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Why carrying multiple optics are essential for locating more deer


Multiple optics for increased deer hunting success
All photo credits: Brady Miller

When it comes to hunting, you can’t harvest an animal until you find an animal. Quality optics pay huge dividends in every type of terrain. This is where quality optics come into play. If you’ve read my past articles, you know I’m addicted to gear and kind of an ounce counter. The sole reason I’m an ounce counter is that I’m willing to sacrifice in some areas of my backcountry system, so I can justify packing around giant optics to find animals and camera gear to capture the memories.

The past few years I pretty much carried everything in terms of optics.

What to carry?

The majority of hunters are probably carrying 10x42s and a spotting scope in the 65 to 85mm range. I ran that exact setup for a long time, but the past five seasons I’ve added yet another pair of optics to my arsenal and I feel like I’m way more effective in the field after making this change. When it comes down to it… being able to find more animals is the "magic" we're all looking for. I now pack three pairs of glass with me on all of my hunts; 10x42 binoculars, 15x56 binoculars and an 85mm spotting scope. With that said, I might be changing up my system on certain hunts...

Below I’m going to describe several different optic options and my thoughts and experiences using them. There are plenty of other methods out there, but these are systems that are fairly easy to build and might not break the bank as much as others.

Using 10s, 15s and a spotting scope

Large binoculars definitely have their place in mountain hunting or even lowcountry deer hunting for that matter. To me, 15s are quickly becoming the single most important piece of optics that I own and have a huge advantage for the mule deer or Coues deer hunter.

My typical glassing session starts out by using my 10s to quickly scan basins or coulees for deer that might be close by. I’ll then switch to 15s and this is where I’ll really dive in and pick apart the terrain in a grid pattern. While glassing with the 15s, I’ll be switching back and forth to my spotter to check out the bucks I’m glassing up or to confirm or deny a deer body in timber for example. Each November I take my dad and brother hunting for mule deer in Montana, it always amazes me how many more deer I find using my 15s off a tripod compared to them with their 10s handheld.

I also run the 10s off my neck in a bino harness to use while stalking in close on an animal.

It’s hard to beat this three binocular system and I this leads to an exponential increase in finding animals. The mid-morning and middle of the day I love glassing for long periods of time with my spotting scope, but this has the tendency to strain my eyes. So when that happens I will switch to 15s for a while (this switch doesn't allow me to sacrifice on my long range glassing).

Glassing with 15 power Vortex binoculars
Glassing with 15 power Vortex binoculars.

15s are a true workhorse when you’re glassing all day long and trying to pick up the slightest movement. I fell in love with 15s when I hunted Coues deer in Mexico and since then I've been running them on every hunt. Note: 15s are way too much for handheld use. With some practice you might get decent with them... but I feel they are way too much power when bowhunting and their bulkyness and weight are something that I just can't get used to around my neck. 15s also have a smaller field of view, so they will be difficult to use when stalking in close to an animal. With all that said, I believe the tripod mounted 15x binos are extremely effective for finding game and much easier on the eyes for extended use but the spotter is still mandatory for assessing trophy size.

Total weight of 10s, 15s, spotter

Optic Weight
10x42 binos 24 oz.
15x56 binos 43 oz.
spotting scope
65 oz.
Total ounces 132 oz.
Total pounds 8.25 lbs.


Using 12s and a spotting scope

I really love my 15x56 binoculars and they are my goto pair on the mountain. But… carrying three pairs of optics is starting to get old especially when they are tipping the scales at over 8 pounds in my pack! The main reason they are starting to not fit in my system is that I’m also carrying a large DLSR camera, three lenses, extra batteries, etc on all my backcountry hunts.

Because of this, I’m thinking about running a pair of 12x50 binoculars off a tripod and also carrying a spotting scope to save some weight in the backcountry. I've borrowed a pair of 12s on a scouting trip and instantly fell in love with them. The 12s still have great magnification and field of view, and only running two pairs of optics will greatly cut down on my pack weight. The 12s I’ve tried out can easily be ran off a bino harness and are not too powerful for handheld use and would still be effective while bowhunting.

