A couple of years ago I went out to stalk deer with an experienced hunter. It was early summer in New Zealand, and we were in the southern region of the South Island hunting the Waikaia Reserve. The sun was setting at around 9pm. The reserve is beech forest bordered by grass. The fresh spring growth was drawing deer out at dawn and dusk. For the remainder of the day the deer would bed down in the beech. Our plan was to camp in the beech and stalk the edge of the grass in the evening.
At around 6pm we headed out. The wind was coming off the grass into the beech forest, so when we got to the edge we went our separate ways. It was late in the day but still hot. My dog was just a pup at the time, so I had her tied to my waist as we crept along. After about an hour I realised I had run out of bush edge and was a good ways from camp. I headed back empty handed. The experienced hunter came back disappointed that he had spooked a deer. After he told me the story of his misfortune he pulled from his pack a deer liver. He had shot another deer but was disappointed he hadn’t gotten both. He said the first thing he did when he got to the edge was realise he was too early. He had headed back to camp and slept for an hour before going back out. All the while I had been sweating in the heat with the pup.
This highlights a common mistake made by hunters new to stalking. With blind or treestand hunting the earlier you arrive the better. You get in position, and the deer comes to you. It’s the reverse with stalking. The deer needs to be in position and you need to get to it. Beating the deer to the location ruins a stalk. Aside from during the rut or roar, the best time to stalk a deer is while it’s eating. While chewing and swallowing as well as taking the occasional step it is much less aware to sounds. Even when a feeding deer does hear you so long as you stay completely still most deer will go back to feeding. It’s easy to get a bit over excited and arrive too early. Let the deer begin feeding before you arrive. Remember to bring a head lamp along for the hike out, and if you do realise you’re going to be early stop to take a nap.