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Still Hunting

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Pete Gaimari

69 Cal.
Sep 8, 2010
Reaction score
My passion is still hunting. I wish I could say I wrote this, but I didn't. It does express how I feel, and how I hunt. Enjoy.

Though it's certainly no Swan Lake, in a very real sense, still-hunting is the dance of the woodsman. Done properly, it is choreographed and precise. It's planned out so that every movement combines agility, grace, and stealth, so that each step, head turn, and pause serves an artful purpose - to collect venison.

A quick definition
A still hunter prowls the woods, river bottoms, marshes and field edges in search of deer. He moves through prime habitat with faith, and faith alone. He is certain that a deer is nearby, and he knows that if he moves carefully, and with the wind in his favor, he might earn a chance to shoot that animal before it is even aware of his presence.

Most commonly, it is a tactic employed by the lone hunter. But two hunters, one trailing the other by 100 yards or so, can also be very effective. In either case, skill, woodsmanship, and incredible patience are required to succeed.

Perfect conditions
Let's begin by conceding, that not every day is suited to still-hunting. Crunchy snow, frost, or brittle leaves can make stealth difficult. If the woods are crowded with hunters, it's probably best to still-hunt on another day too.

But if I wake up to a countryside blanketed with powdered snow or bathed in gentle rain, still-hunting suddenly becomes a very real option - since footsteps and sound is muffled. Soil-covered trails and crop field edges are also ideal for stealthy patrols.

All of these things, combined with the right winds and room to roam, amount to perfect conditions.

A little faith
The proper mindset is also critical. This means recognizing that deer can and will show up anywhere along your route, assuming, of course that you are in good deer country.

This recognition is important because if you have faith that deer are in the immediate area, maintaining the patience and focus required to still-hunt properly is easy. And, make no mistake; patience is key. Without it, you'll move too fast, make too much noise, lose your concentration, and alert every deer in the area.

On the other hand, having complete faith in your hunting grounds means you'll remain confident and in the zone.

One step at a time
The mechanics of still-hunting are simple: step forward, stop, have a good look around and then shoot if you see the deer you want within practical range. If you don't see it, repeat the process.

All this is easier said than done, however. First, you need to pay special attention to where you'll place your next step. You're looking for a path that favours quiet walking and a route that keeps you downwind of high percentage spots such as major trails, scrape lines, cedar swamps, old orchards, and isolated fields. Your rifle, bow, or shotgun should be at the ready too; things can happen fast.

Concealment is also important. Never walk through a meadow, for instance, when you can sneak in the shadows along its edges. Similarly, don't silhouette yourself on a ridge top. The idea is to ghost through the woods using terrain, foliage, and even distant noises to your advantage.

Any movement should be slow and deliberate; after all, you are trying to penetrate the defenses of one of North America's most wary game animals. Don't worry about covering ground either; instead worry about sneaking up on the unsuspecting deer that could be just over the rise.

If you're moving more than 200 yards an hour through good deer cover, you're probably moving too fast for stealth.

Each step in this dance is important, so pick up your feet; don't shuffle them. Put your heel down cautiously and then lower the outer edge of your foot, compressing rather than breaking or crunching twigs and leaves. Then, slowly roll your foot to the ground until all your weight is shifted onto that spot. Done correctly and deliberately, this will minimize noise. After a while, this will become second nature.

In any case, the snapping of twigs or the crunching of leaves, does not necessarily spell disaster. The truth is it's going to happen no matter how carefully you proceed. If infrequent, these transgressions are not a big deal. The woods, after all, are teeming with chipmunks, mice, chickadees, and squirrels.

As previously mentioned, background noises can help mask any sounds incurred by movement. If a chainsaw is being used in the distance, for instance, take a step when the whining is at its peak. If you create a really loud or unnatural noise (such as clanking metal on metal), freeze for a few minutes until the woods have settled down again, and then carry on.

Detecting deer
None of this is of any use if you don't spot deer first. So, stop to take a long hard look around after each step. This might seem excessive until you consider that each new position presents a different vantage point into the deer woods. Old-timers prescribed looking around first from a standing position and then from a crouching position with each step forward. This is still good advice.

