The setting South Dakota sun washed the prairie grass in gold as I ducked out of sight and charged forward to intercept the moving and feeding pronghorn.
I started slowing down as I reached a slight rise that separated us. Then, the top of her back appeared within bow range. I nocked an arrow and rose up just high enough to get a rangefinder reading â€“ 60 yards. As she cleared the rise, I hit full draw. She walked about five steps closer and then presented the shot I was expecting. My arrow hit both lungs, and my white-and-tan prairie prize fell in a lifeless heap.
That goat constituted my first legitimate spot-and-stalk success, and since then I've experienced it many more times. In so doing, I've compiled a checklist of considerations that guide me on every stalk I attempt. Here they are.
Don't Forsake the Wind
As a teenager, I tried approaching a muley doe and small buck from upwind. I did it because the deer were bedded in a ditch and watching downwind. When I reached the edge of the ditch and peaked over, the deer weren't there. I looked several hundred yards to my right and saw them departing. They'd winded me, which isn't surprising.
Let my anecdote be a lesson. There are very rare exceptions, but most deer and antelope, especially the mature ones, won't tolerate a nose-full of human odor. Therefore, always know the wind direction and check it continually before and during a stalk. If it shifts, back out or reacquire the downwind advantage before moving any closer.
My first several stalking attempts failed because I acted/moved too quickly. The animals were in less-than-ideal positions, or there wasn't sufficient wind to mask my approach, among other things. The animals were in sight, so I reacted. Acting too quickly has cost me many blown stalks. I suggest slowing down and waiting for a high-percentage opportunity before attempting a stalk.
Of course, there are now-or-never scenarios that require immediate action. These are generally when an animal is moving between an obvious point A and point B, and where getting in front of the animal and then ambushing it as it travels by is practical. Aside from scenarios like this, it's usually best to slow down, concrete a game plan, and then move methodically.
Another mistake I often made when I began stalking antelope and mule deer was failing to identify and choose landmarks relative to the animal's location. Many times, I'd get close to the animal but couldn't reacquire its location before it busted me.
Identifying and choosing several landmarks to keep you on track is important. When hunting alone, referencing Google Earth can help you track your landmarks. Or, if hunting with a partner, a spotter can watch the stalk from a vantage point, then deliver predetermined signals to the stalker.
Monitor the Animal's Location
Even with an ideal wind, animals tend to rise from their beds and then browse briefly before bedding in a subsequent location. Losing track of the target animal's position is detrimental to success.
At least one of your landmarks should provide a vantage point where you can confirm the animal's location during the stalk. As mentioned above, a spotter can also prove beneficial if the target animal changes locations. Simply agree on a series of signals that denote the change in location. Then, you can move in knowing — not wondering — the animal's location.
Read the Animal's Demeanor
When you arrive within archery range, nock an arrow and be prepared to shoot. This can be exhausting, as some critters remain bedded for hours on end.
When dealing with a calm, unaware animal, you'll usually be able to identify when it will stand based on demeanor. Animals usually become fidgety right before they stand, and this is generally your cue to draw back undetected.
If you've been waiting for several hours and can no longer stand the suspense, perhaps throwing a rock over and beyond the animal is a viable option. Once the stone goes airborne, hook up your release and draw back. The animal will commonly stand and look where the rock hit, giving you time to aim and shoot. Understand, though, that this maneuver could spook the animal and forfeit all your hard work.
Take Additional Time to Settle the Pin
We've now reached the pinnacle of the stalk, which is the shot opportunity itself. When an animal stands up and is looking at you, intuition says to aim and shoot as quickly as possible. I've done this multiple times and come up empty-handed as often as I've hit my mark.
Both antelope and mule deer are, by nature, far more inquisitive than whitetail deer. In the moment, though, time seems to multiply. For example, a second at full draw might seem like 5 seconds, which is likely why we rush shots. Let their inquisitive nature buy you an additional second or two to really home in and pick a spot. You'll consistently make better shots.
One Final Thought
Now that we've covered six tips that will help you stalk and close the deal on antelope and mule deer, I have one final thought.
It's so easy to become fixated on the target animal that we often forget non-target animals could be lying along our stalk route. And often, if we bump them, they will take our target animal bounding away with them.
By slowing down, as I mentioned earlier, we can identify these non-target animals and alter our route to circumvent them and avoid spooking our target animal.
Follow these considerations, and you'll be more effective when stalking antelope and mule deer.