Buck just inside the edge of a transition

Still Hunting: How to Be a Mobile & Adaptable Deer Hunter

Bow hunting is a journey, a continual learning process where each experience, each encounter, and each moment in the field add to your deer hunting knowledge and skills. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that adaptability and mobility are the cornerstones of successful bow hunting. It’s about being flexible, being able to adjust to the ever-changing conditions, and seizing the opportunities that present themselves. This is where Still Hunting comes into my strategy. It’s a crucial part of my Strategic Hunting philosophy, enhancing my mobile adaptability and allowing me to make the most of every hunting situation.

As bow hunters, we know that adaptability is the name of the game. Weather changes, wind shifts, deer patterns alter, and what was a hot spot yesterday might be a ghost town today. When the unexpected happens, a versatile hunting strategy is key, and one such strategy that I’ve found to be invaluable in my arsenal is still hunting. Unlike stand hunting where you wait for the deer to come to you, you take a more active role, seeking out the deer in a slow and methodical manner. In this post, I want to delve deeper into the art of still hunting, and how it can become an essential part of your strategic hunting approach.

Mike wearing a Forloh Solair Insect Shield Lightweight Hoodie.

What is Still Hunting?

Still hunting isn’t about being stationary. It’s about moving slowly and stealthily through the environment, stopping frequently to watch and listen. This technique aligns perfectly with my principles of Strategic Hunting, which emphasize keen observation, adaptability, and a deep understanding of whitetail deer behavior. It’s about being proactive, not reactive. It’s about making decisions based on what you observe and experience in the field, not just sticking to a pre-planned strategy.

Still hunting, to put it simply, is the art of stealth. It’s about moving slowly, step by deliberate step, through the woods, using every sense you’ve got to detect deer before they detect you. It’s about blending in with your surroundings, using the wind, the natural cover, and even the sounds of the forest to your advantage. But remember, it’s far from a walk in the park. Every step, every pause, every observation needs to be deliberate and calculated.

Buck sniffing the air looking into the wind while looking for predators.

Active Scouting and the 80/20 Rule

Still hunting allows me to actively scout while hunting. It’s a dynamic process that involves constant observation and interpretation of whitetail deer sign. When I’m still hunting, I’m not just looking for mature bucks; I’m looking for evidence of their presence and activity. I’m looking for rubs, scrapes, and tracks – fresh hot sign that indicates a buck is nearby.

Active scouting is about being in the field, observing, interpreting, and learning. It’s about understanding the patterns of deer movement, identifying potential feeding and bedding areas, and finding the trails and travel routes that buck use regularly. It’s about using all this information to make informed decisions about where to set up, when to move, and when to stay put.

This strategy has you eyeing for fresh sign, pinpointing potential new stand locations, and even laying eyes on deer. It’s this two-fold approach that fits right into the 80/20 rule I discuss often. For those who may not be familiar, the 80/20 rule in our context is about achieving the maximum results — be it valuable scouting data or actual hunting opportunities — from a focused, intentional effort. Scouting for the optimal hunting spot 80 percent of the time and hunting 20 percent.

Sometimes, the sign you find may indicate the presence of deer nearby, but you’re not quite sure about their exact movement patterns or preferred locations. In such situations, transitioning to an observation hunt can be beneficial. You can set up in a strategic location to watch and learn more, effectively turning your active scout into an observational one. This flexibility is a core part of the strategic hunting methodology and is further explored in our post on Observation Hunts.

Interpreting Deer Sign

Buck rubs and scrapes are a clear sign of a buck’s presence. Tracks, of course, are the footprints left by a deer. Each of these signs tells a story, and understanding that story can give you a significant advantage when hunting. Interpreting deer sign is like reading a book. Each sign is a piece of the puzzle, and when you put them all together, they can give you a clear picture of the deer’s habits, movements, and patterns. It’s about understanding the language of deer and using that knowledge to predict their behavior and plan your hunting strategy.

To learn more about how to interpret, read, and react to fresh, hot deer sign, read my guide here.

How to hunt hot deer sign like rubs, scrapes, tracks, and droppings.

How to Still Hunt: The Process

This process starts early in the day, possibly mid-morning, and uses the entire day to find hot deer sign and hunt in an optimal location due to what sign is telling me is the best place to hunt right now. I scout-to-hunt in areas that I’ve e-scouted or have scouted previously, but not to the extent I wanted to, and expect that there is potential in that area.

