'd better gear up to see Western big game.
With respect to bow-hunting, if there were a dividing line between the West and the East it would likely run right through my home state of North Dakota. Living within the flight of an arrow from Eastern whitetail hunting and what is often called "hunting the West," I love both. However, if forced to choose, I'd hunt the West. It's just "in" me, and it has been since my first elk hunt in the early 1980s.
Hunting the West is different. The terrain is different, game species are different, game is less concentrated, and the distances for spotting and shooting game are longer. For these reasons your focus (pun intended) on optics and their use must be sharper.
If the West, or Far North, are calling to you, here are some thoughts on optics with an emphasis on accessories that will help you hunt more efficiently.
Without quality binoculars, you'll feel lost, and the truth is you will be -- from a hunting perspective. If you can invest in only one piece of top-of-the-line hunting equipment, scrimp on other gear, but never on binoculars.
For most hunting in the West, I recommend a 10X binocular with an objective lens diameter of about 40 millimeters. That's a good combination of magnification and light-gathering capability. Making maximum use of available light is also dependent on the quality of the glass and coatings on the lenses. With premium glass your view will be brighter than with the naked eye, and at prime time, when the light is low and game animals are most active, you'll easily notice the difference between top-end and average glass.
Clear, sharp glass is also invaluable when you're trying to distinguish between a forked stick and the forked antler of a bedded muley. Cheap glass will leave you wondering.
Binocular shopping can be intimidating, but at least consider the finest optics available first. The top three -- Leica, Swarovski, and Zeiss -- have become the top four as Nikon has risen to that level in recent years. Some excellent binoculars for most Western hunting are the Swarovski 10x42 EL Swarovision, Zeiss Victory FL 10x42 T, Leica Ultravid 10x42 HD, and Nikon EDG 10x42. These are all very expensive binoculars, but, remember, you're making an investment. Even serious hunters of modest means, such as guides, wisely pay for quality glass.
If you're hunting elk in dark timber you may prefer something smaller and lighter, say an 8X binocular with 32mm objective lenses. A glass this size is ideal for packing all day through the woods and for holding with one hand to scan the deadfalls for legs and antlers.
Other high-end binoculars include the Steiner Peregrine XP, Brunton Epoch, Bushnell Elite, Leupold Golden Ring, and Vortex Kaibab. If your budget can't handle a high-end binocular, check some excellent midrange options like the Steiner Predator C5, Nikon Monarch X, Zeiss Conquest, Brunton Eterna, and Bushnell Legend Ultra HD.
You don't need many accessories for binoculars, but a good bino harness is a must.
Crooked Horn, Butler Creek, and Nimrod Packs make some good options. Wear these under your backpack and run your sternum strap under the harness so you can pull your binos up to your eyes. If you have to ditch your pack to finish a stalk, your binoculars stay with you -- as they must.
Another option is a binocular case such as the Badlands Bino Case or the Bino Chest Pack from Alaska Guide Creations. You can adjust these tight to your chest so your binoculars don't bounce as you're running or riding horseback. You can then freely pull out the binoculars, while a lightweight neckstrap still offers security.
Some experienced hunters prefer high-power binoculars to spotting scopes because the big binos cause less eye strain. If you plan to do lots of glassing with big binoculars, install an adapter and mount the binoculars on a tripod.
In my opinion, highest-quality glass is not as crucial as it is for binoculars. My advice is to spend your big money on binoculars first, a spotting scope second. You can watch game from a distance to determine movement patterns, trophy quality, and terrain features with a good scope as well as with a premium scope.
Premium and midrange spotting scopes are available from the aforementioned manufacturers, and you'll have to choose based on your use. You can glass from a vehicle or road with the larger, heavier, brighter scopes with objective lenses in the 80mm size range. If you plan to haul your spotting scope into the field, you'll probably prefer a scope with a smaller objective in the 65mm size range. Or you can go compact with such models as the Nikon Fieldscope ED 50 and the Leupold Golden Ring 12-40x60.
Should you choose a straight or angled eyepiece? A 45-degree eyepiece is good for glassing from a sitting position because you don't need to raise the tripod as high. On high-end models, the body of the scope rotates so you can glass in various directions without moving. The traditional straight eyepiece generally works better from a prone position or mounted on the window of a vehicle.