Overall, the 12s are very powerful and would be the perfect optic if you’re going deep in the mountains and are looking to save some weight over the three optic setup, but still want to glass off a tripod all day. Plus with the larger field of view and ability to double as chest mounted binos... they are getting looked at serisously hard.

Total weight of 12s & spotter

Optic Weight
12x50 binos 29 oz.
spotting scope
65 oz.
Total ounces 94 oz.
Total pounds 5.88 lbs.


Using 10s and a spotting scope

Using 10x42 Vortex binoculars for glassing mountain basins

This is the system I started out with way back in the day. I loved running 10x42 binoculars off a bino harness and then when needed I'd pick apart the terrain with my spotting scope. Back then I just glassed off my knees with the 10s because I felt that they were steady at that magnification for close basin action (but they are nowhere near the level of stable as tripod mounted binos). The wide field of view also allows you to dissect a lot of terrain in fewer grid patterns. After I finished glassing with my 10s, I’d move right into the spotter and use that off and on throughout the day. Back when I ran this setup I feel like I used the spotting scope 60% of the time and the 10s 40% of the time. 

Since 10s are extremely steady, they are a bowhunters best friend when stalking in on an animal. The 10s and spotter combination works great, but if you’re sitting and glassing all day trying to pick out the subtle ear twitch or antler tine, glassing with 10s will get uncomfortable fast if you’re using them off your knees instead of mounting them to a tripod. Also, even if you do mount your 10s to a tripod, the low magnification is going to make picking up bucks midday a little more difficult. Yes, you do have a spotting scope next to you, but this also isn’t the easiest method and your eyes will slowly hurt from squinting all day. On top of that, you’re limiting your field of view.

Total weight of 10s & spotter

Optic Weight
10x42 binos 24 oz.
spotting scope
65 oz.
Total ounces 89 oz.
Total pounds 5.56 lbs.


Using 10s and 15s only - no spotter

I’m not a fan of this system. To me, you can never replace the value of spotting scope. If you’re strictly an elk hunter, then yes, leave the spotting scope and 15s at home.

Are 15x binos better than a spotter for glassing big country? Without a doubt. But you have NO ability to take a closer look. If you value the ability to asses sex or trophy quality, the spotter is a necessity if you want to save a ton of time, effort, and boot leather.

Total weight of 10s & 15s

Optic Weight
10x42 binos 24 oz.
15x56 binos 43 oz.
Total ounces 67 oz.
Total pounds 4.18 lbs.


Running 10s and 12s on the same hunt

I do not suggest running 10s and 12s on the same hunt (in your backpack at the same time). They are too similar in magnification and this is not the best in terms of weight and what you're gaining.

The push for 12s being the ultimate backcountry binos

Most people already have 10x42 binoculars. So if they’re going to add another pair of optics to their line, they would probably lean toward 15 power binoculars because 12x binoculars are not that much different than 10s.

But… hear me out for a second. I honestly think that 12 power binoculars could be the ticket on backcountry hunts (as long as you have a spotting scope with too). 12s are sort of like the middle ground in terms of how much they excel for glassing off a tripod, yet are small and nimble enough to be carrying around your neck in a bino harness.

The importance of a spotting scope

Glassing with a Vortex spotting scope

Nowadays I prefer to use the 15s for most of my glassing sessions. The spotter always has its place in glassing, but when you glass with a spotting scope for a long time, your eye will start to strain and feel uncomfortable. The main purpose of a spotting scope is to take a closer look at something or determining if that branch in the shade is really a branch or an antler tine.

Also, if you’re looking to find the biggest buck on the mountain, a spotting scope will save you a lot of leg work being able to zoom in and assess trophy quality. Also, a spotting scope allows you to not blow up a basin. What I mean by that is you can glass from a longer distance and can zoom in to tell if a buck is an average 4 point or one worth going after rather than hiking closer which could potentially blow out a spot in front of you or several spots if you need walk on the backside of a ridge that could potentially wreck your Plan C and D areas.

