Still Hunting Whitetail Deer
by Cole Daniels
The vast majority of whitetails are taken from stands. Tree stands and ground blinds make deer hunters more effective. As humans, we're more accustomed to spotting movement. In our world, moving objects equal danger. When we look before crossing the street we don't wait for parked cars. Our minds are trained to look for movement. When hunting from stands we sit motionless and scan the periphery for movement. It's what we're best at.
Still hunting takes us out of our comfort zones. Skilled still hunters pick apart the woods as they move. They don’t look for movement. If a still hunter sees movement, it’s usually the old whitetail wave goodbye. Still hunters should keep an eye out for pieces of deer. Whitetails are well camouflaged. You will rarely be able to make out an entire deer if it’s bedded down. Look for the flash of an antler or flick of an ear. The goal is to spot the deer before it spots you. Deer that our spooked out of their beds usually won’t stop running until they are well out of sight. Obviously, shooting at deer running away from you is a low percentage play. Still hunting is purely a mind and eye game.
A lot of hunters want to know how much ground they should cover when still hunting. I’ve heard all sorts of ranges from 100 yards in an hour to five steps every ten minutes. What is the correct answer? It depends. As a general rule, the thicker the cover the slower you should move. There are more hiding spots in a thick alder swamp than an oak ridge. You can see an easy forty or fifty yards while working oak ridges. You may not be able to see more than ten or twenty yards in front of you when hunting cutovers thick with tag alders.
How you walk can be as important as how slow you walk. Orthopedic specialists teach their patients to walk heel to toe. In our everyday lives, this technique keeps joints healthy. However, when still hunting toe to heel walking will ensure your steps are quiet. Take shorter steps and learn to feel the woods. With some practice you will learn when a stick is about to break under your boot. Move your body with the landscape. Slither past branches with as little movement as possible. The roles are reversed now. Bedded deer are looking and listening for movement. People typically walk with a cadence. That is, they have a rhythm to their steps. There is very little stopping and starting. Now think about the pace of deer moving through the woods. They take a few steps before looking around. Then they may browse a bit. It is sporadic movement. If deer don’t smell you they will hear you. Sounding more like a deer than a human can be the difference between seeing deer and spooking deer.
Another important tip is to keep your head up... both figuratively and literally. If you’re constantly watching your feet instead of the woods you can’t hunt effectively. Still hunting is tough to learn. Beginners are going to fail more than they succeed. Don’t give up and learn from your mistakes. While still hunting is challenging, it is also rewarding and a lot of fun.