- In a true spot and stalk scenario, there is far more spotting than stalking. Let your glass do the walking for you. Running here and there chasing after everything you glass is wasteful and will lead to missed opportunities. So, good glass is a must. I personally use the BX-5 Santiam HD 10x42mm binocular from Leupold because they flat perform in all conditions and are the ideal power and size for all day carry. Quick facts for binocular comprehension. Take my binoculars for instance, 10 is the power of magnification and the objective lens is 42. Here’s where it gets tricky, divide 10 into 42 which is 4.2. This is the diameter of light that’s being transmitted to your eye. The maximum dilation of an adult’s eye is around 6 or 7 mm. What does all that mean? There is still quite a bit of play in your eye’s ability to visibly discern what you’re looking at.
- Sometimes you have to go where no one else will because it’s those honey holes that all too often hold the buck of your dreams. Don’t overlook obscure pockets, drainages, deep cuts, ravines, anything that could potentially be a sanctuary. Most hunters don't want to contend with thickets, thorns, traversing rocky slopes, all to then pack out 150 pounds of meat if they do get something down. So, go for broke, if it looks uninhabitable, chances are it is worthwhile looking into and pursuing. A “Deer-Forest Study” that was published by PennState in 2015 noted that during the rut, radio-colored bucks and does had an average home range of 3 square miles. However, by the end of the first day of the regular firearms season, that home range was reduced down to 100 acres and continued to follow that same pattern until the season ended. Only when they were pressured did they leave that 100-acre boundary they set for themselves. This is a Black Ops venison mission, so the hunter who sticks his or her neck out, hunts hard and meticulously combs the forest, open fields, and every square inch of ground, will ultimately be the victor come the end of deer season.
- Once you spot the slobberknocker you want to snipe, now is the time to move in for the kill. Hopefully, you've already positioned yourself so the wind is in your face as you approach. Formulate a game plan of how you can close the distance between you and the buck you’re chasing as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence, get low and out of sight. If crawling is required, be sure to have the caps on your rifle scope and binoculars and be careful so that debris doesn’t get lodged in your rifle barrel. For this, I also use a Cabela’s Hybrid Binocular Harness to keep my optics strapped tightly to my chest and out of the way. Use brush, trees, creek bottoms, tall grass, ditches, terraces, whatever it takes to narrow the gap and to camouflage your outline. If the buck you are after is 500 yards away, try to cut that by 150 yards, or even by half, if possible. Be sure to watch your step and avoid rocks, leaves, sticks, stalks anything that can alert the game you are pursuing. Also, try as best as you can to match your camo pattern to the terrain you’re hunting in and have a mask to cover the shine of your face and gloves, as well. I have become an O2 Octane fanatic. Cabela’s crushed this camo pattern and I’ve found it to be highly effective for big game and even waterfowl. In warmer weather, I wear the Cabela’s Men’s Space Rain Full-Zip Jacket and Pant set with 4MOST DRY-PLUS. It’s lightweight, breathable, super quiet and great for long sits in wet conditions, especially from a heavy dew. It doesn't snag easily on branches and bushes and is ideal for layering. For cold blustery days, I go straight for my Cabela's men’s MT050 Whitetail Extreme Parka and Bibs with GORE-TEX and Thinsulate. I have worn this set in -20 temps with extreme wind chills and 12’’ of snow and managed to stay warm and dry all day. If you’re a serious hunter and want to maximize the days you have off to hunt, you can’t let horrible conditions stop you. I promise, the Whitetail Extreme Parka and Bib set is the best cold weather hunting gear you’ll ever find.
Proof Is In The Freezer:
- Most of the bucks I have killed have been taken around the noon hour. Here in the Midwest, I might be stalking a buck I spotted from two miles away and it takes some time to get within shooting distance. Generally, once I’ve broken into shooting range of the buck I am after, he’s usually bedded down for the afternoon with a group of does on a southern facing slope. I use this time to further my ascent into his lair. I’ll position myself where I can constantly glass as I inch my way to him. The key is to not bump him or the does he is with and to stay concealed. If a doe’s wandering eye picks you out, freeze in the exact position you’re in. You might spook or startle them a bit, but if you're careful, they typically won’t go far. Stay calm and collected and once the heat dies off, continue to move. Remember, just because your rifle is capable of taking a 400-yard shot and your shooting skills are just as keen, that doesn’t mean you should. I have taken bucks upwards of 600 yards off hand, however, I prefer shooting at 150 yards or less. It boils down to ethics and making a one shot kill, if possible.
