BOW & ARROW HUNTING
OCTOBER 1989


WHITETAIL BASICS ~ By Charlie Kroll

Still-hunting is the purest form of the sport, but becoming a lost art.

HALF A CENTURY ago, when I first began hunting deer, the longbow,
wood arrows and single—blade broadheads were the only available choices
for an aspiring bowhunter. Hunting from elevated stands was illegal and still hunting, a ground—blind ambush or a group drive were the options of pursuit.
Still-hunting was then, and remains today, the purest form of the sport, placing the hunter and the hunted on more equal footing than drives or ambushes.

Today, however, still-hunting is all but a lost art. Why do I bring it up? Simply because
I believe it is to the advantage of the novice to give it a try. By doing so, one can learn more about what makes his quarry tick and about the balance existing between instincts and reasoning than
in any other way.

We all are taught that basics win sporting events. In football, it’s the basics of blocking and tackling. In basketball, it’s the basics of dribbling, passing and follow-up and in track and field,
it’s timing and pace that separate the winners from the losers.

Success in hunting also depends greatly on basics, but of a slightly different sort. The basics I refer to here are those governing the actions of the game, i.e., knowledge of animal senses of sight, smell and hearing and how critically these are employed. It is really difficult for the beginner to realize how honed these senses are in deer. The best way to find out is to devote some time to the one-on-one still-hunt, which is simply the attempt to discover game while slowly easing through the coverts, followed by a careful stalk to get within reasonable arrow range.

It takes some personal experience to fully comprehend the extreme acuteness of sight in an animal that can hardly distinguish a man at rest from a stump, yet can detect the slightest motion a hundred yards away across tree trunks, logs or brush and when every branch is swaying with the breeze.

To avoid the senses of sight and hearing requires not only reasonably quiet underfooting, but also acquired skill and care in moving, aided by eyesight almost as keen as that of the game.
When you begin to comprehend the sharpness of the eyes against which you are matched, you are still about as far as ever from understanding the nose of the deer. The idea that the animal can detect your odor a quarter of a mile away when no breeze is blowing is often rather astounding to the novice. Still more so is the idea that the slightest taint of human odor reaching that keen nose causes instantaneous reaction.

When a deer is alerted by sound or sight it may pause to assess the possible danger. But when man scent reaches its nose, it is gone; right now! It generally costs the beginner, as it did me, many bitter days of frustration learning that he cannot trifle with the nose of the deer.

Therefore, your first care in still hunting should be to constantly be aware of the direction of the wind, however light it may be. Pay attention fo the old adage of hunting high ground
early and low ground late in the day to take advantage of the thermal flows.

Cross currents may at time enable you to work within bow shot of a deer, but you can’t really rely on it, especially if the current tends to shift about, as it often does in hilly country. Use of a cover scent may be of help, but it is my studied opinion that if a deer can smell anything you have on, it can detect the human odor as well.

lt is almost as hard to realize the acuteness of hearing of a deer. Probably more deer are lost to the tyro through this than any other cause. The great majority of those that elude hunters, escape unseen and generally unheard. It takes long to learn that you cannot afford to crack even the lightest twig, or even let the softest snow pack too fast beneath your foot. You can hardly move
too quietly in even the wildest of cover.

There is a lot to be said for observing just how unalarmed deer move while
feeding and imitating those movements when some ground cover noise is unavoidable.
If you are in dense cover where you suspect deer are skulking or hiding, do not be misled by the fact that at such times they do not seem to mind noise. When deer hide it is because they know
what you are, but believe you cannot see them.

Some hunters believe that a day of blustering wind is a good one, providing you keep facing into it. It has been my experience, though, that such a day is a poor time to still—hunt because the
animals are highly nervous with watching and listening. The best type of day for this activity is a dull, overcast day, possibly with intermittent light drizzle, following an all-night rain.

One of my greatest bowhunting achievements was made years ago on just such a day, when I managed to get close enough to a feeding whitetail to completely unglue it by a tap on the
rump with the tip of my bow.

Incidentallly, if hunting on such a day, stick pretty much to the lower ground levels. Moisture causes air to settle and there is less chance of it carrying a message of danger than if you
were on higher ground. Of extreme importance to the still- hunter is that he sees the game before it sees him. Given two creatures in the woods, each in search of the other, the greater advantage lies with the one that happens to be still when the other one is moving within sight range. The best
time for this with deer is when they are feeding and moving, for they are nearly impossible to approach when bedded.

This is why early morning and evening are good, as then the deer are moving and feeding. Just after daylight is the best hour of all, as the animals have alternately fed and rested all night
relatively undisturbed, they are then as relaxed and unwary as they ever get. To take proper advantage of this, you absolutely have to be in their travel area, between feeding and bedding
grounds, before dawn breaks. I f you have to hurry to get there before daybreak, you might as well forget it. You will then have to go against the first law of the still—hunter: a snail’s pace.

You cannot movefast and you cannot move constantly and expect to see animals before they see you. Yes, there are certainly other considerations to be noted in order to achieve success. Among these are appropriate dress of a camo pattern blending with the general type of terrain hunted and of soft, noiseless finish; proper attention to camouflage of the face, hands and bow, some knowledge of current food preferences and knowledge of such signs as mbs, scrapes and
in-use trails.

Next to the difficulty of comprehending the acuteness of a deer’s senses is that of understanding how one looks in cover. Your ideas might come from seeing deer in a zoo or park, or from pictures. But you are almost certain to start out by looking for an entire deer, whereas you might better be looking for almost anything else. ln the woods, you seldom see more than part of a deer, at least to begin with. Concentration should be on horizontal lines and on color patches or spots out of place, plus slight movements such as that of an ear, nose, antlers or tail. To succeed at this
you need to do considerably more looking than moving.

When you are moving in cover, every step you take opens new avenues of vision. You must curb the tendency to see what’s over’ the next rise. If you don’t travel slowly you won’t see any-
thing there except perhaps the sight of a white flag waving goodbye. Again, the name of game is seeing the quarry before it sees you. Deer have good peripheral vision, but it is possible to approach one broadside, providing that you move slowly, directly toward it and only when its head is down. In such a final attempt to close within arrow range, avoid direct eye contact, concentrating instead on the spot you want to hit and remembering that whitetail usually signals a lift of the head by first wiggling its tail a bit. Of course, an approach from behind is the best one when possible, especially when the animal is moving into or across the wind.


It sometimes happens that a novice has the luck to run into a “foolish” deer or two on his first hunt. If he is successful, he will begin to think there is nothing to it. Then, of course, he may hunt
for several years with no repeat of his original success. Any bowman matching himself for several seasons against the whitetail deer will not only acknowledge the acuteness of their sensory defenses, but may come to believe that they have a sixth sense on top of all the rest.

Yes, still-hunting is the toughest way to go, but remember, if a kill every time out were the most important part of hunting, you wouldn’t be reading BOW & ARROW HUNTING. The still-hunt
is the most exciting, the most challenging and when success is finally achieved, the most satisfying adventure the lands beyond the pavement have to offer. <–<<

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