Bowhunting creates incredible animal counters, and the ethical shots that follow require stealth, knowledge and self-control. Spot-and-stalk bowhunting requires all those skills and more, including a little luck.
Stalks pit you against animals in primal ways. You feel like a predator, because you must use every tool you possess to get close enough to shoot. Your prey, meanwhile, is aware, smart and forever-wary with its incredible senses, ready to bust you for the slightest mistake. Even when you do everything right, some stalks simply won’t go your way.
Still, it’s a fun, challenging tactic to use on elk, caribou, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, white-tailed deer and other big game. If you’re ready to put your skills to the ultimate test, these tips should help you stay concealed and cut the distance like a pro.
Spot-and-stalk bowhunting seemingly requires a million decisions to all go right. The first, and perhaps biggest decision, is when to pursue the animal. Unlike bowhunting from treestands, where you wait for your quarry to come to you, spot-and-stalk bowhunts require you to make the move.
Whenever possible, gain some elevation to get a better look over a larger area. Use binoculars and/or a spotting scope to find animals that are feeding, bedded or moving. Once you’ve spotted and inspected your quarry from afar, you have much to consider. For example, does the cover, wind and time of day favor you?
You’ve spotted the animal, and it’s time to stalk it. To sneak into bow range, you need cover to hide your approach. That can mean low brush that requires crawling. You might also have to sneak through thicker cover, which can be noisy or require losing sight of the animal. In that case, take time before beginning your stalk to note landmarks to guide your approach. Landmarks can include gullies, mounds and unusual trees or rocks. If possible, take a photo of the terrain you’ll cover, and refer to it as you proceed.
If little or no cover exists, you might need to get creative and try other tactics. When bowhunting pronghorns on the plains, bring a decoy to try tricking them. If bowhunting caribou across flat tundra, consider waving a white flag or shirt at curious animals, or hold up your bow to mimic antlers. You never know what will help until you try it.
One easy way to get busted while stalking is to have the animal catch a whiff of your scent. Before making your move, verify the wind favors you. If the wind will blow your scent toward the animal, wait it out or try stalking from a different direction.
Wind tends to swirl and change direction throughout the day. Carry a powder puffer or other wind indicators, and use them often as you move toward the animal. Also wear scent-trapping clothes and use scent- suppressing products on your gear, backpack and clothing. You can’t eliminate all human odors, but you can reduce them enough to gain an edge.
Movements can be the hardest challenge to master. If you move too fast, you risk being spotted. But if you move too slowly, the animals might move long before you arrive. Some bowhunters sneak amazingly close to animals because they’re masters of movement.
Take advantage of windy days, when natural movements of leaves and branches can help conceal you. Always avoid jerky, sudden movements, and watch which way the animal is looking. If it’s bedded and occasionally looks up, move when you’re out of its sight-line, and freeze if it looks your way. If you’re properly camouflaged when the animal spots you, become a statue and be patient. If you stay still, you’ll blend into the surroundings.
When sneaking into bow range, it’s imperative to be silent. Wildlife fear any unusual noise. Don’t wait until mid-stalk to notice your shoes squeak or your backpack rubs loudly against your jacket. Bowhunting gear must be quiet from head to toe, so test it before hunting.
Walk around your home in your hunting clothes and listen for noise. If your pants are too baggy and the fabric too coarse, the legs will rub together and make noise. Several companies make quiet clothing specifically for bowhunters. Visit an archery shop to find quiet options.
Finding the right boots can also be tricky. Tall hiking boots with stiff soles work well on long hikes and heavy pack-outs, but they’re much louder than soft-soled boots. Bowhunters combat this problem by carrying socks or felt-soled stalking shoes to slip on for stalks. Others ditch their boots for sneakers.
A friend once said of spot-and-stalk hunting: “When it all comes together, it will seem so easy.”
Successful bowhunters are determined bowhunters. Spot-and-stalk bowhunting is especially challenging because you must conquer so many factors beyond your control. But don’t give up after one or more failed attempts. With patience, persistence and knowledge, you’ll eventually put it all together to create awesome bowhunting memories.