Hunting deer or feral hogs from a blind or tree stand may take less effort, but nothing will get you closer to the truest essence of hunting than the spot and stalk. Here’s how to do it.
I get bored easily, and that doesn’t lend itself well to extended hours spent motionless in a tree stand or ground blind. So instead, when conditions are right—preferably when the ground is a little soggy to dampen the sound of my footsteps—I prefer the spot and stalk. What is it? Simply put, rather than waiting to ambush game from a fixed position, you set out in pursuit, hoping to observe their movements and make a shot before the game discovers you.
It’s enormously challenging: This technique requires controlled, slow-paced, stealthy movement, which demands a surprising level of endurance. Scent and sound control become of paramount importance, and hunting on the move means losing a number of advantages.
However, with those challenges come some welcome benefits. The constant change in scenery keeps a hunter mentally engaged and situationally aware. It’s a whole lot harder to doze off or daydream while stalking than when you’re leaning back in your stand. Plus, moving through an area on foot familiarizes you with the terrain in a way you wouldn’t experience just moving to and from a stand. It gives you an opportunity to discover tracks, rubs, bedding areas, or spoor, all of which can help you better identify the movement patterns and habits of your quarry.
Choose the right attire
On a cold day, steady movement—even if only taking a few steps every few minutes—will still drive up your body temperature. Dress accordingly. Avoid noisy fabrics or bulky layers that will impede your movement. I’ve found a number of waterproof articles that, though they work well for keeping you warm and dry in the stand, make obnoxiously loud scraping sounds when they come in contact with brush.
Plot your path
Begin by mentally charting your course. When you’re working your way through the woods, envision each footstep and anticipate problem areas where the brush or deadfalls become particularly thick. Consider the wind, too. Although this is also important when selecting your stand, it’s vital when stalking. Both pigs and deer have an excellent sense of smell. If you’re upwind of your game, they’ll know you’re there and will be gone before you even catch a glimpse of them.
Move slowly and deliberately for a few feet—heel to toe, avoiding detritus that will crack or disturb leaves or underbrush if you step on it—then pause and observe for anywhere from five to 20 minutes or more. The key is to catch the game moving, not let it catch you.
Quick tip: Periodically stop and retrace your steps for a few hundred yards. Deer, especially, like to circle back around when they sense they’re being followed.
Keep your head on a swivel
Observing, not moving, should make up 90 percent of your hunt. Find areas with good elevation and visibility to pause and rest. I like to find a large tree to lean against, or a fallen log upon which I can comfortably sit. Scan for subtle movements. Put your binoculars or spotting scope to work.
Time isn’t running out
This is easily the most difficult aspect of the spot and stalk: Don’t be in a rush. That’s more challenging than it may initially seem. After all, we do nearly everything according to an established schedule—even hunting. We may only have a couple of days at a time to hunt, and a prevailing sense of urgency can manifest in your hunting technique. Deliberately push that notion aside. Nature moves at its own pace, and wild game doesn’t wear a watch. I’ve seen deer stand statue-still for half an hour. They’re in no hurry; you shouldn’t be either if you expect success.