“I don’t know who put the first scope on a high-powered rifle…and I don’t know who the first guy was to put a sight on a bow and arrow. But I know who was the first one to put a binocular on a tripod—that I know,” Tracy Hardy tells me as he gestures to his father, Bill Hardy, as we relax in his trophy room one evening to hear Bill tell how hunting in the Southwest has changed over the decades and the influence he had on those changes.
Attaching a binocular to a tripod to glass for game is almost ubiquitous in the Southwest today, but back when Bill Hardy was in his youth hunting Coues deer and sheep around Tucson, AZ, the concept just wasn’t on a hunter’s radar. Sure there were binoculars, and sure there were spotting scopes used on tripods, but no one had thought to put the binoculars on the tripod.
“The reason I got into the tripod is I was scouting for antelope and I had my spotting scope with me,” Bill says as he recounts the epiphany that changed hunting in much of the Southwest. “I had my binocular, I think they were 9×36 Bushnell, and they were in my way so I picked them up and I set them on top of my spotting scope on its tripod and then I somehow accidentally got looking back and forth [between them] and I said ‘damn, I can see a lot better with both eyes open.’ Of course, now we call it resolution and definition and all that, but back then we didn’t know those words and just said ‘I think I see better with the binocular’ and I realized it was because they were on that tripod. When I came back [from scouting], it wasn’t a few months afterward I started to develop something to hold my binoculars on that tripod….”
It seems counterintuitive that you can see better using a lower power binocular on a tripod than through a higher power spotting scope, but that was Bill Hardy’s experience. The view is what he calls a “dead field of view,” and anything that moves in that field of view, you pick up more easily because there is no image shake. “[Hunters] would be most impressed with all the little things that they see and find out there — butterflies and birds and things. You know you’re glassing when you start finding little teeny things,” Hardy says.
“All of a sudden, instead of glassing the hill looking for a deer, you were looking at a dead field of view and you saw the cactus with two pieces of fruit on it; you saw the bird that flew across; you saw the ground squirrel,” adds Tracy, “and all of a sudden there were so many other things to be seen…. Each field of view became its own little show as opposed to just trying to find what you’re looking for. In hindsight, it is so obvious. Looking back on it now, why didn’t everyone use tripods forever?” he asks rhetorically.
Rhetorical or not, Bill confided that the reason was that no one wanted to carry the extra weight of a tripod. “The weight was a big factor back then,” explains Bill. “People would say, ‘I’m not carrying a tripod. I’ve got too much stuff on my back now,’ and I used to tell them that without the tripod they’re not going to find the stuff that they need.”
But the advantage of the tripod-mounted binocular is that you can let the binoculars do the walking for you. “[Seeing game] far away gives you all of the advantage of you knowing where they’re at, but they have no idea where you’re at…. You can plan a stalk—I can go to this hill and I can go to this hill until I’m 300 yards away or something like that,” says Bill.
At the time Hardy was pioneering a now-common hunting technique, he was working at Jensen’s Custom Ammunition in Tucson, AZ. “I bet you I sold more Zeiss glasses than anybody else in Tucson for 20 years,” says Hardy. With an affinity for Zeiss, he ordered a Zeiss 15x60mm binocular. “When I ordered those glasses, first of all I couldn’t afford it. But I had two old Spanish-made shotguns that an acquaintance of mine wanted, so I sold them to him and got the beginning of the money for the binoculars,” recalls Bill. At the then princely sum of $1,700, such an order was so unheard of at the time, especially for that area, that Zeiss called Hardy personally to confirm the order. “They said it’s the first pair they’ve sold in that area, and I remember distinctly asking, ‘Well who the hell do you sell them to?’ and he said, ‘Well, mostly whalers,’ and I said, ‘Well, there’s no whales out here in Tucson, I’ll tell you that right now,’” laughs Hardy.
Hardy’s order gained him local acclaim as he became a regular subject in Tucson newspapers in outdoor articles written by Pete Cowgill. Bill Hardy is a master at using binoculars, reads one headline to an article describing “glass-off” challenges against Hardy including one where he accepted a challenge to find a mature bighorn sheep for a hunter before 11:00 a.m. — and did.
As news of Hardy’s game-finding ability spread, so did the use of higher power binoculars on tripods. Next to order a Zeiss 15x60mm was Butch Jensen. “There was a time when we would find somebody [hunting] with a pair of binoculars on a tripod and you’d say, ‘Who is that guy? Oh, that’s Mike [Jensen] or Butch [Jensen],’” recalls Hardy. As the technique spread and the number of hunters using binoculars on tripods increased, it got to the point that the Hardys no longer recognized other hunters at a tripod.
Many good ideas remain local or fade away, but the stars aligned for Hardy’s idea to have staying power. Locally, Jensen’s began custom making and selling tripod adapters, and Mike Jensen eventually went on to become a general manager at the Kahles division of Swarovski where he brought Bill’s idea of the high power magnification binoculars and tripod mount.
Speaking with Jensen, he tells me he worked directly with Swarovski engineers to develop a 15x56mm binocular and tripod mount, and then took the concept with him when he later became president of Carl Zeiss. “Zeiss already had the 15x60mm binocular,” says Jensen, “but when I got there they did not have the tripod adapter.” Today, Zeiss offers a 15x56mm.
Hardy’s tripod-mounted binocular concept continues to spread to other manufacturers with Jensen as the carrier and hunter success the reason. Jensen is now CEO of GPO-USA and works with GPO-GbmH in Germany to design, engineer and produce optics that meet the highest specification in the product price/class segments. “Hunters are looking for lighter weight these days, so we opted for a 12.5x50mm instead of a 15,” says Jensen of GPO’s high power option, adding that they just began offering a tripod mount accessory. “The concept started in and around Tucson and spread from there,” he says.
Bill Hardy is still using that same 15x60mm Zeiss he bought 40-some years ago. “You get whatever you can afford and then put it on a tripod,” he says. “Even the cheapest, lowest 7x35s — you get them on a tripod and all of a sudden you think you’re looking through twice the glass just because of the still field of view…. Get what you can afford, but get it on a tripod.”–Scott Mayer