I can think of no more difficult hunt than a spot-and-stalk hunt out west. I am sure this statement will not come without argument, but being pushed to the edge of your physical abilities, while remaining stealthy and still being able to make a good shot from unnatural positions at extended ranges, is enough to test any archer's resolve.
The extent of such a challenge is undeniable, but that challenge can be more easily met if you use the best gear available.
Quality gear can save you in several ways, like wearing pants that have kneepads built in so you don't have to carry separate kneepads. No, you don't need the finest gear available. But if you're like me, you are always looking for something better, and when you find it, you want it.
With a little research, you can find just the right gear to meet your personal needs and budget. The best time to start gearing-up for this fall is right now, so here are some suggestions, based on my experience and research, that may help you find a few must-have items for your hunt.
When covering the last 100 yards of your stalk, few things are as important as quality clothing that is functional, blends in with your surroundings, and is quiet. Unless you have been living under a rock, you're aware of the advances Sitka Gear has been making in the hunting clothing market.
The newly redesigned Mountain Pant ($189) is improved over previous versions, making them an even better pair of stalking pants. The articulated kneepads keep you comfortable when you're crawling around over sharp rocks and spiny plants. A more durable fabric adds life to the pants but is still quiet, which is key when you're in close. Another new feature I like is the larger belt loops that accept a normal belt instead of having a built-in belt.
A great piece to pair with the Mountain Pant is the Core Lightweight Hoody ($100). Weighing less than 7 oz., this next-to-the-skin layer is treated with "permanent polygiene odor control technology," which controls your scent even while hiking. I really like the hood because it provides added warmth for my head and neck, and it keeps the sun off me if I get pinned down on a stalk.
The Alpine Pant ($150) from KUIU is technically designed and easily meets the needs of the stalking bowhunter. Weighing just 17 oz. and athletically cut with four-way stretch materials, these pants are extremely comfortable. The breathable material with hip vents keeps you from heating up on warm-weather hunts, and Kevlar kneepads keep you comfortable when you have to crawl or kneel.
The Ultra Merino 125 LS Crew-T ($65) is the lightest Merino shirt in the KUIU line. It has eyelet panels on the sides that make it extremely breathable. Add in the fact that it's made from super-lightweight, odor-fighting Merino wool, and you have a great top for the West. It's available in both of KUIU's Verde and Vias patterns.
One functional item I've just started taking advantage of is a lightweight pair of low-profile gaiters for keeping moisture and vegetation out of my boots. The Hunting Gaiters ($40) from First Lite accomplish just that. Made from a lightweight nylon material, they're meant to be worn over your socks and boots, but under your pants. You won't even know they are there.
You never know what you might need when you are in the middle of a stalk, so you must be able to carry your gear efficiently and discreetly. The TZ 3000 ($310) from Tenzing has what it takes to be an effective Western hunting pack.
My personal criteria for a pack is it must be able to compress small enough that it's not big and bulky when stalking, but it must also expand big enough to carry an elk quarter once the animal is down. This pack does just that by opening away from the frame to accept larger loads. At 3,100 cu. in. and weighing 6.8 lbs., this pack is an excellent option for a Western spot-and-stalk hunter.
The FHF Bino Harness ($95 — $110), along with the Rangefinder Pouch ($36), can be the best friend of the stalking bowhunter. It keeps your binoculars, rangefinder, and other important items like a wind checker, knife, or diaphragm calls at your quick disposal, without having to dig into your pockets. The Bino Harness is infinitely adjustable and provides tension-free glassing, while the rangefinder pouch has a functional tether that secures your rangefinder.
Speaking of rangefinders, the new FullDraw2 ($325) from Leupold has the same DNA system as Leupold's rifle models, bringing great features to this bow model.
Even though it's a bowhunting rangefinder, it has 6X optics, is capable of ranging out to 850 yards, and has a more ergonomic feel than its predecessor. Add a quick, accurate reading, and the FullDraw2 is sure to become a favorite of many bowhunters.
If you're looking for a quick, cheap, accurate way to range game when you get to the end of your stalk, the Dead On Rangefinder ($20) might be the answer.
It installs on your sight, and you range by putting the bottom dot on the bottom of the animal's chest and noting which mark is at the top of its back. That mark gives you the range in an instant, with no hands necessary. You must calibrate the system for each game animal, from turkeys to elk.
