Spot and Stalk Hunting 101 | Fundamentals and Gear

How to be Successful as a Spot and Stalk Hunter.

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Spot and Stalk Hunting 101: Fundamentals and Gear

Spot and stalk hunting has long been one of the ways that hunters have outsmarted the game they are pursuing. Spot and stalk is an active approach that requires an incredible amount of stealth and awareness, and is likely the purest form of fair chase hunting there is. When closing the distance on your target animal, your heart beats rapidly and you know every movement counts.

Spot and stalk hunting has a simple straightforward objective, but details can become complicated. It could be compared to a chess match, but really, the match is stacked against the hunter. A hunter that is regularly successful in spot and stalk hunting has overcome a huge obstacle, becoming stealthy.

Spot and stalk hunting white tailed deer in the Northeast. Practicing the fundamentals

This is a particularly challenging art form because you are entering into an environment that you are not native to but that the animal you are hunting is 100% in tune with. Many of us are a bit like a fish out of water, and that gives the animal an advantage.

This post is designed to help hunters be more successful in spot and stalk hunting. If you are a seasoned stealthy hunter there are a few things in here for you too, but your energy will likely be best used in the comments to help other hunters learn.

Choosing The Right Area for Your Hunt

This one can be challenging, especially for a new hunter. I wrote a short article about e-scouting that will give you a good place to start as you look for sign in the woods. Your scouting efforts should also be focused not just on one specific area, but should also be tailored on a specie to specie basis. Many species will frequent the same areas, but the hot spots for different animals will likely be different.

Another thing to keep in mind when scouting for your hunt is the time of year. Many times the routes your target animal will travel change with the season. Caribou are an extreme example as they cover thousands of miles every year migrating from summer to winter feed. So just be aware that things may change when you scout a new area.

I hunt mostly in the mountains and hill country, even for white-tailed deer. There are a few terrain features that can reliably determine movement areas for almost all animals. This list won’t be exhaustive, but it will give a starting place. For more in-depth studies look for a species study in our blog.

Spotting Setup on the edge of a slight saddle facing the south on a cold october day in Alaska.


No, I am not talking about saddle hunting, though that is my choice if I have a good location for whitetails. (here is my saddle hunting harness). Saddles are a place on a ridge or mountain that is slightly lower in elevation than the rest of the ridge which creates a good travel corridor. This is an area that I will point my spotting scope or Binos on in the evenings and mornings to watch for movement. This is a favorite of mine for spotting big game.

Thick Cover

It is no secret that most animals love thick cover. Especially in the heat of the day, or in a heavily pressured area, deer, elk, and moose will disappear into thick cover. Look for small breaks in the brush to catch movement or a bedded animal, and look closely.

The best method for a stalk, instead of heading into the thick, is to watch and see where the animal comes out to set up the next day or identify a route that will allow you to make a move and get a clear shot. We will get more into being stealthy in a bit.

Food Sources

This is a big one. Especially for early-season and late-season hunts, knowing where the food is is huge. This can range from a crop field that deer target in the late summer and fall, to the side of a mountain with a spring that keeps the grass green late into the season. Look for these places through your scope to find likely places to see a game animal.

Keep in mind that native vegetation can change from year to year. A drought year will make regular green areas disappear while a rainy year may lead to more dispersed food options that will allow animals to spread out more.


Water is life, literally. Look for water, not just for the animal you are after, but for yourself. If you are hunting the backcountry and plan to be in the field for more than an overnight, knowing you have water available is a big advantage. Not needing to haul water into your hunting area will save you energy and bag space.

South Facing Slopes

These are especially productive for black bears early in the spring when they are first coming out of their dens, but are also a good place to find most members of the deer family as well as goats and sheep. A south-facing slope gets more sun which means that there is more food available from increased plant growth. In the spring a south-facing slope will melt sometimes a few weeks earlier than the north side of the mountain and is generally a few degrees warmer.

In cold weather when hunting deer, you can expect to find them bedded or feeding in the warm sun. All game animals other than predators seem to follow the thermals, up in the morning and down in the evening. Watch for early and late movement, but also daytime bedding.

Spot and Stalk hunt Bear harvested on a south facing slope in the spring


Locating and Spotting Game

Over half of a spot and stalk hunt will likely be spent spotting if not. It’s good to get used to this idea before you get excited about all the game you will see. You will spend hours, days, or weeks looking through a scope or pair of binos before seeing an animal you want to harvest.

