What is Still Hunting?
Still Hunting is accomplished by slowly and quietly gliding through brush and cover while constantly scanning the terrain for signs of prey. Still hunting involves a lot of sneaking through clusters of cover, slow step by slow careful step, and frequent stops to thoroughly look over each new vista as your movement reveals it.
The art of the sneak is made up of quiet movement, stopping to scan and glass for animals and tracking animals by their sign; like scat, bedding sites, rubs, and wallows. Sometimes you’ll see bits of fur caught on brush and limbs or maybe there is a clear trail full of tracks to follow. That is usually too much to expect. You will listen while you pause to look around and sometimes you’ll smell some animals before you see them.
Even though it is called still hunting, you are always moving toward the animal you are trailing. The slow movement seems still to hunters who just push through the terrain at a quick pace just hoping to jump a deer or flush a rabbit but the sneak requires patience and a connection with the sights, sounds, smells and sign in the woods.
If you do your sneaking right, once in a while, you will find yourself incredibly close to your target. Believe me, you will be excited the first time you sneak within eight yards of a browsing buck before he notices you.
Technique # 1
LEARN TO MOVE QUIETLY.
Every step you take has the potential to make noise that can give you away to the animals you hunt. Learn to move quietly by stepping forward and placing your heel gently on the ground and slow and carefully move onto your toes. Try walking on gravel normally and listen to the amount of noise you make. Then slow down and walk heel to toe, slowly like you trying to sneak up on something. Notice how quiet that is compared to before.
WEAR QUIET CLOTHING.
All of your clothes from your head wear to your socks should be made of soft quiet fabric. A nylon wind breaker makes a lot of noise when the fabric rubs against a limb or brush or even as it rubs against itself as your arms swing while you walk. Heavy canvas pants can make a lot of noise when you are trying to sneak quietly through thick brush and undergrowth.
Better choices are available for stealthy hunters trying to get their sneak on. Brushed cotton, fleece, flannel, and wool are fairly quiet in the woods. Most of the camouflage clothing makers offer clothes in quiet fabrics. Next time you go into a clothing store just test the noisiness of different fabrics. If you have access to a Sportsman’s Warehouse, go check out the hunting apparel and see what is noisy and what isn’t.
QUIET YOUR GEAR!!
Oops, sorry to shout. In the woods, even the tiniest metallic clink will get the attention of herd animals and prey animals instantly. Even predators will be interested in the strange, harsh noises. All of the animals including birds depend on identifying outstanding noises for their survival. The clank of your bow limb against your binoculars may as well be a crash of symbols in the quiet of the forest. Sure there are louder noises in the forest but bird song and deer vocalization are natural every day sounds.
The forest dwellers hear you drive into the forest, putting them on alert. If you slam your door when you get out and bang your tail gate open to noisily drag your gear out without even trying to be quiet then the wild animals are on high alert. If you start stomping over the trials in your clod hopper boots and your belt knife taps against the jangling keys in your pocket then you are scaring everything in the field. You might as well be a one man band with a trumpet.
Go get a pair of hunting boots designed to be tough and quiet. Go wrap a rubber band around your keys to quiet them. Leave loose change in the truck. Tape over any noisy strap or zipper ends to keep them quiet. If you carry a metal water bottle in your backpack make sure it is covered and won’t clang like a bell if it comes into contact with a tree trunk when you set the pack down to rest.
Sometimes, as you ready your arrow it can smack into the hard surface of the metal riser of your bow. Go glue moleskin or felt onto those surfaces to eliminate errant noises. Be sure to practice shooting with any modifications you make before you actually go hunting.
LEARN HAND SIGNALS.
If you have to communicate with a hunting partner while you are hunting, by all means establish a set of hand signals and practice them. Don’t speak in a regular voice for any reason and really try to avoid whispering. Nothing in the forest really whispers. Animals whistle, wheeze and blow a warning. They even pant and sigh, but none of them have long-drawn-out bouts of whispers. Only people do that.
You don’t have to learn the military code of semaphore and commando hand signals. You and your hunting buddies can learn or make up enough to get through a stalk. Four fingers help up on top of your head can mean you see a buck or bull. Extending your arm half-way to the left means it is close by in that direction. Extending your arm fully means it is far away. Use whatever make sense to you and your buddy. Practice before the hunt and you should be set.
Technique # 2.
KNOW YOUR QUARRY
A Mule deer has enormous ears and they can hear you walking from a quarter mile away. Look at whitetails, moose and elk. All have big ears and they all rely on them to help them pick up on signals of approaching danger. Knowing your prey has outstanding hearing means you know to be super quiet.
