Bow & Arrow Magazine
Bowhunter’s Annual 1979

Knowing Where To Look Is The Real Key To Efficient Spotting Of Game.

FROM HIGH ON THE cliff I could see two men hunting slowly across a sagebrush flat. Then the buck appeared between me and the hunters. He moved cautiously toward the head of a shallow canyon where the men would soon cross. Obviously, he had them spotted.

Just beneath a low rim the big four-point stopped and peeked over. For ten minutes or more he stood motionless, watching the hunters approach from a hundred yards away only to pass within thirty yards of his position. Surely his antlers were in their view. But they didn’t notice, and continued past the buck and across the flat.

When the hunters were well beyond, the buck slipped back under the rim, sneaked some distance
away from them. then trotted onto the flat, following the very route the men had just come from. I
couldn’t help but laugh. Mule deer are stupid?

I also had to reflect on this drama. Frequently, I’d hunted this country the way those hunters were
doing, covering as much ground as possible, looking for deer out ahead. I figured the more ground covered the more game seen, and the more game seen, the better the hunting. But this episode impressed on me the folly of that philosophy. How many big bucks had sneaked away from me? And how many times had I seen deer racing away I through the woods or across the sage flats, deer that had seen me before I’d seen them? Many times, that’s for sure. And just as sure, none of those deer had ended up on a meat pole.

A deer that sneaks away or is running full-bore is no game for the bow and arrow. Generally, to get a good shot a bowhunter must see an animal before it sees him, and his best bet for doing that is to stay in one spot and to look.

A moving hunter just sets himself up to be spotted. The less moving and more observing a bowhunter does, the better his chances for seeing unspooked game, an advantage that not only gives him time to plan a good elk but time to size up antlers and body condition as well. It gives him time to size up the overall situation, too, a point I’ve learned the value, of many times. In one
particular instance, I’d watched a dandy three-point buck bed in high sage.

In a hurry to get a shot, I went right after it without looking further. The stalk looked easy, but
about a quarter-mile short of my goal, two forked—horn bucks boiled out of the sage at my feet.,Of course, their snorting and stomping spooked my quarry. With more time
spent observing, I’d have seen them and could have planned
my stalk along a different route.

Finally, an emphasis on eye, rather than leg, power can save a hunter a lot of energy and can make him much more efficient. With his eyes, he can cover more ground more quickly, more quietly and more thoroughly than with his feet, I’ve spent days sneaking and peering over rimrocks, looking for deer bedded at the base of the cliffs. In three seasons of this, not once did I catch a buck there although deer beds were thick. Finally, frustrated, I went to a point overlooking a stretch of cliffs and settled in to watch.

The first day, three bucks walked across the flat above and picked their way down the rim. They bedded in the shadows at the base of a cliff. An hour later, knowing exactly where they were, I walked right to their position and collected a forked horn. I’d~.scored finally, because I’d
found an efficient way of hunting this country. I’d saved myself many more miles of fruitless walking as well.

The same game—spotting principles apply to all hunting situations, whether still-hunting through thick woods, watching from a stand, or spot-and-stalk hunting desert country. The differences are only a matter of degree.

The biggest advantage over game a hunter can give himself is to look for animals that are moving and are in the open. That may seem obvious, but a lot of hunters haven’t caught on.

“Ninety percent of the people who hunt here head out from camp to hunt about 8 or 9 o’clock,
just when they should be calling it quits for the day,” the manager of a bowhunting area told me. “And they’re returning to camp in the afternoon about the time they should be heading out to hunt.”

His point was that they were missing the prime hunting times of the day. Beyond any question, the first hour of daylight in the morning and the last hour in the evening are
the best times for spotting game (with exception of antelope which area active throughout the day).
As an example, during the 1977 season, my wife and I were perched on a desert cliff before daybreak. As the dawn glow slowly lightened a broad sage flat below us, we began to make out deer. By the time the sun came up, we had twenty-eight bucks in plain view. They were scattered all over, moving and feeding. By 8a.m. they’d vanished. A latecomer would have sworn the flat was barren. But we knew better. The bucks had just settled into the high sage for the day.

