There are times when each of us longs to be challenged. Sometimes we become complacent, or even bored, and try to find ways to reignite the passion that once burned when thinking of the outdoors. For those that have pursued the vaunted whitetail for many seasons, a challenge can be a welcome friend.
The recent snowfall has provided just that opportunity. If you have never attempted it before, now may be your time to try still-hunting: Hunting from the ground and moving through the woods in search of your quarry.
At first this doesn’t sound all that challenging. It is one thing to walk through the woods and kick up deer that may be bedded down. It is entirely a different thing to find a fresh set of buck tracks and follow them. I first cut my teeth still-hunting by accident about eight years ago. I was on my way to a favorite afternoon stand during the muzzleloader season. As I was driving down the farm lane to park my truck I came across a large herd of deer. Mixed in that group were several very nice bucks. I decided to park right there and still-hunt my way toward them.
To be a successful still-hunter, there are several skills you need to master. The first is patience. You have to think of yourself as a predator. Have you ever watched a cat stalk something? If you have, you probably noticed the unending, unwavering patience a cat has. It will sit, motionless, for long periods of time. It will wait until the moment is right to move or pounce. If you decide to still-hunt, take your watch and place it deep in your pocket. If you are focused on time you will not fulfill your potential.
The second thing you need to do is be a master of terrain features. You need to know the property you hunt as well as the animals that live on it. Understanding the terrain will allow you to move from place to place with a better chance of being undetected.
The third thing a good still-hunter needs to know is the willingness to go low. What do I mean by this? You have to be willing to get on your knees or your belly and crawl when the surrounding cover dictates such measures. If you are hunting in a late-winter woods where the only cover is brush that is twelve inches high, then you better be only 11 inches high.
The next thing a good still-hunter needs to master is the ability to move and make natural sounds. When you walk through the woods with the same stride and cadence as walking in a mall you do not sound natural. Every deer hunter has heard the start-and-stop cadence that wild creatures make in the timber. A good still-hunter needs to mimic that same cadence.
A master still-hunter also needs to know the weather and wind conditions that will either help or hinder the effort. I love to still-hunt on days that are warm and snow is melting. The splatter and dripping from the trees masks lots of noise. Anyone who wants to pursue still-hunting also needs to have quality optics. The binoculars that you use need to provide a crisp image. When deer are bedded down in thick cover, it is difficult to pick them out. High-quality glass will pay for itself many times over.
There are a few drawbacks to still-hunting, though. The first is that you will be more successful if you have a larger tract of land to hunt from. Small acreages are difficult to circle around on. The second drawback is that it does take vast amounts of time.
Still-hunting has been one of the most exciting and rewarding ways to hunt for me over the years. Yes, I do spend most of my deer hunting hours sitting on stand like most people, but when the time is right, it is enjoyable to get on your feet and hunt the way our forefathers did.