Outdoor writers have been opining about still hunting being a lost art since I was a little kid reading issues of my dad’s hunting magazines. I don’t know if it was then, but it certainly is now. This type of slower-than-glacial-pace hunting isn’t even in the conversation anymore for most folks, but it should be.
Still hunting is a chance to be active, sort of, while getting on the ground and melting into the forest. It’s not easy, but it sure is fun. I’ll never forget the days of my early deer hunting career when the wind blew or the rain came, and I knew I’d get the chance to get out of a tree and try to walk a deer up.
I mostly didn’t, but I did have a hell of a lot of encounters. When I did arrow a deer while still hunting it was wildly satisfying because of the mindset and skills necessary to make it happen.
If you don’t have a good idea of where deer should be at the time you’re going hunting, you’re in trouble. I like to plan still hunts around the right weather (any weather that should cover my noise), and then make a good guess on what the deer should be doing at the time.
This is going to be when they are heading from food to bedding in the morning or the opposite in the evening. Pick a ridge, creek bottom, or some type of cover that you can slip through. Then factor in the wind. Conventional wisdom says to get it in your face and go, but I often find it works best for me to hunt a crosswind that slightly favors my direction.
Either way, pick a route or have at least a rough plan of what you want to do before heading out. It’s also not a bad idea to choose a path that will take you through an area you’d like to in-season scout, so that you’re vacuuming up current deer info while actually hunting.
I’m naturally a fast walker, so still hunting is a challenge for me. It helps when I believe I’m around deer, which is why the planning phase is so important. It’s easier to slow down and stay slow when you believe you might encounter a deer at any moment.
Now, the old-school still-hunting advice was always about how you shouldn’t cover more than like 100 yards in three hours. To me, that’s not much different from just sitting on a stump and waiting for them to come by. It’s also, probably bullshit. I don’t know too many people who can go that slow, and I don’t think it’s necessary.
Slow, really slow, is a good idea, though. You want to see deer before they see you, and movement is the key in that situation. Whoever moves more, loses. Choose your steps wisely, stop next to trees, in shadows, and think about what you look like moving through the woods.
Use a good bino harness, and glass often. The goal is to immerse yourself in the woods so that you’re not a disruption. If the local squirrels and songbirds accept you, you’re doing well. If they don’t, you’re moving too much, or too fast (or both).
The thing that has always surprised me while still hunting, is well, how surprising it is to have a deer close and unaware. Still hunting is generally a low-odds game, but when you do encounter a deer, it’s often in range. This means you need to stay alert.
This is tough to do if you’re going as slow as you need to, but if you do cross paths with a deer, your shot opportunity is going to happen relatively fast. You can buy yourself some time by using a ghillie or leafy suit, but often when a deer ends up in your orbit, it’s going to figure out you’re there before too long.
Even a couple of extra seconds of lead time in knowing a deer is coming your way can be the difference between being ready to shoot, or not. It can also be the difference between positioning yourself for a shooting opportunity or just watching the whole thing slip between your camo-covered fingers.
While still hunting is somewhat of a lost art, it’s a viable hunting strategy if for no other reason than it’s often more fun than sitting. With the right plan, a commitment to glacial-pace movements, and the ability to pay attention at all times, you can turn a super slow walk through the woods into a successful deer hunt.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.