In conclusion

If you’re just starting out and looking to buy optics for the first time you have a lot of options in front of you. I suggest looking at what types of terrain you'll be hunting, the animal you'll mainly hunt and...

Keep in mind that there really isn’t a “perfect” solution when it comes to optics. There will always be times that you wish you had a slightly different system. Optics are expensive, so buy the setup that you will use for the majority of your hunts. Remember that each optic shines in certain situations and one can not really replace others without sacrificing in one area. For example: 15x binoculars are not a replacement for a spotting scope, 12s might be a great medium ground option but you’re going to be sacrificing magnification power and you will have a huge decrease in field of view over 10s, 15s are also difficult to hand hold.

Comfort is king when glassing all day and is why I still feel the three optic system is ideal if you don’t mind carrying the extra weight. But... I'm seriously thinking about selling a pair of binoculars to pick up a pair of 12s. Also, it would be great to be able to mix and match optics based on the hunt, but that might be out of budget for a lot of us.


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Heath S. - posted 11 months ago on 03-06-2019 07:16:36 pm

After running the Kowa 55mm spotter for a while now I really like it for the way I hunt. It's extremely clear and impressive optically. I actually ended up selling my 80mm Swaro too. I run my Leica Geovid HD-B 10x42 binos on every hunt because they are my main bino and rangefinder. Scouting I may leave them at home if I plan to glass off the tripod extensively. I can hand hold the 15x just well enough to make that work when I'm not hand holding to much. The 15x Swaros are hard to leave at home if I'm deer hunting. They work so well off the tripod that I tend to just pack the weight. Antelope hunting I'll definitely have the 15x in the truck for the window mount, but I just carry the Kowa 55mm spotter and 10x Leicas when I leave it. Elk hunting I can get by with the 10x Leicas and 55mm Kowa just fine.

The only downside I've seen to the Kowa is a slight disadvantage in low light and smaller field of view. When I'm carrying the 15x that's really no disadvantage. I can see as much in low light with the 15x as I could with any of the Swaro spotters. The field of view issue would be more important if I did a lot of locating game with the spotter. Since I'm generally only evaluating something I already spotted with the binos it's not important. The eye relief is a bit touchier than the Swaro spotters too, but again I'm not putting that much time behind the spotter to worry about it. The Kowa is plenty good enough for everything I use it for. The image is excellent and the light weight more than makes up for the drawbacks for me.

Having the really light spotter makes me take my 15x more often. When I use the 15's I spot more game. This system works great for me.

If Leica or Swaro brought out a 12x50 or 12x56 that was reasonably light, had a great rangefinder built in, and had a good tripod mount I'd look at changing my set-up. Until then I'm set.

If I can't shoot from prone I use my Promaster tripod with the Outdoorsmans pan head and rifle rest as a shooting platform. It works very well. This year I took a AK moose at 300 yards kneeling off that tripod, and a KS whitetail at 379 yards sitting behind it. Having 2 points of contact with the rifle really helps me steady my shot. Since my tripod is a multi-purpose item it helps justify the weight of the optics system. That tripod has a removable leg that works as a trekking pole in a pinch. I've also used the main tripod and removable leg to hold up the front corners of a tarp lean-to a few times. I like to go light, but when I have to pack something to be more effective I like it to serve as many purposes as possible.

GARY H. - posted 1 year ago on 01-01-2019 09:26:48 pm

If you are considering a Monocular, Hands-down get the Bushnell Ultra Legend HD 10x42. It's already threaded for a Tripod and has excellent glass. It also has a VERY sturdy belt clip on it. Comes with a Flip-down objective lense cover and a tethered eye piece cover.

