Best ROI on upgrades for November elk hunting

woods89

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 3, 2014
Messages
798
Location
Southern MO Ozarks
A good friend and I have been working on figuring out November elk hunting over the last few years. I'm just back now from hunting 3rd season and, of course, I've been reviewing the lessons learned. We had a good hunt, and both killed decent bulls, and of course now I'm kind of wishing I was back up there hunting.

There are always lessons learned, and this time for us it was the one we've all heard many times, which is "let your glass do the walking for you." The last time I was out there we hiked into quite a few spots looking for both sign and elk. This works, but the chances of blowing them out are much higher, and you can generally only cross one spot per guy off in the morning and one in the evening. This time we focused more on glassing from afar, which let us cover multiple spots at one time, and when we dropped into an area knowing that elk were there that morning or the evening before, we hunted much more efficiently. My hunting partner gets most of the credit for the shift in mindset.

This year he was using a Leupold SX-5 spotter and a pair of mid tier Vortex 10x42s. The spotter not only was used for identifying things found with binos but also for looking into some of the spots further away. He was quite effective with this setup. We were glassing country from about 1.5 miles away to the 3-4 mile mark.

I was using my Nikon Monarch 3 10x42s and his old spotter, which was a Vortex Diamondback 20-60. I had his old tripod with a ball head and an adaptor for my binos, as well. I learned a couple things immediately, #1, I will not buy that particular spotter, and #2, that I will have a good tripod and adaptor for my binos next time, as it made a big difference in my effectiveness. I felt my binos did fairly well on the closer country, but it seemed like I was really pushing them when we got into the 2-3 mile range, which was where most of the good sanctuary habitat was. The spotter was a real disappointment, really only usable at lower power and hard on my eyes.

At this point, most of my gear is dialed to the level that there isn't too much point in throwing money at it for minimal ROI. I feel there is potential though in some optics upgrades for this kind of hunting. Which leads me to my main question.

I have 2 routes I can go. I can buy a compact to midsize spotter and tripod to supplement my current binos, and use them like my hunting partner was doing. Or I can sell my current binos and put as much as possible towards a bino upgrade, decent tripod, and adaptor. I'm in my 30's with a wife and 4 children, so real alpha glass is probably out of reach, but I can probably apply $700-800 toward the optic itself, and if I upgrade my binos I can add whatever I can get out of my current ones. What I do have on my side is time, as it will probably be a couple years at least before I can get back out there. This means I can watch for something used.

I'm also interested in any advice on technique from those who hunt this timeframe. As I said before we were successful, and I think we did some things right, but also got quite lucky. I feel like I have a lot to learn about this style of hunting.

Any help will be appreciated!
 

fatrascal

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 20, 2013
Messages
576
Location
Spring Creek, Nevada
Well in my opinion, I would upgrade both bino's and spotter. But let me ask some questions. Are you happy with the Nikon Monarch 3's? Meaning, can you live with them on your next Western hunt and get a better scope? Another question. Will your hunting partner be with you on your next hunt with his spotter? Do you two stick together? Are you looking for trophies on the next hunt or are you happy with another decent bull? Fatrascal.
 
OP
W

woods89

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 3, 2014
Messages
798
Location
Southern MO Ozarks
Well in my opinion, I would upgrade both bino's and spotter. But let me ask some questions. Are you happy with the Nikon Monarch 3's? Meaning, can you live with them on your next Western hunt and get a better scope? Another question. Will your hunting partner be with you on your next hunt with his spotter? Do you two stick together? Are you looking for trophies on the next hunt or are you happy with another decent bull? Fatrascal.
I'll try to knock these out.

I'm happy with my Monarchs, but they're the best I've had by a long shot, so I probably don't know what I'm missing. (Edited to add) They definitely struggled a bit at first and last light at the longer distances, but maybe I was expecting a lot out of them.

My hunting partner will likely be hunting with me, but we need to be able to split up and go to different vantage points, so ideally I'd have a stand alone system.

I don't know if we are going to get too choosy right away, but it would be nice to know if the bull we're looking at is a raghorn or a good 6 point. We are certainly not trying to score bulls through glass.

