How to Be a Sneaky Bastard
Three new twists on an old and proven tactic.
I called him the Swamp Fox because he was a sly buck who lived in a quagmire of muck, reeds, and nearly impenetrable willow. His distinctive tracks, with almost unnaturally elongated front hooves, showed often enough over the next few weeks to tell me that I was placing my stands along the same trails he used. I was just never there at the times he used them.
Counter to common wisdom, I decided to try still-hunting. Most experts don’t recommend this tactic in isolated patches of cover, where your movement can drive a buck off. Nor are you supposed to walk any faster than the ooze of syrup across a refrigerated plate. But with an hour left in the season, what did I have to lose? I worked the area at a strolling pace, and when the buck blundered into me at a trot, I don’t know which of us was more surprised.
The classic technique of still-hunting is proven, but there’s merit in tweaking the old take-a-step, wait-a-minute dance we’ve all been taught. Below are three unorthodox still-hunting methods that can get you a buck at any time during the season, and especially when the clock is running out.
When I lived in Grayling, Michigan, I had the honor of meeting legendary bowhunter Fred Bear. He pointed out that deer were quick to react to hunters who skulked through the woods but often stood still for humans who appeared to be out for a walk. The trick, he said, was to avoid eye contact and wait until you had passed the deer before turning smoothly to draw your bow. I never became proficient enough to take a deer with an arrow this way, but the trick put the Swamp Fox in my freezer and has worked several other times when I had a rifle in hand.
**The Right Angle **
The standard advice is to still-hunt with the wind in your face. But this isn’t always best. Bucks like to bed at the edge of cover, with the wind at their backs, so they can see what’s coming in front of them and smell what’s behind them. By hunting at right angles to the wind, you have a better chance of getting the drop on a bedded buck before it either sees or smells you. Whenever you’re hunting edge-cover habitats, put the wind on your cheek instead of on your nose.
**The Straight Approach **
How many times have you seen a deer and attempted to work to one side for a shot, only to have the animal bolt the moment you moved? Rocky Miller, one of the West’s preeminent deer hunters, believes that deer are less able to perceive a hunter heading very slowly but directly toward them. He’s had great success by advancing straight at whitetails that he can see, and he also still-hunts promising patches of cover in this manner. His method requires tremendous patience, but on numerous occasions he’s been able to get within yards of unsuspecting deer.
Any of these variations may be somewhat risky compared to the standard still-hunting routine, but as the season winds down, one of them might be your smartest move.