If you’re getting tired of waiting for the deer to come to you, why don’t you come to the deer? Stand hunting—that is, sitting in a strategically placed tree stand until your quarry walks into range—is an effective way to harvest game, but frankly, it can get a little boring season after season.
Stalking, sometimes called spot-and-stalk hunting, on the other hand, is a lot more challenging and requires more conscious strategizing. As a result, it can be a lot more fun but also a lot more frustrating if you don’t have much success.
Although a lot of stalking is learning through trial and error, there are a few stalking hunting strategies you can incorporate that increase your chances, even if you’re just starting.
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What Is Spot-and-Stalk Hunting?
First, I just want to clarify what stalking entails in the context of hunting. As the term spot-and-stalk implies, you basically see an animal, usually from some kind of elevated position, and then slowly make your way towards it, following it as it moves around feeding. Alternatively, you may spot a quarry’s tracks or deer trails and follow it through the woods without actually seeing it first.
Stalking an animal is much more difficult than stand hunting because you have to continuously avoid spooking it. You have to be deliberate with all your movements to make sure you don’t make too much noise or catch your quarry’s eye.
8 Tips for Effective Stalking
Take Advantage of the Terrain
You can have fun stalking game just about anywhere, but it’s definitely easiest in mountainous terrain with minimal vegetation. The reason is simple. In this type of terrain, you can more easily spot your quarry and keep it in sight as you move closer.
Even if you don’t live in the Rockies, you can still take advantage of the terrain. Try to start from the edge of an open feeding area, ideally one uphill from the feeding area so that you have a better vantage point. You need to be hidden, though, either by distance or thick cover. Keep in mind that deer cannot see as well as humans, so especially if you’re in camo, they may not be able to see you even if you can see them.
Probably the biggest mistake new stalking hunters make is charging straight for their quarry. This is much more likely to catch its eye and startle it. It will know you’re coming to kill it.
Instead, move diagonally so that you’re getting closer to your quarry but also moving off to the side. The animal is less likely to see you this way and is less likely to see you as a threat if it does notice you.
Stagger Your Steps
Along with moving diagonally, avoid walking in any kind of ordered manner. Stagger your steps by taking three steps then stopping. Take another step and stop again. Take five steps, etc.
Game animals like deer aren’t stupid, and when they hear ordered, regular movements, they recognize it as another animal, possibly a predator. However, staggered movements sound more like the wind or something else non-threatening.
Cover Your Scent
Covering your scent is essential for any type of hunting, but even more so if you’re stalking. For one thing, you just have to get closer to your quarry. Plus, since you’re moving, your odor particles more easily catch the air.
To cover your scent, wash your gear with a neutral-scent or scent-killing detergent. Then before the hunt, apply a scent killer. If you’re really hardcore, you can always try the strategy of storing your gear in a box filled with dirt and pine needles for the week before you go hunting.
Walk Into the Wind
Because scent is so important in spot-and-stalk hunting, you should pay attention to the wind direction and avoid coming at your quarry from upwind. If you do this, the wind will catch your odor and carry it to the animal. Instead, do your best to come from downwind, which is easy to tell because the wind will be in your face.
Wear the Right Clothes
When you’re stand hunting, your clothes aren’t as much of an issue, but when you’re stalking, they’re everything. You have to take a lot of different factors into consideration and maximize them all.
Most importantly, you need good camo that matches the terrain you’re hunting in. For example, you don’t want green and brown forest camo if you’re hunting a snowy valley out west.
Additionally, your clothing and gear in general should be tight without too many loose ends. This way you won’t catch on brush and trees you pass by and make noise that will scare away your quarry.
Finally, you want comfortable clothing that lets you move agily. While stalking, you’ll regularly have to change direction and may have to quickly raise your rifle or bow.
Control Your Breathing
A lot of spot-and-stalk hunters, especially the new ones, get nervous when they finally get close enough to an animal for a shot opportunity. If you start breathing too hard, you’re going to make a mistake, though. Your shot may not be accurate, and an otherwise successful hunt will be for nothing.
Last of all, stalking takes a lot of patience. First of all, you have to be patient in the hunt itself. Take your time and don’t move too quickly or else your quarry will probably see or hear you.
Beyond that, though, you just need to be patient in general. Stalking game is difficult and requires a lot of practice and learning by trial and error. However, it’s exactly that challenge that makes spot-and-stalk hunting so rewarding when you finally are successful.