The Deer Hunter’s Playbook: Stalking
Still-hunting is tough, rewarding, and extremely effective.
Still-hunting is all about spotting deer before they see you. That means you have to move as slowly, quietly, and inconspicuously as possible. Take short, balanced steps. Keep your weight on your back foot and use the ball of your leading foot to test the ground for noisy leaves and sticks. Once you find a quiet footing, gradually transfer your weight onto your leading foot, rolling it onto the heel until it can take all your weight. Then repeat the process. Look for silent footholds of moss, flat rocks, pine needles, bare earth, or wet leaves, and plan your route accordingly. Time your steps when passing planes, gusting winds, distant log trucks, and the like will help drown out the sound. Conceal your actions by staying in shadows and the margins of brushy cover. If deer are about, it’s almost impossible to go too slowly, and it’s also true that still-hunters who never seem to see deer are moving way too fast.
Sneak Through Crunchy Leaves
At times it’s impossible to still-hunt silently. This can be an advantage, however, because deer will also be easier to hear. Get into the best deer-holding cover you can, as quietly as you can. Once there, go ultraslow, and use a grunt tube or fawn bleat to cover the sound of your steps. Listen for the four-legged step-step, pause, step-step pattern of walking deer, and try to intercept them. Since you can’t avoid making noise, you want to sound like a deer. Push down sharply with the toe of your leading foot, then promptly bring your heel down. Step-step. Repeat with the other foot. Step-step. Do not hesitate. Take an angle that will put you within range of the deer, but don’t move directly at them-and be ready to shoot. Deer will be aware of your approach but often will not bolt until they determine the source of the noises.
Speed Up and Slow Down
Still-hunting does not mean always moving at a snail’s pace, especially in areas with low deer densities. Look for fresh sign as you go, and adjust your pace accordingly. Walk relatively rapidly through open areas with little sign, especially at midday when deer have retreated to thicker cover. Slow to a crawl in thick cover, creekbottoms, and areas with lots of tracks, droppings, rubs, and scrapes. As a rule, if you’re not seeing deer, you need to move quicker. But if you’re only seeing flags, you’re going too fast.
**Spot Hidden Bucks **
For every moment you spend advancing, spend several times that looking. Begin by scanning 180 degrees ahead from flank to flank, watching for activity-the flick of a tail, bob of a head, or sway of a leg. Then systematically break down the terrain and focus on individual blocks one by one, searching for anything even slightly out of place-a white patch, a horizontal line in a sea of vertical stems, a solid gray block amid a brown mosaic of newly fallen oak leaves. Investigate with binoculars everything that doesn’t fit in. In open terrain, repeat the process, again using binoculars. Be patient. The longer you remain still, the more likely any deer ahead will move and reveal their location. Before pushing on, drop to one knee and take a look below the eye-level branches.
Follow the Deer
Early in the morning, work the downwind edges of old clear-cuts, mast-bearing stands, and other feeding areas. Try to keep the sun at your back, which both blinds deer and makes them easier for you to see. Follow existing trails whenever possible, so you can spend more time looking for deer and less time searching for quiet footholds. As the day progresses, gravitate toward thick bedding cover, moving through travel corridors and funnels as you go. As evening nears, reverse course and intercept deer as they go to feed.