By Bill Vaznis
Bonus – 4 Tips To Get You Started In Still-Hunting
Some things never change. Take deer hunting for example. For ten thousand years primitive man and then white settlers procured their venison by sneaking and peeking “Indian Style” through the forests. These hardy souls survived and even flourished in part because they were participants in the grand and ancient scheme of things.
Then times changed. Portable tree stands were introduced in the early 1980s, and deer hunters took to the trees. Almost overnight whitetail harvest figures soared, and the art and science of still-hunting fell out of favor. More hunters are still-hunting – staying on the ground and moving slowly through the woods.
Recent years have seen a resurgence in still-hunting, and for three very good reasons.
First, deer hunters have come to realize that the idea behind tree stands is inherently dangerous, and falling fifteen feet can leave you permanently paralyzed….or worse. Indeed, as the hunting population grows older, getting in and out of an elevated perch becomes more and more difficult – increasing the chances of a tumble.
Second, we can factor in our economy to the rebirth of still-hunting. Many of us have to work longer hours, even pick up a part-time job, to make ends meet. Suddenly the time and expense of purchasing, erecting and maintaining a half-dozen aerial ambush sites becomes prohibitive. We no longer have every week end to hunt bucks, and spending any free time in the woods pursuing whitetails becomes a luxury.
Third, private hunting land is disappearing at an alarming rate. Years ago I had thousands of acres to hunt, but today those farms have been sold, divided up and sold again to the point I am left with two farms totaling less than 400 acres to deer hunt. And I have to share that with several other enthusiasts.
Thankfully, many states have hundreds of thousands of acres of public land and wilderness set aside for outdoor recreation. These lands offer room to hunt, but often deer are few and far between. It’s possible for a hunter to sit in a tree stand for a full week and never see a deer. Indeed, bucks in the big woods can die of old age without ever getting a snoot full of nasty human stench.
However, if a hunter learns to still-hunt his chances of dropping the buck of a lifetime are actually very good. All a still-hunter has to do is find one…just one…and that generally means wearing out some shoe leather.
What can you do? Stop wasting precious time simply walking back and forth to your tree stand. Instead, learn to still-hunt along that same pathway and maximize your chances of filling out your buck tag.
Here are four tips to help get you get started.
1. See Him First
Your first goal is to see a racked deer before he is even remotely aware of your presence, so playing the wind is a given. If you are buck hunting with a firearm, try covering your face, ears and neck with a cold cream based camouflage like a bowhunter. A human’s bright face is a danger signal understood by whitetails everywhere. I don’t recommend head nets for still-hunting. They tend to obscure your vision, muffle your hearing, and deflect those subtle changes in wind direction off your bare skin.
2. Walk With Your Eyes
You must learn to walk first with your eyes…and then your feet. Look down briefly for a safe and quiet passageway, and then as you continue to scan ahead for a rack tip or black nose, take one or two steps without looking down. This will open up a whole new vista for your eyes to explore. Don’t move again until you are sure no deer are nearby. Here’s where binoculars can help.
3. Walk Like a Feeding Deer
Humans walk with a distinct and predictable cadence…a dead giveaway to any nearby buck. Learn to mimic the muted sounds of a feeding deer instead. Their tempo, rhythm and speed are perfect, and if you happen to snap a twig, have a call ready. One or two imitation fawn bleats should relax any nearby deer.
4. Moment Of Truth
The real secret to dropping a buck in his tracks, whether you’re still-hunting with a firearm or archery tackle, is to drop to one knee as soon as possible. Deer are not nearly as likely to recognize your crouched form as a source of danger, allowing you enough time to take careful aim…and make a deadly shot.
About Bill Vaznis
A lifetime of hunting and outdoor writing has put Bill’s byline in every major outdoor magazine in North America. He is an archery columnist for Bowhunting World, the former editor of Bear Hunting Magazine, and has published over 1,000 articles and columns plus thousands of photographs on bowhunting, big-game hunting and freshwater fishing. He has also published three how-to hunting books: Successful Black Bear Hunting, 500 Deer Hunting Tips and Still-Hunting Trophy Whitetails. He lives on a farm in upstate New York with Grizz, a 30-pound woodchuck with a voracious appetite for the neighbors’ gardens.
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