Another time, one August, we were overlooking a brush patch surrounded by dense oak trees. The parched California foothills looked lifeless. But at 6 p.m. the sun dipped behind a ridge, flooding the brush with shade, and within fifteen minutes, blacktails began slipping from the
oaks. By 6:30, a half-hour before sunset, We could see six large bucks and a number of does, all in the open.

In both cases, we could have blistered our eyes all day, scouring the brush for deer. Most likely we’d have seen none. But during the prime times, early and late, the deer were as easy to see as cows grazing a grassy hillside.

Certain weather can give the same advantage that early and late daytime periods can, because under some conditions, deer and elk may feed all day, making them easy to spot. Although game animals normally seek shelter during windy, violent storms, they’ll often be active and feeding preceding and following such storms. And on heavily overcast, drizzly days I’ve had excellent success spotting both deer and elk throughout the day. In fact, I’ve taken two elk that were feeding in the open during midday downpours.

Some hunters believe they have an advantage during breeding seasons because animals in rut supposedly for stupid things, but I don’t agree. Bucks or bull elk may indeed be less cautious at this time, but the real advantage is the fact that, rather than bedding all day, these animals
are active and moving, often in the open, making them much easier to spot than under normal conditions. In most regions, deer rut in November and December, elk in September. If seasons in your area are in progress at these times, take advantage of them.

In some cases, the later the season the better the game-spotting conditions. In western Oregon, for example, the early bow season is in September, the late season in November. In September, jungle—like foliage limits visibility to a few yards, but by the late season, leaves have fallen. A
hunter can see farther into the brush and actually can spot deer moving on adjacent hillsides, an impossibility earlier.

Snow is another advantage in late-season hunting. Not only are animals often more concentrated by snow but they’re the most visible against a white background.
Dan Eastmen, an Oregon biologist who’s spent years surveying deer, told me he felt knowing where to look was the real key to “efficient” spotting. His point was that a person can’t go into the field with wide-angle vision, looking at any and everywhere and expect to see much game. He has to concentrate his looking on habitat roost likely to hold animals.

Foe example, deer may use different slopes under various conditions. During dry season and hot weather, they’ll concentrate on north and east facing slopes where moisture lasts longest.

This is particularly true in dry country. When I first hunted desert mule deer, I spend days looking for bucks and nearly dropped my teeth every time I saw one, the occurance was so rare. Then Dan Herrig, a wildlife biologist who’d spent months observing desert bucks, set me straight.

“In this country during the Summer, I spend my time watching north slopes.” Herrig said ” A north exposure holds moisture longest and It’s shaded and cool. I look under trees, and in the shade at the bases of bushes and rocks. That’s where the bucks will bed.

Taking Herrig’s advice, I began seeing more deer than I’d dreamed existed. Up until then I’d been looking everywhere, and probably ninety percent of the country I looked at held no deer at all. Of course the preferred slope depends on the weather and season. During a cold spell, deer may move to a warm south or west facing slope. Picking the right are is a matter of judgement. Herrig offered another bit of advice that has paid off for me.
“Deer have traditional bedding areas.” he said “They’ll come back to the same places year after year.”

Under several juniper trees in a steep canyon he pointed out deer beds that had been worn two and three-feet deep from constant use by deer. Such beds. are especially common in steep, rocky terrain where bedding sites area at a premium. A hunter who knows the location of these traditional areas can expect to observe deer there consistently.

Food and cover are, of course, are major influences on game distribution. Vegetation and terrain that supply these basics will vary considerably from one region to another, but the principle is the same everywhere. For example around extensive new clearcuts or in open desert or grassland, areas with plenty of feed animals may congregate near pockets of good cover. In forested wilderness, on the other hand, climax vegetation generally guarantees a surplus of cover, but forage often is scarce. Here a hunter should locate and concentrate spotting efforts on areas where game animals will feed.

Prehunt reconnaissance of an area is a good idea, but not only to look for sign verifying the presence of game, but also to plan your hunt. In open country find cliffs, hilltops or other observation points that overlook feeding or bedding areas. In denser country, pick places for stands near clearings or well-used trails where visibility is good, or outline still-hunting routes from which you can observe promising habitat.

Keep two things in mind as you plan. First evaluate prevailing wind direction. If you try to observe country from the upwind side, animals will vacate before you ever see them.