Of course, a must on any stalk is a quality pair of binoculars. The newly redesigned Diamondback 10x42 ($280) from Vortex Optics is a great set of glass that even the most budget-minded hunter can appreciate. At only 5.8"L x 5"W and weighing just 21 oz., you will hardly know they are there. But when you need them, you will have a quality set of optics.
Also check out the Razor HD 16-48x55 ($1,600) spotting scope. Every Western hunter needs a quality spotter in their pack, and the Razor HD weighs only 48 oz. and is crystal clear. The price tag surely isn't cheap, but it gets you into the high-end glass category for half of what you'll pay for other quality optics.
Another higher-end binocular that still won't break the bank is the 77ED ($1,350) by Alpen Optics. These high-definition binos are crystal clear and crisp, making glassing a pleasure. Although fairly expensive, they compare favorably to glass that costs hundreds of dollars more. They have an extremely comfortable grip, and a no-fault lifetime warranty that is tough to beat.
Every Western adventure demands a killer knife, and one excellent option is the North Fork ($165) by Benchmade Knives.
With a 3" drop-point blade made of S30V steel, you have an everyday knife that will still have enough edge to break down your animal. You will enjoy the comfortable feel of this knife, and Benchmade's Axis lock system makes it safe.
The Cirrus Wind Indicator ($40) from Hunt Vape Technologies puts a unique yet effective spin on checking the wind in the field. This USB-rechargeable device uses an odorless vapor to detect the slightest wind movement and direction. It lasts for many hours on a charge, and thousands of puffs on a refillable cartridge. My favorite feature is that you don't have to shake the Cirrus like a powder bottle that gets plugged at the most inopportune moment when movement isn't an option.
The Boss ($8) elk diaphragm call by Phelps Game Calls is capable of making very realistic elk sounds. A relative newcomer to the market, Phelps is quickly becoming very popular with hunters out west. I always have a call in my mouth on a stalk, even if it's for mule deer. Elk often inhabit the same terrain, and I feel if I make an unnatural noise, a cow elk squeal can settle the animal's nerves.
I have to mention one item you won't likely use during a stalk, but chances are you will before you begin your stalk. A good tripod is invaluable on any Western hunt, and the folks at Outdoorsmans.com make topnotch tripods and heads. Starting at $369 and going up from there, it's a fairly spendy investment. But once you use a quality tripod and head, you will never regret it. Your high-end glass will not live up to its full potential on a cheap tripod.
Hands & Face
A bare human face really stands out in the woods. If you like to take the shine off your face (and hands), check out the Hunter's Camo Face Paint by CarboMask.
Available in 1.5-oz. tubes ($7), or a 3-pack of assorted 1-oz. tubes ($13), CarboMask is odorless and clay-based, so it has no glare. It doesn't come off when you rub your face, but it does come off easily with water — without scrubbing.
Bare hands are like waving a flag at wary game, so I like to wear gloves when I can. KUIU has an extensive glove line for every season, but the Tiburon Glove ($50) really fits my style of hunting on early to midseason spot-and-stalk hunts. The Tiburon is super light, and the leather palm protects against rocks and brush when you have to crawl.
Boots Made for Stalking
There are perfect hunting boots, and there are perfect stalking boots. But in my opinion, they are rarely one in the same. I like a lightweight, low-profile boot like the Ronan GTX ($245) by Lowa for stalking.
This Gore-Tex boot is as comfortable as a slipper, and you can remain fairly quiet due to their flexibility and light weight. However, they wouldn't be my first choice for hunting in sheep country or carrying heavy loads, where higher boots with ankle support shine. As a stalking boot, they are a great choice.
Depending on the terrain, there are times when I like to take my boots off and wear socks to make the final approach on a stalk. This cuts down on noise and forces me to go slower, but leaving my boots behind is a pain.
I am always looking for an alternative, and it appears Under Armour may have come up with a good solution in their Silent Approach ($75) boots. This very lightweight, synthetic boot has a poly outsole that provides traction and durability. It feels like a sock on steroids, and it just might be the ticket to closing that final stretch to your quarry.
Once you find yourself in those last 100 yards of a stalk, you must feel confident in knowing you've chosen the right gear. As you take each step, you need only concentrate on being silent and making a precise shot. A shot that leads you to the end of a blood trail, and the trophy of your dreams.