The utility of good optics
We have the will to outlast everything!
A spotting scope and a quality pair of binoculars are
mandatory for the serious hunter and tracker. While making a quality purchase is
the first step, there are some keys to good optics use in the field. There’s a
long way from pulling out your binoculars and spotting your first kill of the
day. Lear forward and learn how to use your optics in the field.
I was on a rocky cliff, just in the shadow and it was quite
a distance from the desert floor. I had been looking for sheep, and my eyes and
mind were tired. I moved my eye from my spotting scope and looked from the
mountain I was viewing to the floor of the desert below me. Movement caught my
eye. I picked up my 10 by 50 binoculars and leaned into the mountain to gain
stability. I could make out four figures under a Palo Verde tree’s shade.
That time, I was hunting 3 miles from the border of Mexico. I figured they were illegal aliens taking a break from the hot sun or perhaps sleeping after traveling at night. I slowly swiveled the spotting scope and could make out their faces when I focused on the instrument. All wore old clothes and had hats on. Two of the men were Mexicans, and two looked to be oriental.
If the men were illegal aliens, what would two oriental men be sneaking across the border for? I will leave you to make guesses as to their reasons for entering the U.S in such a fashion. Perhaps they were just ordinary citizens catching some desert sun in the middle of nowhere.
The above example bears witness to the fact that optics are a double-edged sword. They can be used to spot and identify game or men. Both of these purposes are of vital interest to the survivalist. Most people know little about the selection of quality optics or the keys to their proper use. I will try to shed some light on the latter topic as it is the subject of this article.
There are four keys to being effective with optical instruments, whether they are spotting scopes, some form of binocular, monocular or to a lesser degree, rifle scope. They are 1. Quality Optics. 2. Stability. 3. The skill of the optical instrument’s user. 4. techniques of proper optics use.
This topic can be discussed for hours, and there are many
reviews online you can check before making a purchase. I won’t go into details,
but the main rule here is not to cheap out and always go for quality. Besides
your main optics, think about the accessories you may need such as straps or a tripod
to stabilize your optics.
You must get this principle down before you can be really
effective with optics. Many of us have watched the crosshairs of our rifle
scope dance across a target or deer without settling on the kill zone or
bullseye. That’s because the rifle or its rest was not steady. Of course, the
key to stabilizing a rifle might be a tighter sling wrap on your arm, a lower
power on your variable scope, a biped or better shooting rest, control of your
breathing or other things.
When using binoculars, a good tripod is needed, using your body as one just like a metal tripod for a camera or spotting scope. By using your butt and two feet, you form a tripod with your body, anchor both elbows on the meaty part of your legs just below the knees as if you were shooting in the sitting position. If you can lean your back against a stable object like a rock or tree, you become more stable, and your field of view is steadier.
While some can stand and view effectively with binoculars, I
always sit down or lay down leaning my head on a coat or rock. This is another
very stable position. As you get older both your eyes and ability to keep
binoculars steady decay. This means you need to take advantage of proper
stability. The larger your magnification in any optical instrument, the more
difficult it is to achieve good stability. Choose an instrument you can effectively
stabilize. Do not deceive yourself. 10 by 50s are generally too large for the
average user, and I feel more comfortable myself with an 8 by 42. The larger
ones tire my eyes quicker.
A walking stick can be used in a standing position as the
third leg of a tripod formed by it and your two legs. Simply place the
binocular on the top of the staff in a firm grip. Binoculars can be placed atop
a spotting scope which is already mounted on a tripod. Wind can ruin stability
by moving your body when upright or shaking the spotting scope mounted on a
tripod. Set up your observation points out of the wind.
Just like shooting, a skilled optics user has spent many
hours practicing or using the instrument. Do not expect to whip out binoculars
and be effective with them immediately. When using optics to locate man or
beast remember that it is far more likely to spot a part of him than the whole
I have found many more antlers, hooves, boots or hands than
I have a whole deer or man. When glassing densely foliated areas all you may
see is a small part of what you are searching for. A fellow once told me that a
friend of his had spotted a nice deer by its shadow alone. By learning to spot
what looks a bit out of place you soon will be spotting more things that you
are searching for with your optics.
Sometimes even the twitch of an ear or tail can draw your
attention. It is important to remember that the optics user must keep movement
to a minimum and choose observation posts which will conceal any movement and
conceal the human shape.
