Of all the many methods one can take to shoot a deer, none are as exciting and fun the whole way through as is the method of Spot and Stalk Deer Hunting. Though it may not be quite as relaxing as sitting in a tree stand or blind, it is definitely more of a thrill from the beginning to the point of shooting.
Spot and stalk deer hunting demands a lot of skill out of a hunter, as well as the right habitat and the right gear. There are many different tricks and tactics that deer hunters can use to give them more of an advantage, and here we will talk about them.
What is Spot and Stalk Deer Hunting?
Spot and stalk deer hunting is a method by which a hunter first attempts to spot a deer, and then stalk to within shooting range. Shooting range can me a lot of things to different people and weapons, but the theory is the same. You must concentrate on sneaking (stalking) into a position that you can ethically make a good, clean kill.
How close do you need to get? A good rule of thumb for most people would be 300 yards for rifle hunters and 40 yards for archery hunters. Of course this will be 100% up to the individual hunter and whatever he or she feels comfortable with. With a lot of practice, especially for archery hunting, these ranges can be increased.
No matter where you are, spot and stalk deer hunting can be a great method for taking deer. That being said, there are some areas that are much better suited for the method of spot and stalk deer hunting than others.
The more open and the less cover, the better spot and stalk hunting will be. Spot and stalk deer hunting requires looking over a lot of country to find the deer you are looking for. If you are after a mature buck, then you might have to put in a lot of time depending on the area. A lot of good spot and stalk deer hunting areas have a low average buck age as people shoot too many immature bucks when they are young and very dumb without a place to hide or the smarts to run away.
Most of the better spot and stalk deer hunting areas lie in the west half of North America, as it tends to be a bit more arid without as many trees, except in the mountainous areas. Even in the mountains, some great spot and stalk areas can be found as you can look across canyons and spot deer or you can go above tree line for some alpine spot and stalk deer hunting, which happens to be some of the best area to get a big mule deer buck.
Once you are in an area that you think should be good for spot and stalk hunting, the first task is to find deer. The best thing to do if you have time before the season starts is to do some preseason scouting. It is very helpful to know what size of deer to set your standards on as well an idea of where to find them. Opening day can get pretty crazy, as there is typically other hunters that have done some scouting and will be looking for specific deer, so you will want to be in the best place possible as soon as legal shooting time arrives.
Keep Your Distance
The key to spot and stalk deer hunting is to see the deer before they see you. For this reason, it is best to find deer from a long ways off. Once you find them, then you can devise a plan on getting to within range. Once the deer are alerted to your presence, things will get much harder as the deer will be on guard making tough to close the distance without being seen.
Spotting Moving Deer
Early in the mornings is the best time to find deer moving around. Morning time usually finds the deer the furthest away from their bedding areas and focused on eating. For this reason you will want to focus on feeding areas first thing, and then work your way to checking their in between areas as they browse about on their way to the bedding areas. If you are after older, mature bucks, they are usually the first to head for wherever they feel the safest and bed down for the day. Many are nocturnal by the time deer season starts, and you will have to find them in their beds. This can be tough as a deer can blend in to its surroundings very easily.
If you have not found a deer that meets you minimum requirement to put a stalk on before they bed down, do not be discouraged. Most deer, including bucks will get up, stretch, nibble on some nearby plants, or just get up to reposition themselves out of the sun. I have found many bucks that I have put stalks on in the heat of the day.
Spotting Bedded Deer
It is also possible to spot deer as they are bedded down. This takes a lot of patience and skill to beable to pick out the small details that you can identify as a deer. First of all, you want to be able to identify areas that deer will likely bed down. Some areas anywhere can be possible bedding locations, but there are certain similarities to the places deer prefer to bed down most.
The most obvious place to look is around trees and shrubs. Deer will hide amongst and on the edges of these areas in an attempt to be in the shade and to hide them from predators, like hunters. Many times a big buck can lay in a brush patch not much bigger than the deer himself, yet be almost totally concealed. The spotting skill comes out when you can pick out the fork of an antler, a rump, a nose, or a moving bush that should not be moving. You have to really pick these areas a part with your optics, and even then you might not see what is hiding in there. I have had deer magically appear out of shrubs after I thought I could see all of it.
Other areas that deer like to bed down are amongst boulders and under cliff faces where they can find shelter from the sun and avoid cougars and other predators. Anywhere you see shade is a possible bedding area, especially early season when it is hot. Even once the temperatures get colder in the fall deer will still seek shade as their coats thicken up.
Spot and Stalk Deer Hunting Video
Check out where this 165 inch mule deer bedded down on this hillside of boulders right at first light. Other hunters came in from the top after him, but my brother and I positioned ourselves in a perfect spot to see him first thing, and then watched him bed down just out of sight of the rifle militia above. Unfortunately for the buck, we had a good plan to find him from a far. A 300 yard shot across the ravine and the rest is history.
Putting the final stock on a deer is the most exciting part of spot and stalk deer hunting. The object is getting as close as possible without the deer detecting you. This is the part where rifle spot and stalk and archery spot and stalk deer hunting differ a lot. Of course, many times, a deer will position its self in an area where it can only be seen within range at 50 yards. I have had several situations where I could spot bucks from 800 – 1000 yards away, but could not see them on the final stock until I was within 20 or less yards.
The best defense a deer has is his ability to smell. One molecule of human scent will make a bedded down deer turning into a running deer instantly, typically not giving the hunter anytime for a standing still shot. For this reason, you have to play the wind more than anything else.
