Have you ever wanted to touch a deer?
Or get an inside look at animals in their native habitat?
I’ve been a dedicated practitioner of animal stalking techniques since sometime in my late teens.
I love the thrill of getting close to wild animals, and I love pushing the limits of my abilities. It’s one of my favourite ways to test awareness skills.
It’s also nice to know that if I ever need to catch food in a survival situation I already have the basic skills to do that.
I’ve been within touching distance of voles, possums, squirrels, chipmunks… and within a short stones throw of deer, rabbits, game birds, raccoons and bobcats.
One time when investigating some bird alarms I got within 5 feet of a raccoon family in the bushes. I was able to get VERY close and then sneak back out without being detected.
And it’s all thanks to the way I’ve trained myself to move quietly & consciously in the blindspots of wild animals.
So here’s some of what I’ve learned about how to stalk animals.
Basic Stalking Techniques & Strategy
First off, why would you want to stalk animals?
Maybe you’re a hunter. Maybe you want to be more prepared for a survival situation. Maybe you want to do wildlife photography, or simply have a more quiet and humble presence in the forest.
Whatever your reasons… The name of the game here is getting close to the animal before they realize you’re there.
To be successful, you need to train a number different skills ranging from silent moving techniques to balance & coordination while staying alert to what’s happening in the forest around you.
The first and biggest step is mastering “the stalk walk”
So let’s talk about that first…
The Stalk Walk
The stalk walk is your number one secret weapon for avoiding detection of animals.
If you can master the stalk walk then you’ll already be able to do some pretty impressive sneaking.
Let’s say you’re out in the forest and you spot an animal. If the animal hasn’t spotted you… then you now have a great opportunity to get closer.
Most people don’t ever develop this skill simply because they don’t practice. But it CAN be developed very effectively with just a bit of focus & attention.
The trick is that you need to be able to cover some distance while also staying hidden so you can’t be seen, heard or smelled.
Here’s how it’s done:
- Start with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
- Next, Slowly raise one of your feet and stand with all of your body weight on the opposite leg. You should be balanced on one leg like a heron.
- Reach your raised foot forward, but don’t commit your weight yet. You want to test the ground ahead of you for noise and balance hazards.
- Finally, begin to slowly transfer your weight onto the next foot. Go very slow if it’s causing too much sound. If you feel unbalanced, back off and adjust your footing until you find a better position.
- Repeat with the next foot. The result is that your stride will be much shorter. You’ll move a bit slower, but you can be VERY quiet if done diligently. This is how traditional hunters & trackers have been walking for thousands of years.
Other Tips For Stalking Like A Pro:
- Allow your steps and movement to be dictated by what’s happening with the animal. If the animal is being alert and looking around or listening… Stop and freeze. Wait until it goes back to feeding and starts making a bit of noise.
- Go barefoot or use soft padded footwear that absorbs the impact of your bodyweight and lets you feel the ground.
- Try to not rely so heavily on your eyes to see where you’re going. You want your eyes to be free to watch the animal. Use your peripheral vision to watch the path ahead of you, while also being tuned for any shifts in the animal. Your feet can be like eyes.
- Pay attention to wind speed & direction. You want to stay downwind of the animal so it doesn’t smell you.
- Pay attention and use “sound shadows” to your advantage. Be still when the wind is still, but take more risks when a gust blows through to mask your movement. Sometimes it’s easier to stalk animals during rainfall because it provides a sound shadow. It’s easier to sneak up on a feeding or otherwise distracted animal.
- Use visual cover. You’re more likely to be seen in open landscape, especially if you move too quickly. You want to think ahead about the overall landscape ecology and plan your approach accordingly.
- Crawling is even more quiet than walking. Sometimes you need to be absolutely silent. If the ground is crunchy, or if you’re very close to the animal then crawling is usually the best bet.
- Pay attention to bird language. If you disturb the birds then many deer will pick up on the alarms and give away your location.
- Use the animals own movement to your advantage. If you notice the animal is already coming in your direction sometimes the best thing you can do is get really well hidden and position yourself in a great spot.
- Use your common sense. If this all sounds like a lot of things to think about just remember… Human beings are fundamentally wild animals. Whether you realize it or not… You already have a natural intuition about how to stay hidden and move quietly. Just put yourself in a stalking situation and let your innate hunter instincts kick in!
Stalking Games To Practice
Sometimes the fun way is the best way…
One of my favourite ways to build stalking skills is by making a game out of it. This can be anything from big games of “scout” capture the flag, to smaller and more focused training exercises.
I’ll share a few of the easiest ones to try out:
Jedi Training Games
Jedi training is all about having balance, focus & awareness.
You need to be capable of suddenly freezing all movement if an animal hears or sees evidence of your presence.
This means that you could get stuck in some pretty awkward positions. You might be standing on one foot, or partway through a bush on hands and knees with one leg up in the air.
If you’re not strong enough to hold these awkward positions then the animal will see you and run away.