Make sure you are looking at the right spots. A good example would be hunting for spring black bears. I look at the hillside for freshly sprouted green grass or berry patches. Here in Alaska, there are leftover berries in the spring that interior bears love to gorge themselves on when they start coming out of their dens.

On a hot day, look for shaded bedding, or a watering hole. Spend time looking at high-probability areas while still paying attention to the less likely spots.

I like to use my binoculars to spot game and then use the spotting scope to help identify the animal better. If I am in a wide open area I will switch over to using the spotting scope almost exclusively for long-range viewing over 1 mile, while occasionally looking closer with the binos. Once I find an animal, I will watch it for a long time to make sure others are not nearby.

Bull Caribou Spotted from a distance through optics

If you are hunting for deer, a good example would be spotting a bedded buck and watching closely for other bedded does that may not be quite as obvious but are likely nearby.

Fixating on one animal too early on may lead to spooking another animal while you stalk which could bump your target animal.

Mastering Spot and Stalk Stealth

This is likely the hardest part of the hunt. Buying gear is painful but easy. Closing the distance is challenging. I will list a few tips that will help you become more stealthy. These are very simple fundamentals that will help you stay undetected.

Wind Awareness

I think every hunter has done it, walked into an area with the wind going the wrong direction and bumped the animal to the next county. I have gone through times of apathetic focus that resulted in returning home empty handed more often than I care to admit.

A tip to remember, in the mountains thermals will rise in the morning and fall in the evening. Use this to your advantage. If you are scouting an area pay attention to the normal wind direction and plan your access so your scent is not blowing into the area you want to hunt.

Swirling winds are hard to hunt in, and I have had my fair share of back and forth winds that ruin my hunt, but that is part of the game. Plan and execute a stalk with the wind blowing from the animal to you and you will have better success.

A windy day will provide cover noise. Especially for a hunter that is attempting a spot and stalk hunt with a bow, wind cover is a huge benefit. Not only will it cover noise, but it will help your movement blend in.

Slow and Steady

I regularly remind myself on a stalk that the animal I am after has all day to do whatever it wants. In our day and age, we want things to happen on a schedule. That is a good way to mess up a hunt that could be successful. This is why I love hunting the backcountry so much. If you can’t make a move one day, go back the next and watch. Unless it’s the last day of your hunt, there is no need to hurry. When the animal gets into a position you can move in on, play the wind and get into position.

Pay Close Attention

This should be a given, but it’s challenging sometimes. If you are like me your mind is never quiet. Harness that attention to your hunt. Think about the noise you could cause by walking through the brush instead of walking around it.

If the animal is in sight during your stalk, pay attention to which way it is looking, and where its ears are pointed. Don’t move if its ears are pointed at you. If it’s a windy day, wait for the wind to pick up to move. Stick to cover and avoid being out in the open if possible.

Gear and Equipment

Like all forms of hunting, there is a need for some gear that will keep you out in the field longer and help you be more successful on a spot and stalk hunt. We will cover some budget options that have proven themselves, but also list some options for someone that wants a higher end model.

Spot and stalk hunting normally occurs on a backcountry hunt, but is not only limited to it. I know for myself, hunting whitetails in the northeast while you may be hiking in a few miles, it’s not likely to be an overnight trip. Hunting big game in the west or here in Alaska, backcountry hunts with an overnight in the woods is not uncommon. Here we will cover only the items directly related to spot and stalk hunting, but we will cover in detail more backcountry options in another post.


Yep, optics are a real need. You will see a few options on our gear page, which I will also cover here. I use Vortex Optics, so I will focus on Vortex in this post. They have a great warranty on their products which is a huge sell point for me. They offer unlimited repair or replacement of damaged or defective products. If you have experience with other brands leave a comment on your experience for other hunters.


For someone that is just starting out, a pair of binoculars are absolutely necessary for a serious spot and stalk effort. Picking out animals is possible from a mile away, but a good pair of binoculars can help you to identify what the animal is, and if it is something you want to pursue.

If you are hunting the northeast you would do fine with a 10x32 bino, but as you move further west and into wide open spaces, you should look for a 10x42. This will enable you to be more focused on a specific area and will give you more clarity.

Using Binoculars to Dissect a hillside on a spot and stalk hunt for black bears.


Spotting Scope

The spotting scope is a very nice tool to have, for someone starting out, the price point might be a bit scary, but believe me, getting a spotting scope has been a huge help. It not only allows spotting from a distance but if you pick up something in your binos and can’t quite figure out what it is, putting the spotting scope up will allow you in most cases to confidently identify what you are looking at.

