“Not close enough,” you tell yourself. You don’t have the self-assurance to take that shot, at that big of an animal from that far away. Good. Frankly, that means you are the kind of hunter that has enough integrity to assess his skills and respect the game. This being said, don’t let distance stop you. As the old saying goes, “who dares, wins.” Which is exactly why the next time you come upon your prey at long range, look to close the gap. Here’s how to perfect your pursuit of North America’s deer, by species.
By far the most widely hunted deer species in America, Whitetails have the reputation for being ornery and high-strung. To effectively stalk whitetail, keep the wind in your face at all times. It is likely that you will be in hardwood or farmland, so leaves and brush aren’t going to be a huge problem. But pick your route carefully. Resist the urge to shoot as you continue to gain ground. Often times whitetail hunters will see the deer they are pursuing start to get twitchy and decide it’s time to stand and deliver. What you’ll find, more frequently than not, is that the buck is just staying wary. If he is feeding, you got him. Move only when he is eating. Move as slow as you can. Expect the whitetail to constantly jerk its head up to look around.
If you are dealing with an alert whitetail that truly knows something is up, you have really only once choice. Freeze. Don’t move at all. Lower yourself slowly, very slowly, to the ground. A whitetail that is alert to you may study your position for up to ten minutes. That is going to feel like an hour. When the deer goes back to its regular pattern of behavior, rise slowly and shoot. Remember to brace yourself for the rising and shooting part. Rise with the gun already shouldered. The deer is going to give you one last look before either you put him down or it takes off running.
Some folks will say that Muleys aren’t as smart as whitetails. This is dumb. Try stalking a mature mule deer buck on its own turf. The fact that mule deer live in open country gives a distinct advantage to the animal. You will likely spot your quarry from distances of up to 500 yards. A good rule of thumb for mule deer is the 600-yard buffer. If you stay outside of the 600-yard buffer zone, you will be briefly tolerated in deerland, by these deer. If you get inside of this buffer without a solid plan, you will encounter the mule deer’s distinct bounding style of running, commonly referred to as “stotting.”
When pursing mule deer, plan your angle of approach carefully. If you are in sagebrush terrain, try to plan your stalking route by memorizing natural landforms and features, such as lone trees, old fence posts or rock piles. If you spook a mule deer they will likely head for the next county. But don’t rule out that some herds will not run very far away. If they walk, trot, and stop from time to time to get away from you, that herd is going to be no more than a few hundred yards away. Just make sure not to follow the same route, spooked mule deer will always watch their backtrail. Approach the herd from a different direction, mind the wind.
Widely considered the greatest prize a North American deer hunter can take, blacktail are known as the “Grey Ghost” for a reason. These deer have super senses. The eyes and ears of a blacktail are a formidable challenge for any hunter to overcome. You will earn every blacktail you run into, by way of the thick brambles, steep slopes and heavy rain you encounter. This is a close-in hunt. When in pursuit of blacktail, you need to be highly aware of the sound you make. Know precisely where your boot is going to step as you are closing the distance Step on logs, rocks, and fallen pine boughs whenever possible. Dry leaves, or snapping twigs will be your enemy. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast on this stalk.
Blacktail have a penchant for curiosity. They will often times stop and look back over their shoulder when mildly spooked. If you happen to be in pursuit of a blacktail with a buddy, stagger your spacing so that your buddy is fifteen to twenty yards behind you. Often times, a blacktail will slip into the bushes if it thinks it is being followed, and wait for you to pass. If you play it right, your partner may get a shot in this scenario.