It was the day after Christmas, normal people were sleeping in today, or continuing their holiday celebration. Luckily, we at Cro-Mag are not normal. Two of us had just finished the half mile walk to the top of the ridge in thigh deep snow. Just in time to look through our breath and appreciate the sun beginning to crest over an adjacent ridge line. It was a welcome sight. Soon its rays would provide much needed warmth and bring the woods to life. I pulled my snow camo down my wrist, so I could see the thermometer on my watch, it read negative five Fahrenheit.
Jake and I had spent a few hours coming up with our plan the previous day. We knew the woods like the back of our hand. Keeping the wind to our face, we would stalk the evergreens on the south side of the ridge. Fifteen minutes went by before we cut our first track. We got down and examined the direction of travel and then came up with a hasty ambush. We circled back to the top of the ridge and looped back down a few hundred yards from where we just were. We were moving at a snail’s pace. Each step more deliberate than the last. It wasn’t long before we picked up our target, about one hundred meters down the hillside lay a group of doe, tucked into the evergreens. They had a pretty formidable location. They had set up, so the wind would cover any approach from the west, and they were using their eyes to cover down the hill and to the east where we had just been walking. We slowly stalked to forty yards, making sure to keep a tree or piece of micro terrain between us and our prey. Finally, at forty yards, we crawled to a near tree trunk, Jake let out a quiet grunt. WHOOP! My flintlock erupted in smoke and let out a crack as it threw my fifty-caliber round towards the deer.
Stalking big game can be extremely challenging and frustrating for many people. When done correct, it can be deadly and is always rewarding. Today we will discuss the absolute BEST way to stalk big game. The best way to stalk big game is by mimicking the patterns of apex predators. Their survival depends on their hunting success. You need to get into that mindset. Think like a predator, but also flip the table and think like the prey. Below are the tactics that will help you become the apex predator in whatever woods you decide to stalk.
1: Learn the lay of the land. The animals that you are pursuing live in the wild day in and day out. They know every nook and cranny. To effectively hunt them, especially for stalking you need learn the land you hunt like the back of your hand. This can take years of hunting the same spot. Luckily with a smart approach we can expedite that process and efficiently use our time. CLICK HERE to check out an article on how to best use your time to learn the lay of the land. Focus points for us as the hunter; terrain features, food, water, bedding, escape routes, natural and man-made funnels. In general, you want to get to the point where if you pick up a track you can predict what that animal is doing/going so you can take a short cut, jump ahead, and set up an ambush or stalk.
- Knowing your prey. The predator, prey relationship is one of mutual respect and knowledge. We as hunters need to pay our prey the respect they deserve. Deer and Elk are hardy creatures. They live day in and day out with something trying to kill them. They have adapted to survive. If we are to effectively hunt them, especially at ground level, we need to be familiar with their habits. We were successful in the story I opened with because I know a few things about whitetail deer that allow me to more effectively hunt them in the winter.
-They are in survival mode, they want to minimize the expenditure of calories. So, they won’t move as much or as far.
-Maintaining their body temperature in the winter causes them to burn more calories so they prefer areas that stay warmer in the winter. This comes in the form of south facing slopes because they receive more sunlight. It also comes with evergreen trees, which have natural insulation properties and can offer protection from the elements.
-I know their tracks and how to determine their pace, direction, and rough time the tracks were made.
-I know what food sources they prefer in the winter, and how to tell if they are using the food sources.
I could, and will, write and entire article on how to hunt whitetail in the late season. The point I am trying to make is your knowledge of the species you are hunting is crucial to drive your decision-making process.
3: Patience and persistence. For an apex predator this isn’t an option. It’s a must. If a predator didn’t have these two traits they would starve to death. We need to have this mentality and apply it. Being patient while stalking is more difficult than it sounds. It requires you to have the disciple to maintain a slow and deliberate pace. This pace adapts to the situation. You know the lay of the land and you know your prey, so you can determine when you can pick up the pace and when you need to slow down to a crawl. When you are in an area where a chance encounter with your prey is likely, like bedding or an active feed site, your pace needs to come to a crawl. One or two steps. Stop. Scan, right to left. One or two steps. Scan, right to left. Repeat. Try to work from cover to cover. Understand that every inch you move in the woods offers you a different angle, and a different view. Your success is dependent on you seeing them before they see you. This is especially true when hunting with a flintlock or bow and arrow.
4: Using Terrain. When I am making a quick movement to a spot where I want to start stalking, it’s not uncommon to look down and see predator tracks. They are using the terrain the same way I am. Cruising the ridge tops looking to cut tracks in saddles, or in between thickets. As a predator you need to use the terrain to your advantage, don’t try fighting the terrain. Move from terrain feature to terrain feature while thinking how your prey might be doing the same. Terrain can also offer second opportunities. On multiple occasions I have been offered a second chance at a deer after jumping them the first time. I will quickly predict where the deer is going, use the terrain, beat feet (run) ahead to the next possible ambush point and wait. This technique can provide some thrilling ambushes but is only possible if you know the lay of the land and the terrain.
- Using the wind. The wind always needs to be the first thing you consider when you are deciding what direction you plan on stalking. It’s important to keep your prey upwind always. This can be challenging and requires the utmost discipline, but if done properly will effectively take one of your prey’s senses out of the equation.
- Flexible camouflage. This is a technique that I learned while training with the British Special Reconnaissance Squadron. A good stalker layers his clothing in a manner that allows them to adjust their camo, on the fly, to best match the given scenario. What I normally do in the winter in have a light snow camo over-layer that I wear over my water proof woodland camo Gortex layer. This provides me flexibility in adjusting my camo as the terrain and situation changes.
- Coming up with a plan. For the predators that exist in the wild they have had hundreds of years to develop the optimal hunting techniques. They use tested and proven strategies that are imperative to their survival. We are behind the power curve. For the most part we must teach ourselves to hunt. We can overcome this with a thorough plan. Taking into consideration the above factors, take ten or twenty minutes over a map to come up with the scheme of maneuver. A predator is calculated and deliberate because their life depends on it. Our success in the woods is directly influenced by the time spent preparing and planning.
An apex predator uses all the above tactics every time they hunt. Years of evolution have formed their strategy into one of ruthless, persistent, lethality. We can analyze their tactics and apply them for our use. If we combine the tactics developed over thousands of years of evolution and our critical thinking, physically fitness, and technology we can ensure we always end up at the top of any food chain we place ourselves in.
Remember, having the desire to become successful in hunting, takes a mindset change and that is the hardest part in this endeavor. We can help you with changing this mindset, and once you have changed you will appreciate the hunt more, and start understanding what being a sportsman/woman is all about. Remember our mission is to redefine tradition. Challenge traditional thinking and push others to do the same. We must dedicate ourselves to hone in on our primal instincts and combine them with new methodologies and technologies to truly master evolution.