The methods: Spot-And-Stalk Hunting(P3)
The methods: Spot-And-Stalk Hunting(P3)
Upon spotting these elk, the hunter is unable to get within rifle range before the animals disappear into thick timber. Assuming that the elk are going to bed down, he sets up an ambush where he expects the elk to reappear when they come back out to feed.
Speaking of bedding areas, there’s a strategy utilized by highly disciplined hunters that’s sometimes referred to as “putting them to bed.” The strategy is useful when you’ve located an animal that might be difficult to approach, or when you’re in a situation where you want to absolutely minimize the chances of spooking an animal that you’ve selected as your target. It amounts to waiting for an animal, or a herd of animals, to settle into their bedding area before you proceed with a stalk. Sometimes, particularly with alpine game, you’ll actually see the animal bed down. But it’s much more common to have the animal disappear into some sort of thick vegetation or bedding cover. When a half hour or so goes by without the animal emerging, it makes sense to think that it might have bedded down. At this point, you can be moderately certain that the animal won’t move for a while. If it’s lying in a position where you can approach without detection, it’s time to attempt a stalk. But don’t make the mistake of thinking of a bedded animal as purely static. Very few critters will bed down and then just lie for hours on end without moving. They get up and reposition for any number of reasons: to stretch, to find some shade or sun, to urinate, to have a few bites to eat, or to chase off a herdmate that’s gotten too close. Every experienced spot-and-stalk hunter has had carefully planned stalks blown by supposedly bedded animals that were actually up on their feet and moving about.
Scott’s client watches a herd of elk as they move toward their bedding area. Bottom, he poses with a nice Colorado bull.
Usually, your goal isn’t to kill the animal while it’s lying down. Not only is shot placement difficult on bedded animals, but getting into a position where you can actually see a bedded animal can often lead to mistakes and spooked game. It’s generally preferable to stalk within range of where you expect the animal to emerge when it leaves its bedding area to begin feeding again, or to a place where you might be able to get a clear shot at the animal when it stands up. You then wait there, patiently, until your opportunity arises.
If you hunt often enough, you’ll eventually locate an animal that seems virtually impossible to stalk. Maybe it’s a wild hog that spends all of its time in an oak thicket where you’d never find it once you got close enough for a shot, or maybe it’s a mule deer with a 360-degree view of the surrounding sage flat and there’s no reasonable avenue of approach. In these situations, it’s far better to observe the animal than it is to rush a stalk that will almost certainly fail. By observing an animal, you’re doing something called patterning. That is, you’re learning how and when the animal uses the overall context of its home range. Where and when does it eat? Where and when does it sleep? Where and when does it go for water? What routes does it travel when going from one of these areas to the next? By answering these questions, you can put together a schedule of the animal’s habits and perhaps identify some places and times when it’s vul nerable to a carefully executed stalk. This might be a late morning moment when that hog you’ve been following crosses an opening in the oak brush on its way to a shaded bedding location. Or it might be a midday window of time when that mule deer you’ve been stalking disappears into a creek bed for water and stays down there just long enough for you to cross the sage flat without being seen.
Putting elk to bed is a common technique used by Colorado elk hunting guide Scott Graham. At daybreak, Scott spends time at high spots glassing for herds of elk. When he finds one, he watches the herd until it moves to its bedding location—usually a thick patch of timber. He then positions his hunters within rifle range of where he expects the elk to emerge for their evening feeding session. It’s a proven, time-tested strategy.
Rocky Mountain elk or deer: Here the hunter has waited for the temperature to warm, causing an upslope thermal. Both stalks will require a wide loop and slow descent to the creek bottom to avoid detection. The creek bottom will then provide the cover for the hunter pursuing the elk in position B. The creek would also allow the hunter to peek periodically and keep tabs on the quarry. The hunter executing the route to position A would continue in a wide loop coming up the backside of the knob and then peeking over the top and down onto the target.
Now for the actual stalk. Because losing track of the animal’s location is perhaps the number-one mistake made by spot-and-stalk hunters, be sure to mark the precise position of your quarry before you begin ap-proaching it. Do this whether the animal is 100 yards away or 2 miles away. Make a mental note of prominent or easily identified landmarks—trees, clusters of brush, rocks, et cetera—that can help you stay oriented during your stalk. Remi Warren, an avid and very successful big game hunter, often photographs his stalking route before he leaves his glassing perch, so that he can refer to the image if he gets confused about where he is. Another trick is to take a compass bearing on the animal’s location, to ensure that you don’t veer off course during your approach. Better yet, try to pinpoint the animal’s location on a topographic map or GPS unit. In the case of GPS, you’ll have the luxury of real-time information throughout your stalk about how much ground you’ve covered and how far you’ve still got to go. Make sure to mark the location of your glassing perch on your GPS unit as well, because it’s helpful to have that point as a reference while stalking. And if you’re hunting in areas with high relief, make a note about whether the animal is higher or lower than your glassing perch, and then use relative elevation as yet another way to keep yourself oriented during a long stalk across a landscape that will almost inevitably confuse you.
Sonora mountain Coues deer: Here the hunter can do a casual descent into the bottom and then use the band of rocks as cover until he or she is directly across from the animal.
