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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Is it time to return to the art of still-hunting?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., March 19, 2005.)
When it comes to still-hunting, speed offers no advantage to youth. The edge goes to age.
Every time I tried still-hunting, I spooked all 30 hypothetical deer in the hypothetical forested square mile I was hunting. That was when I was young. And impatient. And clumsy. Although my dad tried to give me advice, I couldn't muster much confidence in still-hunting. So instead I picked a stand and, like the majority of hunters, played the waiting game.

During the days before herd-reduction, the most effective hunting method for many hunters in Penn's Woods has been to take up a stand. It might be on a stump or a rock, in a shanty, up against a tree, up in a tree, or up in a tree shanty.

Many middle-aged hunters today learned to hunt that way. And some of the younger ones among us have picked up stand-hunting expertise from television and VHS tapes -- where every hunt is filmed but none of them teach still-hunting skills. A camera-toting crew from the Outdoor Channel is a decided disadvantage to the still-hunter. But the rules have changed -- and we may need to re-learn the skills that only the oldest active hunters are accustomed to using.

Dad says that when he started out, still-hunters were common. He taught me the basics and advised that I learn to do it. He told me to walk into the wind, being still more than in motion. He said that a good still-hunter might take an hour to cover only 200 yards.

But I could never achieve the snail's pace that was required. Whenever I tried it, deer always saw me before I saw them, and all I was doing was staging mini-drives for the stand-hunters all around.

Now, my cold feet have warmed to the idea of still-hunting. And in this day of deer herd reduction I've discovered that after the first day of the rifle season, stand-hunting is less productive. So, I've chosen to adapt. I'm enjoying still-hunting more and stand-hunting less.

As a young hunter, I was impatient to reach that next vista -- to see beyond the trees in my immediate field of view. Today, with an emphasis on speed in everything from hand-held video games to athletic pursuits, it's even harder for young people to move at the barely perceptible pace required of the still-hunter. When it comes to still-hunting, speed offers no advantage to youth. The edge goes to age.

I suppose another reason hunters have trouble with still-hunting is that many sharpened their hunting eyeteeth on small game. The small game hunter tramps through the brush unconcerned about noise, his intention being to push a rabbit or flush a pheasant from cover and stop it with a scatter-gun. Still-hunting is contrary to that. You don't want to push anything. You don't want the animal to know you are there. And you want him to be relaxed when you send a single speeding projectile his way.

Still-hunting is noiseless, almost motionless, and when it's done right, to the deer it's virtually hunterless. Still-hunting is being "in the zone," alone as a two-legged predator, with senses turned on and tuned in. Still-hunting is knowing that you might lay eyes on a bedded deer at any moment, perhaps a mere 20 or 30 yards away.

Experience teaches the still-hunter when that method is most effective, where deer are likely to be, why they are likely to be there, how to look for deer, and what variations to employ. It develops the hunter's skills in ways that cannot happen on a stand. The effective still-hunter can learn in days or hours what will take the stand-hunter whole seasons to learn.

In these days of herd reduction, I'd rather be proactive than sit around griping about the passing of the good old days. I think the best hunters -- whether young or old -- will agree and will look for ways to adapt. One way is to try still-hunting. In fact, have a little success at still-hunting and you might be saying that these are the good old days. To that end, in a few weeks I promise some tips and strategies that will help swing the odds to the still-hunter's favor.

Friday, March 18, 2005

You Might Be a Pennsylvania Hunter If…

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., March 5, 2005.)
You might be a Pennsylvania hunter if
...you think camo wallpaper is cool.
Pennsylvania hunters are a unique and interesting fraternity. If they're serious about anything, it's hunting. Their way of life manifests itself in many ways, some obvious and some subtle, which I recently noticed while surfing on the popular website HuntingPA.com. A topic called "You might be a Pennsylvania hunter if..." reveals that although people posting on the website take hunting seriously, they don't always take themselves seriously.
Here's a sampling of what some PA hunters confess are their common traits (complete with screen names of the posters in parentheses). If you're not a hunter, you may not understand a few of them. If you're wondering whether you're a serious Pennsylvania hunter, here are 25 ways to tell. Reading them will make you realize that some pay a high price for being a PA hunter.

You might be a Pennsylvania hunter if…

1 …the brakes on your favorite hunting blind won't pass inspection. (PAbowhunter4life)
2 …your backyard has a deer target. (Glenn D)
3 …your freezer has frozen animals in it that still have fur or feathers on them. (Glenn D)
4 …you refer to Christmas as "Muzzleloader Eve." (buzz)
5 …you celebrate your wedding anniversary by taking the Missus to the three-day sale at Grice's Gun Shop! (Ron pa)

6 …the most expensive piece of clothing you own has two small holes poked through the back. (Venatic)
7 …your standard greeting at Christmas parties is "Did yinz kill anything this year?" and nobody thinks that's strange. (Venatic)
8 …you can walk to your hunting spot in pitch black darkness, but you can't find your way to the bathroom at night with out tripping over something. (big tom 52)
9 …you think Christmas should be rescheduled to come before hunting season. (easternyote)
10 …you're glad your wife works some late nights at the salon so you can and go fox and coyote hunting without stirring up an argument. (john1951)

11 …you make sure you have enough money to buy ammo for dove season, but forget your wife's birthday present. (ductman)
12 …you can drive your pickup while holding a spotlight in one hand and binoculars in the other. (thetaxman)
13 …your child is asked what the seasons are in school and instead of spring, summer, fall, and winter -- he says turkey, dove, bear and deer. (archer393)
14 …your garage looks like a sporting goods store and your pickup bed is filled with hunting clothes and boots from Sept 30 through Groundhog Day. (Diehardhunter)
15 …your garbage men pick up bleeding bags of bones in front of your house the week after Thanksgiving -- and no one asks any questions. (RoosterBooster)

16 …you don't see a deer all day while hunting, and then hit one with your new truck on the way home from camp. (crazyjjk)
17 …you have the song "2nd Week of Deer Camp" on CD. (crazyjjk)
18 …you drove to Benezette to see the elk on your honeymoon. (Sportsman Doug)
19 …you hate traffic, long lines and crowds, but will stand in line for over an hour in sub-zero temperatures just to get into the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show. (Sportsman Doug)
20 …you don't know any street names but can give any of your hunting buddies perfect directions. Sam: "To get there, you go down that one road -- you know -- the one where we saw that big 8-point standing up on the hill under the oak tree. Then you go past the house that has the turkey target out back." Fred: "Oh yea, I remember now. Then I make a right on the road where we saw the 3-legged doe." (suzzieq)

21 …you can hardly get out of bed to go to work or shopping with your wife. But on the first day of deer season you're up and ready to go 5 hours before light. (Goody)
22 …you think camo wallpaper is cool. (dgm67)
23 …your future father-in-law judges you by the deer antlers and turkey beards you have. (dgm67)
24 …your kid's not even three, can't spell, can't color real good, runs into the wall on a regular basis, still wets his pants on occasion, but you're so proud because he can gobble and strut just like an ol' Tom. (Peppy)
25 …you have trouble making it to work with a scratchy throat. But you'll hobble on all fours with a bad back, a swollen knee, and the flu -- all the while ignoring your doctor's advice to have the nail removed from your cranium (accident at work) just to make sure you don't miss opening day. ANY opening day! (Peppy)