Spot and Ambush… spot and stalk for the not so sneaky!

Spot and Ambush… spot and stalk for the not so sneaky by John Stallone !

Many of us use spot and stalk strategies in our hunting especially in big open areas. This style of hunting requires the hunter to be : 1) proficient at glassing 2) able to pick a route and execute it 3) plan for wind 4) cover distances quickly and efficiently until in the slow zone 5) be patient and methodical once in the slow zone 6) lastly and most important be sneaky. I saved sneaky for last because I am not inherently sneaky or very patient in my movements. So I have adapted a hybrid tactic I like to call spot and ambush..

Spot and ambush is exactly what it sounds like, over simplified, it is spotting game from a distance and moving into a position to ambush them. I adapted this type of hunting into my skillset because I was tired of getting within 100 yards of game and blowing it trying to make up the next 40-50 yards. So I started slipping in close and praying that they would eventually move in my direction to make a shot. I got lucky a few times but most of the time it just provided and up close and personal education in futility when my attempts to will animals in my direction did not work. I quickly learned that I needed to study my prey and how they used the landscape and get more in tune with their behavior. Since the majority of us do not have ESP or carry crystal balls into the field making an educated guess to where your target is going to move to requires you to be as in tune as possible with how, why, when and where animals do what they do. Of course this is not fool proof but going in armed with all you can, certainly gives you a leg up..

Case and point: on my Ibex hunt back in 2015 we had seen the ibex use this ledge and bench complex to traverse the mountain range several times that week especially when they were spooked by other hunters. So when this Billy was bumped by another hunter I knew quickly to get to that area to provide me with an opportunity. My observations paid off and I was able to get into position in time for the Billy to work his way to me and provided a 75 yard broadside shot..  View full hunt here   

archery Ibex

Spend the off season taking notes:

To make the most accurate guess I typically spend as much time in the off season studying game and their movements. Paying close attention really taking note and literally notes on how they use the landscape.. I notate the normal scouting stuff like: what they feed on, where they water, bed etc. but also how they travel from bedding to feeding, the times of day, the moon phase, the temperature, the wind. I try to watch how they react to predators, what their escape routes are when pressured. I try to take note of the terrain features they use ie: benches, saddles, drainages, edge, and natural barriers. I look into the trail systems using google earth and verifying on foot early in the season to give me a big picture, a map I can relate to in my head of where I may potentially intercept game. Believe it or not spending the better part of 20 years trying to figure out where to hang treestands to intercept whitetail helped me become a better spot and stalk western hunter.  The more you study movement and behavior of a species the more accurately you can pick a spot to get ahead of them.

At Bats:

I mentioned earlier that I used to slip into 100 yards and hope in futility animals would move my way, but it wasn’t all for nothing. The more times I did that the more information I was able to gather. I would watch sometimes for hours at very close range how animals would act or react, I learned what I could get away with and what I couldn’t. This is a good way to hone your skills If you don’t have time to do it in the off season. Each at bat you get brings you closer to success, if you are mindful of what is going on, you are more than likely going to start to piece it all together.  

Learning Behavior will improve your chances in other areas:

You may not always be hunting in the same area and you may not have the luxury of becoming intimate with how they use the area. Studying behavior of a species in a similar habitat type Ie: desert, prairie, alpine etc will allow you to make an educated move to ambush an animal if you have mastered the behavior of that species in a similar habitat.

For example rutting mule deer in the desert tend to cover a lot of ground while pushing does around and they often move in more linear paths on the desert floor where on ridges they tend to be more “erratic” in their movements and don’t move as far. Knowing this if you spot up a buck on the desert floor by determining the progression of the lead doe you can get a good idea of where you need to get to for the deer to move toward you for an ambush. In states that you are allow the use of radios and are hunting with a partner this tactic becomes even more effective

Example: 2016 season I was in hunting mule deer in my home state of Arizona and witnessed a buck pushing does in the flats bellow me and the lead doe was slowly making her way along the base of a ridge I was able to glass up an ambush spot within her path I knew I could get to faster than the herd. I got to my spot when my cam radioed down to me that the deer started moving up the ridge a bit still in same forward direction and that I needed to back up a bit or they would pass behind me. It was my knowledge of mule deer behavior that got me close and that detail from my cousin that helped me harvest that buck.

Az archery buck
Spot and ambush deer

My knowledge of the whitetail rut and its phases afforded me success on my next example of how animal behavior helped me fill my tag. Whitetail during the seeking phase will travel great distances like a bloodhound following the trail of hot does, often throwing caution to the wind to find a doe willing and ready to breed. These bucks will use the very same trail as the doe following it exactly how she walked it even if the doe is much closer in a straight line he will still take the long route if that is the way she walked.

Example:Another excellent example of deer behavior giving me an opportunity to fill my tag this past season, We were hunting the rut in SD and bucks were cursing. I had witnessed on several occasions deer were crossing a creek at a pinch point. I had been glassing this area and watched does take this long trail that headed for this creek crossing and like the rest of the deer I witnessed they crossed right at the same spot. Shortly thereafter way up on the ridge where the trail originates a buck appeared I knew I had to beat him to that trail because that buck was going to trail those does right to the same spot. My straight line distance was far shorter than the route the does took which allowed me to make it to the creek crossing before he did and sure enough that buck came through offering me a shot and I was able to fill my tag. 

I have hunted antelope almost every year for 15 years and over time I observed some behavioral characteristics that have allowed me to be successful with archery tackle. I realized that every-time I stalked a buck and he caught my movement he would turn tail and run, but every-time a buck would come to me and see me he would stand and stare and give me time to range, draw and shoot. If I snuck up on them directly I was danger, if they came to me I was something curious. Watch it all go down here

South dakota deer hunting
Spot and Ambush Whitetail

Example: I had been watching this buck run this doe back and fourth behind this ridgeline and I could only see him when they passed between these two hills and occasionally when they skyline themselves. I knew I could use the ridge line to hide my approach and quickly get to that point between the two hills. I had no cover once I got there and knew I would stand out like a sore thumb but taking my past experiences I knew that even when they saw me I would still get an opportunity. Sure enough the buck and doe came running over the hill and stopped dead in their tracks when they saw me but did not run away I ranged and slowly drew my bow and made the shot.    

WY spot and stalk antelope buck

One last example: in 2020 I could hear a bull elk bugling down at a spring below us, the route to him was covered in lava rock type stones that were very loud. I knew I had zero chance at slipping in on him quietly, but it was the rut and I knew he would be interested in cows. And I knew by the way he was bugling that he was asking cows to come to him (advertisement bugle). So as I made my way to him I gave two subtle mews . I also recognized the terrain ahead of me had two trails coming up from that spring and I knew he had to come over the rise in front of me up one of those two trails to see the cows I was mimicking. My next realization was where I needed to position myself to be able to shoot to either of those trails and be able to stay out of sight long enough to execute a shot. There is a lot to unpack here but all these things came about from understanding the game I was pursuing. Little bits and pieces gave me the tools to be in the right place at the right time and they can for you too. Watch the elk hunt here

Moral of the story is if you’re not super sneaky, traditional spot and stalk is just not working for you and sitting at a water hole or food source just bores you to pieces or you cant call very well you can still make it happen by learning your quarry and learning landscape and how it’s used and be a very effective hunter.