Ideally I will have better binos and a better spotter, but it may take some time.
 

fatrascal

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 20, 2013
Messages
576
Location
Spring Creek, Nevada
Based on your answers to the questions I personally would get a spotting scope. Then I'd work on upgrading the binoculars. Goodluck in your plans and I hope you get out West again soon.
 

Peaks&Creeks

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 21, 2016
Messages
229
Location
Gunnison, CO
It seems like you’ve got a couple years to save for your glass upgrade, and I don’t know how much you could put away every month, but glass is one of those items that’s as important as your boots and pack in my opinion. I’ve been running Vortex Viper HDs for the last 5 years and finally saved enough to purchase the best glass setup for me. I ended up with Swaro NL 10x42 and the Kowa 553 spotter and it does everything I need it to do for elk and mule deer. I knew I was eventually gonna get the best glass anyways, so instead of going up the ladder of buying mid grade, to high grade and then to alpha glass, I just kept using my original binos till I saved enough for top of the line, in the long run saving me money. If you’re happy with what you have then go with a quality spotter, as you noticed, cheaper spotters are useless at high magnification, where as my Kowa is clear all the way to its max magnification.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

AZ_Hunter_2000

Senior Member
Joined
Oct 8, 2019
Messages
1,489
If you are one of the few that can effectively glass with a spotting scope for extended periods of tine, then do the spotting scope first. If not, upgrade your binoculars.

I would strongly recommend avoiding incremental upgrades as that route tends to cost you a lot more in the long run. Lots of viable option in the mid-tier (price) that punch well above their weight in clarity.

Do not go cheap on a tripod/ head but you don’t need to spend a small fortune either.

I know that my binoculars, SLC 10s and SLC 15s, get massively more field time than my spotting scopes (STX 65/95 and Kowa 554). The binoculars get used for hours each day while the spotting scopes get used for minutes.
 

tdhanses

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 26, 2018
Messages
4,106
Personally i would upgrade your binos but i use my binos 90% of the time. I also have a kowa 553 and 773 spotters, leica binos. To me a good quality bino is more important then a spotter. Yes you may not be able to tell if your looking at a 6x6 or 5x5 with just the binos but on a tripod you’ll spot a ton of animals with just binos.

For a spotter I feel you have to spend more to get more where with binos at around $800-$1000 you’ll se a vast improvement. I had Zeiss Conquest HD’s and for the money they are really good.

Since you have time I’d try and squirrel away as much as you can and wait for black friday type sales to spend your money.
 

yycyak

Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2018
Messages
97
Step 1. Save as much money as needed to get the best binos. Notice I said "the best". Not best you can afford at the time. Stick with your current binos until you can drop the coin on Alpha stuff. It's worth it (Honest, it really is worth doing), and cheaper in the long run (I learned this the hard way.)

Step 2. Go hunt. Use your awesome binos to spot stuff, and your current spotter to zoom in for more detail.

Step 3a. Get a decent tripod if/when the budget allows.

Step 3b. (This step will take a while) Save more money. Be disciplined. Save that money, and eventually buy an Alpha spotter. (This might take you another year, or three years, or whatever.) Just slowly chip away and save. Sell old gear to supplement the buy if needed.

This is The Way. I wish I could go back and tell my 20 year old self to spend 90% of my budget on decent binos/glass, 9.5% on good boots, and the rest on rifles/scopes/packs.
 

Venom One

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 25, 2019
Messages
150
Location
PNW
This is The Way. I wish I could go back and tell my 20 year old self to spend 90% of my budget on decent binos/glass, 9.5% on good boots, and the rest on rifles/scopes/packs.
Wow, that's an interesting take. I can afford alpha glass, but can't bring myself to do it because I can't believe paying 100-200% more is worth it. I guess I'm convinced that something in the $1200-1500 range (Maven B, Zeiss Conquest HD, Nikon HG, etc) is "good enough". When I hear people recommend alpha glass to someone who doesn't have a ton of cash sitting around, it's even more perplexing. Maybe there's a whole new world I'm missing.
 

yycyak

Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2018
Messages
97
That's fine. Personally, I waited around and bought used, because I too don't like dropping mad cash if I can avoid it.