The trick is to fool their ears into thinking the sounds you are making are normal woods sounds. If you just walk normally the rhythm of your footsteps tell the deer that you are a human. If you take two or three steps at most and pause a few moments then you will sound more like a browsing animal slowly grazing along from bush to bush stopping to nibble a branch and then moving on again. That little pause gives you a chance to scan the newly visible landscape for signs of game.
In really dense cover just pause a little longer and thoroughly look around. In more open terrain, inspect every bush and weed patch that could be hiding an animal from view. If something doesn’t look right or suspiciously looks like a deer’s hind leg then glass the area with your binoculars. You are carrying a pair of binoculars on a harness that keeps them handy, right there where you can grab them, right?
If your hunting a wary old whitetail deer buck with a few years of life experience he will be way more likely to hide from you than a younger buck. The old deer has confidence in his ability to avoid detection because he has done it for years. A younger deer might panic and run, especially if he is in a herd and they all run off. That older wiser guy is going to weigh his options before breaking away and running. He may take advantage of the herd running and while you are distracted by them he might just step into very deep cover and wait for you to leave. If you are going too fast and missing cues, then you might just pass him by just like all the other hunters he has outsmarted. Knowing that old bucks are sneaky helps you be sneakier.
Elk on the other hand, will try to stay away from you if they see you first. They usually put those long strong legs to good use and put a couple a thousand yards between you and them. If you see them running off, then try to get an idea of where they are heading and try to angle ahead of them and sneak into range with the utmost care. Usually a big herd bull will be keeping up with his harem and you gotta keep up too.
Here is where you have to know your animal. Sometimes you have to speed up to catch up to them, like with elk and sometimes you need to low down and figure out where the best place to hide is, in the case of a cagey old whitetail buck. Even small animals like rabbits or raccoons have their own survival techniques, Reading up on animal habits and by observing them in the field instead of just running around hoping you scare them up, will be most useful when you are trying to take home meat for the freezer.
Technique # 3.
Odor control is a major concern when hunting. Most animals have a much keener sense of smell than humans. Luckily, there are all kinds of scent blockers and odor masking products for hunters. Be clean, wash with odor free soap, clean your clothes with odor blocking detergent. Spray odor blocking sprays on your boots and clothes. Go even spray food scents or, doe in heat, scents on a drag cloth and drag it through the woods to help cover your presence.
A deer’s sense is better than a dogs and a Black bear’s sense of smell is seven times stronger than a deer’s. The bear can smell you from more than five miles away. If there is a good chance bears live where you hunt then you don’t want to smell like food if you can help it.
Cover scents are designed to mask your human odor with something less offensive to wildlife. Some of them smell like dirt some like pine needles or other plants. Just be sure to use a cover scent that would normally be found in your hunting ares. If you use a pine scent where no pine trees grow then the scent won’t help you blend in, it will make you stand out.
Scent blockers, on the other hand are designed to keep your odor contained or neutralized. Various sprays and detergents and soaps all try to keep your sweat from becoming smellier, kind of like deodorants but they strive to have no scent. There are even hunting apparel items with activated charcoal in the fabric to keep your odor from spreading all over the forest.
The less scent you emit the more you are undetectable to animals with super noses, like deer and elk.
Attractant scents help cover your odor but are also designed to entice animals to come and investigate the wonderful aroma. Food scents like acorn scents and crab apple scent work on animals that browse on those foods. Be careful with the food scents because bears, especially black bears, eat almost all foods in the forest. You may be hoping to attract a hungry deer but always be aware that you may attract something you don’t want to attract.
As a still hunter it is best to just block your scent or mask it with dirt or plant smells. Since you are constantly moving, attractants are a lot less effective. You are leaving a trail of odor behind but you are long gone.
Technique # 4.
Hunt the wind.
Even if you have scent free body soap and laundry detergent and you have sprayed yourself and all your gear with scent blocker you are still going to have a smell. As the hunt progresses you are going to sweat. So even though the cover scents can help you fool the deer, they aren’t perfect. If you hunt with the wind in your face then the wind will carry your scent behind you and away from any animals in front of you. It will not do any good to hunt with the wind at your back and blow your scent right to the animals. They know human odor and will quickly leave the area until your scent dissipates and they know you are gone.
During the day the wind changes directions many times. Sometimes the wind is too faint to tell for sure which way it is blowing. This is where a wind checker comes in hand. Go tie a fluffy feather to the limb of your bow and it can help indicate which way the wind is blowing. Go also buy a little squeeze bottle of unscented fine white powder called wind direction detector powder. Just squeeze out a bit of powder and see which way it drifts. Once you spot an animal you should check the wind direction before you make your stalk. Go use any fine powder but it must be odor free. The commercial ones are convenient and not very expensive.