Second, consider the sun. In dense canyon bottom this may not be a concern, but in open country, it’s vital. Without reservation I say never hunt or glass toward the sun. With that bright light in your face, you can see next to nothing. In the morning glass or still hunt from east to west and vice versa in the afternoon. Have alternate observation points and hunting routes in mind to make this possible and to compensate for changing winds.

The one essential equipment item for all game spotting is binoculars. Nobody can hunt as efficiently, under any conditions, with bare eyes as he can with binoculars.

That’s because binoculars not only magnify detail, but at close range, the isolate it. The, closer you focus, the shallower the depth-of-field, so that only objects in the plane of focus are sharp. If you’re focused for thirty yards an antler tine at that distance will stand out strikingly from
that blurred brush in front and behind. Binoculars also gather light, a real advantage early and late and on dark days.

During serious hunting, you’ll use binoculars constantly, probably several hours a day, so they have to be handy. To mak sure mine are, I have put an elastic band on them. , I hang the glasses around my neck then slip the elastic around my chest. The elastic band holds the glasses snug
against my body, but it stretches enough to allow bringing
them to my eyes.

Cheap binoculars are a waste of money. They’re often poorly aligned and
will make you cross eyed and dizzy. Good glasses start at about $100.

In open country 8x or 10x binoculars are good, but for all-around use, 6X or 7X are probably better. I’ve been more than satisfied with my Bausch & Lomb 7X35s.

A spotting scope is invaluable in open country where visibility is great. For the money, l think a fixed-power scope of 15X or 20X is the best buy. Variable power, say
15x-60x is fine under ideal conditions, but often, heatwaves cause such distortion that magnification over about 25x is useless.

High-power, optical equipment must be held solid. Binoculars of 7X, for example, magnify every movement you make by seven times. You won’t see much more than blurry scenery if you’re standing, holding binoculars with one hand. Use a tripod. or sit down, wrap your hands around your glasses, rest your elbows on your knees, and brace your hands against your forehead to form a solid glassing position. With a spotting scope, use a tripod.

To glass efficiently, be systematic. Whether you`re inspecting a brush patch at thirty yards or an open canyon face a mile away. divide the area into sections and cover it thoroughly from one side to the other.

l use two approaches to game spotting. One is to glass once, slowly and meticulously. from one side of an area to the other, trying to make out every detail the first time though. The other approach is to cover the country rapidly, going over it several times. Generally, the second
approach works better for me. My thinking is that if animals are in cover, I probably won’t see them, no matter how long I stare at one place. But if I’m hunting during a prime time when animals are active and moving, they’ll sooner or later work into a position where they can be seen easily. Even if I overlook animals the first, second or third times, I’ll eventually spot them if I cover an area enough times. Besides, rapid glassing seems to cause less eye strain than staring for a long period at one spot.

Game spotting takes time. A quick once-over won’t do. If l`m observing open country where visibility may be a mile or more, I glass for two or three hours from one position. In dense forest, of course, where visibility is thirty yardis, nobody is going to stay in one place for three hours.
There, a few minutes from each position may be long enough. Probably more important in dense country than absolute time is the ratio of time spent moving to
observing. A moving hunter won’t see nearly as much as
one who’s motionless, and he’s much more likely to be
spotted himself. Most good still—hunters agree that they
spend no more than a quarter of their time moving. They
spend the other three-quarters stationary, studying the
brush ahead.
The old cliche about “practice makes perfect” definitely
applies to game spotting. During my first years of big-game
hunting, I felt blind. My companions always spotted deer
before I did. But with experience, I’ve learned to make out
detail, and now the sight of a deer’s leg, an antler tine or a
flicking ear catches my eye immediately. My vision is no
better. Practice simply has put meaning into these details.
Practice is the only way to develop spotting skill.
And this skill is at the heart of productive hunting.
Whatever your circumstances, you’ll have little success
hunting with the bow and arrow if you can’t spot game
animals before they spot you. And rarely will you if you’re
hunting by leg power alone. If you’ve found yourself leaving
lots of tracks across the landscape but seeing less
than your share of game, get smart. Sit down, get out your
binoculars and let your eyes do the walking. <—·<<<<

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