As the old Special Forces adage goes, “Two is one, one is none.” meaning without a buddy watching your back you’re done.
While it’s not the exact same as having a good hunting buddy, I would say they are definitely similar. When you have someone you train with, hunt with and that brings his own set of skills to the table, it will make you better. You will have someone to map study with, run theories by and glass better. You will not only hunt better but come tough times, you will have someone to suffer with. You will have someone by your side helping to deal with bad weather, grueling miles, sketchy climbs, long nights, pack outs and everything in between. I have a circle of friends I trust and hunt with and with a buddy on a hunt; we are safer and hunt more effective.
You want to hunt with guys that share your same passion and guys who have your same ethics and morals. When hunting with buddies, you want to hunt with guys that make you better. Now, I don’t mean hunt with guys that have a bunch of good spots. I mean hunt with guys that make you a better hunter and better person. A hunting partner should be working just as hard as you are to find new spots, or different ideas on existing spots. Your hunting partner should be getting in workouts just like you are. Together you hold each other accountable, as no one wants to be the weak link for a hunt.
Hunting partners should take their archery serious and always be practicing. If there is a way to help your buddy with his shooting or setup, it is your job to step in. Ultimately, you have to have the attitude that your buddy’s success is your success. The better your friends are around you, the better you will become. When you have a good hunting partner dedicated to the team and to the cause, you are an unstoppable force.
For me above all else, a hunting buddy has to be honest 100% of the time. I just have to trust the information, whether it is the animals they saw or where they hunted. Now I don’t tell every spot I have and everything I know on our first hunt together. I make sure to always be honest and tell the truth about all encounters but it takes a while to build my trust. Once I have been in deep water with a guy, and I know I can trust them, I am an open book. My buddies and I have a modified code of ethics. By that I mean to never do anything shady.
If a guy takes you to one of his honey holes, you have to respect that by not going back and pounding it without him. Even worse, never take any other hunting buddies to his spot. Just have respect for your hunting partner, as good spots are tough to come by and good hunting partners are even tougher. I find by keeping everything out in the open, most of the time a good friend will send me right to where the rut party is. Just make sure to talk and make sure you are not stepping on his toes. If a hunting buddy does something shady or something that doesn’t sit right with you, have a conversation about it and what you expect out of a good hunting partner.
Now all this said, you do not have to ditch all your old hunting partners. You guys can grow and get better together. Start the conversation of how you want to do an extended hunt or how you want to accomplish more. Talk about the steps necessary to reach your goals like working out, scouting and shooting. Get you and your buddies on track to accomplish all of your goals. Keep each other accountable for getting in shooting and workouts. When you guys make plans for scouting and hunting, every guy has to stick to the plan for the allotted days.
You have to figure out which dynamic works best for you and your hunting buddy on a hunt. Sometimes we will split up and hunt different drainages, then meet up and camp together. Sometimes we will split up for the day or might even split up for a couple days and then meet up. With a hunting buddy you can meet up and share your encounters and sightings, you will learn twice as much information about an area. I will also team up with a buddy hiking and hunting together. We will move together and get to the same vantage points to glass. We will work together to find animals before they see us. We will have discussions and try to work together to find and glass the best hunting grounds. While I usually hunt with one other partner, sometimes I have multiple buddies that want to go on a hunt. This dynamic can work too; you just have to be a bit more creative with your hunting dynamic. Hunting with a group is more challenging but if done right, you can gather tons of current information about where you are hunting.
I used to believe that hunting with a partner would give me less opportunities and less stalks than hunting solo. I now believe the opposite is true. With a good solid partner who is hunting as hard as you are, you get more opportunity. You end up glassing more animals and end up covering more country. With two guys covering country, you will find the concentration of game you are after. I always say if I can find the party whether it’s bucks or bulls, it’s just a matter of time before I get an arrow in one.
Once you find a shooter, now you have to make the decision of how you are going to hunt it. I always work out who is going to shoot before we approach. There is nothing worse than two buddies racing to get a shot; the animal will spook for sure.
I will either say, “You take this stalk, I will get next one.” or give it over to the coin toss. Sometimes we will have it worked out beforehand, especially if I have a certain buck picked out and scouted or something like that. It’s better to have the conversation before. Remember, giving your buddy the stalk is the ultimate sacrifice but will always come back to you two fold.
You have options when hunting with a partner. You can stalk solo with a buddy up on the vantage point giving hand signals. Just work out a few basic signals and make sure the buddy on the vantage point is visible with the background and you are golden. Another technique we will use is to set up one guy on the animals projected escape route while the other guy stalks the animal. This has worked really well for me and my crew and a lot of times it is tough to pick who has the highest percentage chance.
The final option is to stalk the animal together in a buddy stalk. I believe that when you get two skilled hunters making a stalk you can be more effective than solo stalking. This works great if you are doing any filming or if you both want to get in on the action. Same thing here, pick who is going to be the shooter and then work together to get into range.
With the shooter picked out, you then choose who is going to lead the stalk. Usually the lead stalker is the shooter, that way when he messes up it’s on him. Every once in a while though, I will have skilled hunting buddies who want me to lead their stalk. Whichever the case, the lead stalker moves and the back stalker follows his every movement. There should be whisper conversations at every decision, where the critter is situated, what angle to take and how slow to move.
As the back stalker, your job is to let your lead stalker be first over rises and around bends. The back stalker should take an angle off his back shoulder. Look where he is not, like off to his sides and out in front. As the back stalker you need to keep the team calm. It should sound like this, “Hey let’s slow down some more we are getting close.” Or “Take your time on the shot and execute.” Try to avoid statements like, “Dude that thing is a freaking monster!”
It’s amazing when you are not shooting how calm and collected you are and you want to project that on your shooter. Have a system to get your buddies attention when you see something before he does. I have been on countless buddy stalks where the back stalker saves your bacon by catching the animal right before you spook it. Once you stalk for a while together, you will just hear the back stalker stop and you will freeze automatically. Until then a little “Psst” or tug on the back of the shirt will work.
Once you are getting close and moving slow enough, SLOW DOWN. It’s all about knowing when to slow down and there is no worse feeling in the bowhunting woods than spooking a trophy before you ever get a chance at him. There is this feeling that rushes over all of us, as we get close, it is to hurry up and see if he is still there. In reality this is when you need to move the slowest. If you get there and he has moved off so be it, but if he is still there, he will be unspooked. The lead stalker sets the pace and the back guy goes that slow or even slower. The goal as the back stalker is not to screw it up, so you have to be even more silent than the lead guy.
Once in range with two guys, now you gain a huge advantage. You can use the back stalker as your range finder. He can give you constant readings of range to your target. One move we make a lot is for the lead guy to draw his bow and rise slowly, with the back stalker right over his back shoulder rising with him. I used this technique multiple times this year, and it paid off for one of my buddies who harvested a good Six-point bull and antelope buck.
Finding a good hunting partner can be tough but just make sure you are doing everything on your part. Be honest and always do what you say you are going to do. Be generous with stalks and opportunity. Help make your hunting buddies better by sharing information and theories. Be motivated and always be working out and shooting. Watch your buddies back and keep each other safe.
The best way to find a good hunting partner is to BE a good hunting partner. Lead by example and make your hunting partners better. Sharing in a hunt with a good friend is having someone to share memories with. You experience highs and lows together and share in the success. When you find a good hunting partner as dedicated to his bowhunting as you are, you guys can accomplish anything.