It was the second week of buck season and the great majority of hunters were back at work. The odds were those remaining would be sitting in a stand. With the rut past, deer movement in the middle of the day is practically nonexistent.
Now, the first hour of daylight and the last were the best opportunities to catch deer on their feet. So, what does a hunter do the rest of the day? I myself prefer to still hunt.
Still hunting is an art, it takes patience, knowledge and self-discipline. You have to put your time in and be thinking all the time about the terrain and ever-changing conditions surrounding you. But it can pay big results and I believe your odds of bagging a bigger buck still hunting are higher today than they ever have been before. This is especially true if there’s snow on the ground.
Take Terry Claypool’s experience last year. Terry, tired of sitting in his stand and seeing absolutely nothing, decided to take a poke through the woods. It had snowed the night before, increasing visibility and allowing silent walking. Climbing down he moved cautiously into the open woods following a faint trail.
Soon he came to a narrow gas line running directly into the wind and parallel to a steep hillside. Perfect!
Since many of the branches and remaining leaves were bowed down under a covering of fresh snow, following the open gas line would be the perfect path. Here he’d remain dry and silent. Terry would take 10 steps, stop, look around, take another 10 and repeat the sequence. This sounds simple, but isn’t. Being human you want to hustle right along, get where you’re going. This tedious stop and go is completely contrary to your basic nature. But, Terry knew the game he was playing was actually against himself. Smiling at the thought he continued slowly and methodically along the gas line.
After 30 minutes, two deer suddenly stood up in some beech brush and stared at him, 30 yards away. It’s always a bit of a surprise to see deer so unexpectedly. Terry raised his rifle, saw one deer had antlers, but they didn’t appear to be the size he was after. He had maybe a five-second window to shoot, hesitated and both deer moved off, disappearing almost instantly in the snow-dappled landscape.
Well, that was encouraging, he could have had the buck if he wasn’t looking for something better. He stood still for several minutes, there might be other deer just out of sight, but nothing else appeared. He resumed his tedious stop and go with increasing confidence after this close encounter.
He’d gone some distance when he once again stopped, looked uphill and froze. There, in some thicker brush was the dark shape of a deer lying down some 50 yards away. Terry saw a large main beam and knew this was a really good buck. Instantly, the adrenalin kicked in and his heart began pounding.
Forcing himself to remain calm he raised the rifle and immediately saw tall points. Gulping, he forced himself to not look at the rack and concentrate instead on getting off a good shot. Forced to shoot standing, the most unsteady position, he tried to steady the waving, weaving, bobbing crosshairs. He shifted his feet some, turned his body and became steadier. Saying a little prayer, he fired.
The rifle blast split the silence of the snowy woods, but the buck never moved, a perfect shot. Running up he excitedly counted a big mainframe 10-point with split eye tines. Holy cow, a 12-point!
Terry and I both agreed the big buck had let hunters walk by in the past, but we’ve had so little snow during previous seasons the buck didn’t realize he’d been silhouetted against its white background despite the thicker cover in which he’d laid. There were no tracks into his bed. He’d laid down before the snow — and certainly wasn’t moving before dark.
I talked to two other hunters who shot great bucks that week under almost identical circumstances. The bucks thought the hunters would simply walk by while they remained motionless. I sincerely believe we pass by many, perhaps most, of the big bucks in the forests. They will lie as tight as rabbits.
Here’s a few tips.
Always still hunt into the wind. The deer’s nose is his greatest protection. Try to remain unseen, looking more than you’re moving. Line up trees, rocks, the edges of ravines or peek over ridges onto the hillsides and benches beneath you. Being above deer is a great advantage, sight-wise and scent-wise.
When the weather stinks, get out there and hunt. No matter the weather, deer must remain out in it. Heavy rain, high winds, it all helps the hunter remain undetected. Waving branches and blowing leaves mask your movement and disperse your scent. By moving slowly and stealthily you can sometimes get very close without being seen.
Good binoculars are a must. You can see 20, 30, 40 yards farther through the forest than without them. You need to use them at every stop. I also am a big believer in camouflage, especially leafy camo. It works. Snow camouflage is another big help. Don’t use pure white, for some reason the deer pick it out easily. Your outline, even if white, must be broken up by a pattern of some type. With proper snow camo even if the deer detect movement, they’ll stand and look for a few seconds longer before running. Seconds in which you can shoot.
If you’re hunting with a partner, wear some orange on your hat so you can see one another every now and then.
So, there you have it. Look more than you walk, be disciplined, be patient and don’t become discouraged. Just when you’re ready to take three extra steps or quit, a big buck is just behind the next tree. It’s happened to me far more often than I like to admit.
When nothing’s moving, still hunt. It’s a skill few possess and, given time, will produce for you when nothing else will.
(Wade Robertson is an award-winning outdoor writer whose articles have been published in Pennsylvania Outdoor News, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur, Fish & Game and other publications. His email is email@example.com.)