Most of us notice movement first - we see the easy things like walking or feeding deer. But sometimes, the flick of a tail or ear or a smooth horizontal shape is the only clue we're offered. That's why we need to pay attention to details and scrutinize every bit of cover.

I once noticed something different about a familiar apple tree at last light - the silhouetted trunk seemed much wider than normal at the base. It took minutes before the deer moved, but that simple observation allowed me to get a shot when it did. Which leads to another point - if it looks like a place where a deer could hide or should be, take your time and really examine it. The biggest buck I ever still-hunted up to held-tight behind a blow-down until I turned to look at something else. Then, at a mere 10 yards, he leapt up and bounded off in a truly dramatic and textbook example of how to break a hunter's heart.

Don't expect to see a full deer either - you rarely do. Often, the white edge of a tail, a leg, the top of a back, or some other body part is all that stands out. Examine any small movement that catches your eye too. What you thought was a squirrel, just might be the flick of a deer's ear. A blown down log, might turn out to be a bedded buck.

Also pay attention to your back trail and, in hill country, have a good look at the side hills. On occasion, deer you didn't detect will circle around in an effort to wind you.

And while you've stopped to look around, listen. The swish-swish-swish sound of ungulated hooves through brittle leaves can be heard at quite a distance. So can sparring.

Lastly, though it won't happen often, on occasion, I've actually smelled bedded deer before ever seeing or hearing them. If this is the case, get the rifle ready, it's close.

Stealth gear
Still-hunting doesn't require much specialized gear. Clothing should be quiet, not too bulky, and reasonably warm. I prefer wool, but there are several excellent modern materials with similar qualities that will certainly do the job.

When it comes to footwear, it's hard to beat a broken-in pair of insulated hunting boots. If conditions allow, I sometimes don a pair of lightweight hiking boots. Whatever footwear you chose, solid ankle support is a must, and you should be able to step quietly in them.

I'll carry several essential items in a small daypack too. These include a knife suitable for field-dressing, a rope or deer drag, lunch, a few granola bars, a water bottle, extra ammunition, a flashlight, matches, extra batteries, a cell phone (if the hunting area gets coverage) and a topographical map.

Since your hunt might lead you into uncharted territory, a GPS and compass is also essential. The former is also useful to mark the location of a downed animal, should you have to leave it to get help.

When it comes to weapons, I prefer a lightweight, compact and fast-handling rifle or slug gun - which of the two depends entirely on what the terrain and regulations dictate. Use whatever firearm you prefer - just remember, you're carrying it at port arms for the duration of the hunt.

Still-hunting is not easy, but it can produce deer when no other tactic can. And, truthfully, I can't think of any deer that are more memorable or exciting than the one's I have taken while cruising through the woods. Perhaps that's because success in still-hunting is a true testament of your woodsmanship and hunting know-how.

This deer season, when the conditions are right, get out there give still-hunting a whirl. In this dance, two-left feet don't matter at all... so long as they're quiet.

Steve Galea is a full-time outdoors writer who lives in central Ontario, Canada. He divides his time afield between hunting big game, chasing ducks, geese, and upland game, and fly fishing the lakes and rivers around his home. An award-winning columnist, his work is featured in several community newsapers as well as leading outdoors magazines.
I still hunt for hogs and small game but won't give up my loggy bayou for deer. I hunt public land and still hunting in the southeast isn't very productive or probably safe. I like still hunters though, they push a lot of deer past my stand. :grin: Chris
August West said:
I still hunt for hogs and small game but won't give up my loggy bayou for deer. I hunt public land and still hunting in the southeast isn't very productive or probably safe. I like still hunters though, they push a lot of deer past my stand. :grin: Chris

Just the ones who are bad at it. :wink:
If you have never hunted in the southeast come on down and give still hunting a try down here. If you have still hunted down here and been successful my hats off to you. When I lived in AZ spot and stalk was the name of the game and loads of fun, I killed a nice little coues and a few javelina.

In the off season I still hunt for hogs I really enjoy it and kill my share but as I said during deer season not such a good idea. Chris
I never said it was easy. It probably doesn't work everywhere either.

It has worked everywhere i've lived. Some places better than others.

Sometimes the journey is better than reaching the destination.

