I moved slowly along the old logging road 30 yards above the hollow bottom. Through the understory that was changing to fall colors, I detected two deer moving slowly. With a bow in one hand and a wind detector in the other, I ever so slowly tried to take on the persona of a cat silently stalking its prey. At first a few steps, then stop, eye the understory, and then move again one step at a time. All the while, I’m thinking, “This is just all coming together perfectly.”
What the heck am I doing you say. I’m practicing an art that many hunters gave up long ago: still-hunting, the art of hunting deer on ground level by creeping up on them to within shooting range without being detected. It’s something I suspect a lot of other archers have never experienced.
How did our ancestors hunt without a hang-on or a ladder stand? For most of human history before tree stands became popular during the 1970’, whitetail hunters brought home the venison by still-hunting.
These days, there’s a large number of hunters who have never tried to stalk within shooting range of a deer. Those few who do attempt it will tell you it’s a true challenge. Truth is, stalking is a special challenge.
With a bit of observation and by learning a few basic skills, you can become successful at hunting from ground level. Some days, the deer are inactive and you need to take the hunt to them to have any success.
A good example of this is when the rut is taking place. It’s hard to predict where a buck will turn up when he’s in search of does. If you spend all your time in a tree stand, you may sit for days without seeing anything. This is a good time to be on the ground, putting on a stalk near a known bedding or feeding area.
Weather conditions play a huge role in determining whether the day is conducive to still-hunting. Look for cloudy, wet and/or windy days as these conditions prevent a deer from seeing your shadow and hearing your footfalls.
First off, slip into full camouflage which covers your head, face and the hands. Once out, move very slowly, only a few steps at a time. Then stand still and scan every inch of the area around you. Most hunters tend to move too fast, so being slow is the game plan. Move too much and the deer will key in on the movement and be long gone before you ever see them.
As you slow hunt, remember not to skylight yourself or stand in the open. Stay below the ridge line and use every bit of vegetation and shadows available to mask your movement. Most importantly, be sure to wear a hiking boot with a light sole to help you feel the ground. The better you can feel what’s underfoot, the less chance you’ll have of stepping on branches or twigs which will likely be heard by the deer.
If you have all the bases covered, you can now break out the binoculars and begin looking for parts of a deer: an ear flicking, the glint of an antler, or the horizontal line of a bedded deer. Generally, you won’t see a whole deer at first as they blend into the surroundings. But if you do, it likely has spotted you also.
Keep in mind that any unusual sound gets their attention and the human cadence of steps is a dead giveaway to any deer. To sneak silently through the woods is part of a successful stalk.
If you do make some noise, do as the deer would do and look for movements as quite possibly they will stand up. If you’re carrying a deer or turkey call, go ahead and use it as it’ll make it seem as if wildlife is moving about.
Still-hunting can produce deer when no other tactic can, but it isn’t easy Any hunter who’s taken a deer this way will tell you that it’s more memorable or exciting than the ones taken while sitting in a stand. Perhaps that’s because success in still-hunting shows your true woodsmanship and hunting know-how. The truth of the matter is that still-hunting is hard work, not for the faint of heart or the impatient.
This deer season, when nothing seems to be moving, get out there and give still-hunting a try. In this game, even if you make a few errors it might not matter at all so long as you’re quiet.
David Orlowski is a writer, hunter, fisherman and outdoor enthusiast from Potter County. He is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association.