It happens more than most deer hunters want to admit.
Hundreds of dollars and countless hours of scouting are spent trying to figure out exactly where a deer will step during some course of the deer season. All that effort relies on one very important aspect -- that deer will be moving when a hunter sits down on his $200 treestand with his $800 rifle, bow or muzzleloader.
Unfortunately, deer do not always cooperate. Most of our hunting pressure is confined to a few hours in the morning and a few more in the evening. And those too few hours normally occur on the weekend.
The fact that so many deer are killed on such a limited schedule is a credit to the number of deer in the country. Still, with so many deer and an ever-decreasing time schedule for most deer hunters, there are more days than not when the hunting and the hunted force a stalemate.
Whether because of pressure or weather conditions, there is more time during the hunting day when deer do not move around than when they do.
Invariably in the early fall we all experience these kind of weather patterns. Saturday is warm and muggy, and after the first hour of the day most deer movement has ceased. By Sunday, a stiff north wind helps keep activity to a minimum, and the weekend turns out to be less than stellar for most.
It is that way because deer hunters like to concentrate on the situations that can make a deer step into view. Great attention is placed on scrapes, rubs, funnels and food sources, each believed to hold the key that will ensure an encounter between the hunter and deer.
Hunters seldom think about the time when deer are not moving. During these times, if a hunter is not moving, chances are there will not be an encounter.
Even though it might appear as if every deer in the woods has magically disappeared, it's certain that deer are still close by. In most cases, they are doing what they do best, lying around and waiting for the moon or stars to align just right, or for a particularly strong hunger pain to get them up and put them in action.
For most deer hunters, waiting for the moon, the stars or hunger pains to kick in doesn't complement their schedules.
In those cases, one of the best ways to have an encounter with a deer is to go to them. It's known as still hunting, which is odd, since hunters are actually moving rather than sitting still.
Still hunting, or the act of searching out game on its own ground and by its rules, is the purest form of deer hunting. It's a simple process, but it's not easy -- which may be the reason few deer hunters practice it.
It requires stealth and knowledge of the game you are hunting, along with a great deal of patience and confidence. But it is entirely possible. Most deer hunters have walked up on deer that were as surprised to see the hunter as the hunter was to see them. By slowing down the process, the hunter can be ready and, if done right, can be virtually assured of having an opportunity to encounter a deer.
The idea behind still hunting is to move within range of a deer without the deer seeing you first. Since deer spend most of their time in defensive mode, ready and waiting for a predator to show itself, the tactic requires that a still hunter take advantage of every strength the hunting ground offers, while remembering the strengths and weaknesses of the deer.
Every deer hunter knows that the first obstacle to overcome in chasing deer is the deer's nose. While cover scent is a must, there are few, if any, reliable ways to totally wipe out human scent.
Because of that, a still hunter's course should be set with the wind direction in mind. Always move with the wind in your face or on the side of your cheeks. Knight and Hale have a product, Windfloaters, on the market that accurately shows wind direction.
While everything isn't linear in the deer woods, and wind has a way of reminding hunters of that, every move a hunter makes should be made with the thought of keeping scent away from the deer in front of you.
Although moving is critical to getting to the deer, moving slowly is essential. An old deer hunter's yarn applies: "If you want to kill a deer still hunting, move 100 yards every hour. Anything quicker is too fast."
The fact is you can't move too slowly, and in most instances, moving too fast is the reason still hunters often fail. You know you are moving too fast when you see the telltale flashes of whitetails waving in front of you.
The following are some tips to follow for a successful hunt: If you have to look down to see where you are going to step you are moving too fast. Good still-hunters plan their steps before they move, memorizing their course for the next few yards. When they move forward, they are alertly watching their surroundings. Often the hunter's movement, no matter how slow, will be the thing that forces a quick, short movement from the deer.
If a hunter's head is down, by the time the hunter looks up the deer are several steps ahead of the hunter, and most likely on their way to safer ground.
When possible, take advantage of dark places, shadows on the side of large trees, blowdowns or thickets that can mask your movement. Every stop should be planned to break up the hunter's outline.
Be aware that deer are playing the same game. It's not often they will be found in the open, but rather lying in the shadows or the thickets. With that type of refuge, they can't be seen easily. A hunter looking for a piece of a deer -- the white or shiny glow of an antler, an ear twitching, a leg or part of the outline of a body -- will find more deer than someone looking for the whole thing.
Walking quietly means making slow and careful footsteps. The hunter's body weight should be kept on the back foot while the front foot moves ahead and becomes secure before the whole body is moved. The foot should be placed heel first and slowly rolled forward to keep from breaking twigs or small branches that will trigger a snap and alert deer. If ground clutter is everywhere, deliberate steps that slowly crush twigs rather than snap them are best. Those crushing sounds won't carry as far.
Care should be made to not brush overhanging limbs or small saplings. Movement is the biggest spoiler of a still-hunt, and one small brush of a sapling can transmit all the way from the ground to several feet in the air.
Still hunters have to know where deer will likely be. Like a bass fisherman who knows a fish will be on a point, still-hunters can pattern and expect deer to be in certain places.
When deer are not moving, they are likely lying in cover. Thickets and blowdowns or dark shadowy areas are especially likely. But the hunter who just scans the closest cover before moving will miss a lot of chances. A successful still hunter will scan every dark place within sight before moving, and keep scanning those places as they become closer.
Scouting to find bedding areas can be critical, because deer will often use the same places over and over. But just because a bedding area is hot with use doesn't mean thickets close by won't have deer in them. Still hunting in those places will make sure that a lone deer bedded close by doesn't warn the rest of the herd.
Of course, it would be nice if deer were on the same schedule as the hunters. Since they are not, still hunting is the best way to utilize time on a slow day.
-- Steve Bowman