Deer hunting on the move, or still hunting, is commonly misunderstood as to what it is and how to go about it. It is stalking deer, not waiting on a stump or in a blind for the deer to come to you. It can be the most rewarding deer hunting experience you can do. It can also be the most frustrating since it is a skill that requires you to slow everything – your sight, your breath, and your walking gait. But the payoffs go beyond the hunt to your better enjoyment of nature itself.
This article will talk about some things I’ve learned while hunting deer in the Vermont woods and oak mast ridges of Wisconsin. A few simple techniques can be used on your next hunt – whether you choose to still-hunt or not, the principles are the same. These techniques will also make your deer hunt a richer experience. It’s all about: you’re outdoors – enjoy the scenery, hunting or not.
Generally, as deer hunters, we think of one thing when we hunt, and that is deer. Not deer in general, but that deer. We are aided in this compulsion by our brains and our eyes. Let’s talk about eyes first.
Hunt Deer with Soft Focus – See Them as They See You
We see as all predators do – forward, and tightly focused. Look at your average housecat and watch it stalk something. It pursues its object with its eyes narrowed and every muscle relaxed, yet steeled at a moment’s notice to pounce. We share with the cat and all predators having our eyes in the front of our head, designed to focus on a single thing.
However, deer, and all prey species, have eyes designed to detect motion. Deer and all prey species have eyes on the side of their head, and this aids in perceiving motion first, long before the animal can make out whether what they see is a threat or just some pattern-breaking motion in the woods. When still hunting for deer, we must adapt to the way they see. We must see motion first, patterns out of sync second, and the deer last. The only way to do this is to relax our focus and broaden our field of vision.
Here’s how to practice. Stand facing a wall, about six to eight feet away from it. Stare hard at a spot on the wall. Raise your arms, index fingers extended, fully out to the side from your head (and slightly behind). Now, keeping your arms straight and your index fingers extended, bring your arms slowly in front of your face. Notice the moment when your fingers come into view – this is your field of vision (FOV).
Now, turn to the wall again. This time, soften your focus so that your eyes while seeing objects or spots on the wall, do not lock on any one spot. Repeat the index-finger practice. You should see your fingers enter your FOV much earlier than before. It is this type of sight – gained through practice, for it isn’t natural to us anymore – that allows us to see changes in woods patterns and motion. In short, to see deer out in the distance, possibly before they see us.
Now, onto walking.
Walk Toe-Heel, not Heel-Toe
You see it all the time – the hunter walking through the woods as if he’s hunting on rice paper. It doesn’t work. As a hunter, you’re going to make noise. But then, so do deer and other games. So does anything living and breathing in the woods. What you want to avoid is making the rhythmic gait a hunter makes when he’s running, usually after a deer, or doing everything he can to be quiet, when he doesn’t yet see one. Walking toe-heel is the way to walk because the palm of your foot can be more flexible in its response to the softwood twigs and deadfall underfoot – like deer, whose hooves make relatively light contact with the forest floor. Walking heel-toe makes for a heavy, stiff step – a human step. Walking heel-toe, take a few steps, pause, and, using the soft-focus described above, take in the environment, holistically. Above all else, if you find yourself entering into a steady, rhythmic gait, break it up. You also want to avoid any human sound coming from anything man-made, such as metal or hard plastic. Bottom line – brushing past an oak stump is o.k. Marching in cadence is not, nor is that canteen banging against your hunting rifle strap buckle.
Know the Wind
Finally, walk into the wind. Yes, this is rule 1. But many hunters, especially those used to staying in a relatively insulated hunting blind, forget this cardinal rule. I’ve stood with my bow drawn on a buck 10 yards away, with the buck trying to figure out what the heck this would-be Rambo was up to – only to watch it spring to life once the wind shifts and thanksgiving was a bit – thinner that year.
Don’t even bother still hunting on blustery days, with no prevailing winds.
The bottom line when you are hunting deer in this way is to get used to is slowing yourself down, for hours at a time, and softening your focus to “deer hunt” for motion – not deer. But act like, see like, deer, become more a part of where you are, and you will reap many rewards – whether you take a deer or not.