When I sit in a treestand and a deer (or some other big game animal) makes its way toward me, the closer it gets, the more I believe it’s in trouble. When I’m out west crawling across the prairies or some mountain basin, the closer I get to the animals, the more I feel like I’m in trouble.
With an ambush setup, you do the work to ensure that you don’t have to put yourself at risk of getting busted when an encounter happens. While spotting and stalking, your risk level increases with every toe-scoot and army crawl that brings you just a few inches closer to your quarry. It’s a vastly different game and one that newbies don’t seem to understand well.
This is largely due to an obvious factor—lack of experience.
There’s no way around putting in your time, but too many hunters head West with the idea they are trophy hunters and that’s that. This puts them at a distinct disadvantage.
How are you going to be good at something you rarely do? You won’t be. If you draw a mule deer tag or decide to make that antelope trip happen with your buddies, think of how many stalks it’ll take you to get into bow range and make a good shot.
The answer probably isn’t one or two. The secret to success out West is opportunity, and if you only give yourself the chance to stalk one animal every few days, the odds don’t favor a notched tag. The difference in a trip between a trophy hunter and a low-standard opportunist might be a dozen stalks or more.
Leave the 30-inch wide mulies and 80-inch diaper butts to someone else. Figure out what is more important to you, the rush of stalking a bunch of animals and having a real chance of success, or the idea that it’s go big or go home. Then, keep your eyes on the sky.
I live at about 800 feet in elevation, and that means nasty weather rarely sneaks up on me. Most of the time, we know it’s coming for several days, and can plan accordingly. The first time I hunted the high country for mule deer, I brought a midwesterner’s understanding of weather to the mountains.
The very first deer I laid eyes on during that trip was a 180-class buck. When I was three days deep on my hunt, I got the chance to stalk that deer. I somehow made it to within 100 yards of him when I heard thunder crack below me. I found myself hunched over, well above the treeline, with an aluminum-riser bow in my hand, and a thunderstorm between me and the lower cover. It was not ideal.
Not only did I bust that buck out of the basin, I learned a valuable lesson about western hunting—the weather is really, really unpredictable. Pay attention to the skies, and the distant rumble of thunder. Take a good look across the prairie before you laser focus on a bedded antelope. Not only can unexpected weather create a dangerous situation, even if it doesn’t turn deadly, it can produce wild game-spooking wind, or bring with it a 20-minute downpour. Either can ruin a well-planned stalk in a hurry.
Let’s say you find your target mulie, and the weather is going to be like a Disney movie for the next several hours. You focus on your bedded buck while evaluating a route with your binos. Everything looks like it was tailor-made for you to crawl into bow range.
Is there anything you’re missing? Perhaps. Ask yourself, are there any non-target animals that could blow up your stalk? Aside from just plain getting spotted or winded, spooking non-target animals is probably the biggest reason newbies fail at stalking.
If you know of some does or scrapper bucks bedded anywhere that your stalk might take you, plan accordingly. If there are a bunch of cattle rolling around in the mud or grazing the hillside down to nothing, take note. A big mule deer is going to spook just as easily if a doe runs by as he will if 57 black cows all take off through the sage.
It is hard to be patient in a situation when you have an animal positioned for a stalk, but the other animals are as big of a concern as he is. Don’t take them lightly, or they’ll ruin it for you every single time.
Feature image via Captured Creative.