When viewing an area start with your eyes and look for the
giveaway indicators, movement, unnatural shapes or colors, like a whitetail on
a deer or the straight line of a man-made object. After a good look with the
naked eye try binoculars. You may wish to move up to a spotting scope if you
still have not found what you want. If you have spotted something, a spotting
scope will help you get a much closer look.
If you are hunting seriously spend at least 70 percent of
your time using optics. You will see much more without being seen than crawling
through the brush or walking endless miles. During my sheep hunt my guide, and
I would spend half a day at a time in one location without any substantial
movement. You must continually ask yourself as you look at each field of view,
what is that in the shadow or behind that tree, crevice or boulder?
Make sure you know what every single item is in that
particular look. Depending on how well you wish to search, you may wish to
recheck what you or someone else has already looked at. Remember that a bedded
down deer or man may be hidden behind something when resting. Be patient and
thorough. Fight distraction and drowsiness. Constantly tell yourself mentally
that in the next field of view or two will be that big buck you have always
dreamed about and one time he will be there!
The following are some simple tricks I have been taught or
have learned on my own. When using binoculars use the thumbs and back of the
hands to shade out sidelight at the eyepiece. By doing this, you will make the
instrument’s field of view brighter to the eye and be less distracted.
The same technique will work if you place your regular or camo shirt over your head as if you were an old fashioned photographer covered by his black cape. This last technique works well with binoculars but really comes into its own when used with a quality spotting scope. The rumpled shirt on your head will also distort your silhouette so that it will be harder to identify you visually.
To rest your eye which is not being used when using a spotting scope, try wearing an eye patch like the type a person who is blind in one eye uses. This will cut down sidelight, and it helps one concentrate more diligently. While we’re on the subject of resting one’s eyes, be sure that you get a good night’s sleep when you will be using optics for a long period of time.
Haze, reflection, parallax, bright sun and continual
concentration will strain your eyes, not to mention causing headaches. Keeping
your eyes open for long periods of time tends to make them dry out. Use an eye
wash with soothing characteristics like Visine. They will let you start each day
with fresh, cool eyes.
If you are using variable binoculars or spotting scopes and
you begin to develop headaches, try cutting down on the magnification. Full
power is not needed all the time. Save it for pinpointing an object or scoring
a game animal.
When carrying binoculars in the field for long periods of
time use a wide strap. My main irritation is to buy a $400 binocular and find a
1/4-inch plastic binocular strap inside A two-inch strap is far more
comfortable. It will not chafe you when placed behind your shirt or coat
collar. The GI utility strap is perfect for the job.
Be systematic when scoping a mountain, canyon or any other
large amount of terrain with binoculars and especially spotting scopes. I
generally start at one end of the terrain feature (like a mountain) and move
down till I reach the bottom of the mountain. Imagine concentric circles like
the Olympic games symbol. Each circle represents a field of view or look. As
you move down the mountain to its base be sure that each field of view or
circle overlaps the next by as much as 1/3 to 1/2.
When you reach the mountain’s bottom, start back up towards the top. Your new row of circles should overlap your last row by 1/3 to 1/2 again. Each field of view should cover or overlap its immediate neighboring field of view or circle. This method will guarantee that you leave nothing overlooked if you concentrate.
Be sure to look closely at shadows under bushes and those
caused by mountains or ridges. This extra darkness conceals both man and animal
well. In the same vein check shadow lines carefully. An animal half in the
shade and half in light is easily distorted and unrecognizable. Look closely
and concentrate. Remember that what you’re looking for is always just one field
of view away.
Remember too, that antelope, goats, and sheep have an eight-power
vision, and an enemy aggressor may have optics as good as you or better. When
setting up an observation post for man or animal pay close attention to
camouflaging yourself, binoculars and other equipment. I like to scope from a
shadowed area even if it is just that of a boulder or large bush. If you can
surround yourself with deadfall, brush, boulders or whatever, so much the
better. Remember the things that help you spot your prey so that the tables are
not turned on you someday.
These principles take time to learn and have to become second nature. Try hard and give it time. I thought I was good with optics until a professional sheep guide taught me a thing or two. I saw him spot an animal by just seeing five inches of a horn behind a rock. We had to have been a mile and a half away. With practice, you can become that good! By the way, stay safe and good hunting!
To steady binoculars when you don’t have an external rest –
Grasp the binoculars barrels with only the pinky and ring fingers of both hands. The thumbs rest on your cheekbones, the forefinger on your temples and the middle finger on the side of your forehead.
I’ve never thought about the overhead covering up – thanks for that tip !
The utility of good optics
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