All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
Spot and stalk bowhunting sends more than a few hunters to the mad house each year. We are far from possessing the skills of a mountain lion and our far from perfect performances each year are proof of it. Anything and everything can go wrong when trying to sneak in close and arrow an animal. What could be a perfectly planned stalk might be thrown down the tubes from a doe that flew under your radar. What could have been a night of heavy backpacks is a walk of shame back to camp — all because you wanted to take a shortcut. The opportunity to learn is wide open and the lessons are rich. Here are a few practical tips to keep under your hat for your next spot and stalk archery hunt.
Keeping your backpack on your person provides a few advantages. One, it lets you have all of your gear at all times — most importantly being water. Sometimes you’ll have to wait for hours until an animal gives a shot opportunity. Having the ability to take a swig every now and then not only will keep you hydrated, but it lends to the mental game. It sucks sitting there lightheaded with cotton mouth fantasizing about water while simultaneously praying this deer is going to stand. And if he does stand and decides to drift over the ridge, you’ll obviously want to follow, which brings me to the next advantage of keeping your pack with you.
It keeps you mobile. I’ve been the guy who follows him while his pack sits lonesome on a distant ridgetop along with his boots to make it more interesting. I ended up losing that buck and opted to head back to my pack and boots. Had I had my backpack with me, I guarantee I would have stayed the course trying to relocate the deer. It might be a little easier and quieter to move around without a pack, but you won’t be able to stay as mobile.
While we need to be meticulous in our planning, it pays to be aggressive in our approach. I’m not saying to run full stride at the deer. What I am saying though is to make a move. Too many times I’ve both seen — and fell victim to myself — the results of sitting back and trying to overthink a situation before leaving. Often, hunters will talk themselves out of success before they even pick up their bow. So, make a plan and make a move. Bowhunting is a gamble where the house always has the upper hand. Just remember: you can’t win if you don’t play.
Before setting off on your stalk, not only do you need to know where you’re going, you also need to know where the other animals are, too — and not just of the species you’re hunting. One time, while stalking a bachelor group of bulls, my plan was pulled out from underneath me due to a few Coues deer I failed to notice. They blew up, the bulls took notice and acted accordingly. Had I taken the time to look a little closer before leaving, I may have been able to avoid that. Or at least I’d have a better chance to.
Just this past November elk season, I had a great bull bedded down in the bottom of a desert wash. All day long, I waited until he’d stand up for the evening to feed. When he did, I quickly scurried down into position with hopes of cutting him off. Upon my arrival, though, I noticed the wind starting to act shifty. Immediately, a ridge to my left caught my attention. I knew that I needed to be on that ridge to avoid getting winded. Instead, with the bull not far away, I got impatient and decided to try and take a shortcut. If you’ve bowhunted for any amount of time, you know what happened next and it wasn’t me standing in that wash with one less arrow in my quiver.