Published by archerchick on 08 Jan 2011
BOW & ARROW Magazine’s
Hunting’s Greatest Thrill ~ By Fred Bear
Why waste a good part of a a day’s hunt by not hunting?
The deer are there somewhere, waiting to match wits with you.
Hunting from A blind or tree stand may be the
most effective way to get a deer, but it is not the only
way. Getting close to your wild animal on your own, where
the odds are are definitely not in your favor, is by far the most
challenging and satisfying way to hunt.
Frequently the beginning or even intermediate
bowhunter: will mention luck when asked to assess the
reasons for a particularly successful season in the woods.
Such a tendency is common when hunting for whitetail
deer one of the most consistently difficult quarry to take
with the bow. However, luck does enter into a successful
bowhunt only if we conceive of it as opportunity made
available Having been presented with a situation where
deer are present, proper use of the opportunity will depend
upon the hunter’s accumulated skills.
The bow and arrow as a still—hunting arm has many
handicaps outstanding because of their direct correlation
with the opposing instincts of deer. First, and most
important is the short range of the bow, making it
necessary to approach well within the protective screen of
the game’s senses in order to obtain a reasonable shot,
coupled with the considerable motion created in shooting.
Finally, the noise of the bowstring travels faster than the
arrow and affords an alert animal time to get out of its way
if it recognizes danger in the sound.
In still-hunting deer with the bow and arrow these
must be taken into consideration, individually and
in various combinations. The instinctive faculties of the
game and the inherent shortcomings of the bow create a
chain of never-ending problems. The still-hunter must
locate undisturbed deer before his own presence is
detected, penetrating the game’s innate barriers of sight,
scent and hearing, in the effort t0 get within bow range
without being seen, smelled or heard.
For those who haven’t tried it, this whole business often
seems like an impossible feat. Too many firearms hunters
hesitate to try the bow, thinking it too difficult and time
consuming to learn and carry out. Actually this is not so.
With very little initial guidance, the skill of shooting a bow
can be mastered quickly. Except for the short range of the
bow, hunting from blinds or stands is little different from
Still-hunting, while certainly more difficult, can be
combined with the waiting game to add interest to those
periods when bedded game makes a stationary position
unfruitful. Many hunters may feel they are too awkward to stalk a
deer, but that, too, is not plausible reasoning. Anyone can
do it simply by slowing down to a super-controlled pace
and concentrating on seeing, rather than just l00king.
There’s a difference.
lf you have done your homework — scouted the hunting
area — you should know approximately where deer bed
down during the midday period, and thus the places most
likely to be productive for still-hunting. Your tactics will be
adapted to the animal’s behavior. Unlike the mule deer, the
whitetail spends much of its time in or on the edge of dense
cover. This is true whether they inhabit our southern
hardwood forests, northeastern cedar swamps, or river
brakes of the midwest.
You’re out there in the first place to take advantage of
the finest season in the woodlands. Why waste a good part
of it by not hunting for half of each day? The deer do not
hide in hollow trees or go down badger burrows. They are
out there somewhere, waiting to match wits with you.
In many areas of whitetail habitat, mast provides a
plentiful and favored fall diet. With the advent of October
winds and rain, acorns will begin to fall. Squirrels
contribute to the bounty by cutting them down. From then
on, some deer can be found feeding on the freshly fallen
nuts at any time of day, bedding right in the open oak
groves between meals if not disturbed. Still-hunting in
stands of oaks can often produce a good chance for a stalk
on deer intent upon filling their stomachs. At noon I once
eased up within thirty feet of a young buck that was busy
If not in oak country, or in seasons of poor acorn crop,
the still-hunter should concentrate on covering such areas as
the sunny slopes along ridge tops, heavy jackpines or tree
plantations, poplar thickets, balsam groves and willow or
alder swales bordering streams or ponds. These are the
generally favored midday bedding locations for the
whitetail. Once you have found where the deer are resting,
by moving very slowly and being very alert, you may be
able to slip up on a whitetail. At any rate, it’s fun trying.
When moving through such cover a certain amount of
noise cannot be avoided. This does not, however, make it
impossible to get close to deer. The secret is to move along
slowly, with a pause after every three or four steps. This is
the way a feeding deer moves. While in heavy cover, travel
on deer trails whenever possible. These are not only quieter
going, but lead you to where the animals are.