Not going to lie, I have looked at a lot of stumps on a slow day to see if it was a napping spring bear. Sometimes it's good to know you are wrong so you can move on.

The less you pay the less the quality is, no duh right? The real thing you will want to think about is clarity and light transmission when zoomed in. My first spotting scope was a complete budget buy, but after zooming in halfway the light transmission was very poor. It became hard to see clearly even in the middle of the day. Expect to pay somewhere around $500 for a starting point and then up quickly from there.

The minimum magnification I would recommend for western or Alaska hunting is the 20x60x80 Vortex Diamondback. The Razor is made with RAZOR SHARP optics for better viewing. If you are going to purchase a spotting scope, get the one you want. It will save you money over time.


If you are using a spotting scope you will need a tripod. At the extended range and magnification, you will want and need stability. If you look at my hunting videos, you will see me using a very lightweight setup, but a quality tripod like the high country kit will give you far better stability. Again, get what you know you want, it will save you in the long run.


Specialized footwear is not necessary for most of the hunt, but a set of hunting moccasins may come in handy for the final 200 yards of an archery spot and stalk hunt. This beats going barefoot or resorting to walking in your socks.

A good pair of light hiking boots with good ankle support should definitely be on the list if you are hunting in the mountains, while on a lowland hunt, you could probably use rubber boots without a problem.


There are a few things you should keep in mind for clothing on a spot and stalk hunt. Clothing that makes easily hearable noise when rubbed should be avoided for closing the distance, especially if you are up close on a bow hunt.

You can literally spend thousands of dollars on hunting-specific clothing and some of the layering systems available. Kryptek is an affordable brand that is making good quality hunting gear. Sitka Gear and Kuiu are top of the line options but are also top of the price range.

We will address this topic more in detail in a post specifically on spot and stalk clothing. Focus on gear that is weather resistant, breathable, and does not make lots of noise when you move and you will be off to a good start.

Loading a backpack with optics while packing up from a spot and stalk hunt.


If you are out in the backcountry you will need a pack for all your gear and a spotting scope, let alone meat when you are successful. This is another item you can spend as much as you want on.

There are two main styles of packs: internal and external frames. Both have their pros and cons. I currently use an external frame pack because I hunt moose, and I end up strapping full quarters of bone and meat on my pack for Alaska’s salvage requirements.

If you are hunting in an area where you can remove the meat from the bone, I think an internal frame pack would be quieter and a better fit for a spot and stalk hunt. Make sure to give yourself enough room for all the gear you plan to take with you.

Safety Considerations

If you are engaged in spot and stalk hunting anywhere in the United States, consider that you may not be the only one hunting the animal you see. Hunters do have a way of sticking out like a sore thumb in many cases, but sometimes you won't know they are there. Make sure to follow the hunting regulations on using blaze orange in your area. I hunt in an area where orange is not required but still will use it on certain hunts where I am likely to encounter another hunter.

It doesn’t matter how good of a hunter you are, or how carefully you identify your target. Another hunter may not be paying as much attention as you would and see movement from an area where an animal was just seen and shoot. Unfortunately, hunting accidents happen in the heat of the moment and excitement seems to cloud judgment.

In areas where there are large predators like bears or cougars, pay attention at all times. Consider carrying a specific self-defense pistol that has some serious knockdown power. It will add weight to your setup but could save you lots of pain or even your life. Bear attack numbers are rising in the west as grizzly numbers grow. Be ready and be aware.

Recap and Conclusion

Successful Spot and stalk whitetail hunt in the north east during the rut. Notice the soft silent gear.

Dial in on a good hunting location that holds the species you are after. Focus on high-probability areas.

Locate and spot your game, but don’t be in a hurry. Watch the animal and look for others in the same or similar areas.

Stay stealthy. Pay attention to the wind, take your time, and think about your hunt and what you are doing. This will lead to better success and a more enjoyable hunt.

Pick up the gear you need, and consider some of the budget options while keeping in mind your long-term goals. With everything, you seem to get what you pay for.

Last but not least stay safe. Enjoy the hunt, but make sure you take the precautions needed to ensure getting home.

This post was created to give helpful fundamentals and gear tips for spot and stalk hunting. If you have thoughts or comments please leave them below, I want to hear back from my readers. Let me know what I missed so I can address it in another post. Please consider supporting this blog by subscribing below.