It's not for everyone, but anybody who does it and enjoys it. Knows how good it feels.
I didn't know there was any other way to HUNT deer. Don't know about y'all but I've never seen a deer in a tree. :rotf:
I can only still hunt in the 3 day muzzleloader season and our 7 days of late winter antlerless season. Otherwise on the 200 acres my grandpa farms my dad, my brother, and my uncle are hunting so still hunting would just run all the deer off. I could have killed a doe during a rain shower when I was still hunting with my renegade during muzzleloader season, but I was holding out for a buck.
Yup, my favorite way to hunt also. I may sit late in the evening at a good spot but most of the time I'm very slowly moving and looking. Similar to one person hunting 100yds behind another 2 people on opposite sides of a ridge works really well also if it's done real slow.

If you substitute the word "deer" and put in the word "squirrel", that's me. Also I wear my traditional cloths including my moccasins.

My favorite as well. I spend a month still-hunting with a bow and then when firearm season opens up and I grab one of my muzzleloaders it seems MUCH easier. ;-)

I also carry a tree seat and when I find a nice spot I rest for an hour and see what comes by. There are a couple spots I prefer to be at and in place just before sunset.
Still hunting has been productive for me. Go slow, look carefully all around, stop often. Never hunted from a tree seat, and probably will not. Not patient enough to sit still all day in one spot.

The biggest elk I ever got took seven days trying to outfox him.
Pete: The guy hit some of the high points, but not enough of them, and he got some things wrong.

I learned to "fox walk" when still hunting. Instead of landing on your heels, as we do walking down the street( CITY Walk), bend your knees, and keep them bent when you move. This forces you to leave the weight on your rear foot, while you move your front foot forward.

Now, feel the ground first by putting the outside of your foot( the side with your little toe at the front) down first, and then roll the foot toward your big toe. If you feel a twig, rock, root, or branch under your foot, that is likely to cause you to twist an ankle, or make a lot of noise when it breaks under your foot as you shift your weight to that foot, then MOVE YOUR FOOT, or MOVE the item with the foot, BUT DO IT SLOWLY.

ONLY when your forward foot is placed FLAT on the ground do you shift your weight to it. Now, you can bring the other foot forward, and repeat the process.

ALWAYS listen for alarm calls from birds, squirrels, and other animals. Pay attention. They will send out alarm calls if they spot you BECAUSE you are moving too fast, making too much noise, or if your pounding footsteps spook other large game, including deer that go crashing off through the woods disturbing all the wildlife.

Move when the wind moves the branches of trees, or blades of grass around you, and then only as far as the branch moves. You want to disguise both the sound and the extent of your movement as you "still hunt". This is known as "Moving as Slow as a Tree." I wrote an article about this for Muzzle Blasts about 10 years ago. Don't move when the wind is NOT MOVING(blowing).

Stay on existing game trails through the woods and meadows. You will find trails leading from one large tree to the next in woods, and from one clump of bramble bush to another in meadows. Stick to them. The Game animals do. You will make less noise, and if you bend over at the waist when moving SLOWLY through meadows or open areas, reducing your size and silhouette, the birds and ground animals will not take as much notice of you if you are on those traveled game trails.

On the other hand, if you are "BULLDOZING" down grasses, and breaking branches in the woods with your Vibram Soled BOOTS, every animal within a quarter mile of you will know exactly where you are, how fast you are moving, what direction you are moving, and that you are a human predator they must avoid. You will spend a whole day seeing a lot of "nothin'". :( :shocked2:

When I teach students to "still hunt", I tell them to look over every part of the woods Twice with each step, so they don't miss anything, and then check on the wind and wait for it to blow again enough to move tree branches before they take their next step. Still Hunting is more waiting, looking and listening, than it is moving.

For most hunters, they simply don't practice walking slow enough, much less go barefoot, or using thin moccasins on their feet when still hunting to allow their feet to feel the ground they pass over. Finding a place in the woods that gives a good view of several game trails, with the wind in your face, is often the only way they will ever see game. :surrender:

It took me years to learn to move slow enough to still hunt effectively, and I saw more deer sitting, than I ever saw moving. Now, when I discipline myself adequately, I can still hunt and see much more game than I used to.

