Photo by Donald M. Jones

In all of deer hunting, there’s nothing so challenging and rewarding as walking up a big wilderness buck. Perched in a treestand, you all but deny a buck its eyes and ears. Following a track, you at least know there’s a deer at the end. On a drive, you have your buddies to thank.

But when you still-hunt the big woods, you usually walk alone. You don’t know where the deer are–the nearest buck could be right in front of you or a mile and a half away. And it’s you, as much as the deer and often more, who will skulk and slink and throw shadows and rustle leaves and brush against branches. Seeing a buck before it sees you is a serious challenge.

It’s a near insurmountable one if you don’t know how to be stealthy in the woods. Here are two basic ways:

Step silently
With few exceptions, the only time you can truly walk quietly in the woods is when the woods are quiet–when the forest floor, damp with rain or melting snow or dew, absorbs the sound of your steps. But even here, drier leaves can rustle and sticks can crack loudly underfoot. The trick is to take short, balanced steps, keeping your weight on your back foot and using your lead foot to probe the ground ahead for noisy sticks or litter. Once you find a soft, quiet spot for the lead foot, slowly shift your weight, and then repeat. Find the quietest footholds of moss, rocks, or bare earth; use rolling terrain to stay hidden; time your steps with gusts of wind; and stay in shadows. Lurk just inside the edge of thicker cover, where your movements are screened but you can see out clearly.

Tread wildly
On a dry forest floor, it is nearly impossible to still-hunt without making noise–so don’t bother trying. Instead, walk like a deer, which after putting a front hoof down immediately follows with the opposite back hoof, in a step-step, pause, step-step cadence. Most still-hunters mimic this by stepping down sharply with the toe of the lead foot, and then bringing the heel down: step-step. Then they repeat with the other foot: step-step. I find it more comfortable and just as effective to jab my heel down first, and then drop my toe.

Pause frequently at odd intervals, like a deer does. Go ultraslow in the most promising areas, and use a grunt tube or fawn bleat to further the illusion. The deer will hear you coming, but as long as they think you are one of them, they’ll often let you get close enough for a good shot.