When the deer won’t come to you, it might be time to revive the lost art of still-hunting.
Like most deer hunters, I spend the majority of my time waiting for deer to come to me. That gives me plenty of time to think, and I was doing just that one day last fall, taking account of past successes.
I’ve killed most of my deer from an elevated stand, but that’s largely because of the amount of time spent using that method. I’ve taken far fewer from the ground, but when I considered the amount of time spent stalking, I realized I’ve had a pretty good success rate.
That wasn’t always the case. It took several seasons to refine my still-hunting techniques. But, once I did, it was definitely worth the effort.
Still-hunting, or stalking, requires stealth and woodsmanship, and it might not be for everyone. But if sitting in one place all the time is getting boring and making your backside flat, you might enjoy the challenge of taking the hunt to the deer.
The first, and perhaps most important thing you should do when still-hunting is put away your watch. Forget about time and distance and take as long as is necessary to move along stealthily. Conditions often dictate your pace, but it can take an hour or more to cover a few hundred feet of ground.
Just as a pebble tossed into a pool sends out ripples, no creature that moves in the forest goes unnoticed, and alarms sent out by other creatures can spread fast and wide through the woods. You cannot be invisible, but you can reduce your impact by moving as slowly and quietly as possible.
You can also significantly increase stealth by stepping slowly. Set your leading foot down on the heel or side first, then slowly roll the rest of your foot down until flat. This allows you to feel for objects like hidden sticks under the leaves before transferring your weight forward. Plan ahead. Even if it’s only two or three steps, glance ahead, plot your route then watch farther ahead as you move.
CHANGE OF PACE
There will be times when you cannot move quietly, such as on dry leaves. Make yourself sound less like a human by varying your pace.
Wildlife quickly become conditioned to the steady, even pace of human footsteps. Break up your footfalls by taking uneven steps, one or three rather than two at a time. I’ve even gotten away with trying to sound like a squirrel hopping across the forest floor with three to five quick steps.
STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN
Whether you’re slowly slinking along or short-hopping, make frequent and long pauses to survey your surroundings. Even a single step can give you an entirely different perspective. Scour the area for deer first with the naked eye. Then, when you’re certain none are nearby, lift your binoculars and do it again.
All the while, remember that you’re looking for part of a deer rather than the whole thing. Over time, experienced hunters develop what’s known as a search image. Long before it registers in the brain, their eyes pick up subtle things like patches of brown or white, a round, black eye or the horizontal line of a deer’s back.
It should go without saying, but you must be ever mindful of wind direction. Keep it in your face as much as possible, or at least not at your back.
The midday doldrums might seem a convenient time to slip around. However, the best time to still-hunt is also the best time to be on stand — when deer are moving. You’re far more likely to close the distance on a moving or feeding deer than a bedded one. The latter is focused on one thing, searching for danger. No matter how careful you are, they’ll probably see, hear or smell you long before you spot them.
PLAY THE PERCENTAGES
Certain conditions lend themselves more favorably to still-hunting than others. If the deer you’re hunting are following any type of pattern, you can do more harm than good by venturing into their living room.
It’s much harder to still-hunt in open woods or during dry, still conditions. But on a calm day after a rain, you can bet I’ll be slippin’ along somewhere, and you should be, too.
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This article was published in the September 2014 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.