Spot and Stalk on the Prairie

For the past couple years I’ve tried a style of hunting that I’ve found to be challenging and addictive. Spot and stalk requires the ability to see your target animal before it see’s you, and then get in position to be close enough to get a clean shot. To get in position for a shot you either need to sneak up on a stationary animal or get into position to cut them off as they head in a certain direction. Before I began a stalk, I’d meticulously glass the wide open South Dakota prairie for mule deer, which was what I was after. Using 10×50 binoculars and a spotting scope I’d glass treeless expanse from the highest elevation in the area right after sunrise. After locating a mule deer I felt was worth going for I’d size up the chances for getting in close enough for a shot with my bow. Within a half hour I’d either locate a deer worth stalking or head out to find another spot to glass for one. I’m hunting public land so on occasion other hunters figure into the mix and alter my plans, but for the most part I’m the only bowhunter around.


Spot and stalk bowhunting in South Dakota mule deer country had me glassing the wide open prairie searching for a buck to stalk. 

Being used to hunting in the wooded areas and swamps around my Southern Wisconsin home this spot and stalk was something I haven’t tried. Sitting in a tree stand, in areas I’ve pre- scouted, and waiting for the deer to come to me has been effective so I’ve stuck with that. Limited acreage and heavy cover also make spot and stalk tactic tough in my home hunting grounds. Tree stand hunting is mostly a waiting game, whereas spot and stalk has you actively pursuing deer the entire day. In a typical spot and stalk hunt you’re either glassing or closing the distance on a deer 100% of the day. You stay alert and engaged the whole time you’re hunting.

When closing the distance on a deer during the stalk on the prairie you use the hills and valleys to conceal your walking approach, when they run out it’s time to get on your belly and crawl. Your approach always factors in wind direction and thermal conditions, along with using any cover that may be available. In the short grass of a prairie, a large rock or dry creekbed often are the only cover available for the final part of your stalk. Putting a large rock between you and the deer may well be the only way to conceal your movements while you crawl on your belly to get within shooting distance. A dry creekbed that takes you into range is a bonus as it really gets you out of sight, but typically you’re crawling through them as well since the ones I’ve encountered are shallow. On my typical stalk, the last 200 yards would be a slow, silent belly crawl. Shooting from a sitting or kneeling position is what you should practice because 95 % of the time that is the position you’ll be in when you get your shot.

Here’s how a stalk ended, all to often, when I ran out of good cover while belly crawling into range. This mature whitetail buck let me get within 80 yards before bolting to safety.   

Keeping track of the deer as you approach on your belly is typically done by slowly raising your head just high enough to see through the grass, then you lower your head and crawl another 10-20 yards before checking again. On a bedded deer you have most of the day to stalk it so there is no rush and you need to be silent unless you have a stiff wind, then you can get away with a little noise. I try to be silent even if the wind is blowing hard. If you’re trying to get in front of a moving deer to cut it off as it heads in a certain direction, then you have to hustle quietly to get into position. You make your best guess at where to cut the deer off and get there first to pick a spot where you can take your shot without being seen. Wind direction is critical to success here too so make sure that spot is downwind of the deers’ travel route. Easier said than done of course but it’s another aspect of stalking that adds to the flavor of this type of hunt.

Seeing a deer in the wide open prairie offering little cover made me think there was little chance of being able to get close enough for a shot with a bow, but every once in a while a stalk would result in an arrow being let loose. So far I haven’t connected but there’s a mulie out there with my name on him and I aim to get him next year. This type of hunting is pure man against deer on the deers’ terms, it is an exciting challenge and one that I’ll be looking forward to this coming season.

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