1 GEAR MATTERS. "That's nice stuff," Plaster says on the first morning of our hunt, running a hand over my Woolrich camouflage parka. "Wool's my favorite. Polar fleece is good, too. They're your only quiet choices for stalking. Everything else sounds like sandpaper when it brushes against vegetation." He also approves of my LaCrosse Alpha rubber boots. "You want the thinnest, lightest boots you can get away with and not freeze." The thinner the boot, the more sensitive your feet will be to the terrain.
2 GET DOWN AND DIRTY. Plaster says he doesn't understand why modern deer hunters are reluctant to leave their feet, almost as if there were something demeaning about it. Frontiersmen did whatever it took to get their quarry, he points out. Deer and hunters each expect the other to be standing erect and making noise when moving through the woods, yet most hunters have seen deer get down on their bellies to slide under fences and to avoid hunters in low cover. They routinely fool us by not acting the way we expect them to. We can do the same.
3 DO THE UNEXPECTED. The stalker mindset is about behaving in an unexpected way. Plaster has had deer walk right past him while he was wearing a gillie suit in an open field because deer don't expect a man to look like a pile of straw. He has snuck up on them by walking streams, which is perhaps his favorite method. "Streams tend to be low and out of eyesight, particularly of a bedded deer. You leave no scent underfoot and the water is superb at covering the noise of your movement. The key to moving quietly is to never lift your feet out of the water. Deer, in my experience, simply don't associate streams with humans."
4 GO LOW. In thick woods or other adequate cover, a sniper--just like anybody else-- walks erect. But as the height of the cover gets lower, so does the sniper (and so should the deer hunter). Use a crouching walk in irregular or less-than-head-high cover. The high crawl, on hands and knees, is good for waist-high cover. In the elbow crawl, your elbows and thighs are on the ground as you drag your rifle along with one hand, the barrel resting on your forearm to protect it as you advance. "I'm 54," says Plaster. "I'm not going to high-crawl 500 yards anymore. But I would do it for 50 yards to get to an ideal spot. And if the place I want to hunt involves crossing 500 yards of open ground, I cheat. I get up an hour earlier and walk there quietly in the dark."
5 EMPLOY MISDIRECTION. The guys who wash out of sniper school quickest are the ones who decide that the best way to get from point A to point B is the easy way, and then try to figure out how to take that route without being detected. A sniper, says Plaster, is only interested in one thing: which path offers maximum concealment from his quarry. And that is almost never the easy way. Most hunters would benefit by adopting that strategy. He tells of hunting with his nephew Alex last year and wanting to stalk a nearby ridge. There was a decent deer trail that offered a quiet approach. But Plaster knew it was the course that deer would expect a hunter to use. He opted instead for a 400-yard dogleg route through some pines--quieter, with better concealment--to reach the ridge. The boy took his first buck that day.
6 STALK AND STAND. Plaster loves to find a likely section of the woods, approach from down or across the wind, and stalk his way in. "My personal rule of thumb is to stalk for two minutes at a time, and then pause for five. I might move 5 yards in those two minutes or as much as 40. It all depends on the terrain." He never crosses a beam of sunlight if there's a way around it. To muffle noise he tries to time his movements with increases in wind volume, and he always stops with a tree or rock covering his left side, which offers a right-handed shooter a rest while minimizing exposure.
7 GET QUIET AND STAY QUIET. Because deer see about as well as we do but have vastly superior hearing, Plaster believes that hunting requires more emphasis on being quiet than on being invisible. And most of us, he says, screw this one up royally. "I don't understand guys who slam doors, talk loudly, and then think they can start hunting. My stalk begins when I turn the truck engine off." He shuts the truck door softly, loads the rifle quietly, and keeps conversation with his hunting companions to a whisper. Since any sound you make radiates out in a circle, any reduction in volume exponentially decreases your detection radius. In other words, being a little bit quieter creates a lot more area where the deer don't know you're coming.
8 KEEP AN EYE ON THE SKY. Plaster likes to skylight deer walking wooded trails above him. Deer tend to think that they're invisible as long as they're on such trails, and Plaster says that the animal doesn't have to be on the crest of the ridge as long as you can see light behind them. Similarly, a deer feels secure in head-high brush because it can't imagine something surprising it there. Plaster exploits this weakness by searching for elevated places overlooking this kind of ground. A few years ago, after sitting in such an area for three hours, he was about to call it quits when he saw a faint flicker of movement. He put a spotting scope on it and found a mature buck bedded below him right out in the open. He took that buck where it lay and later paced the shot off to 232 yards.
9 USE YOUR FINGERS. In the Midwest and many other parts of the country, there are hillsides composed of fingerlike ridges. Plaster loves to hunt these because they bring into play all his stalking and shooting skills. "The idea is pretty simple. It's the execution that's tough," he says. You move slowly and quietly, working your way crosswind to the edge of a finger, get down on all fours, and peep up over the edge shielded by a rock or a log, ready to take a shot. Deer like to bed on the fingers with the wind at their backs, looking downhill. Plaster believes that deer in this situation are focused on detecting danger at a distance, not close by. Once you scan the finger you're on, you can often see to the next finger or even the one after that.
10 HAUNT THE TRAIL. Stalking on a trail is making a bet that you can move more quietly than the animals that made it. Since it's tough to do this, what Plaster does is set a series of ambushes along the trail. He moves stealthily down the path and then stops in brush or behind a tree at the side. "I'm listening more than anything, " he says. He once got a 10-pointer this way. A doe and a buck came from the side of the trail, but Plaster heard them before he saw them and had his rifle ready. The doe turned onto the trail and was headed away. He shot the buck at 40 yards just as it was about to turn.