However, my bino purchase record over the years went something like: Bushnell ($100), Leupold ($300), Vortex ($500), Leupold ($600), Nikon ($700) = $2,200.

When I finally splurged and bought my Kowas, they were $1100 used, or $2000 new at the time. Swaros/Leicas were a bit more.

Would have been cheaper to just get the Kowas (or [insert favourite Alpha here].)

For me, there is a huge difference in what I can spot now vs. then, as well as greatly reduced eye fatigue when glassing all day. The first time I casually half-assed glassed a hillside, and immediately spotted some mule deer on a hill about 2km away that I otherwise never, ever, would have seen with cheap glass was enough for me to kick myself for being cheap (Yes, cheap. Not frugal.) Mistakes were made.

Buy once, cry once. I wish I had.

Edit: @Venom One I'm not saying you're wrong either. I'm just saying if I had a time machine and could do things over, I wish I'd skipped all the lower-to-mid-tier purchases I made, saved that money, and bought Alphas. For me the benefits of nice glass outweigh the hit to wallet going from Higher-tier to Highest-tier.


Wow, that's an interesting take. I can afford alpha glass, but can't bring myself to do it because I can't believe paying 100-200% more is worth it. I guess I'm convinced that something in the $1200-1500 range (Maven B, Zeiss Conquest HD, Nikon HG, etc) is "good enough". When I hear people recommend alpha glass to someone who doesn't have a ton of cash sitting around, it's even more perplexing. Maybe there's a whole new world I'm missing.
 
Last edited:

Venom One

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 25, 2019
Messages
150
Location
PNW
However, my bino purchase record over the years went something like: Bushnell ($100), Leupold ($300), Vortex ($500), Leupold ($600), Nikon ($700) = $2,200.
It's all good. I understand your recommendation. I think a reasonable bino path is $300 -> $700 -> $1400. It's cheaper to jump straight to the $2200 binos, but I don't think it represents a realistic approach for someone on a budget.
 

BRTreedogs

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 16, 2017
Messages
4,210
Location
Central Oregon
Depends if your an any legal animal hunter or a time length counter.
Brown its down and I don't see too many animals that won't get found with a good pair of binos.

It would have to be extremely far and poor conditions for me to need a spotter to tell if it was a rock or an elk.

If you're not shooting unless its a decent 6 or better them you probably need a spotter.
 

2five7

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 15, 2017
Messages
493
If you are just trying to kill an elk, then binos are for sure your first upgrade. If you are trying to kill a certain size of bull, then a top tier spotter will serve you well. Elk are not difficult to spot at long range, but the difference between a 280 bull and a 310 bull at 2-3 miles is tough to tell without an excellent spotter.
 
OP
W

woods89

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 3, 2014
Messages
798
Location
Southern MO Ozarks
Thanks to all who have responded. It's interesting to see that opinions are somewhat split on this.

I doubt I am going to be able to glass for long periods of time with a spotter. I think I will still be spending most of my time on binoculars.

One thing I have decided is that even if I do nothing else I will buy a good tripod, head, and adaptor for my binos. Even with a very mediocre setup my binocular glassing was much more effective.

And I get the "Alpha at all cost" mindset, but there is a NR elk tag or two between good optics and alpha glass. I personally don't want to sacrifice trip opportunities unnecessarily for having the best. If I lived in elk country I would look at this differently.

I've almost convinced myself that I should jump into the $1,000 bracket of binoculars and see what that does.
 

Flyjunky

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 22, 2020
Messages
319
Another option I'd throw out there is to rent some Alpha glass for a trip and see what you think. Some places will even put the money you spent on the rental towards the purchase price.

Also, keep your eyes open for demo optics because many times you can save $300-400+ on showroom models that are in perfect condition.
 

Formidilosus

Super Moderator
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Messages
2,467
I have 2 routes I can go. I can buy a compact to midsize spotter and tripod to supplement my current binos, and use them like my hunting partner was doing. Or I can sell my current binos and put as much as possible towards a bino upgrade, decent tripod, and adaptor.