I used Carp hunting, by walking in ditches with a bow and arrow to practice moving slowly, about 25 years ago, and that pushed my skill level at still hunting deer in the Fall seasons further than any other practice I tried. Since sound travels so much faster through water than through the air, you spook the carp before you can get close enough to see them, if you move too fast going upstream. Going downstream, you have to step softly to reduce the amount of silt that runs ahead of each of your feet, and move out of the current to still water, to keep the silt trail from spooking the carp downstream from you. you learn to walk away from the still water areas in a stream at curves, as that is the most likely place to find the carp.

The last thing you want to do hunting carp this way is to use a "rolling foot" method, such as you do when you fall down on that heel, then roll your weight over the foot and push off with your toes and the ball of your foot. That simply stirs up too much silt, and spooks everything downstream for at least 30 yards, well beyond your ability to see the carp laying up along the banks, in the shade of a snag, or overhanging weeds and branches. I found that I had to watch the currents, and the snags, and my silt trails as mindfully as I watch where I step when still hunting deer.

Camo clothing helps, but the best camo I know is the Ghillie suit, preferably home made. Find some netting, and tie different colored fabric strips, like burlap, dyed in different shades of color, matching the area where you are hunting, and wear this over whatever else you wear. At the hunt site, take the time to pull grasses and leaves to add to the Ghillie suit before taking off. It will help conceal your odor, as well as conceal movement when you have one of those days when you just can't seem to move slow enough! :idunno: :surrender: :grin: :hmm: :thumbsup: :thumbsup: But any camo- including Blaze Orange Camo-- helps.

Ghillie suits are BETTER because you make them, and that forces you to pay better attention to the colors of the ground you hunt, and take the time to dress out the Ghillie suit with fresh grasses, and branches of leaves from the area before you begin the hunt. It gives you an excuse to SLOW DOWN from your CITY LIFE pace, to the much more leisurely pace of Mother Nature. :shocked2: :hmm:

Remember that deer LISTEN with their feet- those soft pads on the inside of the toe nails on all four feet are like the skin on a drum. They pick up low pitched vibrations from the ground, and they can be alerted by a big footed Human hundreds of feet from the hunter, simply by feeling these vibrations with their own feet.

That is the primary reason to learn how to use the Fox Walk when stalking, and why practicing with bare feet, of feet wearing socks, or thin moccasins, so that you can feel the ground is so essential. ONLY when you master the fox walk, can you get away walking through the woods, still hunting, while wearing those heavy soled boots.

Scouting the area you are going to hunt carefully, early in the year( as in NOW) before all the new leaves appear, allows you to find all the small gullies, dips, rises, hollows, and holes on what otherwise seems to be very flat landscape.

Its that knowledge of the terrain that will give you an edge when still hunting, as you will know WHERE to look to see if a deer is laying up some place you know about in advance. This knowledge will also serve you in concealing yourself as you move through an area. Then, you only have to worry about those darn BIRDS. :cursing: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:
almost all ways still hunt here in western wa. to much under brush. and thick forest. works though! most of my elk ben under 60 yards.
oletymepreacher said:
Never hunted from a tree seat, and probably will not. Not patient enough to sit still all day in one spot.

Don't confuse a tree seat with a tree stand. A tree seat is temporarily attached at ground level in a minute and when you're done you sling it over your shoulder & under your hunting pouch or haversack. It's just a way to keep your butt dry and rest your legs.

I like to travel light. I wear waterproof pants, and sit on anything convenient. Usually a log under a tree. Sometimes on the ground.

Most of the time I don't stop at all. I'm not moving fast enough to get tired.

Getting tired is saved for getting the meat back to my Jeep. That usually wears me out, because i'm rushing to get it done before dark.
Guess I am the only proud treestand hunter, oh well. :idunno:

Still hunting is fun but just another trick in my bag, it all depends on the situation as to the way I hunt a certain area. Chris
If you like steep terrain, poison oak and rassberry vines, 90-100* temps,a billion deer flys trying to get in your nose,eyes,ears, etc. walking on potatoe chips (dried oak leaves 4" thick) you are welcome to tag along with me while I still hunt. The last of our deer season is always around Labor Day weekend when the temps get well aboue 100*, but the bucks are in the rut and you need to be in the field. Our deer season is six weeks long and after it is over I end up in pretty good shape to hike in Co. 10,000 ft elevation in the snow for elk and deer-- no problem.--you gotta pay your dues still hunters!!

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