Master the Stalk

Add this skill to your repertoire and you'll see more deer.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

My binocular brought into focus a quality buck taking advantage of a well-shaded mesquite tree. He wasn't coming any closer, but fortunately, I wasn't confined to a stand, either. If I wanted this trophy, I'd have to stalk it down. After a long, quiet slip, I closed the gap from 128 yards to 17 yards for the broadside shot.

Spot-and-stalk is the most overlooked tactic in a bowhunter's quiver. When the conditions are right, it can make for the most extreme bow action in the wild.

Ground Rules
Stalking has a couple of advantages. First, unlike when you're hunting in a blind or tree stand, you can cover ground, so your chance of seeing deer increases. Second, it enables you to hunt animals that are inactive.

As with any advanced technique, the time and conditions must be right. Typically, spot-and-stalk is best suited for early and late-season engagements, when whitetails concentrate on feeding and are most patternable.

While the approach is known as spot-and-stalk, spot-and-then-stalk is more like it. Successful bowhunters often do much more spotting than stalking. High-quality optics are a must, along with lots of patience. Use a matrix method for glassing. Divide the terrain into a grid, then methodically dissect it with your optics. Never look for a whole deer; look for an ear, an eye, a patch of hair, a beam or a tine. Be prepared to stay in one spot for 30 minutes or more.

**Slip Tips **
Successful stalking means being woods-savvy. There are several things you can do to minimize the chances of being detected. For instance, geographical features such as deadfalls, brush piles, trees, ravines, coulees, fence lines and ditches can conceal your moves. Shadows can also help mask your movement. In fact, staying in the shadows is probably the best camouflage there is.

Success depends on favorable conditions as well. A soft snow, recent rain or strong wind swings the odds in your favor. Snow is like a highlighter for tracks and trails. Rain quiets undergrowth, helping you to move with stealth.

Swirling wind does several things. Most important, it keeps deer bedded longer, which makes the spot-and-stalk technique all the more deadly. Rustling leaves and swaying limbs disguise your approach, helping you to stalk within bow range. A swirling wind also makes it tough for deer to locate you by your scent. Spot-and-stalk requires very slow, deliberate movement, with a plan and path in mind before you start. When moving toward an animal, never move laterally. Deer possess an uncanny ability to pick up this movement. If you move directly toward your target, you'll reduce your chances of being busted and cover ground more quickly. Remember to stagger your steps, too. Animals don't walk with a rhythmic step, and you shouldn't, either.

[pagebreak] Drop your favorite turkey call into your fanny pack. When you're conducting a stalk, a gentle yelp or purr settles deer. In most cases they're fooled into thinking you're a turkey out for a stroll. It's an unbeatable cover technique.

Game On
Once you've located an animal, there are two typical stalk scenarios. You'll find deer either bedded or on the move. Each situation calls for a different tactic.

Bedded animals present no reason to hurry. Plan for slipping in on a bedded animal. This includes determining a shooting area. Keep in mind that this is a thinking game. It's better to have a deer walk away than spook and run.

When you spot a moving deer, remember that bucks act differently from does. Typically does follow trails or wander, whereas bucks tend to travel in straight lines.

Once you've spotted a buck, determine an intersection somewhere along his travel path. You'll need to be in a position favorable for a shot. Notice the direction and speed of the deer and mentally project an interception point. (Be flexible;; predicting a deer's path is next to impossible.)

When you move to intercept an animal, keep wind direction in mind. Never let an animal get downwind of you. A piece of fine cotton twine tied to your bow limb is a quick and convenient wind check. With everything in your favor-wind, position and terrain-make the stalk, and then make the shot.

**Difficult Shots **
Most of us practice standing shots. If you're going to stalk, you must be capable of making awkward shots from sitting or kneeling positions. When you execute these shots remember to keep your torso square to your hips and your head in line with the bow.

To keep your head square, use a kisser button and a peep sight and lay the string across your nose. This three-point anchor system ensures that your head remains square, keeping the shot true. You can quickly check a sight level as well, to make sure your bow is square.