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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.


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