The direction you approach and move through various
coverts should depend on prevailing air currents. A deer’s
nose furnishes its sharpest sense, and the bowhunter must
keep his scent from the animal. Consequently move either
into or across the breeze direction whenever possible. even
if this means a sizeable detour to get downwind. Some
insurance in areas where the air currents are fickle may be
had from a little deer scent on the boots and clothing.
Soft-finish clothing is also important to the still-hunter,
as is flexible foot gear with soft soles such as crepe rubber
A small occasional noise will not ruin an approach, but a
steady sound pattern will immediately alert the game. And
of course complete camouflage including the face, hands
and bow is certainly helpful.
Patience is really the key to successful still—hunting.lf
you go very slowly and pause frequently, chances are you’ll
do well. But the moment you get anxious and speed up the
pace, something’s likely to go wrong.
When moving, each step will open up new avenues of
vision. Very seldom will you initially see an entire deer.
Look for spots that look like parts of a deer’s body. Train
yourself to spot and examine every bit of unusual color or
outline in the woods. These could turn into part of a
bedded or feeding deer. The important thing to remember
is that you must curb the tendency to see what’s over the
next hill. If you don’t travel slowly you won’t see anything
over the hill except possibly the sight of white tails waving
goodbye. To gain the advantage, you must see the deer
before it suspects your presence, and that advantage can
only come with cautious, slow steps. If hunting correctly,
you’ll spend more time motionless than you will moving.
When you do move. take short steps. By doing so you
remain balanced and can freeze instantly in mid-step when
the occasion demands.
I had the privilege of knowing and hunting with the late
Bill Loomis of Newaygo, Michigan. Bill was a skilled
bowhunter and taught me some valuable tricks. One of the
things I learned from him was that in still-hunting, if you
accidently jump a group of deer and they disperse in
different directions, hide yourself near the spot where they
were alerted. Possibly in a half hour or so some deer will
return, hoping to make contact with the others, and you
might have the chance to get off a good shot.
When you are within sight of undisturbed deer, the final
approach or stalk is employed. Have you ever watched the
hands on a clock? You don’t see them move, yet they
change position. I once saw a bobcat stalking a grouse and
it’s progress reminded me of the clock hands. This principle
should govern your close-range stalking, and it can get you
within bowshot of a bedded or feeding deer, even if you are
partially in the open.
Perhaps the greatest deterrent to success during a stalk is
in concentrating on one deer, thereby overlooking others
that are in the area. Deer are seldom alone; You should
constantly be checking for others bedded or feeding
nearby. There is nothing so disconcerting as to be almost
within easy range, only to have an explosive snort from one
side lift your neck hair and send the white flags flying.
Speaking of flags, it is well to remember that a feeding
deer will invariably switch its tail just before raising the
head to look around. Keep an eye on the tail and when it
Do nor attempt to stalk a deer from behind a large tree
or dense cover unless you keep its head in view at all times.
If you don‘t you’ll never get away with it, for you are
unable to determine when the animal is looking in your
direction.. I’ve tried this more than once, only to be
frustrated by an eye-to-eye confrontation when, in
preparing to shoot, I leaned out to one side of the cover.
While it is true that, due to eye position, deer have good
peripheral vision, it is still possible to approach an animal
standing broadside, providing its head is down in feeding
position. But again, one must move like the hands on a
clock, watch the tail, and be prepared at every instant to
freeze. Move straight toward such a- deer; it is less likely to
pick up movement than if you progress laterally.
Of the few times you do manage to close within your
range, let’s say thirty-five yards, it does not necessarily
follow that you should shoot immediately. After all, you’ve
put a lot of time and effort into the stalk and one good
shot is worth any number of mediocre chances. What is the
best possible shot? It’s certainly never at a running deer,
nor is it at a deer that’s alert or tense. The best possible
shot is presented by a standing animal, broadside or
quartered away, relaxed, and with its head down.
And what if your slight approach movements are
detected by a deer, unsure of just what it has seen, but
determined to stare at the object in question until it is sure’?
Well, all I can say is that nine times out of ten your
patience will give way before the deer’s. Furthermore, it is
tensed like a compressed spring and ready to explode. Your
best chance then is to slowly ease up. the bow, slowly draw,
and if the animal hasn’t moved before you reach your
anchor, touch it off.
