Preparing for my first western spot and stalk hunt.
It’s hard to believe that in less than 2 weeks I’ll be hunting mule deer in Nebraska. This is my first chance for true spot-and-stalk hunting, I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve been working hard to prepare. A spot-and-stalk bowhunt is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and I want to make the most of it. I can’t wait.
All of my hunting experience thus far has been in the southeast, mostly in thick timber, for whitetails. That’s a far cry from crawling to within 50 yards of a mule deer buck out in the open. When I think about “hunting”, it’s what we call “spot-and-stalk” that entices me most. Laying eyes on the animals, working the terrain to close the distance, and making a shot. It’s active. It’s personal. I can’t wait.
Maybe I’ll have a different opinion once I have experienced it. But from the outside looking in, spot-and-stalk seems like the most fun method of hunting. Here in the east, hunting like that is difficult. Big timber, leery whitetails, and crunchy flora make it almost impossible at times. Good scouting and treestands are typically the tools of success, rather than binoculars and stealthy maneuvers. I can’t wait.
As the summer has passed, I’ve been preparing my skills, conditioning, and gear for this new undertaking. I know chances are good I may not get a mule deer buck, but it won’t be because I was ill-prepared. Here are a few things that I’ve been working on, and I hope will make a difference:
The goal is to get within 40 yards of a mature mule deer buck. However, I want to be effective well past that range. In my whitetail stands, I rarely have a shot over 30 yards. I was told to expect as much as 50-60 in the flat terrain of Nebraska. Knowing my effective range is important for an ethical kill, and extending that range is important for getting shot opportunities.
- Shooting Long Distances -
I’ve been shooting 4-5 times a week for months, making sure my shots are good, consistent, and deadly. My standard practice distance is 60 yards, sometimes 80.
Nothing has helped my accuracy more than regular practice at long distances.
I love shooting long distance. Maybe it’s because I feel like Robin Hood when I watch an arrow soar 80 yards and plunge into the target? Maybe it’s because I’m a grown man who likes to take “selfies” next to a sweet 60 yard group? (*This is a joke, no self-respecting grown man should ever be caught letting the term “selfie” into his vocabulary. To those of you on twitter – Stop it.) Maybe it’s because I enjoy losing arrows as they skip across the top of my target and off into oblivion?
No, shooting at long distances helps. It helps a lot. Making 30 yard shots seem like givens and 40-50 yard shots are confident. This one thing has helped me more than any. Try it. Today. Trust me. It will help.
- Shooting From Difficult Positions -
As I watch, read, and research western hunting, one thing is clear – shot opportunities are anything but consistent and rarely from a standing position broadside to the deer.
I might be shooting from my knees. I may have to draw behind a bush and kneel up for the shot. I may have to get from my belly into shooting position in a split second. The situations are many, and I want to be prepared.
I’ve been practicing from my knees a lot. My butt to my heels, and my knees spread wide offers a stable platform for shooting. I’ve practiced drawing behind a tree and leaning around the trunk for a shot. I spent one whole evening shooting from seated positions. Whatever weird situations I can imagine, I’ve tried to recreate in my practice.
- Shooting Unknown Distances -
Nothing will humble a guy who thinks he’s a good shot like taking away his rangefinder. Even if I am able to range a deer, things often change right before the shot. I may have to move, the deer may walk a few yards, or even jump 15-20 yards away and then stop to look back, presenting an opportunity. Having to estimate yardage is an art, and one I’m working to improve.
To get an unknown yardage I start walking directly away from my target while singing a song. Whenever I stop (similar to musical chairs) I turn, nock an arrow, guess my range, and shoot. At first this drill wasn’t pretty. I’ve gotten better as time past, but I fear that I’m just memorizing terrain subconsciously.
Most of my gear was setup for hunting eastern whitetails from a treestand. For spot-and-stalk hunting, I knew some things would change. I looked at areas of my whitetail system that were weak. I tried to improve my gear in ways that would help me on this trip out west, but also improve my experience in the whitetail woods. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
- Boots -
I mentioned here that I was very unhappy with my boots last year. This year, I’m running Cabelas Perfekt Hunter boots. After a couple months of hiking and break in – I’m very pleased. They are warm, but not bulky. I think they’ll be a great balance for those late season hunts that start in the 20’s and end in the 60’s. They are comfortable with great traction and support. #win.
- Clothing -
Early season in Georgia finds me swatting mosquitos in 80 degree weather, while late I’ll be shivering in early morning teens. This year, I wanted a true clothing system. One that would get me from those early season sweats to the late season frosts by adding layers and options. I went with the system from First Lite.
What attracted me to First Lite was their merino wool clothing. Merino simply outperforms in odor, temp regulation, moisture control, and warmth when wet. It’s ultra-quiet and doesn’t shine. What’s not to love? The clothing has a “shooter’s cut” and tons of other features. Combined with their new outerwear, I feel confident that I’m ready for rain, wind, cold or sweat when my boots touch Nebraska dirt.
Note: I’ve also switched to a new bow, and have some other new gear this year. You can see a full gear list here.
Nebraska is going to bring a physical challenges for me as well. I’m trying to prepare myself for the demands that will come with a new style of hunting. I’ve also stumbled upon what I think is the best training regimen a hardcore hunter could ask for. More on that at the end of this article. Here are a few areas I’m paying special attention to.
- Endurance -
Probably more than anything, I’m going to need mental and physical endurance. I’ve never hunted non-stop for 5 days before. Long weekends at most. Even then, we usually don’t hunt all day, every day. This is going to be hard work and I want it to pay off. I’ve been running sprints and training to prepare my heart and lungs for the physical demands.
I’ve also been trying to keep my mind calm, and skirt the pressure to perform that creeps up on me while preparing for a hunt. I want to hunt. Coming home with a huge buck, average doe, or empty handed, I want to hunt. That’s why I’m going, anything else is just a bonus.
- Mobility -
I see a lot of guys, hunters, who spend hours lifting heavy weights at the gym. For me, that’s an impractical waste of time and energy. I’ve never had to bench-press anything in the woods, or ever. I prefer something more practical and useful than big muscles that cost valuable nutrients and organ support – MOBILITY.
I would rather be able to climb a steep hill, maneuver around deadfall silently, or hold an awkward position for what feels like an eternity while a whitetail has his eyes on me waiting for movement. Those moments require mobility, not mirror-flexing muscles. I want a full range of motion to walk, crawl, sit, climb, jump, duck and move through the woods with control and silence. So, I train for mobility first and foremost.
- MovNat -
In a former life, I was a CrossFit trainer (*read: “a beast”). I made money teaching people how to be fit. Really, very fit. Somewhere between 3 children and loving the mirror a little too much, I decided to go another route for fitness. I won’t care to be a beast at 60. I’ll want to have mobility and health. Not wanting to trash my body like many of my comrades, I backed off for a while.
Eventually, I started to tap into a program that is similar to CF but much more practical and sustainable. It’s called MovNat. I’ve been tinkering with this program for a while now. It is by far, the absolute most hunter-minded training program I’ve seen. Mobility, precision, endurance, control, agility, strength, it’s all there. I dare you to watch the video below and think about the hunting applications:
See? You should try it. It’s a blast to do, and you’ll get in shape, having fun, in nature. See MovNat’s Journal for workouts to try. Also – be safe with this! I don’t condone the barefoot woods run, or climbing tall trees on your first workout. Use some caution and you’ll be glad you started.
I’m still not a prepared as I’d like to be, but this hunt is coming whether I’m ready or not. I’ll be loading up the Bronco and heading west in a matter of days. Wish me luck…
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