Still Hunting Western Big Game
In Today’s day and age, the art of still hunting has been put on the Back burner to the use of tree stands and ground blinds, people don’t realize how successful you can be by using this ancient method properly.
GETTING STARTED: before you try using this method, it is important you learn these key techniques-
How to keep the wind in your face,
How to walk quietly and very slowly
Most importantly how to navigate the woods without getting lost. Always carry a compass and topographic map of the area you plan to hunt. It doesn’t matter how many years you have been hunting a tract or section of land if you are walking about and trying to look for game while keeping wind in your face you will eventually become disoriented.
Still hunting like any kind of hunting has its place and time. I generally use this method for 4 situations
1. When I am hunting in open timber during elk season and the elk are not really rutting hard.
2. In big open timber or for mountain mule deer in the early season. Now before I get to the third situation let me explain why I use this method in these two situations. If you noticed both scenarios have one key factor….open timber. I classify open timber as large mature tress with little ground cover areas that you can see 120+ yards. The name of the game here is see them before they see you.
3. Wet whether hunting, most hunters take to the truck when it starts raining, not me; I put my rain gear on and I take to the woods when the forest/desert is wet you are more quiet and the rain actually masks the noise you are making, your odor doesn’t travel nearly as far, and you will be masked by the movement the rain is making. Aside from Javalina most big game animals aren’t affected by rain, unless you’re talking monsoon type whether.
4. In this situation, I use still hunting is while hunting midday, yes midday while all the other hunters are sleeping, eating or scratching their heads cause they haven’t seen anything I am out there cruising for game. I will do this in any cover desert to thickets; I go where the game goes. You just have to learn how to adjust your style of still hunting to the terrain and I will give you some insight on that here shortly.
Few hunters will ever venture into the heavy cover, perhaps because they lack the patience, confidence and concentration to navigate silently the thickets and dense vegetation hoping for a chance get an open shot at a big buck. It is a lot of work – you can’t snap sticks, rustle leaves, kick rocks, splash water or make other noises that will alert a wary buck of your approach. In these situations, the best the hunter can expect is a difficult running shot.
But if a still-hunter is doing things properly, most of the deer he sees will be standing, moving slowly or bedded, and he’ll get close shots at an unsuspecting or mildly alerted target.
LOOK, LISTEN AND SMELL “Be the predator!”
Successful still-hunters spend most of their efforts looking and listening. I rarely cover more than one or two miles of cover during a day’s hunt. If I hunt through one-tenth of a mile of cover in an hour, I’m hunting much too fast to spot game. It might take an hour or more to still-hunt through 50 yards of prime whitetail real estate and sometimes more than that! In heavy ground cover areas I like to apply the 5/2 rule: Take five slow steps stop for two minutes glass or survey the landscape then take your next 5 steps. In more open country I change that rule to 15/2 rule.
When the landscape is really, really thick and I know it may be hold deer, I will take one step, meticulously inspect the nearby cover in all directions, including my back trail, and then kneel and scrutinize the surrounding habitat again, take another step and repeat. Before taking that next step, I always observe what lies ahead to make certain I can advance quietly.
If I should make a small noise, I don’t despair. All wildlife makes noise while traveling about the woods, and if the disturbance isn’t excessive, any nearby game will likely think I’m just another forest resident. Some people will bleat or grunt softly a few times, to alleviate any concerns a wary buck might have over a cracked twig or crunched leaf.
The trick is to look for pieces of the animal: a glistening eye, a flicking ear, a section of leg, a patch of hide, a section of antler, etc. Look for horizontal lines in the forest. It may be only a deadfall, but then again you may be eyeballing the back or belly of an elk or deer. Also, study any odd-looking branch, brush, stump or rock very carefully.
Keep checking the wind as you move through. A little puffer or wind checker can be your best friend because the wind has a tendency to change directions very quickly in the west.
Yes smelling! Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. One it will help you keep pace and two you might actually wind your game, don’t forget your quarry is not bathing in “No Stinky” scent eradicator or wear scent lock like you most big game are very musty smelling and even more so during the rut.
My very first Javalina I scored I actually winded him and was able to locate the general area he was feeding. As I got closer I could hear sounds of him feeding. This made my stalk much easier because I did not have to expose myself to see where he was. Now javalina are typically very stinky and very noisy. But I have been successful in locating game in this fashion with both elk and deer.
Binoculars are essential to effective still hunting I suggest 8×40 Nikon monarchs ATB. Same goes for a good compass. No matter how good your sense of direction, you cannot hunt hard and keep track of your position at the same time. If you can afford one, I suggest a G.P.S. as well I always mark my truck location and if I shoot an animal I always mark shot location before I begin blood trailing.
For a more in depth look at hunting out west for western deer and game check out my book “The Secrets of Hunting Western Game”
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