Anthony F. - posted 1 year ago on 08-09-2018 09:05:59 am

I'm new to the west, have been using 10x42's, a 70mm budget spotter, and a tripod, but have recently seen and been considering using the vortex monocular as a "while stalking, and quick peek use while hiking", and upgrading to 12x bino's. The idea would be to bring the tripod for mounting the 12x binos for mule deer, and leave it when elk hunting, as I am just trying to get some experience and harvests under the eblt, and not worried about evaluating stickers, and trophy quality. Anyone have experience with those monoculars, or any for that matter, and use them in a setup to save weight?

charles k. - posted 1 year ago on 07-14-2018 12:25:27 am


I've read both your optic articles (this one and "are 12 powered binos the ultimate glassing setup"). I'm also a self admitted gear whore and "ounces = pounds type guy". I'm getting ready for an Idaho elk hunt which is obviously completely different from Michigan deer blind hunting I was raised on. I was about to pull the trigger (no pun) on a spotting scope and 12 powered binos until I read the line where you said if you're elk hunting leave your spotter at home. Could you elaborate on that? I'm not concerned with a trophy I'm far more concerned with filling the freezer. I'm also learning this new genre of hunting, I want to be well prepared and spend unnecessary money and carry unnecessary weight if I don't need to. What setup would you take or recommend?


Scott J. - posted 1 year ago on 04-07-2018 06:15:59 pm
Greenwood, IN

It isn't so much that I don't like the Leupold spotter, it wasn't the right tool for that hunt. I typically set the scope around 20x and don't zoom to 30x. I lose too much of the clarity and brightness at 30x. I wear glasses and the eye relief is tricky. My Pentax DCF-ED 10x bino's on a tripod gave me as much info the spotter in the conditions of that hunt. I use that spotter at the range all the time and it performs well. I don't have a problem spotting bullet holes at 200 yards with it and that is the limit of the closet range. So it works well for the work it does most of the time.

I bought that scope about 10 years ago to take on guided western hunts. I wanted something small and light that would fit in a day pack and it was in my price range. I wanted to spend time glassing my own animals. It is good for confirming that the object seen miles away is an animal and the general size. It's not for counting inches and points. I wasn't using it to decide if the animal was worth taking a long walk to go after. The guide was doing that with his optics. Last year was my first DIY western hunt and I was "guiding" my son. This year I am going back with my father and my son. In the next few years we are going to progress to deer and elk. So I want different tools. Maybe they will be better, maybe not.

Gary H. - posted 1 year ago on 04-03-2018 05:36:39 am

I just picked up the 15X30 Leupold. Hoping to switch it out back and forth with the binos. Doesn't sound like you like yours? Eye relief is pretty bad on this little scope. Didn't realize it until I set it up at home.

Scott J. - posted 2 years ago on 02-14-2018 07:01:46 pm
Greenwood, IN

Brady, do you have any up dates since the 2017 season is in the freezer?

I used my 10x bino’s on a tri-pod and an older Leupold 15-30x50 spotting scope during a pronghorn hunt in Wyoming. The binoculars were more useful than the spotting scope! Going back in ‘18 and will invest in dedicated 12-15x glassing bino’s and a larger spotter. A definite increase in weight but was never more than 3 miles from the truck so won’t be that big of a deal.

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 2 years ago on 10-10-2017 09:58:29 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

Hey Cody. I'm currently running the Vortex 12x50 Razor HDs. Really, really enjoy this switch. I'm actually getting my pictures in order to release an article on the 12s setup. I love my new setup now. Can't wait to run it on a true backcountry hunt in two weeks.

Cody R. - posted 2 years ago on 10-10-2017 07:11:51 am

Brady, you talk about falling in love with 12s. Which 12s were you using? I'm running a 10x42 and 65mm spotter, both Razor HDs. Thinking about selling the 10x42s and switching to the 12x50 Razor HDs as I hear they're better glass than the Kaibabs, and lighter as you say. Were you using the Razors, Ultravids, or Swaro EL SVs?

Bill D. - posted 2 years ago on 08-02-2017 04:29:18 pm
OK and CO

I have a couple of doe-only antelope hunts coming up this Fall with my teenage daughter. Given the open country/big distances, but not the need to judge horns (other than identifying sex), I'm wondering about just taking bino harness 10x42s and maybe 15 power binos on tripod, but without a spotting scope. Thoughts?

