All I could see was the top of one antler above a clump of sage. The four tines appeared to be heavy, but it was tough to tell anything else. I'd have to sneak in for a closer look from a different angle. I back-peddled across a ridge, slipped into a draw, and then started tiptoeing toward the bedded buck.
As I dropped closer and closer, I thought about Pugsley the cat. This gray-and-white feline is my wife, Greta's, pride and joy. He's mild-mannered and friendly, yet independent enough not to be a pain. Greta likes Pugsley because he's a perfect pet. I like him because he's sudden death to mice, voles and gophers around our house.
Anyone who watches a cat stalk rodents or birds can quickly learn how to bowhunt critters on foot. "Pugs" is not particularly camouflaged because his white half is mostly up front, but he deposits dead pests on our porch almost every day. Pugsley bags game because he uses terrain like a pro.
No matter how shallow the dip, he is always in it as he prowls. And once a critter is spotted, Pugs drops even lower to the ground. Pugsley also varies his speed. He lies motionless for many minutes, then streaks ahead when his prey cannot see him move. Pugs is patient, but fast when he needs to be. Finally, Pugsley instinctively moves into the wind.
I've never once seen him stalk with the breeze at his back. These simple skills are required for any successful stalk. As I eased toward the mule deer, I considered advantages and disadvantages I possessed compared to a cat. My Cabela's Zonz camouflage in the new Realtree Xtra pattern was a genuine plus, letting me vanish against most backgrounds when I slowed down or froze.
My ability to reach out with an arrow was certainly better than needing to pounce on top of the animal. A cat is low to the ground, capable of slithering on its belly, and soft-pawed for an absolutely silent approach. A bowhunter can crawl, for sure, and soft-soled boots such as my chain-tread pacs help eliminate noise. But a cat does it better. As I slipped to the last little rise above the bedded buck, I decided a bowhunter could match a cat if he or she exercised patience as well.
I slowed to a creep, raised one eye above the ridge, then peeked. The buck was less than 15 yards away, gazing into the canyon below. I exhaled and relaxed. His rack was mediocre, with a narrow spread and only two tines on the left. I took a photo of the 2x4 with my pocket camera and crept silently away. Unlike a cat, I had to be selective because I could kill only one animal on this hunt.
BY THE NUMBERS
A versatile bowhunter must be adept at hunting on foot. Of the 29 varieties of big game on our continent, only whitetails, pronghorns and black bears are routinely shot from treestands or ground blinds. The other 26 are usually stalked or still-hunted for best results. The very thought of sneaking close to animals can be intimidating to archers accustomed to waiting in ambush.
Sitting on stand is certainly easier than aggressively closing the gap, but foot hunting is not nearly as complicated as many bowhunters fear. Like Pugsley the cat, you need to concentrate on only four key skills:
If you add modern camouflage and soft-surfaced clothing to these four abilities, you have a chance to sneak close to any animal in North America. This is not to say that all stalks work out. Most do not. Many mice and gophers escape Pugsley the cat. But Pugs is persistent, and you should be, too.
Sooner or later, everything will go right and you'll get a solid shot at a relaxed animal. One other note on hunting like a cat: You need to walk away from impossible situations. Just last week, I watched Pugs weasel after a cotton-tailed rabbit in my backyard.
The bunny was near some shrubs at first—a great opportunity— but then it hopped into the middle of the lawn with 20 yards of wide-open flat all around. Our cat sometimes takes down adult rabbits, but he turned and strolled away from this one. That setup was a waste of time, and Pugsley knew it immediately. The day after my stalk on the 2x4 mule deer, I spotted two bucks in a harvested grain field.
I raised my 10X binocular and sucked in my breath. The larger of the two had dark, heavy horns with 8 points on each side! The field was rolling, and both deer vanished over a rise. I circled at a trot. Wind direction was marginal, and I needed to get it right. Twenty minutes later, I entered the stubble- covered hills with the breeze squarely in my face.
I eased along a shallow dip, eyes peeled for the bucks. Suddenly, I spotted antlers along the horizon. I dropped to my belly to avoid busting them.Both deer ambled into view 100 yards away, nibbling at grain left behind by the harvester. The smaller one angled to my left, milled on a hill, then flopped down with just his antlers still in view. He was 50 yards above me. The bigger buck fed my direction for awhile, dozed on his feet and then also bedded.
He was directly ahead at 60 yards with ear tips and antlers rising above a roll in the land. I nocked an arrow and wriggled forward on my belly, pushing the bow ahead as I went. Finally, at 35 yards, I could see the buck's forehead. There was no getting closer . . . even with my nose buried in the dirt. Thirty minutes passed, then an hour. My left leg went numb, and my teeth started chattering as the sun dropped and the cool October air sliced through my thin camo clothes.
Suddenly, the big buck stood, quartered away and then dropped his head to feed. The little buck was still bedded. I rolled to my knees, drew and aimed in one fluid move. The Super Slam arrow smashed the deer and flickered as it passed completely through. He raced ahead, stumbled and dropped. My 2013 mule deer was even more impressive to look at than his 180- inch score might indicate. The tines were not all long, but there were lots of them. A belly-crawling stalk in a tricky situation had paid off. Pugsley the cat would have been proud!