When moving it is critical to keep from having a consistent cadence to your steps as deer can detect a predator by the sound of their gait. Stop, alternate your steps from time to time, and walk slowly and quietly; especially when approaching areas that fresh sign is telling you may be potential bedding areas or feeding spots.

If I find a promising area with fresh sign and I believe that a deer will pass through later, I can use my saddle and climbing sticks to quickly and quietly set up in a tree. This gives me an elevated vantage point and helps to keep my scent above the deer’s nose. The ability to quickly transition from ground hunting to tree hunting is a significant advantage of still hunting and a key part of my Strategic Hunting methodology.

In both scenarios, the decision to hunt from the ground or from a tree is driven by what the hot sign is telling me. It’s about interpreting the sign, understanding what it means in terms of deer movement and behavior, and then making the best strategic decision based on that information. This is the essence of still hunting – it’s a dynamic, responsive approach that allows you to adapt to the conditions and opportunities of the moment.

Tips for Successful Still Hunting

Still hunting is a dance of patience, precision, and adaptability. It requires a subtle understanding of deer behavior and habitat, and the ability to adjust your approach based on real-time observations and conditions. Here are some tips that I’ve found essential in my still hunting experiences.

  1. Patience, Pace, and Pause: You aren’t simply ambling through the woods, you’re stalking. This calls for a slow, irregular pace that mirrors the natural movement of animals in the wild. Stopping often and varying your gait can help prevent deer from identifying you as a threat. Quick, continuous movement is more likely to alert deer to your presence. It’s also essential to frequently stop, look, and listen. This not only breaks up your movement pattern but gives you a chance to thoroughly scan your surroundings with binoculars. You’d be surprised how often a pair of tines can be the only giveaway of a bedded buck.
  2. Observe and Interpret: Keep all your senses on high alert for signs of deer activity. Fresh tracks, droppings, rubs, and scrapes are keys to understanding the deer’s patterns and movement in that area. I delve deeper into reading these signs in my “Rubs, Scrapes, and Tracks: How to Scout and Hunt Hot Deer Sign” post.
  3. Avoid Silhouetting Yourself: Stealth is key in still hunting. Make sure you’re not standing out against the horizon or in open areas, as this can easily give your position away. Whenever possible, stick to areas with good cover and break up your outline with your surroundings.
  4. Check the Wind and Thermals: Deer rely heavily on their sense of smell. Regularly checking wind direction and thermals, and adjusting your movements accordingly, can prevent your scent from alerting deer to your presence. While still hunting, I often use milkweed to check the wind direction and ensure I’m not unintentionally alerting deer.
  5. Blend In: Wear camouflage clothing and minimize unnecessary movement. Try to move through the woods as if you’re a natural part of it, keeping a low profile and reducing disturbance to the habitat.
  6. Prepare to Adapt: In still hunting, you need to be ready to adapt based on what you discover. This might mean setting up a quick stand or ad hoc blind when you come across fresh sign. I always wear my saddle and carry my climbing sticks to quickly set up a tree stand, but am also ready to ground hunt when needed. The decision to set up on hot sign or come back later depends on many factors like time of day, weather, wind direction, and type of sign.
  7. Target Bedding Areas and Rut Funnels: Generally, I try to move towards bedding areas as this is where mature bucks tend to be during the day. However, during the rut, I might adjust this strategy if I come across active scrapes or doe signs leading into a particular area, indicating a potential rut funnel.

Remember, these tips aren’t just techniques, but vital components of the strategic hunting philosophy. By mastering them, you can transform your hunting approach from a game of chance to a precise, adaptable strategy, thereby improving your chances of a successful hunt.

Buck bedded inside the edge of a transition observed when still hunting.

The Role of Wind in Still Hunting

The wind plays a crucial role in still hunting. Deer have an excellent sense of smell, and they rely on it heavily for detecting danger. As a hunter, it’s essential to understand how the wind can carry your scent and to use that knowledge to your advantage. When still hunting, I always try to keep the wind in my face. This way, my scent is carried away from the deer, making it less likely that they’ll detect my presence. I consider hunting into the wind an essential element of still hunting.

Understanding and using the wind is a skill that can make a significant difference in your hunting success. It’s not just about knowing the direction of the wind, but also understanding how the wind can vary with the terrain, the weather, and the time of day. It’s about using the wind to your advantage, whether you’re moving through the woods, setting up your stand, or planning your approach to a deer.