The vast majority of the elk hunting I do is November, primarily spot and stalk. We have tried and use every combination of glass- regular binos/spotter/large binos/etc.


The first thing I would spend money on is a pair of good rangefinding binos. Leica Geovids can be gotten new for not much more than your $1,000 and have good, if not quite good glass as well as a useful range to the LRF. Sell your current to offset cost. Then, it would be Meopta B1 Plus 15x56mm binos. I say this as I use 15x Swaros- I would rather the Meoptas.
Unless you are counting down to the inch, the 15x binos are superior for hunting- I don’t even carry a spotter anymore. The only time we do use a spotter is if there are multiple people and one will bring it. Everyone else is on tripod mounted binos.

Good RF binoculars and 15x Meopta/Swaro tripod mounted binos is the 95% solution for later season rifle hunting.
 
OP
W

woods89

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 3, 2014
Messages
798
Location
Southern MO Ozarks
Another option I'd throw out there is to rent some Alpha glass for a trip and see what you think. Some places will even put the money you spent on the rental towards the purchase price.

Also, keep your eyes open for demo optics because many times you can save $300-400+ on showroom models that are in perfect condition.
I have definitely though about renting.
The vast majority of the elk hunting I do is November, primarily spot and stalk. We have tried and use every combination of glass- regular binos/spotter/large binos/etc.


The first thing I would spend money on is a pair of good rangefinding binos. Leica Geovids can be gotten new for not much more than your $1,000 and have good, if not quite good glass as well as a useful range to the LRF. Sell your current to offset cost. Then, it would be Meopta B1 Plus 15x56mm binos. I say this as I use 15x Swaros- I would rather the Meoptas.
Unless you are counting down to the inch, the 15x binos are superior for hunting- I don’t even carry a spotter anymore. The only time we do use a spotter is if there are multiple people and one will bring it. Everyone else is on tripod mounted binos.

Good RF binoculars and 15x Meopta/Swaro tripod mounted binos is the 95% solution for later season rifle hunting.
Can you elaborate a bit on RF binos vs non RF binos? I have a pretty good 1800 yd rangefinder and have other uses that I want a standalone rangefinder for. I'm always interested in the why on these things, though, as all I have is my own perspective.
And I haven't really considered 15x binos. It is true that we are not looking for inches of antler, just maybe general class of bulls, so the most compelling need is simply finding elk, and then determining whether they are bulls or cows. I will have to consider this a bit more.
 

Formidilosus

Super Moderator
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Messages
2,467
Can you elaborate a bit on RF binos vs non RF binos? I have a pretty good 1800 yd rangefinder and have other uses that I want a standalone rangefinder for. I'm always interested in the why on these things, though, as all I have is my own perspective.

Think of killing as a cycle or a chain of events that have to come together.

With separate bino and LRF-

1). see animal, whether with eyes or bino.

2). use binos to determine you want to kill animal.

3). If you do, drop bino.

4) Take eyes off animal.

5) Grab rangefinder.

6). Refind animal.

7). Find animal in LRF and range animal

8). Drop rangefinder.

9). If needed look at drop chart.

10). Grab rifle.

11) If needed dial elevation.

12). Get into position.

13). Break shot.

That’s all if the animal didn’t move or isn’t mixed with others. If the animal did, restart process.


Wth bino LRF with ballistics

1). See animal, whether with eyes or bino.

2). Use binos to determine you want to kill animal, if you do range.

3). Drop bino.

4). Grab rifle.

5). Dial elevation if needed.

6). Get into position.

7). Break shot.



The chain is much faster, and simpler with bino LRF’s, especially if they have onboard ballistics. If they don’t, add one more step to the above.




And I haven't really considered 15x binos. It is true that we are not looking for inches of antler, just maybe general class of bulls, so the most compelling need is simply finding elk, and then determining whether they are bulls or cows. I will have to consider this a bit more.

Good 15x binos are so much better than spotters for finding animals and doing a base evaluation on them.
 
Top