Outdoor Articles

Consider Several Spot ‘n’ Stalk Tactics for Elk

by Wil Askew on September 27th, 2007 in Elk Hunting

Perched high in our vantage point, we tried to hide from the falling rain and occasional lightning strikes that had quickly moved in and overtaken us without notice.

Hunting in the popular Blue Mountains of Oregon meant lots of elk and an equal number of hunters.

Many of our attempts to lure a bull into archery range using a call had failed, and now we were forced to change our tactics and go with the spot-and-stalk.

Situated between the rocks, my hunting partner and myself watched a distant herd of elk feed across an open hillside as the shadows grew longer.


There was no way we could make it over to them before nightfall, so we watched intently and made a plan to intercept them in the morning.

Due to the hunting pressure in the area, we knew we would have to leave well before light to reach the herd.

Hopefully they would be in the same general location.

With just a couple days left to hunt, it was crunch time, and competing with other hunters bugling their way into the herd we had been tracking was not on the agenda.

Even though we were sitting a few miles from a road, we knew that other hunters were among us, and we needed to come up with a plan in hopes of filling our last tag.

Too many hunters had converged on the area we usually frequent and educated most of the resident bulls.

With the industry pushing so many elk calls in today’s market, everyone who steps into the woods seems to be blowing some sort of cow call or bugle.

The only problem with this situation is that elk will become educated to calling and shut down during hunting hours.

When this happens, the only alternative for a hunter to fill an elk tag mybe to put on a successful spot-and-stalk in an attempt to place an arrow into an animal.

The basics

Most of us know the drill: Glass a bull from a distance and try to sneak in closer to call the bull into range.

The outcome more often than not is the bull retreating at 60 miles per hour in the opposite direction.

Obviously, that bull will have been worked with a call recently, or even been shot at.

His warning senses will be on full alert, and unless he sees an elk he’s not likely to investigate the source of the calling.

He’ll just retreat to live another day.

To get in close, today’s archery hunter needs to take a few things into consideration — herd location and pattern, wind and scent — and you must have patience.

When calling bulls, you’re trying to make something happen, essentially forcing the issue and inviting the bull to come into your location either aggressively or seductively, depending on the situation.

Spot-and-stalk hunting relies solely on the movement and bedding or feeding pattern of the animal, and trying to sneak within bow range without being detected.

This is where scent control is most important.

Getting within your effective archery range is even tougher when you can’t call an animal towards you.

You have to get in closer to the herd, and just the smallest amount of human scent will give your location away.

Scent-control clothing is essential to archery hunting, and even more important in a spot-and-stalk situation.

Picking a target

During early morning hours, elk are very active with breeding activity. A hunter can easily advance on a herd simply by listening to the elk talk.

Try to slip in close and get a shot at an unsuspecting bull as he tries to enter the herd or mingle with the cows.

For most bow hunters, a cow will be more than sufficient to fill the freezer.

In a good herd, cows are plentiful and usually spread out, sometimes making a shot possible.

If you’re not too picky, a cow or spike can be an easy target for a spot-and-stalk situation.

Cows and younger, immature bulls make up a good portion of the herd and can spread out, creating more shot opportunities.

A feeding group of cows and spikes can make for a great spot-and-stalk situation.

Cows are not particularly interested in all the bull activity.

An elk cow’s main objective is to eat and reproduce, and which bull does the job is sometimes left up in the air.

Occasionally they may lift their head to observe what is taking place around them, but unless they smell or see something, their schedule remains the same.

The tricky part of this equation is all the extra eyes, ears and noses.

One small whiff of human scent and the herd can scatter, leaving a bowhunter to watch a hundred hooves tear down a canyon.

Always be aware of wind direction by using a small bottle filled with talcum powder or ash.

When sprayed into the air, the powder will flow in the direction of the wind. During an average year expect to refill your bottle twice.

It’s almost a habit to constantly check wind direction.

If you do happen to bust the herd, you’ve only got one option: Run! Run directly after the herd and try to get closer.

A herd on the run will usually travel a couple hundred yards and then try to regroup.

All the noise and chaos created from the herd will disguise your movement and actually help in getting in closer.

Without calling, this may create a shot opportunity too.

Another great spot-and-stalk technique is to follow a herd to their bedding area.

Elk usually like to bed in a circle and face in different directions, basically circling the wagons to catch an unsuspecting predator.

Sneaking into a bedding area can sometimes create a shot as elk rest. Pay attention to your own sense of smell.

Once you smell elk, you’re close, very close. Nock an arrow and take a look around — you might be standing in the middle them without even knowing it.

Today’s bowhunter has to be prepared for any situation. You’ll find yourself in more spot-and-stalk hunting situations due to increased hunting pressure on public lands.

If there are hunters in the area, any calling that strikes up a bugle may invite other hunters to you and decrease your chances at an elk.

Keep the calls in your pocket and try to sneak in close for a shot.

You can find well executed spot-and-stalk situations by staying back a little more than usual and paying close attention to herd movements and activities.

Sometimes it may take a couple days to figure out a pattern that may produce a shot opportunity.

When it does present itself, you’ll realize how just how rewarding spot-and-stalk elk hunting can be.

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