Trail cameras have replaced summertime glassing for many of us. If you're dealing with a little property, like anything under 40 acres, this might be a winning strategy. After all, you only get so many passes in any given woods before the deer have had enough.
If you've got access to something larger, skipping the old-school method of summertime glassing can be a mistake. For this particular whitetail junkie, peering at distant bucks through a spotting scope is the single best way to take inventory in any given spot. Now, I know that a lot of folks do this with trail cameras and minerals or bait, but they probably shouldn't get too comfortable taking inventory that way. CWD isn't going away, and with its proliferation we are likely to see mineral and feeding bans with far more frequency.
No matter what, nothing replaces actually watching a mature buck do his thing. This differs from trail-camera inventory in several ways, the most obvious being the length of observation. If your camera is set up to capture natural movement (as opposed to hanging over a big time draw like minerals), you're going to get a few images each day, at best.
That's a tiny snapshot into any deer's life. Actually observing a buck as he feeds and works his way through his neighborhood is a rare opportunity. The value of this can't be overstated, but it doesn't necessarily have to do with an opening-week plan and the hackneyed advice that you can kill a buck on a summertime pattern in September (if you know his summertime habits well).
There's no doubt this works some times, especially in states that open early in September or even the end of August, but for an awful lot of bowhunters it's almost a non-issue.
This begs the question: aside from inventory, why glass at all?
The Short Window
There are very few times each year when any one of us can count on running into the most mature bucks in our local forest. Most of the time, they are the hardest to find, and the most difficult to observe. During the summer, and particularly in August, that's not the case.
The opportunity to watch the ghosts of the deer herd wander around like they have never been hunted a day in their life is awesome if for no other reason than it's so fleeting. By the time they strip their velvet, it's a largely dead program. That means you've got about a month in which their antlers are nearly fully formed and they are careless.
This isn't meant to imply that they'll always be out in the wide open and allow you to pull the truck up, pop a spotting scope out of the window and start counting tines. The deer that I'm watching tend to live either on public land, or on private land that gets hunted hard. They aren't comfortable feeding where they are visible, even during the summer. This means I need to dust off the camo, play the wind, and sneak into areas where they do feel safe moving.
This, I believe, is the key to finding an awful lot of the bucks we want to watch right now. The option to view deer from the truck window isn't available to most of us, so we have to work at finding them. It might take nothing more than a short hike to round a bend in the corn and watch a secluded alfalfa strip, or it might take a serious hike to simply get somewhere that most folks won't go.
Summer glassing sessions tend to require a few obvious things. The first is, of course, the optics. I always bring a spotting scope and binoculars. Spotting scopes are awesome for when the light is good and you really want to investigate all of the red-summer-coated ungulates feeding in the beans.
The binos work for quick scans and for later in the night when the effectiveness of the spotting scope starts to wane. With that combo, I can see most deer good enough until dark to know what I'm dealing with, but it doesn't end there. A good tripod is a must. I've had some crappy tripods in my life and few things are more frustrating. A decent tripod will cost $100 or more, but they last a long time and make your spotting scope an awesome tool that allows you the chance to conduct some serious whitetail recon.
I always carry a good cushion too, because even the softest midwest soil ends up being uncomfortable after a while. And I always carry a THERMACELL unit. In my neck of the woods mosquitoes are stupid thick, and sitting out without a THERMACELL is something which I no longer want to visit.
Because I tend to sneak in a bit closer than conventional scouting would demand, I'm to the point now where I always camo up. I even use face paint most of the time, because getting busted by one deer can ruin a whole night of glassing. For that task, the only choice these days is Carbomask. It's not messy like oil-based paints and I'm to the point now where I'm going through what feels like a gallon a month, probably more during the actual hunting season.
There is only a little bit of time before those highly visible mature deer will strip their velvet, get ticked off with one another, and slink back into the shadows where they'll live until Halloween. Take advantage of this time of the year where they are a bit more carefree and willing to step into the open, because it'll be about 10 or 11 months before they do it again.