Use windy days to help cover your movement as well as any noises you make. If the wind is gusty wait until a gust then move as quietly as you can. If you are looking at an animal and are ready to put the stalk on him this technique works really great because it covers your sounds plus it makes the whole forest move. The animals are expecting things to move and if you move just as the deer turns to look your way then all of the extra the wind movement all over the forest might be just enough to keep you from being noticed.
Technique # 5
Sadly, we don’t have invisibility technology, yet. We do, however, have camouflage. Just like scent blockers cover your odor, camouflage clothing covers your shape. Camouflage face paint hides your features and makes it harder for animals to recognize a face looking back at them. Camo pattern paint jobs on your bow and all of your gear serves to break up your outline and help it blend into the surroundings.
The trick is to match your camouflage patterns with the terrain you will be hunting in. If you hunt from a tree stand then you can select a pattern that matches the leaves and bark of the type of tree you will be hinting from. If you hunt in duck marshes among the reeds and cattails them you want a camo pattern that looks like reeds and cattails. It should be an open pattern with colors similar or matching the reeds you’ll be hiding in.
But I’m a still hunter. I move through all kinds of habitat and terrain all day long. In this case it is best to wear a camouflage pattern that is open and light but in a various shade of the colors that are prevalent in your hunting area. If you hunt in a dark forest then a little darker camo color might be called for but don’t get a dense pattern. Dark dense patterns do very little to break up your shape.
If you are in thick deep canopy then you can use shadows to disappear into and thick tree trunks or dense bushed to hide behind.
In open arid terrain it is better to have camouflage in lighter colors and very open patterns. You will blend better on open ground and dryer browner vegetation. You will still have to use the shadows to hide in when they are available and hiding in light colored brush while wearing light colored camo is better than appearing as a dark lump that shouldn’t be there.
Cover or no cover, you can take advantage of ravines, depressions and creek beds to move without being so readily seen. Once you spot your prey, duck into a depression and creep closer. Occasionally peek over the edge of the depression and make sure you are getting closer. Be prepared to crawl if you have too. Be quiet, sneak close, get ready and when the animal lowers its head or turns away, rise up to you knees and make your shot. What??? You never practice shooting from your knees? Try it at the range and realize you need to invest in a pair of knee pads so you won’t hurt yourself if you take a knee in the field. Anticipating any situation you might encounter in the field and practicing beating that situation in the off-season will help improve your success.
TECHNIQUE # 6:
PRACTICE ALL YOUR SPOT AND STALK SKILLS.
If you are like most hunters, you still want to be in the great outdoors even if you can’t be hunting. Camping trips with the family, hikes, weekend outing and scouting trips are all great times to practice some of your spot and stalk skills. If you have kids you can check out their shoe patterns and as you follow them through the trails you can study their tracks and learn to identify really fresh tracks. Go play hide-and-seek and track them down. If they want to learn you can see how well you know what you’re doing by teaching them how to do it right. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Even Mom will like getting in on this.
If you are by yourself you can just find random tracks of any animal and follow them. Go track rabbits, mice, dogs deer, even yourself. Just track any animal into the wilds and follow your earlier tracks on your way back and try to spot each track all the way back to camp. Be sure to make it hard for yourself by occasionally leaving the trail, walking on rocks or through leaves or grass and even in the creek as you leave camp and follow your meandering trail back.
In the off-season you can learn to identify everything by tracks and sign it leaves behind. Always have your camera/phone with you to take pictures of tracks, scat and fur tufts you may find. Go also find scrapes, wallows and rubs. Take pictures and see what made them. Smell the areas where you find animals or sign. It can help you recognize a rich environment when you are out hunting.
PRACTICE SCANNING AND GLASSING. Be sure to carry your binoculars when you go out to play in the wild. Go get used to quickly locating your target. It takes a little practice to aim them right quickly without fumbling around and moving a lot. Go on a squirrel spotting trip and consider it a good day if you can sneak up and spot a squirrel before it notices you.
PRACTICE CONTROLLING YOUR REACTION TO THE EXCITEMENT
Being able to remain calm and control your excitement are necessary skills to succeed as a bow hunter. Practice these skills just like you practice your target shooting. How do you get your excitement on a regular basis? Enter a 3-d tournament or target competition. Play laser tag or any competition that forces you to deal with stress, physical exertion and using fine motor skills at the same time. Learn techniques to lower anxiety and adrenaline dumps like deep breathing and others. The more you experience adrenaline laden and stress inducing competition, the better you will become at controlling your reactions. The more you practice dealing with excitement before the big hunt, the more prepared you will be when your dream animal is in bow range.
When you see that animal you have been sneaking along all day looking for, you are going to experience a jolt of adrenaline. Your heart rate will probably shoot up and your breathing will increase too. How you handle that big bang inside your body can determine the outcome of all your hard work. If you try to fight it, it will likely get worse and if you don’t recognize it as it is happening it will freight train through your body and lave you a quivering mess..