- I’ve killed more deer than I can count with a .243 and it’s easy to see why so many hunters pick this caliber for deer. With Hornady’s American Whitetail 100 grain bullet zipping out there at 2,960 fps and producing 1,945 ft. Ibs of energy at the muzzle, it’s an excellent option. Another popular caliber is the .308. Throw in a Ballistic Silvertip round from Winchester and you’re pushing darn near 2,630 fps with hardly any recoil, I’m talking hands down lights out performance. Or, if you want to waylay the buck you’re after, opt for the ever impressive .300 Win Mag. I love this caliber and have been shooting my .300 Win Mag with 165 grain GMX Superformance from Hornady. At 100 yards I get 3,035 fps and tip the scale at 3,373 ft. Ibs of energy. However, this year I will be hunting with my all-new, custom made, Horizon Firearms rifle chambered in the 6.5 Creedmoor. I’ll be shooting Hornady’s 143-grain ELD-X bullet that shines at 2,557 fps and produces 2,076 ft. lbs of energy at that same 100 yard mark. Derrick Ratliff and the entire team at Horizon Firearms were incredible to work with on this build. Horizon’s attention to detail and their comprehension and consideration of my wants and needs were carefully integrated into every piece of this custom rifle. The rifle is in their Z-Custom series and features a Horizon Series Stiller action. The Benchmark barrel is 22’’ and it has squared fluting with a custom paint job in mag tan, grey/styre brown blend and statuary brown stars on the barrel. The muzzle is also threaded with a thread protector and the stock is an iota KREMLIN. The bottom metal is HS-DBM and has iota nomad ZL rings and bases that hold a Leupold scope. Check out Horizon Firearms for anything custom or rebarreling. You’ll be glad you did.
- When it comes time to shoot, you want to be as prepared as possible. If nothing has gone awry, and you’ve had time to settle in, catch your breath and completely survey the situation, you should have the upper hand and all that’s left to do is squeeze the trigger. If I can, I always go for prone. I use the Cabela’s Elite Scout Pack for every hunt and I like to take it off when I’m all setup to shoot and place it in front of me to have it cradle my rifle, almost as shooting bags would do. Generally, I have an extra sweatshirt, perhaps a change of socks, a couple sets of gloves, things of that nature in my pack that make a nice stable platform for long-distance shooting. My second choice are my Cabela's Shooting Sticks. Not only do they provide a rock-solid rest with fully adjustable legs to compensate for uneven terrain and awkward positions, but I also use them as a walking stick. They truly are multifunctional, and I rarely hunt without them. Now that I’m setup, I don’t force any action. Patience is essential, and I lay motionless, even for hours if needed, to let things unfold naturally. My next move is to wait for the buck I am after to stand or to turn in the most advantageous direction to provide the best shot possible. Dead on, broadside, quartering to, quartering away, or even the good ol’ Texas heart shot – they all work, and everyone is entitled to their preferred angle. I am not as concerned with the angle of the shot, as I am of the path of my bullet. Are there twigs, stalks, grass shoots, a strong crosswind, elevation issues, any unforeseen factors that could negatively impact the course of my bullet? 9 times out of 10 I am going to have a passthrough shot, and in that scenario, I need to be aware of any game to the leeward side of my target. There are dozens of small, but consequential, aspects to consider and sometimes they have to be dealt with in a moment’s notice. So, run through a pre-shot checklist and be 100% positive that you have all your ducks in a row, before you let it rip. Once you do fire that killing shot, immediately rack in another round but stay on the scope. It’s called follow through and 75% of hunters fall prey to this innocent mistake. Excitement takes over, emotions are at an all-time high, and they can miss their opportunity for a follow up shot, if needed. There is nothing wrong with putting another hole in that animal. A single round isn’t going to break the bank and I would rather air on the side of caution than have regret.
Post Shot Wrap-up:
- You took the shot, your buck is leaking fluids, now what? If you are certain you made a killing shot and you’ve been watching him in your binoculars and he’s still in sight, just give it time. If he bounded over the ridge and you’re starting to question your shot placement, head to the point of impact, but do it methodically, not like an impatient oaf. If you find brown hair with pinkish or red blood bubbles you most likely clipped the heart or hit the lungs. That’s awesome. Thick dark brown hair with dark blood and clots generally indicate your shot was further south than you anticipated, and you might have gotten a liver shot, if you’re lucky. At that point, I would give him 45 minutes or so before continuing. Of course, lighter colored hair with yellow liquid, watery blood and an unpleasant odor, pretty much guarantees a gut shot. If you find this, head back to your stand or truck and blow a few hours before you go tracking. You want to give him plenty of space and time to bed down and die. If you’re rash and bump him, with his adrenalin already pumping, there is a high percentage chance that you won’t get that follow up shot or the ability to recover him at all. Cool down, relax, call your wife, have a Dr. Pepper and do a brief inventory checkup of your field dressing knives to make sure they have a proper edge. I’m talking about wasting time and keeping yourself distracted.
All She Wrote:
- Now that you’ve recovered your buck, field dressed and quartered him, it’s time to celebrate. I always snap some photos of my buck, the cleaning process, some of it is for memory sake and also for field notes. This is the perfect time to reflect upon the day’s events, what you could improve on, what mishaps were unavoidable, but above all, to give glory to the man upstairs and to relish in the bounty of your fabulous kill. Sure, I love big racks and mature deer, but the meat is the true star, the MVP of my hunts. Lots of points, drop tines, blowing up tape measures, it’s all wonderful, fun to look at and admire, but it’s merely icing on the cake. The real joy comes at dinner time when family and friends are gathered around and y’all are reliving the hunt and encouraging a new generation of outdoorsmen and women and future conservationists. That’s called “field to table”, living off the land, and passing on an outdoor legacy.
Hugs, Handshakes and Happy Hunting!