The Best Optics for Western Big Game Hunting

By Cody Rich

Choosing what glass to buy can be one of the toughest decisions in hunting. For starters, optics are one of those things you want to buy and have for as long as possible. Finding the balance between the perfect optic and one that will work in as many situations as possible is ideal, but rarely achievable. It’s akin to buying one rifle that will work for everything--great in theory, then you “need” just one more for that one thing.

Though I have been hunting my entire life, good optics have been a luxury of the more recent years. Five years ago, I started The Rich Outdoors podcast and the more I interviewed great hunters the more I heard how important “being on the glass” was. I constantly heard it from every hunting great I interviewed. At the time, I really thought I knew what this meant. Yeah, yeah, use your glass, stay until the last light, I get it, I get it.

"When I started running high-end glass and then getting the right glass for the right situation, my success in finding game increased in parallel."

As I have grown as a hunter, I have come to really understand what this means. It turns out growing up without much glass at all created habits in my hunting style that compensated for that lack of glass. Call it impatience, or a "get-it-done" mentality, but more often than not, in the past I have been ready to move on to the next spot far before I should have. When I started running high-end glass and then getting the right glass for the right situation, my success in finding game increased in parallel. One of the biggest changes to my glassing setup was adding a set of 18x binoculars. Prior to 18x, I spent most of my time glassing with 10x42s and using my spotter to confirm things. I would glass with the spotter, but only at long distances. Personally, I was on the fence between 18x and 15x, but because I was hunting Eastern Montana, I figured that giving the 18x a shot was worth a try. I was blown away with the B.5 18x56s, and now I find myself using them on as many hunts as possible. While I don’t think they will replace my spotter on every hunt, I do find that I am spending more time and picking up more animals in the 1,000-2,500 yard range than ever before.

I get a ton of questions on what makes the best glassing setup. That can be a hard question to answer since everyone is unique, so I’ll answer it by going through my setup for various hunts. From there, you can decide which type of terrain and/or situation you most often encounter and that should give you some direction on selecting optics.


My go-to binocular for every hunt is the B.2 11x45. There are definitely lighter and smaller binoculars out there, but I have really found comfort in my 11x45s. These binoculars work extremely well in low light and for the country I hunt, and I like having just a little bit more magnification.

Though This may vary from trip to trip, I almost always pack the S.1A on backcountry hunts. I find that with the bigger glass I am able to cover much more country. From time to time I will save weight and pack the S.2 spotter. If I know the terrain is tighter and I will need to cover a lot of miles, the S.2 is great for that. I've really come to enjoy this little spotter and find that it is well worth packing, even on an elk archery hunt. For me, I want to make sure a bull elk is worth going after.


For me rifle elk is all about glassing and finding those timbered slopes where elk feed, yet offer enough cover to stay concealed. Generally speaking, if you want to find a good bull in rifle season, you are going to need to be remote or secluded in some way. For most rifle elk hunts, my go-to system is my B.2 11x45s and my S.1A spotting scope. Being able to pick up the slightest sign of elk at great distance is crucial. Oftentimes I will spend hours picking apart a timber slope looking for antler tips or an ear of a big bull bedded bull. As for my rifle setup, I run the RS.3 5-30x50. This scope has been rock solid for me and I really like how well it works in low light.


Rifle mule deer is where the 18x B.5s have been a game changer for me. Last year, I took great great bucks in both Montana and Colorado while using the B.5s extensively. I packed the B.2 11x45s, B.5 18x56, and my S.1 spotter throughout the year - I just couldn’t leave one behind. This year, I will be back in Eastern Montana and also in the backcountry of Idaho; depending on distance you will probably find me packing all three again. While hunting with a buddy I found that one of us on the 18s and the other on the big spotter works really well.  If I had to choose to leave either my spotter or the 18xs at the truck, I would leave the spotter and spend more time behind the 18s.

Choosing what to take and what not to take can be tough, and it's a balance of bringing extra weight and being able to spot an animal. For me, in almost every situation, I would rather have the extra glass and pack the extra few ounces...because there just isn’t much point in going in extra light if you aren’t going to come out extra heavy.  

Need the right gear to maximize your western big game hunting success? Check out the Cody Rich Collection.

Cody Rich is a the host of The Rich Outdoors Podcast and owner of Backcountry Fuel Box.
"The Rich Outdoors is a platform I created in order to share my journey in which I take full advantage of life and the opportunities that come with it. My mission is to learn from those who have come before me, to pursue new adventures, and to set out and chase goals."

Web: The Rich Outdoors
IG: @therichoutdoors