To learn more about how to hunt using the wind, see my guide here.

Winds and thermals colliding can affect your hunt.

The Bump and Dump Technique

However, even with the best planning and execution, there’s always a chance that you might bump a buck. This is where the adaptability of still hunting comes into play. If you do bump a buck, you can use that to your advantage by executing a “bump and dump” technique. This involves intentionally (or unintentionally lol) bumping a buck to get it to move, then setting up in the area where you expect it to return.

Remember, a buck will probably not return to the spot from where he was bumped out of his bed unless he only heard you and did not smell you. If they smell you, chances are they will not return. This is why it’s so important to be mindful of the wind and your scent. This is why each time I stop or sense a change in the wind, I drop milkweed to see what the wind direction is in that location and adjust my direction of movement accordingly.

still hunting whitetail bucks

When Should I Still Hunt?

The beauty of still hunting lies in its adaptability. This hunting style thrives in a variety of situations, but certain conditions may make it especially beneficial:

  1. Changing conditions: Weather shifts, wind changes, and disrupted deer patterns can upend your hunting plans. If your chosen hunting spot doesn’t seem promising, still hunting allows you to pivot and actively seek out deer instead of waiting for them to come to you.
  2. Identification of hot signs: During your still hunting sessions, you may come across fresh sign like rubs, scrapes, or tracks. This could indicate active deer in the area, making it a perfect time to switch to still hunting.
  3. Time of the season: The time of year can heavily influence deer activity and behavior. For instance, during the rut, bucks are more active during the day as they seek out does, creating more opportunities for successful still hunting. Early season, pre-rut, and post-rut can also present ideal opportunities for still hunting as deer behavior changes.
  4. Thermals and wind direction: Understanding and using thermals and wind to your advantage can make a huge difference in your hunting success. If the wind or thermals are not in your favor for a planned stand hunt, still hunting into the wind or with the thermals in your favor could be the better option.
  5. Unfamiliar Territory: If you’re hunting in a new area or an area you haven’t had time to thoroughly scout, still hunting can be an effective way to get to know the lay of the land while also actively hunting.

Remember, still hunting is a part of your strategic hunting toolkit. It’s not about always choosing one method over another but knowing when to apply each tactic for maximum effectiveness.

The Equipment for Still Hunting

When it comes to equipment for still hunting, I opt for lightweight, quiet gear that doesn’t restrict my movement or make noise. My clothing helps me blend into the environment, and my bow is a natural extension of my body, ready to make the shot when the opportunity arises (so an arrow is always loaded when I am moving). I also carry my saddle and climbing sticks with me so I can quickly get into a tree to hunt if I see potential or hunt from the ground when I find a potential pinch point or ambush spot in the midst of hot sign.

Choosing the right equipment for still hunting is about finding the balance between comfort, mobility, and stealth. It’s about choosing gear that allows you to move quietly and smoothly through the woods, keeps you comfortable during long hours in the field, and helps you blend in with the environment.

Saddle hunting pack setup with climbing sticks and platform.
My pack out for still hunting includes all my saddle hunting gear.

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Conclusion

Still hunting is a strategic, adaptable approach to bow hunting that perfectly aligns with my Strategic Hunting methodology. It’s a method that requires patience, observation, and adaptability, but when executed correctly, it can be incredibly effective.

As a mobile bow hunter, still hunting allows me to remain flexible and responsive to the conditions and opportunities that present themselves. It enables me to actively scout while hunting, interpret deer sign, and use the wind to my advantage. It’s about making decisions based on real-time observations and experiences, not just sticking to a pre-planned strategy.

Still hunting is an art in itself. It requires patience, practice, and a keen sense of the natural world around you. But more than that, it’s a key part of a flexible, adaptive hunting strategy. In strategic hunting, we don’t just rely on one method or spot. We adapt, we change, we scout, and we make calculated decisions based on real-time information. And that’s where still hunting shines — it’s hunting and scouting rolled into one, maximizing our time and efforts in the woods. So the next time you find your hunting plans disrupted, consider still hunting. It may just be the strategy you need to turn an uncertain situation into a successful hunt.

As an everyday bow hunter, I’ve found that still hunting not only enhances my hunting experience but also increases my chances of success. It’s a method that’s worth exploring for any serious bow hunter. It’s a testament to the power of adaptability, observation, and strategic thinking in the field. It’s the embodiment of what it means to be a Strategic Hunter.

 

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