Tried and true: Get out in the woods and stay there
With the conclusion of the annual big game hunting season looming on the near horizon, it’s time for hunters to redouble their efforts. The rut is now in progress, and bucks will continue to travel far and wide looking for love in the old familiar places.
As the rut unfolds, hunters should seek out does. That’s where the bucks will be.
Although still-hunting remains an effective technique at this point in the season, bucks are likely to have a harem of does in tow, which will surely provide them with plenty of wary eyes. It is always easier to wait for them to come into your range, rather than attempting to intrude on theirs.
Fortunately, there’s finally some snow cover in the woods, which provides evidence of their tracks, trails and travel corridors. Experienced trackers are able to determine whether the tracks are from a buck or doe, and if they are part of a harem.
With snow on the ground, whitetails will no longer be phantoms of the forest. Deer will be much easier to see, as their dark gray winter coat stands out against the light landscape. Snow cover doesn’t make it any easier to shoot a deer, but it does improve the odds of getting “a crack at one.”
More than anything, fresh snow will provide hunters with confidence, which is often waning at this point of the season. The difference between venison loins sizzling on the camp stove and a longstanding “what if” can be as simple as being willing to spend a full day on watch and walk out of the woods in the dark after putting up with biting winds, scolding squirrels and a nose that ran like a leaky faucet. And even then, you must be strong enough, stubborn enough and confident enough to remain on watch until the bitter end.
It is not an easy task, despite the claims of others. Hunting requires equal portions of mental and physical stamina. I can count the number of hunters on one hand who I know take an Adirondack buck every season.
Despite all the newfangled gadgets, deer calls, special doe pee, game cameras and the ever-growing assortment of videos, magazines and secret techniques, there is only one consistent technique that continues to put meat in the pot. Get out in the woods and stay there.
The most consistent hunters are the folks who are in the woods at the same time and same place as the deer. Despite claims to the contrary, luck has nothing to do with it.
It’s more important to have plenty of patience, utilize scent control measures and know how to safely navigate the woods you are hunting. Regardless of the number of tree stands you hang and all the maps you study, it still involves putting yourself in the right place at the right time. It is a feat that never comes easily.
I’ve run into a few true “deer magnets” over the years, but they remain few and far between. They are rare folks who put in the necessary time in the woods, and they share similar traits, including patience, attentiveness, remarkable eyesight and the uncanny ability to put up with all sorts of weather, terrain and discomfort.
Of the dozen or so on this short list, the majority prefer to still hunt rather than engage in driven hunts or sit on a stand. When asked about this seeming commonality, nearly all will claim that among all the various techniques, still-hunting is the only technique that can be considered true hunting. Anything less is just a bushwhack.
In an effort to shed light on the subject, I’ve included some of the tips, tricks, hints and techniques I’ve collected over the years. Some are fun, others are serious and spot on. Hunting is a grownup game of hide and seek. Don’t take it too seriously, enjoy it.
Complete your first hunt of the day before breakfast. You’ll hunt harder and remain focused and attentive longer when you hunt hungry.
Deer can be alarmed by the regular cadence of your walk, especially if the forest floor is covered with leaves. Change the pattern and pace of your walk by hot footing or stutter stepping. It will allow you to hear how much is missed while you’re steadily crunching through the leaves.
Most still-hunters move too fast, don’t stay still long enough and fail to stay hidden. Hunt as if you are the one being hunted. Be aware of your surroundings.
Listen to the wildlife, the wind and especially the silence. The woods rarely go silent without a reason. When they do, it’s time to pay attention.