Deadly stalking tactics to remember when in the field
As bowhunters, we are forced to close the distance on our quarry. That means that we either need to let the game come to us or that we need to go to the game. Out West, we usually do this through spot and stalk methods. We will get up high on a vantage point, locate game through our optic, and make a plan of attack from there on how to “close the distance” for a shot. After evaluating wind directions, terrain and animal behavior, it is then our chance to put our stalking tactics to the test. There is no training facility for this, but the mountains themselves. The only way to get good at it is to go out and do it. Here are some stalking tactics that I have learned over the years that have brought success.
Relax, Re-assess, Re-adjust
When I first started trying to spot and stalk critters here in Arizona, I would often get super antsy during the whole process. Meaning, I would rush my approach, throw all thinking to the wayside and just plain mess things up for myself. Since then I have learned a lot and like to focus on what I call the three Rs: relax, reassess and re-adjust.
Ok, so you just glassed up a bruiser of a buck a mile out from you. No need to rush things. Bring it down a notch. That buck doesn’t know you are there and you’ve got the time to make a plan. By relaxing and not being in a state of chaos, you are going to be able to read the situation better. This is going to let you make a much more thought out plan for your approach. I’d often get anxious when I was first starting out. My first thought was: “He’s gonna get away.” In all reality, though, he doesn’t have a reason to do so at the moment.
Now, that you have calmed yourself, it’s time to start making a plan. When we are not calm, we often make rash decisions, which we later look back on and wonder why we made them in the first place. Big bucks make us do some dumb stuff from time to time and we get blinded by the overall majesty of them. Look at the terrain. What is the buck doing at the moment? Is he feeding? Chasing does? Bedded? If he is bedded, which way is he facing? Do you have an approach from behind him or one that will obscure you from his vision? Don’t forget the wind direction. These are just some of the things that you need to take into account if you want to put your hands on that animal.
There is usually a big difference between the plan that you made when you were in a state of panic and the one that you made after the fact. At least there is for me. After you have re-assessed the situation, now it is time to readjust your plan. With a clear head, you should now be able to see the big picture that is in front of you. I recently got two stalks on the same buck within a matter of about an hour. The first one was rushed and sloppy. After coming back and re-adjusting my approach, I went in and killed that buck the second time around. Be a predator.
Know where you’re stepping
Here, in the desert, there are plenty of loud things to step on— mainly in the form of loose rock or gravel. You have to be on your “best behavior” when it comes to where you put your feet. Small rocks are no bueno and will make noise when you place your foot on them because they grind up against one another. Big rocks, though? Those are usually the ticket for us. The same goes for when you might be blessed with a wet patch of grass. Now that is dead quiet to move through. When I am on a stalk, I will look up ahead of me and plan out the next 10’ or so of my sneak. Which way is going to both keep me concealed as well as lower the noise of my foot fall?
Three points of contact
During this chess match of an approach, you might find yourself having to get down below the brush line to avoid being seen. I remember doing so stalking a big bodied 4×4 mule deer and actually losing my balance and falling during the stalk. I fell right over like someone pushed me. That buck bounded off laughing at me—with me. Since then, I have always tried to have at least three points of contact when I am going low and slow. That means I will have my two feet on the ground as well as one of my hands to help balance and guide me. I also really like crab crawling, especially when going downhill. Inch by inch, you can scoot your way closer to the game.
This is a given, right? It is only natural for us to know that we have to slow down when stalking game. Yet, saying so and doing it are two different things if you ask me. Getting wrapped up in the moment and moving too quickly when we shouldn’t will often break our stalk and give us away. “It’s just a few quick steps.” Those few steps might get you nailed. This really comes into play when you have the animal in view. Sudden quick movements will give you away like a sore thumb. Slow and fluid movements will not. Usually, if the deer sees something, you can halt your movement and remain still and the deer will go back to doing what it was doing. They see stuff move all of the time, but when it is unnatural, that is no good and the jig is up. Of course, it matters where you are at the moment and if you have cover.
Wait, you just told me to slow down. Now, you want me to speed up? Yes, I said speed up and didn’t type that wrong. If and when your approach is totally concealed, I am definitely on the team of covering ground quickly, especially if what you are stalking is on the move and you are trying to head it off. Take a draw for instance. I use draws often to move quickly into position. The same thing goes for other terrain as well. Maybe you are making a big loop around the animal and there is a mountainside that separates your vision. If they can’t see me, I am usually moving fairly quickly. It’s really about knowing when to do which; knowing when to slow down and when to speed up. This is only learned through repetition and experience.
The neverending journey
If you have never experienced the thrill of stalking game with a bow, I highly encourage you to try it out. The feeling of creeping into bow range of an unwary animal is hard to beat and can easily make you come unglued. It is a test of wits and patience and, I promise you, that you will fail more than not. That is what keeps me coming back to it. Spot and stalk bowhunting is something I feel one will never master. It is a neverending journey.