I field more than a few questions about optic choice, so I thought I’d dedicate a post to the what & when of how I choose my glass and tripods.

I usually choose my optics based on what type of scout or hunt I’m going on. For example, if I already know where a certain buck lives, I’m likely to choose a small spotting scope like my old Leupold 20×50 paired with my KDC Granite Peak Tripod. (Video here.) I’m not counting cheaters at three miles with this set-up, but it only takes up a small space in my daypack and it’s weight almost goes unnoticed.  This is plenty of glass for identifying certain bucks or checking that white patch in the shadows that seems out of place.

If I’m scouting or hunting big country for unknown bucks–say the spine of a mountain range where I may be glassing basins up to several miles away, or even sagebrush country where bucks can be anywhere–I go with my big glass: the 15×56 Swarovski SLC (shown above) or my Vortex Kaibab 15×56, and my 20-50x80mm Swarovski ATS spotter.

I equip each with a quick release plate and operate them on top of my big Swaro’ CT Travel Carbon Tripod,  (Video here) While this set-up is measured in pounds, I can glass country in the right conditions even over four miles away.  This skyrockets my chance of finding a shooter.

If I’m counting ounces, like on a backcountry hunt where I’ll be carrying my optics on my back every day, but I still need to reach out there, I’ll go with my compact Leupold tripod (purchased in 1992 and still going and going) with a Manfrotto pistol grip head.  Atop will sit my very trusty and powerful Swaro’ 30×75 CT Extendable.  This set up gets a lot done without the weight.

If I’m just scouting on foot and don’t need a rangefinder, this year I’ve been running the SIG ZULU5 8×42 binoculars.  These are light optics and just right for moving slowly in deer country where I never know for sure where the bucks will be.  I hardly know they’re around my neck.  They’re not alpha glass, but for $400 bucks, they fit both the weight and price budget.

SIG SAUER ZULU5 8X42, light and easy

Once the season opens, I’ll swap the little SIGS for my trusty 8×42 EL Range Swaro’ binoculars.  I’ve used these binoculars for the last three seasons and feel like they are nearly as important as my weapon itself.  I can reliably range to farther than I can ever shoot and rarely have to hit the button twice.  The optic quality is top-tier.

I often mount even my 8x42s on a tripod.  You just can’t believe the difference ultra-steady optics of any power can make.

Finally, this year I added the Phone Skope Digiscope system.  While I love the quality of a DSLR camera paired with a quality spotter, the weight savings of the Phone Skope system is worth any marginal loss of photo quality.  My main need is to document individual bucks, and the Phone Skope far exceeds that requirement.

My first “Phone Skope” buck. Taken just last week.

My point in this post?  Don’t just drag around a pack-full of optics on every trip. Rather, match your optics to the purpose and character of each trip.

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Robby Denning
Robby Denning started hunting mule deer in the late 1970’s, only missing one season in 35 years. At 25, he gave up the pursuit of all other big-game to focus on taking the best bucks possible. He began hunting the West on a DIY budget hunting an average of 30 days a year for mule deer. Robby loves the hunt as much as the kill and the entire process from research to scouting to hunting. He’s killed four bucks over 200 inches in the last 15 seasons, mostly on easily-obtained tags. He owns a public-land scouting service and runs a private-land outfitting business helping other hunters in their pursuit of deer and elk. Robby has scouted and hunted literally thousands of square miles of mule deer country and brings a wealth of knowledge about these experiences with him. To him, the weapon of choice is just a means-to-an-end and will hunt with bow, rifle, or muzzleloader – whatever it takes to create an opportunity to take a great mule deer. He is also the author of "Hunting Big Mule Deer" available on Amazon. Robby believes all of creation is from God for man to manage, respect, and through which to know its Creator