Conquer the toughest 100 yards in bowhunting: thrive in adversity
Elk and deer hunting in the Rocky Mountains is hard and even harder if you are carrying a bow instead of a rifle. Not only do you have to find animals that were born and raised in some of the steepest, most inaccessible terrain, you also have to get within around 50 yards to make a shot. Some of you might be thinking that sounds easy; however, I promise you that those who are thinking that have not been chasing trophy quality bucks and bulls in the mountains of the West. For me, I am stealthy and have done many stalks in my life and getting to the 150-yard mark is easy. What is challenging is closing those last 100 yards in order to get within shooting distance to make an accurate shot. Those last 100 yards of the stalk make the difference between rifle range and bow range and is the true challenge every time for every hunter. Here are four tips that will help you consistently close the distance on good bucks and bulls during your stalk.
A good stalk starts with a plan that encompasses a travel path that avoids everything that could go wrong. After all, you are stalking an animal that is prey and its biggest instinct is to survive. These animals pay attention to the scent in the wind and the surrounding environment. They are always on the lookout for any sound or movement that is out of place and ready to escape at a moment's notice. So how is it possible to get within 150 yards or less? It starts with a well thought out plan that takes into account cover, scent and sound and someone who is ready to adapt to any changes along the way — along with some luck.
1. Understand the wind and use it
The first thing I think about when planning a stalk is the path of my scent. Nearly every animal that gets a whiff of human scent in the mountains vanishes instantly, so it is critical to understand how this works. The thermals or wind have ruined many successful stalks and will continue to negatively affect countless hunts in the future. Thermals are naturally rising or falling air along a mountain slope. In the morning, before the sun hits the mountain side, thermals generally fall down the mountain, carrying scent from higher elevation to lower elevations. During the mid-morning, these thermals shift as the sun hits the slope, carrying scent up the mountain. Then, like clockwork in the evenings, they shift again, carrying scent down the mountain. It is important to understand these thermals and their paths when considering your approach to a bedded or feeding animal. Thermals are pretty consistent; however, there is one thing in the mountains that is not consistent: the wind and its direction. Generally, there is a prevailing wind rippling through the terrain, cliffs, ridges and thermals, which can alter the scent's direction. Try to determine the thermal direction and overall wind direction and make a plan and play that works with both of them. Sometimes you might need to pass on a stalk or circle the long way around to find a different approach instead of busting the animal out of the basin and into the next county.
2. Utilize cover
The second thing that I look at after the scent path is to try and find a stalking route that utilizes cover. Cover is often trees, shrubs or sage, but can also be more subtle things. I have made many stalks by working my way up a small terrain break on an open, windswept side hill. The ultimate goal of cover is to get you within that 50-yard range. If you don’t have enough cover, you need to try to find an area that is ahead of the animal that gives you what you are looking for. A perfect stalk is pointless if it leaves you with a distance of 100 plus yards from a trophy animal with only open space between you and the animal.
3. At this distance, silence is key
If you have ever hunted out West, you probably know that the mountains are full of different and loud sounds. You will hear babbling brooks, whining trees, the rustle of the wind through sage and more. You will also hear the sounds of elk moving about or cattle in the area. Since the mountains have so much noise, the sound of you stalking is usually not a huge deal until you get to that 200- to 300-yard range. However, you need to watch your step after that, especially on those calm hunting days. This is the point where you need to incorporate some ways to aid you in being quieter such as dropping your pack or taking off your boots. This is also where an arrow should be nocked because anything could happen.
4. Be patient
My final piece of advice that has helped me be successful in countless stalks is to have patience. There are times that you will make a move on a bedded buck or bull and get close only to have him bed down. Now, what do you do? Do you keep pressing forward in hopes that he doesn't hear you less than 100 yards from him or do you wait him out? If you have considered the wind direction, cover and being silent, your best opportunity is to be patient. You can wait where you are at or if you feel it would be beneficial to you, you can quietly try to make a move. At this point, many good archery hunters move a meager foot a minute, inching forward in a way that doesn't alert the animal. The animal has no timeline, so you shouldn’t have one either. Patience will pay off nearly every time and is always the best move when you are within 150 yards of a trophy animal.
Hunting public land animals with a bow is hard no matter what strategy you choose and it doesn’t matter if you are calling, waiting in a stationary position or stalking. However, stalking is often my method of choice because I feel like it puts the most odds in my favor. Once you find elk, getting to that 150-yard range should be easy. The hard and frustrating part is closing those last 100 yards to get into bow range. Come up with a good plan that pays attention to the wind, utilizes cover, is silent and always be ready to be patient, backout or adapt in order to increase your odds of killing that animal.