Spot And Stalk Hunting – The Lost Art
By Andrew Gegelman
In recent days, the art of spot and stalk hunting has been overshadowed by the use of tree stands and ground blinds. With everyone’s busy schedules it is hard to find the time to spend either learning how to spot and stalk, or refining your already learned techniques. The techniques of the spot and stalk hunter are widely varied, but no matter how different they are, they all come down to utilizing the same tactics. Becoming a good spot and stalk hunter takes practice, and lots of fine tuning, but it is attainable by anyone who wants to learn.
The quality of gear we have at our disposal has helped make stalking big game a lot easier. Lightning fast bows, laser range finders, and scent lock suits have helped increase the percentage of successful hunts, but getting within range without spooking the animals is still of utmost concern. Here are a couple of different ideas that could make your hunts more successful.
For some reason, a lot of people who try to stalk big game wait until they bed down. This is a great tactic, but it is not always the best tactic. If you can approach an animal when they are moving, it can increase your odds at filling your tag. Have you ever noticed that deer bed down in areas that provide themselves with many advantages? First, they’re able to see any sort of danger from long distances. This will blow your stalk most of the time before it even starts. If they can’t see you, they can smell you and see you later. Always be aware of wind direction, as you should use that to your advantage by staying downwind. Than off course is a deer’s vision. Deer’s eyes are especially good at detecting motion. If they are on their feet and moving they have a tougher time seeing other moving objects. For example, if you were to sit down on the side of a hill and just look around the country side, if something moves, chances are you will see it. But get up and start moving around and it becomes more difficult to pick out any kind of movement. Finally, deer have hearing far superior to any human. When they are bedded they can hear leaves crunch or a twig break a mile away. When they are also moving and making noise, it makes it a little easier for us, the hunter, to approach them.
In stalking, time is your enemy. Once an animal is spotted you must close the distance as fast as possible without being detected if you want to be successful. If you spot an animal from a long distance, plan your stalk quickly, then close the distance as fast as you can until you need to make the final push towards the prize. In order to make a successful final approach, you need to rely on stealth. I like to have an oversized pair of wool socks with me to slide on over my boots, but there are also other options. The first and least expensive is to take your shoes off, but watch out for cactus and other prickly plants, they hurt. Another option is buying some sort of stalking boot, with a felt bottom. As you get closer, calm your nerves, and be confident that all your practice has paid off. But don’t get too close, trying that usually means disaster. I like to, whenever possible, stay farther than 20-25 yards away.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! The majority of the time, you can’t close the distance to 20 yards, then what do you do? What happens if that trophy of a lifetime is out say, 60 or 70 yards, and the only thing keeping him from seeing you is one lonely sage brush? For today’s high speed bows, shots out to 70 yards are very possible. But practice is the only way you can make good shots at that distance on a regular basis. If you have a bow that is capable, shoot 80%-90% of your shots outside of 50 yards. Do not spend all of your time repeating the same 20-30 yard shots over and over. Also after becoming proficient beyond 50 yards, move in to 30 yards and see how easy it is to put your arrow exactly where you want, making those closer shots all the easier. One other little trick that I found helpful is, before each hunt, shoot 10-20 practice shots. Doing this will hopefully stretch your muscles out, and let you look over your bow setup to see if anything is wrong.
Something you shouldn’t overlook in the fall is endurance. In some instances, you’ll be forced to cover a few miles in a short amount of time. If this isn’t something you can do with ease, you’ll need to get in better shape in the off-season. A simple walking routine over a few month time span is an easy, efficient way to raise your endurance.
My final tip in increasing your odds of harvesting an animal is to not make them stand up if they are bedded. Too many times a deer will explode out of their bed never to be seen again. Shooting bedded deer can be somewhat difficult, but practice on a 3-D target of a bedded deer will pay off big time as the opportunity draws near. If you have even one doubt you can’t make the shot on a bedded animal, don’t take it. Be patient and the deer will eventually stand up or adjust itself where it presents a high percentage shot. This may take only minutes, but could take hours, you just never know. But after putting forth so much time and effort to get within shooting range, what is a couple of hours? Give the spot and stalk method a try, it’s very rewarding.