When spot and stalking deer, wind can be your worst enemy or your best friend, it is all about how you play it. Wind, especially a decent wind can help to cover up the sound of a hunter stalking within range of a deer. Also, wind can be used to take your scent away from a deer. You can get 10 yards away, and as long as there is a decent breeze blowing your scent away from the deer, you can remain undetected to the nose of a very smart deer. Regardless of the weapon you are using, you will need to use the wind to your advantage, especially with a bow or other close range weapon in your hand.
Many times while spot and stalk deer hunting it is necessary to make the final stalk until the wind is right, especially while bow hunting. I have had to watch deer for hours until the wind changed before I could put on a stalk and typically I have been glad I waited. I have also blown plenty of archery stocks because I did not wait for the wind to change and stabilize, but then after the stalk was a bust, the wind picked up and stabilized.
Every area has its own wind patterns that occur during a typical day that change with the heating and cooling that takes place. You need to know these wind patterns to best help you determine if you think the wind is going to change to help you with time, or if it is going to change and hurt you. Just as you might have had to wait for the wind to change before the stalk, sometimes you are forced to make a quick move on the deer before the wind changes. Knowing when to go and when to not is a huge part of spot and stalk deer hunting; you have to be patient.
Deer have great vision. They are extremely good about picking up moving objects, even at long distances. They are also able to see objects that do not fit into the surroundings and are not broke up. The best way to hide your self is to stay out of sight, and camouflage can help out a lot. You will want colors and patterns that fit the area well. Deer usually are very familiar with their surroundings, so anything that is out of place or different color can easily be detected. We will talk about the best camo for hunting in the section below on gear.
If rifle hunting, it is best to stay out of site of the deer until you can come over a rise, around a rock or brush, and be within shooting distance of 300 yards or less without the deer noticing you. All situations will be different, so it is hard to give any suggestions as to the approach of the stalk; you pretty much just have to determine the best route to keep you concealed until you get to within range.
With archery spot and stalk hunting, staying out of sight of the deer is the main object, but you have to do it on a much closer basis in order to be successful; It is tough to get within 40 yards of a mature buck deer no matter how you look at it. Even at these close distances, getting a good, ethical shot is still tough as things have to be just right to let an arrow go; It is not over until you make that clean kill shot.
Successful spot and stalk deer hunting is a lot about playing numbers. To be consistent, especially with a short range weapon, you need to be putting on a lot of stalks. With rifle hunting, the chances of getting a good shot at a deer during a stalk is pretty good; typically about one out of two or three. With a rifle it is more about beating other hunters to within range of a deer if you are after mature bucks.
With bow hunting typical odds of successful archery stocks for an experienced bow hunter is probably 1/6. For inexperienced bow hunters, it may take years before luck and skill combine to equal success. That is why scouting is so important so you will know where to go to put on the most stocks possible in order to be successful on a year to year basis. Of course, it is possible to seal the deal on the first stalk attempt, but luck might also have it to where you finally get it done on the 10th stock of the hunt, or never at all.
There is a number different items that can really increase your odds of a successful spot and stalk deer hunt. Gear comes in many different price ranges, but it is important to realize you get what you pay for. The following list is made up of gear that can increase your odds a lot. The best thing you can do is go with the best equipment you can afford. We will talk more about where you can determine the best gear for yourself at the end of this article.
- Binoculars : Spot and stalk deer hunting requires you to find the deer. It is amazing how many more deer you can find with the use of binoculars that you would not see otherwise. They also are essential in the stalk as you need to find the deer before they find you, which means using your binoculars to pick out the tip of a horn or the flick of a tail.
- Rangefinder : Knowing the exact distance to your target is a huge benefit especially when shooting long distances or bow hunting. There are certain specs that you will want in a rangefinder, we will talk more about those specs at the end of this article.
- Spotting Scope : Both used for spotting deer and then being able to judge them to make sure they are worthy of a stalk. Spotting scopes are also important to find other deer and anything else that can compromise your stalk that is in your intended path. It is very easy to get busted by an animal you did not know existed. Spotting scopes are a must have for Spot and Stalk Hunting.
- Camouflage : With deer vision it is not as important to be the same color as the back ground, but more so to break up your silhouette. Plus, in typical spot and stalk habitat the foliage can be dry and yellow in grasses, or green in trees and shrubs. Therefore it is important to have a camo pattern that is very versatile. Sitka Gear lately introduced the Optifade Pattern to the world of hunting. It enables a person to blend into any habitat (comes in forest and open country colors) and comes in a variety of weights to keep you the right temperature.
- Boots : When stalking deer, it is important to be as quiet as possible. I have taken my boots off and stalked in my sock successfully before, but with cacti and thistle prevalent where I hunt, this is just not doable. Therefore I wear lightweight boots made for stalking to close the final distance to within bow range. They have saved my feet and helped me to be much more stealthy.
- For all other gear needed to take down big game, be sure to check the menu on the right hand side of this page. The above list of gear is just the basics that will help you to become a successful spot and stalk deer hunter. Only after you spot and stalk deer hunt a few times you will know exactly what works best for you.
Try Spot and Stalk Deer Hunting Yourself!
Once you try to spot and stalk a mature buck, you will realize the intensity of the situation. There are a few other challenges that rival the toughness of a spot and stalk hunt, especially with a bow. Patience is key as you will need to expect long hours of glassing with binoculars or a spotting scope up to your eyes, and perhaps waiting hours while uncomfortably sitting 30 yards from a trophy buck waiting for him to stand up. It really is the most fun of any hunting out there, but it takes a lot of practice to get good.