Tavis R. - posted 2 years ago on 07-24-2017 07:32:12 am
Oak Creek, Colorado

Congratulations, Brady! Hope you and your new bride got to see and enjoy a lot of Alaska! Awesome place for a Honeymoon.

I am going to have to spend a little time looking at some new optics out there to see what I can do to pare down weight some more and still have good quality.

Not sure I would go to 12's for the way I hunt. I keep the 10's around my neck and use them extensively when executing a stalk - even down to under 20 yards when hunting mule deer with my longbow. Have thought about getting a lighter pair of 8's for the close work, but have had 10's around my neck for over 30 years, so hard to change.

I do have to say that one of the best investments I have ever made was on a Manfroto carbon fiber legged tripod with a good ball head. Allows for glassing sitting down, standing up, or anything in between. Also works well for a shooting platform for a rifle.

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 2 years ago on 07-23-2017 02:41:10 pm
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

Sorry for the late reply on the comments, everyone. I got married the other week in Alaska and just got back from my honeymoon. Great time and trip!

@Ryan - That is a great option as well. I will agree, packing optics can get heavy. It's definitely all about finding that balance.

@Lance - Love hearing about your setup. That is a HUGE weight savings. I agree with you on the leaving the spotter in the truck deal. It definitely crosses my mind sometimes. But finding a lighter setup like yours makes it so much easier to pack.

@Tavis - Thanks for taking the time for a detailed response. I always enjoy reading your perspective of things. You and I think a lot alike!

@Zach - Great to hear your feedback of the 12s. They are ones I am very seriously considering carrying this year. Best of luck to you as well!

@Heath - Thanks for the detailed comment. I love your different setups for different animals. You bring up a very great point (one that I hope to cover again here really soon) about the built in rangefinder in binos.

@Scott - You're very welcome. Glad you've enjoyed the article. I have not personally used the Duovids much. Just played with them in the office. I believe Trail has though. I'll talk to him at the office tomorrow and have him jump on this article and give you his thoughts on that setup.

Again, thanks everyone for providing such detailed comments. It only adds to make these articles stronger. Best of luck to everyone in 2017!

Scott J. - posted 2 years ago on 07-20-2017 07:36:38 pm
Greenwood, IN

Brady, enjoyed the article. I'm just starting out and it is always good to get "been there, done that" perspectives on gear. It seems like the Leica Douvids would be a good choice, esp the 10-15x for some of the situations you describe. Have you used the Douvids and what did you think of you have? To me the cost is the big draw back. I could get a nice spotter and binocular (maybe even binoculars!) from companies like Vortex, Nikon or Leopold for about the same price. Again thanks for the perspective.

Lance V. - posted 2 years ago on 07-19-2017 08:29:08 pm
Coeur D Alene, ID

Erik - I am using a Vortex SS-P tripod. It's enough to stabalize the 50mm spotter. It will not stabalize my 80mm though. It isn't tall enough to glass standing up but I typically don't stand while glassing anyways.

With a straight spotter and the binocs on the tripod, I can locate deer, remove the binos and lock the tripod in position, put the spotter on the tripod and be on them without having to search. It really works great when deer are moving early and late and you want to check newcomers to groups of deer or check deer quickly as they emerge from cover.

Heath S. - posted 2 years ago on 07-19-2017 01:14:15 pm

I just ordered the new Kowa 55mm spotter to go in my pack. I sold the Swaro STM65 I was using. With it's protective case and the Outdoorsmans adapter plate the Swaro weighed 50.8oz. The Kowa 55mm should be similar in performance based off the early reviews I've seen, and weighs 28.2oz for the scope alone. I also have a Nikon ED50 but I plan to sell it once the Kowa shows up. I'll have a Swaro ATS80 HD for use on the window mount, and on some scouting trips and the Kowa for when I'm carrying it.

I 100% agree about binos off a tripod being incredibly effective. I have Leica 10x42's I use a lot of the time but will pack the 15x Swaros when the hunt justifies it.