Don’t be disappointed though, or even surprised, if the
deer is gone either at the first movement, or before your
arrow gets there. Rare indeed is the deer bagged by a
bowman when the animal was looking at him. But, the
thrill is there and it’s all part of the game.
Occasionally while stalking, a deer will jerk up its head
to stare in your direction, but obviously unsure of whether
it has seen anything unusual. Such an animal will swivel the
ears around and may stomp hesitantly with a forefoot. In
this instance it is best to freeze in an attempt to wait it out.
But beware — don’t make a move when the animal finally
lowers its head, for it will invariably raise it again
immediately, hoping to catch any intruder off—guard. It
may go through this maneuver several times. Hold your
tree-trunk pose until the deer actually starts to feed again
before resuming the stalk.
Although still-hunting can be done by partners who are
used to working with one another, for the most part,
particularly in western-terrain, still—hunting is a loner’s
game. One hunter makes half the noise and movement of
Rainy or extremely damp weather is a favored time for
the still-hunter due to the additional cushioning of noise
and slowing of scent spread by the abnormal moisture
content in the woods. When hunting in damp weather, stick
generally to the lower ground levels. No matter what time
of day, moisture causes the air to settle and would carry a
message of danger to your quarry should you be on higher
ground. If hunting on a day wet enough to require a rain
jacket, wear it under your camouflage jacket. This will
muffle noise otherwise accented by brushing against limbs
or in the act of drawing the bow.
One of the greatest thrills I ever had while hunting
occurred on a drizzly morning after an all—night rain
Although quiet underfoot, the woods were noisy with
water dripping from the leaves. Having spotted a lone doe
busily browsing along and not alert, I managed to close the
distance between us to the length of my bow. The
explosion that came when I tapped her on the rump was
something to see, and made up for all the times I had
similarly jumped in response to an undetected deer’s snort.
The prime period for the still-hunter occurs during the
madness moon. When mating season is under way, for a
period of two or three weeks those desirable bucks are
likely to be encountered any time of the day. Further, they
are less alert than usual and easier to approach, although
this is not to say they are pushovers by any means. During
the rut you do not have to look specifically for a buck
Find the does, keep them in sight, and a buck is bound to
show up. But never underestimate your quarry. The does
never lose their alertness and the bucks, even when preoccupied
with lovemaking, don’t turn into complete
A schedule favored by many bowmen is a stand or blind
from first light to l0 a.m., still—hunting until 4 p.m., then
resuming an ambush until dark. But while early morning is
a prime time for occupying a blind or stand, the hour after
dawn is also my favorite time for still-hunting. After
feeding undisturbed all night, deer are much less wary, on
the move toward bedding grounds, feeding slowly as they
go, and keeping their heads down more than at any other
time of day. lf you can find an area where old trails or bush
roads intersect the travel zones between feeding and
bedding grounds, stealing along these at first light may offer
Just prior to or directly following a storm, any kind of
storm, deer are on the move and therefore provide another
excellent period to hunt through known feeding areas.
There is a time in still—hunting when you must throw
caution to the winds. I have often spotted feeding deer,
observed which way they were headed, then dropped back
out of sight and ran widely around to set up an ambush. In
assuming such a stand, you must be patient. If you have
circled successfully and have found good cover, it often
seems as if they would never get there. You begin to have
doubts, thinking they have probably switched travel
direction. But wait a little longer. As sure as you start to
move, there they will be. Sometimes this ambush works out
and as often it doesn’t, but in this type of hunting a 50-50
chance is a good one.
In late Fall when most of the leaves are down and
tempered by frost, deer make almost as much noise as you
do while walking, especially the bucks who tend to drag
their feet. So do not despair when the under footing is like
cornflakes. Just move as the deer do, very slowly and with
frequent pauses, and concentrate on observing them from a
distance, beyond the range of your sound.
The taking of a deer by this method is especially
satisfying, and rightly so, for you have pitted yourself
against your quarry on its own ground. A successful
still-hunt is the culmination of experience gained during
many attempts. And when at last you’ve made a final stalk
pay off, you’ll know beyond a doubt why this is
bowhunting’s greatest thrill. <—<<<
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