Spot and Stalk Deer

Chance Encounter Leads to Exciting Hunt

“You can see if there’s an animal up there from this spot,” says Tom Armstrong as he pulls the truck to the side of the snow-covered dirt road. It’s advantageous to hunt with someone who really knows the area. Tom Armstrong was born and raised in Thunder Bay and spends a lot of time hunting the woods and agricultural lands of Northern Ontario. Tom rolls down the window and glasses the hillside with his binoculars. “There’s a big doe in the field,” he says before looking over to me with boyish enthusiasm, “Wanna try for it?”

This wasn’t intended to be a spot-and-stalk deer hunt. Although we’ve been in and out of tree stands and ground blinds for the last few days, waiting for deer to come to us, we are always on the lookout for a potential stalk. But as we grab our rifles and start moving toward the deer, I’m not particularly confident.

hunter looking through binoculars

Tom Armstrong glasses a hillside looking for deer.

Stalking History

I’m not especially good at sneaking up on deer undetected. In my experience, deer almost always see me before I see them. My deer encounters usually include the sound of a deer snorting and the sight of its white tail pointing up, signifying alarm. What follows is usually a momentary glance at a brown body bounding off into the woods with deceptive quickness. Even though I have managed to get quite close, I’ve never been fast enough, or confident enough, to shoot at a moving animal with a rifle.

If I am going to shoot at a deer, I need to be reasonably sure that I am going to make a good shot. The less chance of wounding an animal the better and I prefer to have a solid rest to steady my rifle, and my quarry standing still at no more than 100 yards. I once tracked a deer in deep snow that stopped to give me a clear broadside shot at 200 yards. I shouldered my rifle and from a standing position watched the crosshairs of my scope dance across the body of the big doe. I didn’t pull the trigger, preferring to watch as the deer stood for five seconds before springing off through the snow.

hunter readying aim

James Smedley steadies his rifle on a shooting stick before making the 100-yard shot.

Let the Stalk Begin

In spite of previous experiences, I’m determined to give it a good shot. Tom points to a trail along the bush line that climbs steadily up towards the field where the deer is feeding about 600 yards away. The wind is in our favour, blowing our scent away from the deer. The difference in elevation means we are out of sight for now. As we crest the hill and approach the field, a stand of aspen protruding into the clearing helps to obscure our movements.

hunter using binoculars in the forest

Knowing the lay of the land really helps in a spot and stalk hunt.

Tom is ahead and motions me to step out around the trees, indicating that the beast is still there. I slide sideways and see the doe standing broadside at about 100 yards. I get down on one knee, adjust my shooting stick, steady my rifle and squeeze off a round.

hunter with harvested ontario deer

James Smedley fills his antlerless tag with a beautiful doe.

The shot is good. And we retrieve the deer just inside the bush line; my first successful spot and stalk hunt.

(All photo credits: James Smedley)
About James Smedley

Professional photographer and writer James Smedley’s contributions—more than 400 pieces and close to 1,000 images—to U.S. and Canadian books, magazines, and newspapers have earned him over 40 national and international awards. In addition to teaching photography workshops, James is the travel editor at Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine. James has fly-fished for brook trout and arctic grayling in far northern rivers and continues to cast for trout, bass, and steelhead near his home in the northern Ontario town of Wawa where he lives with his wife Francine and daughters Islay and Lillian.


Visit James at

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