My top ten tips for still-hunting
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., April 16, 2005.)
Abandon your normal gait and learn to move through the woods like ooze.Among all the deer hunting methods taught in books, videos, TV programs, and even "schools" for hunting, the method that is most neglected is the old-fashioned art of still-hunting. The only book I know of on this subject is old enough to have been Theodore Roosevelt's favorite. Published in 1904, it's called "The Still-Hunter," by Theodore S. Van Dyke (1842-1923), a literary associate of the great hunter-President.
In light of this 432-page tome, any attempt to teach still-hunting in the space of 700 words is both ambitious and feeble, and to pretend to instruct what I'm still learning is pure vanity. Yet, the situation we are in is an opportunity to do something positive to increase success and enjoyment. So, I humbly offer what I've tried and am still trying, with one caveat: it is impossible to learn still-hunting except by doing it.
Videos by their very nature can't teach it. Books (or to be more exact, the one book on the subject) are no replacement for experience. And, picking up tips and tactics from me or from other more experienced hunters is no substitute for practice. With that said, I offer my top 10 tips for still-hunting as a starting point. If you want more let me know and, closer to deer season, I'll deliver.
(1.) Still-hunting is like learning to walk again. The way you've walked for 20, 30 or 40 years doesn't lend itself to still-hunting. Abandon your normal gait and learn to move through the woods like ooze.
(2.) Choose opportune times. If it's afternoon, expect to see deer preoccupied as they move to feeding areas. If it's raining, get excited. If it's snowing, get very excited. These weather conditions make the forest floor very quiet, and in the snow your fluorescent orange isn't as noticeable to deer as it is in brown woods.
(3.) You need to focus. On a stationary stand, you can afford to daydream because when a deer enters your field of view, he is unlikely to notice you. In still-hunting, you must be much more alert because you are entering the deer's field of view. That's backwards from what you've been doing.
(4.) Realize that deer may be moving, too. Deer will often move into your field of view, so continually scan the entire perimeter of the area visible to you.
(5.) Stop often. When you stop, do not expect to use a tree for a shooting rest. No tree will be in the right position for a shot in any possible direction, and making that your intention will risk too much motion. Learn to use a shooting stick that you can quickly and quietly employ from a standing position. (Contact me for information on a good one.)
(6.) You will inevitably make sounds, but should never fall into a cadence. Natural sounds in the woods are random. When the sounds or motions you make are in a pattern, you will alert more deer.
(7.) Use your ears. If a squirrel begins to chatter or a bluejay screams, you can be sure something disturbed them. It was probably you. Stand still until everything settles down.
(8.) Keep your eyes up. While you're moving is not the time to be looking at the ground. Decide while you're standing still where your next 2 or 3 steps will fall.
(9.) Use topography to your advantage. If you're near a streambed, use the sounds of the water to cover your sounds. If you're on a bench, don't skyline yourself along its edge. Rather, move in a zig-zag pattern and peek over the edge periodically. You'll be surprised how often you spot bedded deer.
(10.) Keep the wind in your face. This must be your first priority, and it's way easier said than done. The wind doesn't have to be hitting you head on. It can be as much as 90 degrees from your left or right, but if you can't feel it on your face, deer will smell you and you've lost the game.
Van Dyke said that still-hunting, "the greatest and most important branch of the whole art of hunting has, I may safely say, been totally neglected by the great body of writers upon field-sports." It's still being neglected a hundred years later, and the person who becomes a good still-hunter joins an elite fraternity.