Generally elk hunting I always packed the Nikon ED50 and a small cheap Slikk Compact II tripod. I just needed enough of a spotter set-up to tell if a bull was broken up that I'd already located with my binos. I wasn't spending much time glassing with the spotter. The little ED50 is pretty impressive for the size and cost, it is capable of more on a better tripod.

Antelope hunting I'd have the Nikon ED50 in my pack with a good tripod (Promaster 525 or Outdoorsmans Compact Medium) with an Outdoorsmans pan head. I'd have the Swaro 80mm spotter on the window mount of the truck as I use a vehicle a lot more hunting antelope than other game. Once I located one that may be worth stalking my pack was already loaded up and ready to go. Once I got closer I could do a final field judging with the ED50 if I felt it necessary.

Mule deer hunting is where I feel packing the 15x binos pays off. I plan to only take the Swaro 15x binos and 80mm spotter scouting this year and see how it works. I don't plan to do as much glassing free handed as I would hunting. Hunting I plan to take the 10x Leicas with the rangefinder built in, the 15x Swaros, and the Kowa spotter. I plan to mainly glass with the 15x off the tripod and use the smaller spotter to evaluate bucks or things that may be bucks once I spot them with the binos. Hopefully it works well.

If I didn't like having the angle compensating rangefinder built into my Leicas so much for hunting I'd consider going to just the Kowa spotter and Swaro 12x50 binos. I think that would be a really lightweight and effective combo when paired with a good tripod. I love just using my binos to range and not having to carry another device or take that other step of using a separate rangefinder though, so I'll likely stick with what I have for now. If Leica or Swaro comes out with a reasonable compact 12x50 bino with an angle compensating rangefinder built in I'll be making a change.

Erik S. - posted 2 years ago on 07-19-2017 08:48:58 am

Lance V. - I run the same system and agree. What tripod do you use for the 11x33-50 spotter and binos?

Zach B. - posted 2 years ago on 07-18-2017 09:00:45 pm

I moved from 10s to the Vortex Razor 12s a few years ago and don't think I'll ever go back. Love them in a chest harness equally as much as off a tripod. I will admit to being interested in the 15s now...

Good luck this year.

Tavis R. - posted 2 years ago on 07-15-2017 09:31:00 am
Oak Creek, Colorado

I really like my 65mm Swarovski HD STS at 38 oz. Could probably cut some ounces off by going to a different spotter, but the optical quality can not be beat. I also have a very lightweight straight 25x Leupold that is primarily for backpack mountain hunting.

My 10x42 EL's are an absolute necessity. A bit heavier than the Vortex, but again, worth it.

I also have the 15x56 Swarovski binoculars. They really shine for spotting Coues deer.

All of them are in my pack for Coues hunts. I have the 15's and spotter set up to be able to switch out when I find something that needs a closer look. Adds up to a lot of extra weight in the pack, but necessary for finding those little buggers.

For mule deer, antelope, sheep or elk, I use all of them scouting but for hunting, will typically have the 10s around my neck, spotter in the pack and the 15's get left at the truck.

Lance V. - posted 2 years ago on 07-14-2017 08:05:25 am
Coeur D Alene, ID

I'm using a 10x42 mounted on a tripod along with a 11-33 x50 spotter. This is an extremely lightweight set up but will leave a bit to be desired if you want to really judge a set of antlers. Other than that, I have found I can really locate animals well.
With the small spotter I can stabalize it with a small tripod. I need a larger tripod to stabalize my 80mm spotter.
Total set up weight 50mm - 32 oz tripod, 28 oz 50mm spotter, 28oz 10x42's = 5.5 lb.
Set up Weight 80mm - 56oz tripod, 65 oz 80mm spotter, 28oz 10x42's = 9.3 lb.
I never think twice about putting the spotter in my pack, which I definitely did with the 80mm.

Ryan S. - posted 2 years ago on 07-13-2017 03:50:35 pm

Why pack a 65 ounce spotter when the Leupold 12-40x60mm comes in at 37 ounces. No more will I lug a 4 pound spotter up a mountain after experiencing the performance of the Gold Ring.