Whitetail hunters—including myself—like comfort. Sure, we might brave frigid temps or hike miles in the dark through a swamp, but not after spending thousands on hunting clothing, insulated boots, and ultra-comfortable tree saddles. These things aren’t bad, and I personally don’t hit the woods without them, but they can be stumbling blocks for success in the whitetail woods. Just like hunting with the same tactics or the same stands season after season will likely lead you to the same results.
I’m pretty sure this is why a lot of hunters either neglect or underutilize still-hunting. It forces us to change plans, think strategically about our every move, and put ourselves in vulnerable positions to make shots. Not to mention, it breaks a lot of beliefs the whitetail industry claims as gospel. In short, it can be uncomfortable. And while you might not punch your tag while still-hunting, there are plenty of reasons why you should add it to your strategy this fall. Here are a few:
Deer just aren’t moving, it’s too hot, etc., etc. These and plenty of other lame excuses have kept a lot of hunters at home and a lot more deer alive. They’re also far from true. A buddy and I spent five days hunting a new piece of ground last season. I decided to still-hunt, while he set up in what he assumed were great food destinations or travel corridors. They might have been, were it not for the hunting pressure. At the end of the week, he ended up seeing a lone fawn and wrote off that WMA with some of those excuses I mentioned earlier. On the flip side, I had multiple deer sightings every day, which eventually led to a run-in with a nice buck and a cooler full of meat.
This isn’t a testament to my hunting skills and probably has more to do with luck, but I do think it says a lot about our assumptions about deer movement. Still hunting is a great way to dispel these myths, especially on pressured ground. A lot of the encounters I had on this hunt occurred at midday, even in smoldering, early-season temps. If I had been hanging in a saddle, instead of still-hunting, I probably would’ve had a similar experience as my friend. Still-hunting has its setbacks. It leaves you vulnerable to deer picking you out in the timber, but it does allow you to slip into their territory when hunting pressure forces them deeper in the cover.
Historical spots where we’ve had success are deadly. But not in the way you might think. They can give you the false hope that you’re sure to have a similar experience, only to prove that history doesn’t always repeat itself. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but if you want new success, you’ll have to find new spots. And what better way to find new spots than still-hunting through an area?
Instead of throwing a dart at the map and setting up blind, go for a ground attack. Sure, you might run the risk of bumping a buck, but it could be a great time to try out the bump-and-dump technique so many hunters tout these days. After all, you probably weren’t going to see that buck in your old stand anyway.
Tree stands can hide a lot of our shortcomings, but nothing will expose them faster than hunting from the ground. When you have to draw on a deer while still-hunting, you learn quickly what you can and can’t get away with. Learning when and how to draw on deer while they’re in bow range and at eye level will translate to your tree stand hunts and make you a savvier hunter overall.
I’m not talking about carbon fiber climbing sticks and fanny packs. Successful whitetail hunting demands a certain level of discipline. You’ll have to get serious about stand access, playing the wind, and scouting if you’re targeting a big buck.
But taking hunting too seriously can lead to resentment, burnout, and an unrealistic level of pressure that most of us aren’t capable of handling. After all, we’re chasing deer, not performing heart surgery.
In a previous article, I mentioned a recent still-hunt that ended with my tag around a doe. I’d do that hunt ten times over. If arrowing a doe from the ground doesn’t get your heart pumping, it might be time to reevaluate your expectations. If you’re in a slump or you’re just not seeing deer, still-hunting can (and most often does) get you in front of deer, give you intel for future hunts, or even make your time in the woods enjoyable.
Don’t take this as a manifesto to ditch your tree saddle or still-hunt anytime you don’t feel like putting hours on the stand. Those hours are necessary and lead to filled tags. But if you haven’t added still-hunting to your toolbelt, then you should think of that as a hole in your whitetail game. Who knows, you might even have fun.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.