Over the hundreds of thousands of years humans have existed on this planet, we have dedicated our efforts to separating ourselves from the animals, often forgetting that we remain animals ourselves. Yet, no matter how much we have evolved, there still lingers in all of us something primal. Perhaps it’s only a faded memory of a predatory instinct, but we all still have a drive to succeed in the hunt…to stalk and catch our prey unaware. Most of modern society ignores this desire or finds some substitute to fill the void (clipping grocery coupons or going to singles bars, for instance), but hunters do not. We embrace and give fuel to that primal spark that exists within us all. And no other method of hunting satisfies that predatory drive quite like spot-and-stalk hunting.
Spot-and-stalk hunting combines all the best aspects of the sport. Spot-and-stalk hunters observe trophy animals from afar, just as if they were sitting in a stand, but instead of waiting for the game to come to them, they go to it. Spot-and-stalk hunters move through the woods and sneak up on their quarry as still-hunters do, but instead of wandering through the forest silently and somewhat aimlessly, they know where they’re going because they know where their target is. When you spot-and-stalk hunt, you know that your quarry is just over that next hill, or in that distant stand of trees, and it is in that knowledge—that anticipation—that spot-and-stalk hunting sets itself apart.
When taking up spot-and-stalk hunting, the first thing to concentrate on is learning how to spot game. This is often easier said than done, as being able to locate your quarry in varied terrain where the animal has adapted to camouflage itself can be incredibly challenging. So begin by researching your prey online, getting your eyes adjusted to their particular body shapes, how they move, noting what stands out. You have to train your brain for what to look for so when you’re in a hunting situation, your quarry will stick out. During the off-season, start glassing and watching animals from afar. Deer in distant meadows, elk on snowy mountainsides, the dark blob of a black bear in a far-off field—they all have very distinct body shapes and mannerisms that give them away to the eyes of the hunter.
Finding a good location to hunt is crucial for any hunting method, but it is doubly important in spot-and-stalk hunting. Not only does game need to frequent the area, you need to be able to find good places from which to glass. The real trick to this is either going extremely high or extremely low. A high vantage point has many advantages, as glassing from the most elevated part of the land can often give you a full 365-degree field of view. The downside: That gives the hunter a hell of a lot of territory to look over. So it’s best to pick apart smaller sections of land when glassing from a high vantage point, sticking to areas you can easily reach from your perch while breaking your hunting area up into manageable sections. Glassing from a lower vantage point is often better for this as it limits you to looking uphill, and the natural rolling of the hills offers greater cover from which to plan your stalk.
Once your target is located, don’t just drop the binocs or spotting scope and take after it. Keep glassing for a while. Plan your route carefully. Watch where your target is heading, note what it’s doing, and then locate the best and easiest approach with the most cover available. The stalk is the most vital part of the hunt: a white-knuckle culmination of all the spot-and-stalk hunter’s hard work, where the difference between success and failure can come from one shift in the wind or one misstep onto a dry twig. And although a failed stalk is heartbreaking, the feeling after a successful one has no equal in the hunting world.