Hunting in the west offers unique challenges, especially if you are going after your critter with a stick. After several years of observing hunters that I have guided on spot and stalk hunts, I have noticed some of the same mistakes being made over and over again by different hunters. Over that same period of time, I have listened to many hunters tell of the problems they have had trying to hunt animals from the ground.
As a guide and hunter, I have had success hunting and stalking animals from the ground while using traditional bowhunting equipment. It is not as difficult as most would think, however, there are certain principles, techniques, and strategies that you must apply if you ever hope to have any success.
1. The bow poses a problem
In that it is longer than a compound and will be somewhat more difficult to shoot in tight spots. When hunting from a tree stand you can cut and trim limbs back to accommodate the extra length.
Unless you are using a large blind when you hunt from the ground, bow length must be taken into consideration. When the shot you are wanting finally comes along the last thing you want is to have one of your bow limbs slap against something sending your best friend “arrow” into orbit.
For the most part, you cannot control the exact spot the shot will take place.
You can, however, control the angle the bow is shot from. You may have to cant the bow completely horizontal or maybe completely vertical or maybe somewhere in between to get off a clean shot. The only way you can hope to get an accurate shot from every position is to practice it. Before you spend all the time and money to go hunting out west do yourself a favor and spend plenty of time shooting in every oddball position you can think of.
2. Speaking of equipment, your quiver is a major consideration.
I know some people are going to not like this but it’s something that really has been a problem on my guided hunts.
What is it?
Well, you may not believe it but the problem is back quivers. I literally cringe when I see a guy that I am about to guide, get out of his truck with a back quiver full of arrows that he is going to use while hunting with me. Please don’t get me wrong I like back quivers and have used them for years, but if you think you can take one full of arrows, sling it across your back like Geronimo and then stroll through the underbrush without a hitch you’re dreaming. Now I know that there are a lot of famous people that used them to hunt with back years ago but if you do some research you’ll find that they didn’t have the other choices we now have. I’m guessing but after some of the experiences I’ve had with back quivers, I’d say given the choice those “famous” hunters would have used something else.
Back quivers are okay to stand hunt with but when you are stalking a beast that is already on “red alert” because of hunting season a back quiver can send the aforementioned beast packing quicker than anything. The two main problems with this type quiver are the arrows sticking up above your shoulder and the rattle of the arrows banging against each other. The arrow rattle is a problem that is easy to understand and warrants no further discussion. The arrows sticking out of the top of the quiver are a problem because as you walk along they wave around as if to say “hey look ..over here… I’m right here.” They also stick above the grass when you are trying to crawl closer to the animal you intend to “greet”. I’ve watched guys try to crawl through the grass with a back quiver full of arrows, the results remind me of a submarine trolling around with its periscope up out of the water.
The roles are reversed however and the animal sees the arrows instead of the arrows seeing the animal. Be sure and use a quiver that keeps the arrows separated and one that does not add any more “attention” to you.
3. If you have never hunted animals from the ground
It can be a very “eye-opening” experience for your eyes. When you are hunting in a tree stand judging distances is typically much easier. When you are in a tree, most if not all the time there will be other trees around you, those trees help give you better depth perception. Even though you don’t realize it your mind is saying ” okay that tree is 5 yards away and the next is about 10, the next is around 15 and that deer is a few yards behind it so it is about 17 yards away.” The next thing you know your brain has figured the correct trajectory and BOOM your arrow disappears behind the shoulder of the deer.
When you are hunting on the ground things just don’t work that way.
First, lots of times there won’t be as many things between you and the animal you are stalking so you won’t get that help in-depth perception that you normally do while hunting in the woods. Very few times have I seen a guy overestimate yardage on an animal standing in the open.
Secondly, when you are hunting from a tree you are looking down on an animal at an angle and you are not seeing the complete width of the animal. Conversely, when hunting on the ground you will see the entire width of the animal giving the same size animal a much larger looking body. You can imagine what that would do to your range estimating abilities.
Given these two factors, it is very understandable how guys can stalk up to a huge elk, think they are within range and then miss the entire animal, the arrow hitting the ground 5 yards before reaching it’s intended target. Disgusted the hunter gets up to retrieve his arrow and as he walks along it dawns on him that the elk he thought was only 25 yards away was actually 45 yards away instead.
This problem will affect you regardless of what type of aiming system you use. Even if you shoot a bow without any physical reference points or sights (commonly known as instinctive) the way I do, your mind is making yardage and trajectory calculations based on what you have programmed into it. Let’s assume you have decided you will not shoot at an animal farther than say………20 yards, if the animal your brain thought was 17-18 yards from you is actually 25 yards away, you will have a hard tracking job ahead of you AT BEST. How can you try to avoid this problem? Well here are a few suggestions that should help better prepare you for your upcoming hunt.
4. I would suggest that you practice estimating yardage from the ground.
You will need to estimate objects very similar in size to the animals you are going to hunt. There are a couple of ways to do this.
1. You can get a 3-D target and use it, given the size of the target is very close to the size of the actual animal it represents. You can make a 2-D cut out of the animals and get good results also. It will take a little research but figure out the dimensions of the animals you intend to hunt. Take those dimensions and draw them on a piece of plywood or something similar, cut the outline out, add a few re-bar rods to the base of its legs and presto you have yourself an accurate shape with which to program your brain.
Take your target and stand it up in different locations. Open areas, semi-open areas, and thick areas.
Practice stalking up to the target and getting into bow range then shooting at the target as if you were hunting.
If you are using the wooden 2-D version you’ll need to use rubber blunts.
Shoot at the target only once then retrieve your arrow and/or back up and make another stalk and shot.
It is very important that you take steps to avoid letting your brain program the distance, if you let this happen you are negating the whole reason for doing this exercise.
After setting up the target or retrieving your arrow do something that will keep your brain from figuring out the distance to the target. If you walk off in a straight line and then turn around to make a stalk whether you realize it or not your mind will have a very good idea as to how far of the target is.
Try confusing your brain (this part is easy for me).
As you walk away use a zig-zag pattern or make a loop around the target. You can also just walk off and leave it, then come back and stalk it from a different angle.
2. Another good way is to have a friend set the target up for you. Then he can come back and tell you the approximate area he put it in, thereby making it as close to real hunting as possible. Remember to stalk and shoot the target as if it were real. You may want to even take it a step farther and take into consideration the wind direction keeping up with its direction as you stalk. This may seem to be going overboard with things but that is exactly what you will have to do when the “real thing” comes along.
Regardless of exactly how you do the above exercise, it is very important to not shoot at the same set up too many times. By doing this you will learn the yardage in a very short time.
Remember the two main objectives of this drill are to learn yardage estimation and to make the first shot count regardless of the position you have to shoot from.
5. There is no such thing as being too prepared
The above things can be time-consuming but remember that you only get out of something that you put into it. Another good thing to remember is that there is no such thing as being too prepared. I have known and been around many successful bowhunters. While each has a different approach to hunting they all have two things in common.
The first is they are confident that they will succeed.
The second is that they spend plenty of time preparing themselves for the hunt.
I am a firm believer that their confidence and success are in direct relation to the amount of time they take to prepare themselves for “The Main Event”. Don’t shortchange yourself. If you are going to take the time to travel out west to hunt, take the time to prepare. Know the weakness of your animal, know the limits your equipment, know the strengths you possess as a hunter. Come up with a plan that will work for you and prepare yourself. Now go out there and win one for Dougie… I mean “The Gipper”.