I spoke at KUIU’s Mountain Academy last year, along with a few good friends of mine such as Alan Bolen, Randy Ulmer and Brendan Burns. KUIU has edited out my presentation in a few shorter videos. Check them out!
Often, when breaking camp in the morning, we tend to pack up and head out. We are tempted to move on without glassing the immediate area, as one gets the feeling there couldn’t possibly be something in the immediate vicinity where we have spent the last eight to 12 hours. This temptation can lead to a big mistake: We all know stories of people who’ve seen game as soon as they’ve gotten out of the tent, or even before leaving the tent. I’m going to tell you why glassing in the early morning is critical.
Most game animals rise before dawn to move into feeding areas. They could walk over a ridge or into view, and they wouldn’t have been visible the previous night. They may also be unaware of your presence, and your evening activities will have had no effect on them. Thus it would help if you disregarded your intuition that they are “somewhere else.” and make a priority of looking around while you wait for your water to boil.
Morning light is fantastic for glassing, and it helps to cast shadows from feeding animals, making them more visible. The glare of the mid-day sun will not yet be washing out the landscape. In the morning light, the animal’s colors will pop more readily. The golden hour at sunset is well-known as the best time to find your animals. The morning is equally as good.
On a recent sheep hunt, glassed from camp before leaving. We didn’t pick anything up initially. However, a few minutes after leaving, a ram came up out of his bed and over the ridge. Had we been in camp with our heads down, we would have missed him.
On the Move
Once leaving camp, don’t watch the ground as you move to your destination. Keep your binos at the ready and your head on a swivel, always looking around. As your movement through the terrain reveals new lines of sight, be looking all around. If you are moving camp, you may be losing view of slopes and valleys for hours or even days. Your knowledge of the landscape and your continued focus on looking in all directions will serve you well.
It’s a best-practice to go to be with a plan for the next day. If that plan sees you moving camp, or moving far from camp to glass, taking the time to do a quick check of the skylines and approaches to your tent site will open a bonus hunting opportunity sooner or later.
There are times you are going to experience a lot of snow on the ground. This can happen because you’ve signed up for a winter hunt: Kudos to you if you are out there when most people are hunkering down to watch Netflix. Other times, this can happen with a freak snow event or pure bad luck. When it happens, you have two options: Option 1 is to turn tail, go home, and complain to your buddies about how lousy it was out there. Option 2 is to get after it, and use smart glassing techniques to create an adventure.
You know which option I prefer.
I enjoy hunting Dall’s Sheep as much as any species I pursue, and they are found high in the mountains of the Yukon. The Yukon is a place where snow can happen in any month of the year, so I’ve developed some techniques to make the most of my time out there.
While these sheep are white, they carry a yellow tinge when you compare them to a pure white snowfield. Rather than looking for white sheep, I have my eye tuned to this yellow tinge. This small mindset change is much more effective than you might guess, and your eyes will see them pop a bit more this way.
Sheep tend to avoid the snow when they can, so looking for open faces of grass and even rock will be high-percentage locations to search first. As you travel the mountains, be aware if south-facing slopes are opening up. Check your maps and head for vantage points that will allow you to glass the faces showing snow melt. Sheep will prefer to bed and feed where they have ready access to snow-free ground.
You may not be fortunate to have snow-free areas. In this case, you will be forced to look for animals traversing snowfields and searching for tracks. While tracks are difficult to read from afar, you may be able to identify a direction of movement with your spotting scope. In this case, follow the tracks to their end, and there’s a chance you will find a sheep there. Even if you have snow-free areas, you should move on to the snowfields and look for tracks if you’ve come up empty in the open areas.
When the snow melts, you’re going to be tempted to avoid glassing in the snowy areas. All of us are inherently lazy, and glassing snow for sheep isn’t ideal. When the snow is only partially melted, and you have sporadic open areas, it’s even more difficult, as you need to look for yellow sheep on snow and look for white sheep on rock and grass. Your brain needs to switch between these two modes of searching. You need to stay disciplined and continue to glass the snowy parts of the mountain.
These tips will help you make the most of winter and fall hunting. It’s much better to return home with a great story of hardship and suffering, possibly with a trophy, than to return home with excuses.
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.