For best results, you must mount a scope on a tripod. For years I've carried a Slik 613 Pro carbon tripod with a ball head from Really Right Stuff. The combination weighs only 30 oz., is 18" long, and easily fits in my pack. A pistol-grip head works fine but doesn't pan any better than a ball head. One excellent head for glassing is the Jim White Pan Head.
It's expensive, but it is the ideal head for serious scanning. Jim White also makes a panning attachment that fits under a pistol grip or ball head. Find these and other glassing accessories including tripods at coueswhitetail.com. or at Outdoorsmans.com.
Many serious Western hunters like to stand while glassing. It works great, but you need a big, heavy, and expensive tripod. Unless you're a guide, outfitter, or wildlife photographer, I'd recommend sticking with a field tripod and glassing from a sitting or prone position.
Window mounts have their place in hunting and scouting. Avoid window mounts that have multiple tension adjustments because you'll be constantly adjusting them. Leupold makes a window mount with a ball head with only one adjustment. Bushnell's window mount adjusts, loosens, and tightens with just the twist of the handle.
A laser rangefinder is particularly valuable in the West, especially in broken terrain where you cannot accurately judge range with your naked eye. I prefer vertically-held rangefinders because they're more compact than horizontal models, and they're easier to hold steady with one hand because you can prop your thumb against your face. My tests have shown accuracy is not an issue with laser rangefinders -- they're all accurate at bowhunting ranges. Your decision comes down to ergonomics, your preference of LED vs. LCD readout, cost, and features such as angle compensation.
For hunting the rough terrain and long distances of the West, I'd recommend an angle-compensation rangefinder like Nikon's new Archer's Choice MAX (200-yard range), Bushnell's Bowhunter-Chuck Adams Edition rangefinder, the Opti-Logic Micro I, and Leupold's RX-1000 TBR.
Above all, you must keep a rangefinder handy. During a stalk, you can't be fiddling with a pouch or digging in a pack when you should be preparing for a shot. Never attach your rangefinder to your pack either; you'll end up leaving it behind if you shed your pack in the last stages of the stalk.
I've developed a method for carrying my rangefinder that works well for me. I use the neckstrap provided, and with my Nikon rangefinder, I use the Nikon Neoprene Case, the best case design I've found. I'm right-handed, so I slip my right arm through the strap so that the rangefinder hangs upside down with the eyepiece facing left. The strap slides under my pack when I need to bring it up for ranging.
If I have to crawl, I use the neckstrap in conjunction with a retractable tether on my belt that attaches to one of the eyelets on the Nikon case. The tension of the tether keeps the rangefinder tight to my torso rather than letting it hang down and bang on rocks or get tangled in brush. Most retractable tethers are noisy, which I can't tolerate. The best I've found is the new Sidewinder by S4Gear. It's totally silent and works great.
Many other optical products will enhance your Western hunting adventure. The items mentioned are good examples of what to look for and what you'll need to hunt efficiently in the West. Or North. Or South. Or East€¦
Manufacturer's Contact List
- Alaska Guide Creations, (805) 272-8096, www.Alaskaguidecreations.com
- Badlands Packs, (801) 978-2207, www.badlandspacks.com
- Brunton, Inc., 1-800-443-4871, www.brunton.com
- Bushnell, 1-800-423-3537, www.bushnell.com
- Butler Creek, 1-800-423-3537, www.butlercreek.com
- Crooked Horn, 1-877-722-5872, www.crookedhorn.com
- Jim White, www.coueswhitetail.com
- Leica, 1-800-222-0118, www.leica.com
- Leupold, 1-800-538-7653, www.leupold.com
- Nikon, 1-800-645-6689, www.nikonsro.com
- Nimrod Packs, 1-800-646-7632, www.nimrodpacks.com
- Opti-Logic, 1-888-678-4564, www.opti-logic.com
- Outdoorsmans, 1-800-291-8065, www.outdoorsmans.com
- Really Right Stuff, 1-888-777-5557, www.reallyrightstuff.com
- S4Gear, (541) 998-8800, www.s4gear.com
- SLIK, 1-800-606-6969, www.bhphoto.com
- Steiner Binoculars, 1-800-257-7742, www.steiner-binoculars.com
- Swarovski Optik, 1-800-426-3089, www.swarovskioptik.com
- Vortex Optics, 1-800-426-0048, www.vortexoptics.com
- Zeiss, 1-800-441-3005, www.zeiss.com/sports