As I eased along the old logging road, I caught movement off to my right. I wasn’t sure what is was at first, but then a whitetail doe stepped out from behind some brush. I froze. She continued to move quietly parallel to the logging road I was on. I watched in awe, as this was the first time I had ever still hunted and actually saw a deer before it had seen me. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I had jumped all kinds of deer throughout my early attempts at still hunting. It was always a thrill, but I never was able to even think about drawing a bow. And this time, I was too awestruck to remember to draw my bow. I was hooked!
I had read about still hunting, heard some of the pros talk about it, and to me, it sounded like the epitome of hunting – walking up on unsuspecting wildlife. I took to bow hunting early as a teen. It seemed to me much more fun than gun hunting. Not that there is anything wrong with gun hunting. My first deer were taken with a rifle, but bow hunting brought some additional challenge to the effort that spoke to my nature. And after taking a few deer from a tree stand, still hunting sounded like the next step up in the art of hunting.
Still hunting is more about not moving than it is about moving. I have heard guys brag about still hunting a half mile ridge in an hour, and I have to laugh. That is merely a nice stroll through the woods. Still hunting is about being still. It would take all day to properly cover a half mile of forest while still hunting.
Some tips for aspiring Still hunter:
Move slowly! To still hunt you have to move slower than deer typically move as they browse through the woods. If you are working up a sweat as you are still hunting you are moving way too fast. Even working your way up a mountain in Colorado, if you are out of breath or sweating, you are moving too fast! I have a little trick I use to check my stealth. I try to spot a squirrel in the distance, and then still hunt that squirrel. I have actually walked by squirrels within ten yards or so, and not had them spook. If you can't fool a squirrel, you can't fool a deer.
I was practicing this very tactic when I still hunted upon my first elk. Trying to sneak past two squirrels I spotted a cow elk napping in the afternoon. I was able to get within thirty five yards of her, well within my range, but I had a Bull only tag. And the squirrels never spooked!
Take a couple of steps, maybe three or four and stop. You pauses may be a long a five minutes. Don't hurry the process. Which brings me to my next topic.
Scan, Scan, Scan. You will not suddenly see a whole critter in front of you. You need to look for the flick of an ear, an old colored line against a different background, or just quick movement. But to catch any of that you need to be concentrating. My first shot a deer while still hunting came as a result of seeing an odd movement. As I focused on the movement, I could see a four point buck using his antler to scratch his back. He as facing away from me, and I closed to within 30 yards, and waited for him to get up. He did, but I had such a case of buck fever, I shot a foot over his back! But what a thrill to get that close.
Good Optics. I highly recommend using optics to help. Good binoculars will allow you to adjust the focus, and you can overcome the natural human tendency to look at the closest object. Try changing the focus of the glasses, and you will see that you can see through the brush to things behind. I have often spotted deer or turkey using this. I still hunt with my glasses in my right hand, and I scan everything I can at each pause changing focus so that I can see deeper into the surrounding forest.
Don't confuse still hunting with scouting. I know guys who try to do both, and in truth you will pick up a lot of information as you scan the forest around you, but you are not still hunting. If you are looking at the ground at droppings, scraps or rubs, you are not focused on seeing the animals you are hunting. Keep your focus on things in the distance.
Don't forget to look behind you. You are moving slow enough that something could be coming up behind you. When you pause to scan, scan left, right and behind you. Still hunting is not about getting somewhere, it is about going where you see game, so look everywhere.
Don't forget the wind. This is a no brainer, but don't forget it. I don't care what you do for scent control or elimination, you still give off a scent, so pay attention to which way the wind is blowing. If you are moving slowly and for any length of time, it is not unlikely that the wind will shift on you. Be prepared for that to happen. Likewise consider what the wind is doing, particularly if you shift your direction because of something you spot.
These are just a few tips. To still hunt successfully you have to still hunt - a lot. But if you do you can add a level of excitement to you hunting that is beyond anything you can imagine. And as your still hunting skills improve, your still hunts may well turn into stalks, and that is even more exciting!