For many people, getting out on a single mountain hunt could be the highlight of the year. For others, getting the shot at a Dall’s Sheep or Mountain Goat could be the hunt of a lifetime. If you have any chance of chasing sheep, you won’t regret having the right gear—and experience using it—before you start hiking on the first day.
If you’ve never hunted a northern mountain species, I am going to identify the most critical aspects of optics selection.
To understand how I choose my optics, you need to have a picture of my hunt style. Physical endurance is a crucial aspect of my hunting, and my life in general. I train 12-months per year and head into our mountain hunting season in the best shape I can. What this means is I’m not afraid of a bit of extra weight in pieces of kit that make me a more effective hunter. I don’t carry any excess weight in the “nice-to-have” category, such as camp pillows, chairs, Bluetooth speakers, or spare socks. My endurance allows me to cover a lot of ground, but stay in one place and glass hard when the situation calls for it (which is quite often).
Yukon sheep mountains are not overly steep, so it’s possible to find a high vantage point and see a lot of country that is quite far away. These mountains and valleys require powerful optics to pick out the horns of a ram behind rocks, or a bedded moose in the thick timber.
Let’s get to it:
- Binoculars. We have a few choices here: 8x, 10x, 12x, and even 15x. I’ve tried all of these, and the 10x are the hands-down winners for me. 10x is the maximum I feel comfortable and practical hand-holding with a pack on my back. When moving from one sit-down glassing location to another, the binos earn their keep by staying productive at all times. I can stop hiking, pull out the binos, and have a quick look at a suspicious object, or look over a slope. I don’t need to sit down or remove my pack to hold them steady. Because our mountains are not overly steep, I am not left looking at very close terrain. If that were the case, the 8x might be more appropriate. I am using the Vortex Optics Razor® UHD 10×42 bino. They provide incredible clarity and have the durability I require for hard mountain hunts.
- Spotting scope. A category where guys will often go under-powered to save money and weight, cutting corners on your spotting scope is a big mistake. The spotting scope is what brings you to the next level when it comes to finding low-density game, and when you’re looking for a great animal instead of just a legal harvest. What you gain in a slightly lighter scope, perhaps with a smaller objective lens, you will lose by having to move one mountain range closer to judge the animal accurately. Judging sheep, goat, and even moose requires a detailed look at horn weight, length, and points, and is difficult at the best of times. Looking through an under-powered scope is a terrible feeling. I much prefer seeing an animal clearly from a distance and knowing it’s worth going after. My go-to spotting scope is the Razor® HD 27–60×85. I use the 85 mm objective for a clearer view and better light gathering capabilities. The angled scope is much more comfortable to use in our terrain than the straight scope, allowing for more comfortable and ergonomic glassing, as well as a lower tripod setup.
- Riflescope. In the Yukon, we often have opportunities to shoot out past 700 yards. I prefer to get much closer, with 300–500 yards being an excellent range where the risks of being spotted or winded are vastly reduced, and where wind and Lady Luck are not huge factors. Thus, my choice is to run the Razor® HD AMG™ 6-24×50 FFP, or something similar, like the Razor® HD 5-20×50. These scopes offer quick and reliable target acquisition, bomber build quality, and fantastic clarity and light transmission. The adjustable turrets take the guesswork out of dynamic-ranging situations. Running a lighter scope, such as a 3–10x, will leave you out to dry for those longer shots unless you’re a much better shot than me. If you do go with a more straightforward riflescope, ensure you have the reticle needed to shoot reliably at a variety of distances. Again, this is not a piece of gear where you should consider cutting corners.
- Rangefinder. My rangefinder goes everywhere my rifle goes, which is everywhere I go. Judging distance is a skill that takes a lot of work. If you’re hunting new game, you will have difficulty ranging until you get a sense of their body size. From both practical and ethical standpoints, a rangefinder like the Razor® HD 4000 should be in your pack. Certainly, you need a rangefinder that can range way out past your shooting distance to accommodate challenging ranging conditions.
Every experienced mountain hunter knows that carrying the right optics is a key variable in hunting success. If you’re a new hunter, I hope this article has helped you avoid purchasing the wrong setup. If you’re an experienced hunter, these guidelines will help you dominate the mountains.