Photo credit: Josh Kirchner
There are many ways to skin a cat when it comes to bowhunting. Methods that hunters use in order to decrease the gap between them and the animal. Some folks are callers. Others use a decoy, still hunt or let the animal come to them by way of an ambush. All are viable options to harvest game with a bow. One of the most common methods for bowhunting — and particularly western bowhunting — is spot and stalk. Spot and stalk hunting consists of the hunter spotting an animal from a ways off, followed by closing the distance through calculated movements towards their quarry. It’s the ultimate test in getting close. Aside from hunting for the animals themselves, it’s equally important to hunt for the right country. This is something that often gets overlooked. Spot and stalk bowhunting can happen almost anywhere, but it shines within a certain set of circumstances. Matching the right country to the right method will yield more opportunities, resulting in higher success.
In order to effectively spot and stalk archery hunt, we first need to be able to spot. This is going to mean finding an area where we can look over a vast amount of country with our optics. The first thing that comes to mind is high points in elevation. Climbing up to the top of these will allow a hunter to survey the country beneath. Personally, I like to find high lookouts on the edge of points that jut out from a main ridge. Vantage points like this can give up to 270 degrees of land around them to look at, meaning that a hunter might very well be able to stay there all day long glassing. Spots that offer you the ability to look at both feeding and bedding areas are ideal for sun-up to sundown sits. A classic “let your eyes do the walking” scenario.
You could also stay low and look high, but this is really going to be dictated by the density of the vegetation on the hunter’s level. There can be a slight disadvantage to staying low because of this. Tall trees, for instance, will stand in the way of getting the view you need. However, not all areas are like this and it can be done. The bottom line is to notate areas — whether high or low — that offer a commanding view of country. Not just any country, though, which is what we’ll dive into next.
Not only do we need to have a good view of the country in front of us, but we need to have a way to close the distance once we do find an animal. Topography is the natural arrangement of land features. So, hills, mountains, canyons, etc. Aside from our own legs and the wind, topography can play a massive role in getting within bow range of an unwary critter. We can use ridgelines, washes, fingers, basins and slight depressions all to our advantage. Think of topography as cover in a way. So, before stepping foot into an area, look for good topography. Stuff that will lend itself to spot and stalk bowhunting. Animals use these natural features to travel or hide within country. Terrain features like bluffs can be used to come in over the top of an animal beneath it. Draws or washes can essentially be roadways to use in order to cut distance. And by simply walking the backside of a finger ridge, you’ll travel sight unseen.
After notating vantage points to glass from, I’ll try to map out several ideal, but general, stalking routes from there ahead of time. These routes are all assuming that your assumptions of where animals will be are correct of course. Personally, I love basins for spot and stalk hunting. The reason being is I can be on one side of the bowl, spot something on the other side and use the natural curvature of the bowl around until I’m above the animal or even on the same level as them. Big faces like this also usually have pretty consistent wind direction. More folds in the country can 100% aid in an approach, but be very cautious of the wind in these areas as it can flip around pretty quickly.
Topography and cover work side by side on a spot and stalk hunt. They are very close siblings that can either be your best friends or mortal enemies. Let’s define cover as trees, bushes, boulders, etc. The best kind of cover for spot and stalk bowhunting is going to be broken cover. Cover that is spread out a bit in clumps rather than a whole hill that is as thick as a box of toothpicks. This is good for two reasons. One, moving through dense vegetation is loud, which is less than ideal for putting the sneak on something. Two, your visibility is limited in thick cover, which is what it is, but it also means less shooting lanes. Broken cover like this can usually be seen right from satellite imagery.
Once atop a vantage point, I’ll break down mapping out stalking routes even farther. Cover plays a huge role as well here — not just topography. Cover can help you out when topography isn’t there and vise versa. Notate things like shade lines created by the edges of cover. This offers a double trouble situation for the animal. By traversing along these edges, not only will your outline be distorted, you’ll also be in the shade. This makes it even harder for critters to pick you out. Mind your own shadow when doing this as that can bust you. I killed an early season Coues with this exact tactic and it worked like a charm. The deer never knew I was there. Other areas of importance are dense creek bottoms, lines of trees/bushes and boulders. Basically, anything you can use to break the line of sight from the animal to you. Also, pay attention to cover that you should avoid stalking through. Areas that are too thick or covered up in deadfall aren’t the best for a quiet approach.
Each and every season, hunters struggle as they try to close the distance for an opportunity to bend the limbs back. This stuff is undeniably hard, which is why it’s so important to capitalize where we can. By applying the right recipe and sticking to it, that difficulty can be mitigated a bit. And part of that recipe is putting yourself in the right areas that are tailored to your style of hunting. Yes, spot and stalk hunting in wide open flat terrain or dense cover can be done and, in fact, both are accomplished every year by hunters. However, it makes what’s already hard even harder. So, no matter the style of hunting you choose, consider the country you’ll be hunting in and if it caters to your method. By thinking outside the box, you might just crack the code on that particular spot.