Select the most direct route that you can without risking that you’ll be in the animal’s line of sight. You want to get there as quickly as possible without taking unnecessary risks of exposure. In a perfect world, there would always be a ridge running parallel to your line of travel, and all you’d have to do is duck behind the ridge while closing the distance. But in the real world, stalking usually involves a route that takes advantage of many different features along the way. You approach the stalk like a dot-to-dot children’s sketch, just moving from one position to the next with an end goal of arriving where you want to be. Use brush, rocks, and undulations in the ground. Wear camouflage or earth tones, and don’t be afraid to get on your hands and knees or slither along on your belly like a snake. Sometimes you’ll simply run out of cover, and then you have to move only when the animal is feeding or looking in another direction. (In unbroken landscapes, one might conduct an entire stalk by moving only when the animal is feeding.)
Alaska Range sheep: The route on the left side will allow the hunter to stay hidden behind a prominent shoulder of rock until he or she gets within shooting range and pops out above the sheep. Using the bottom route, the hunter will stay concealed thanks to the steepness of the slope. Once the hillside opens up, the hunter should be within shooting range of the target.
HAND SIGNALS FOR STALKING
When hunting with a partner. try having him or her stay at the glassing position while you move into range. With a few prearranged hand signals, your partner can help guide you toward the animal. And if the animal moves or spooks during the stalk, this information can be relayed to you in time for you to adjust your plan. The spotter is also a valuable asset in post-shot situations, because he or she will be more likely to see how the wounded animal behaves and which way it travels. In states where two-way communications between hunters is legal, it is possible to use radios in place of hand signals. But many hunters regard this as an ugly and unwelcome intrusion of technology, and reputable big game scoring organizations prohibit the admission of animals killed with the help of two-way communications.
At all times, remember to pay attention to the wind. Concealing your odor is even more important than concealing your body, and this can be done only by constantly monitoring the wind direction. Sometimes the wind is so faint that you can’t even feel it on your skin, but it’s still plenty strong enough to carry your odor to the animal and give you away. To monitor wind direction, you can use a commercially produced puffer, which puts out little clouds of easily blown talcum powder, or you can tie a bird’s breast feather to the limb of your bow or the front sling stud of your rifle with a piece of dental floss. Milkweed seeds or cattail down kept in a chewing tobacco tin also work well; toss a pinch into the air and watch which way it blows. Whatever your method, check the wind often during a stalk. On flat ground, the wind is usually steady and predictable, but in the mountains or other rough ground the wind can be impossible to predict from one moment to the next. When the wind is favorable (blowing from the animal to you), proceed with your stalk.
When the wind is unfavorable (blowing from you to the animal), back out and reassess the situation. Remember, an animal might question its own eyesight—sometimes it will see you and still not spook—but never questions its nose.
In the mountains, thermals can bring a sense of order to otherwise unpredictable wind currents. Since warm air rises and cool air sinks, expect air currents to be moving downhill at daybreak, uphill when the day starts warming up, and downhill again when things are cooling off. Midafternoon, thermals tend to be replaced by gusty winds.
STALKING WITH A BOW
There’s an old saying that goes, “Where a rifle hunt ends, the bowhunt begins.” This refers to the fact that a bowhunter must creep in way closer to his quarry than a rifle hunter. At such close distances—anything less than a hundred yards, really —there are a million things that can go wrong. The rolling of a rock or the sound of brush against fabric is all it takes to send your animal bounding away. A bowhunter needs to be extra careful when choosing his route. As you draw near, make a plan for each and every placement of your foot. Look for grass clumps and soft dirt rather than dry leaves or loose rock. Movements must be slow, and never jerky or abrupt. Using a range finder can help immensely when selecting your final shooting position. If your maximum shooting range is 30 yards and your quarry is 60 yards away, use your range finder (see this page) to select an object that splits the difference. This eliminates the need to use your range finder again when you’re even closer to the animal, cutting out extra movements that might give you away. Finally, keep in mind that you’ll need a final bit of protection when you rise to draw your bow, a substantial movement that generally will not go unnoticed. Use a tree, a patch of bush. a topographical feature. or a rock to hide the movement. Then, once you’re drawn and ready. you can step away nom the cover and rise to shoot.
A HANDFUL OF EXTRA TIPS FOR THE SPOT-AND-STALK HUNTER
1. Bring along a butt pad. It helps you stay comfortable while glassing, which helps you spot more game, which helps you harvest more meat. Good pads can be made by cutting off two sections from a Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite foam pad. It’s a light and durable option, and if you split the cost of a pad with two or three of your buddies, it’s also cheap.
2. When archery hunting, it can be difficult to carry your bow while trying to keep a low profile during a stalk. Attaching it to your back while belly-crawling will work, but the system requires fasteners and can put you in a tough position if you need to make a quick, unexpected shot. When the terrain allows it, a better method is to I.crab-crawl with your bow laid across your lap. You can do it with an arrow notched. .And when the time comes, you can rise up to a kneeling position in one fluid motion and make your shot.
3. If you’ve finished your stalk but the animal is not where you thought it would be, ‘stick with your plan and wait it out. Often the animal is just behind a tree or has bedded down. All it takes is a little patience on your part before the animal will move and give away its position. IA.
4. In the final phase of a stalk, complete silence is a necessity. Many serious hunters carry a soft-soled form of footwear such as thick socks, running shoes, or manufac-ured “stalking shoes” such as Cat’s Claws or Bear’s Feet that can fit over one’s ‘hard-soled boots. These can all but eliminate the sounds of your footsteps.