Don’t freak out! It’s called Buck Fever and with good reason. When it happens you could get the sweats, the jitters or shakes and your heart and breathing will skyrocket. Just like a fever you can’t stop the reaction. But unlike a real fever there are some things you can do to minimize the overall loss of control.
First of all, acknowledge that it is happening. Focus on taking deep breaths and concentrate on making a perfect stalk. Make your mind settle on the task at hand. Don’t try to rush in and get a shot. Now is the time to go extra slow and use all of the techniques you can to close the distance and get in bow range. Don’t move until you know the animal isn’t looking. Glass the area for other animals that might bust you. Keep control of your excitement. Use the pauses in movement to formulate our approach.
Once you are in range, really concentrate on the exact spot you want your arrow to strike. A lot of hunters have launched an arrow right over the animals back because they let their eyes wander up to admire those antlers. Don’t fall victim to this. Identify the target animal. Move into range, focus on the exact point you want to hit, wait until the animal turns its head or looks down, steady and draw. Smooth release and hope you got everything right.
TECHNIQUE # 7
TEST YOUR SKILLS.
There are many creative ways to test your spot and stalk skills in the off-season. Even if you can only go to the park, grab your camera and go sneak up on some squirrels. If you get close enough to snap a picture with a crisp clean image, then you did alright. If you get the chance, you can camera hunt for a fox or coyote, or even deer and elk. Use your spot and stalk skills to get an up close picture. Anything within your maximum bow range is an accomplishment.
Do you know your maximum effective bow range? Do you know how to judge distances in the field? A lot of people rely on range finders and they have their place. However, if you practice judging distances by picking an object and pacing off the distance. Then you will have a much better idea of when you can make a clean ethical kill shot instead of a wounding shot. Have your buddy use a range finder to measure an object then you guess the distance. Then both of you can pace it off just to verify that you can estimate very closely.
If you have a hunting buddy then you can go out into the woods and practice all of your skills. Dress in your camo carry all of your gear and wear your face paint, too. Take turns hiding from each other, one hides, one seeks. One of you has to disappear and the other has to spot and stalk them without getting seen. Try it for twenty minutes then switch roles.
Next you can try tracking your buddy. Give him ten minutes to go and then follow his track right up to them. They can go anywhere they want and even if you see them, you have to follow their tracks every step of the way. That can be very difficult when you both get good at leaving very little in the way of tracks.
Another variation would be for one of you to carry ten pieces of ribbon into the woods and tie them to brush and tree limbs along a known trail. Go both decide how far off the trail is within bounds. The follower has a set amount of time to find all of the ribbons. As you get better you can use strips of cloth that blend in better, making it harder to spot them.
Go set up a camera on a tripod and both of you can walk out in front of it and see if your camo blends in well. Watch the video and make any adjustments you think will help you disappear. One of you can film the other slipping in and out of cover just to see how much you stand out. You’ll be amazed by how little movement you can detect.
A good way to practice hand signals is to stand a hundred yards apart and direct your hunting partner to a specific tree or rock using only hand signals. Before you come back together pre-arrange which one of you will try sneaking up on the other who turns their back and just listens for the other to approach. The hunted raises their hand every time they hear the hunter approaching. Try this with a lot of dried leaves between the hunter and hunted or lots of sticks, crunchy snow or sloppy mud. This is where you can get instant feed back that you are quiet enough.
ITS A LOT TO LEARN
Don’t be discouraged if it takes you a long time to get it together. These skills take more time and experience in the field. The more you use them, the better you will get. Patience will pay off. Getting close to a bird, a bobcat, a deer and all the other animals will always be a thrill. Actually harvesting the animal will just be the ultimate test of your craftiness in the woods.
The anticipation you have every time you go into the wilds to still hunt doesn’t diminish with time. It builds and builds because as you increase your skills, you get closer and closer to your goal of sneaking up into bow range and taking a nice animal. Every foray will teach you valuable lessons about what still hunting is really about.
Some lessons are painful, like when you sneak into bow range and you take a solid stance and start to draw your bow only to have a cow elk come popping out of the brush, right between you and that magnificent bull you just spent an hour stalking to this point. Before you can even complete your draw, the startled cow elk sounds the alarm and you watch the whole herd disappear into the canyons. You stand there trying to figure out what just happened, playing it over again in your mind. You are a little shook up. Notice that you have the shakes from the adrenaline dump. Maybe you get discouraged or frustrated but for only for a minute because deep inside, you are elated to get within bow range and you know you just learned another hard won and valuable lesson
Now, get out there and perfect your Art Of The Sneak
I’ve written an article to help you shoot better and anchor that dream animal. BOW HUNTING ACCURACY TIPS FOR BEGINNERS – How To Perfect Your Practice
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