October 07, 2021
Bowhunting isn't my only passion; I also love fishing smallmouth bass tournaments on the Great Lakes. I try to be a student of the game and have followed the careers, tactics and advice of some of the best in the business.
Guys like Steve Clapper, Joe Balog, Mark Zona, Scott Dobson, Kevin VanDam — these are the legendary anglers who pull giant brown bass from big water.
I've watched videos of all of them and have shared a boat with a couple of them. They make a cast, wait a bit and snap the rod skyward with a hard-fighting football of a fish on the other end of the line.
They make it look easy, really easy. I have worked hard to mimic their success, and after a decade or so of spending a whole lot of hours on the water, I figure I’m roughly 20 percent as good as they are. And that’s probably being generous with my assessment.
The simple fact is this: Folks who are pro-level good at something make success look a helluva lot easier to achieve than it is for the majority. This truth certainly applies to bowhunting. Let’s talk about the newfound fad of mobile hunting. I bet you’ll see the connection.
Spend some time surfing around social media, and you’ll come across all manner of chatter about the virtues of mobile hunting. You’ll see gagger bucks that were taken in mobile fashion. You’ll watch video after video of "aggressive" bowhunters taking the chase to the bucks and moving around as often as needed.
It looks pretty simple. Spot a buck. Make a move on it. Utilize ultralight gear that enables you to scale any available tree at a moment’s notice (if you deem the use of an elevated perch necessary at all). If you aren’t seeing deer, well, just keep moving around. You’re bound to stumble onto a giant buck at any moment and the stalk will be on, or using your saddle you can swing into a tree just scant yards from the monster’s bed.
In reality, it very seldom works that way. I’d dare to say such aggressive, mobile tactics aren’t putting you one step closer to tagging a stud buck. In fact, they’re likely moving you in the opposite direction.
Can't Cut Corners
There’s no question that the mobile hunting trend is a fad borne of results. Some very good deer hunters have perfected the art of taking the action to the deer, and they make it look much easier than it really is.
Keep in mind that on social media, you’re typically seeing only the summation of success. What you aren’t seeing are the days, weeks and years of failure that led to that success. Moving in ways that give you an advantage without giving critters an education is an art, and it is absolutely something you can learn. But what you can’t do is cut corners. In my experience, that’s where the road ends for a whole lot of folks.
Learning to be mobile and effective takes a ton of dedication. You must be willing to fail a lot, and you can’t simply go faster or harder in an effort to shorten the learning curve. No amount of lightweight gear or high-tech fabric will change that. In fact, the very best mobile hunters I’m aware of don’t worry about any of those things. Sure, they cut weight where they can and rely on quality gear where it really matters. But their primary focus is on knowledge and experience.
The more they encounter game, the more they learn. They spend a crazy amount of time in the field honing their craft. If you want to be a successful mobile hunter, are you doing the same? Or are you simply out there wandering around with the latest-and-greatest tree saddle?
Adding to the Pressure
I’ve hunted public land for a long time, long before it was the vogue thing to do. I can say without hesitation that hunting pressure has increased exponentially over the past five to seven years. The quality of the hunting experience, however, has dwindled at a much faster rate over just the past few years. I attribute much of that decline directly to the mobile-hunting mantra.
Mobile hunting done correctly is a low-impact, low-pressure tactic. Done incorrectly, it’s a recipe for driving out entire sections of ground in a hurry. I have seen it happen more than once.
I recall an incident I witnessed during late October in Nebraska. I was hunting a far corner of a piece of public ground. It wasn’t terribly far from the road, maybe three-quarters of a mile, but it was the farthest from the access point that I could get. I wasn’t there simply because of that; I had chosen the spot because a fence gap that the deer loved to use just happened to be in that location.
For the first two days of my hunt, I had the area to myself and I saw a couple of solid bucks just out of range. I’d seen enough to think that it was one of those "matter of time" spots, and I was very much looking forward to the rest of the week.
Then the duo arrived.
Two hunters, each sporting a tree saddle around his waist and one carrying a silhouette buck decoy, made an appearance along the road about 90 minutes before dark. I could tell they were glassing the crop fields and creek bottoms that wove through the property. No big deal. It was public land after all, and they were plenty far from me. I watched as the pair split up and headed to nearby tree rows, where I assumed they’d settle into their saddles for the remainder of the evening.
I was wrong. About 20 minutes later, as a couple of deer entered the field in front of me, I saw the two hunters reappear. They’d also spotted the deer and were ready to get mobile.
Holding the decoy in front of them, they sneaked up the tree row. The wind was hitting them somewhat in the face, but it was also blowing into the creek bottom past them. That creek bottom made a sharp turn, which apparently eddied the wind direction. Less than five minutes after the hunters started their approach, a big buck sneaked out the backside of the creek bottom and headed for parts unknown.
The duo continued their stalk unaware. After covering about a quarter of a mile, they’d reached the end of available cover and had to skip across the field to another patch of trees. During that maneuver, a second good buck appeared. This time, the buck had simply laid low in the creek bottom and the hunters had walked right by it. I spotted the buck as it high-tailed out the other side of the bottom and over a hill.
All told, the pair ended up bumping four different bucks, one of which was a deer I had seen earlier that week and hoped to encounter in range. The hunters got within 100 yards of the deer they were looking at and never saw any of the other bucks. Those were the last deer I saw on the property that week despite hunting for three more days.
Being a mobile hunter can pay big dividends, but the mobile movement has the very real potential to place unneeded pressure on areas if it’s done wrong. Intrusion and disturbance brought on by the tactic can have lasting negative consequences. In a lot of cases, I think the allure of being mobile is so great that folks tend to move around just for the sake of saying they’re mobile.
I consider myself a hybrid. I’m not a spot-and-stalk kind of guy. I think tree saddles can be useful in a very specific set of circumstances, but in most situations, I’ll opt for a quality hang-on stand. I can hang a set about as fast as I can go up in a saddle, and I’m more likely to stay put long enough to make a difference.
I choose stand sites by evaluating sign, terrain and opportunity. If I chose the location, I feel confident it can produce, so why would I need to keep moving? That said, I do not anchor myself in one location if that spot isn’t the right one. I have zero hesitation in adjusting my setup when I see something that tells me I need to move.
My advice is to have a mobile mentality but with patience. Give a location time to produce and the game in the area the opportunity to show you how it travels, then take that information and make an educated decision. Think before you move. Determine whether a move is advantageous and based on information that points in the direction you’re considering. Being mobile for mobile’s sake likely hasn’t filled many tags. Executing at a pro level has.