Spencer Durrant discusses the difference between archery hunting in a blind vs. spot and stalk elk and deer in the western states.
Archery season is right around the corner here in the Rockies. A fair portion of my fishing buddies are absent from the river these days, spending their time checking trail cams, glassing for elk, and watching for the perfect bull.
I’m locked into rifle hunts this fall (buck deer and spike elk), but watching my buddies prep for their archery hunts has me thinking more about the merits of different approaches, especially in the Rocky Mountains. Most everyone I hunt with prefers to spot-and-stalk their prey. I hunt the same way, and I only know a few guys who use blinds when hunting big game out here in the West.
That being said, I think blinds have their place, particularly for deer and elk. But, how you choose to hunt is far more depending on where you’re hunting than anything else. Let’s take a minute to look at the pros and cons of both popular, effective methods.
For the sake of argument, “blinds” is a catch-all term that includes tree stands and ground blinds. Both a ground blind and a tree stand aim to place you out of a direct line-of-sight of your prey – hence the term “blind.”
And that’s where their biggest strength lies. They allow you to be completely still and almost silent, two critical keys to hunting success. If you live in a state where you can set your blinds up weeks before a hunt, you can even get animals used to the presence of the blind well before you nock an arrow.
Blinds do have a few drawbacks, though, especially in mountainous terrain. For starters, you’re not as nimble as you are when on foot. Committing to a blind means committing to one spot and hoping your animals walk by. While good scouting can certainly help you find the best place to set up a blind, it’s not always a sure thing here in the Rockies. You can call elk in while sitting in a blind, but again, you’re hoping that the animals come close enough and present you with a good opportunity for a lethal shot.
With that said, though, I think blinds – and tree stands in particular – are under-utilized here in the West, especially when hunting deer. Most of our forests are overgrown, thick, and an absolute bear to climb through. Sitting in a tree stand both eliminates the noise you’ll make while hiking around, as well as removes any out-of-the-ordinary movement from the line-of-sight of deer. If you can be patient long enough to wait on the animals to come to you – and you scout well enough to know where to set up shop – then hunting from a tree stand can really give you a different opportunity on your next archery hunt.
I learned to hunt by stalking my prey, and it’s how I continue to hunt today. I prefer mobility over the benefits of a blind, and love trying to walk in on unaware animals.
Spot-and-stalk hunting does allow you the opportunity to follow specific animals, especially when you spot a trophy bull or buck. Instead of waiting for that trophy to amble your way, you can chase it.
Of course, that leaves open the possibility that you won’t be stealthy enough during your approach and end up scaring off your quarry. I did that at least twice on last year’s elk hunt, and both times I kicked myself for not being patient enough.
But if you’re able to position yourself well, spot-and-stalk hunting gives you the chance to pick any animal from a given herd. Instead of waiting for one to walk through your blind’s line-of-sight, you get to move until you have the perfect shot on the perfect animal.
The biggest drawback to stalking when archery hunting, though, is closing the gap on your quarry. I primarily rifle hunt, so I consider stalking to within 200 yards of an elk or deer to be “getting close.” That’s an impossible shot with a bow, however, and that gap needs to be closed to 50 or fewer yards, ideally (I’d never take a shot with a bow further than that, but that’s all dependent on skill and comfort level).
You need to move slow, with the wind on your side, and remind yourself constantly that you can’t be in too much of a hurry. Otherwise, your well-planned and almost-well-executed spot-and-stalk approach will be for nothing if you make too much noise and spook the animals.
Like I noted earlier, there’s not one method that’s inherently better than another. I prefer spot-and-stalk hunting because that’s what I’ve done for most of my hunting career. Some hunters really love blinds, or wouldn’t feel comfortable on foot in tough, rugged terrain. And that’s completely fine. Too often, I think, we get so caught up in scouting and stalking that we forget what hunting is really about – putting an animal down and meat in the freezer. As long as you’re doing it ethically and legally, there’s not one way that’s “more pure” than another.
Hopefully, this gives you some additional insight and ideas into hunting from blinds, or on foot, for your upcoming archery hunt. I’d challenge all of us – myself included – to branch out and try something different, if possible. Developing the skills of setting up blinds in the perfect spot, or walking silently through a forest to get with bow range of a bull elk, are skills that will help you in many other hunting endeavors.
What’s your preferred method of hunting big game with a bow? Do you spot and stalk, or use a blind? Let us know in the comments.