Unseen, Unheard: How to Still-Hunt Bucks and Get Very Close
Up for the toughest challenge in the deer woods? Here's how to pull off a stick-and-string still-hunt.
STILL-HUNTING INTO gun range of a whitetail buck is tough enough. But if you’re up for deer hunting’s biggest challenge, try slipping within bow range. Impossible, you say? I’ve tagged some 20 whitetails this way, taking most from between 12 and 15 yards. Here’s how to get super close, draw, and make the shot.
The Right (and Wrong) Stuff
Start by losing anything shiny: your watch, rings, metal belt buckle. Then go camo from head to toe. But don’t use a facemask; it may obscure your vision, muffle sounds, deflect subtle wind changes, and mess up your anchor point. Face paint is the way to go. I use it on my face, neck, and hands.
Most bows and quivers come with a camo finish, but you should also disguise other equipment. Choose camo arrow shafts and earth-tone nocks and vanes. Avoid hip and back quivers, as they tend to swing back and forth with each step, potentially spooking deer.
Take quality binoculars for scanning the woods, but shun the mini models popular with tree-stand bowhunters. They have a small field of view and don’t gather enough light during prime time. A good pair of 8x30s is ideal. And do use a bow sling. It keeps both hands free for glassing and makes life easier when you have to creep or even crawl to get close to a buck.
Find an active funnel or travel corridor that’s situated so you can crosscut, quarter into, or work directly into the wind. Ravines, ridgelines, creek beds, fencelines, and series of buck rubs or scrapes are all good examples. Move slowly and keep your eyes glued to the cover ahead for any glimpse of a deer. If you spend more than a few seconds of each minute looking at the ground, you’re scouting–not still-hunting. And if you’re seeing flags, you’re going too fast.
As you walk, imitate the muted, stop-and-go steps of a feeding whitetail. If you stumble or make an alarming sound, blow a few short notes on a fawn call. Young deer are a noisy lot in the woods, and this will usually relax any nearby adults.
Wait until your buck is occupied, then slip closer.
The toughest part is the last 25 yards before you advance within easy bow range. Stay low. Try to lurk in the shadows. Whenever possible, put a tree, rock, or knoll between you and the deer as you get closer. Or watch that buck closely; when he’s looking away, feeding, making a rub, or otherwise occupied, slip forward gradually until you’re in range.
Now all you have to do is make the shot. There are three tricks here, and you should master the first two beforehand, on the practice range. First, learn to judge yardage from the ground. You’ll be amazed how much perceived distances vary, depending on terrain and cover. Second, learn to shoot with your fingers, because attaching a mechanical release takes too much time and involves too much movement. (Do not walk with a nocked arrow, however. It’s just too dangerous.)
Finally, the key to drawing and shooting in the field is to kneel. Deer simply do not recognize your hunched form, especially if you drop down next to a log or a stump. Even if a buck catches a bit of movement as you draw, kneeling can buy you enough time to make a killing shot.
Bill Vaznis’s book Still-Hunting Trophy Whitetails (Stackpole Books) is available from Amazon.com.