But if you can maintain stillness and silence for a few moments or a few minutes then the animal will usually assume it was just the wind.
- Balance Competition – Have a friendly competition to see who can stand on one foot the longest. If you’re practicing alone just try to beat your best time. You can also do this blindfolded for extra challenge.
- Slow motion standup – Start in a seated or lying position. Your goal is to stand up VERY slowly, smoothly and silently. Start with one minute. Then go to two minutes and longer.
- Awkward Handicap – Practice stalking and moving through forest as quietly as you can… but with a large, heavy or otherwise awkward object like a back pack or walking staff.
One of the most challenging stalking skills to master is breaking your reliance on eyesight for movement…
If all your time is spent looking at your feet then you won’t notice what’s happening out in the nearby landscape.
You want to use your eyes primarily for gathering information about your surroundings, while your feet and body take care of movement.
Blindfolding is probably the best way to develop this skill.
It forces you to slow down and tune in with your body much more closely than you’re probably used to.
Give yourself blindfolded movement challenges.Your goal is to get from one place to another without being able to see and without making any noise.
In effect you’ll train yourself to navigate without needing your eyes so you can be quiet and balanced while also being tuned into things happening around you.
There’s nothing better than a good old game of fire keeper. It’s a really fun stalking game both for kids and adults.
Here’s how to play…
The fire keeper sits in the middle of a circle, blindfolded. The circle can be anywhere from 15 feet to 30 feet in diameter, depending on how much of a challenge you want to have.
The Firekeeper’s job is to protect a fire… represented by a set of jingly keys, or some other object, placed on the ground directly in front or behind the fire keeper.
Then the stalker/s try to sneak in and steal the fire object without being detected. If the fire keeper hears a noise, they point towards the place where the sound came from.
The game ends when the fire keeper points at the intruder, or the intruder successfully steals the object.
Change up the practice location and size of the playing field to adjust the difficulty. Soft grassy locations make for an easy stalking scenario.
Use a hazardous leafy & twiggy location for a more difficult stalking scenario.
Practice Your Stalking On Live Animals
After you spend some time practicing the basic skills in a variety of controlled situations… then you’re ready to start practicing in the field.
Some animals are easier than others, so I recommend starting with the easiest and gradually moving on to more challenging quarries.
- Family pets make for a good transition challenge from people to wild animals. I used to have fun setting the family dog loose in the forest and seeing how close I could get without him noticing me.
- Domestic cats are a very different challenge than dogs because they move a lot slower… but they also tend to be much more tuned with their surroundings.
I frequently use bird alarms to locate neighbourhood house cats.
Cats make some of the best stalking practice because they’re very common, and they’re always happy to serve as excellent stalking opponents.
- Small rodents like voles, mice & even squirrels can sometimes make great targets for stalking practice. Squirrels will let you know when they feel you sneaking up on them, and they’re fairly common.
With mice & voles it’s challenging but not impossible to actually catch them.
I usually see quite a few wild voles on my adventures every year. It makes great practice to follow them around for a while. They give a shockingly loud, high-pitched squeak if you set off their alarm.
- From here you can graduate onto rabbits, raccoons, possums…
These animals are quite a bit more challenging, but certainly not impossible. The most important thing is that you need to spot them before they spot you, so remember to be quiet!
How To Stalk Deer
I know a lot of hunters will be interested in how these skills apply specifically to deer or moose.
In my experience the hardest part of stalking up on deer is actually finding the live animal before it finds you.
Because they have such a large territory, it’s helpful to do some tracking of the deer first and get to know their home range.
Start by going to places where you already know there are lots of deer. You can think about places you’ve seen deer in the past. Or ask others where they’ve seen deer.
Think about the landscape from a bird’s eye view and plan a travel route that will lead you through several core feeding & resting areas.
Your best chance to stalk up on a deer is when it’s not in “traveling mode”, such as when it’s bedded down, or busy filling it’s stomach with food.
If you spot a deer moving at a steady walking pace through the forest… it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to keep up with it while staying quiet. Your best bet is to freeze and then try to cut it off later down the trail.
Deer are very sensitive animals. They have excellent hearing and they take cues from the bird alarms to know when humans are near.
If your plan is to stalk in on an active day bed… then you’ll probably need to crawl on hands and knees. Just remember to keep your weight anchored in 3 limbs at all times.
Shift your weight onto the moving knee/hand slowly enough, and you can be essentially silent.
Plan to spend a few solid hours when doing a silent crawl stalk on stationary animals. It’s intense work but thrilling to experience first hand.
Final Thoughts About Stalking
Let me know if you have other specific questions about stalking up on animals. I might write another article about how to stalk deer if people want to know more. There’s a lot more that could be said on the topic.
Also… please remember to respect the fact that these are real creatures in a survival situation. Animals that feel threatened WILL defend themselves, and it’s not very nice to put too much stress on them.
Thanks for reading and happy trailing!