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Written By: Cal Kellogg, May 2, 2014
Dawn was a distant memory as I hurriedly strapped on the fanny pack and headed for the canyon. It was just after 1 o’clock on the last day of the deer season, and boy, the clock was ticking!
The bluebird weather, while beautiful, seemed better suited for hunting quail rather than deer. However, there were plenty of cervids in the area. Spending the morning in a tree stand had proven that. I’d seen 11 does and a husky spike before the deer activity dried up around 10 a.m. I figured with the mild conditions most of the deer had bedded for the day. After calculating my options, I decided my best chance was to spend the remainder of the day still hunting a series of brushy gullies that dropped into a major drainage.
From experience, I knew bucks often bedded along the main ridge just above the tops of the gullies. These areas offered the bucks cover, a good view of the ground below them and multiple escape routes.
Moving at a snail’s pace and glassing every few feet, it took me nearly an hour to zigzag across the first gully. I hadn’t seen a deer, but abundant sign told me it was only a matter of time before I would.
I eased onto the rim of the second gully and started glassed for bedded deer. After several minutes, I moved a few yards downhill to gain a new perspective. Just as I began to glass, a deer snorted directly below me. This was followed by the sounds of deer bouncing through the brush. I dropped the binoculars and instantly unslung my rifle. At that instant, I saw movement as a doe bounded from the cover closely followed by a wide rack of antlers. As my cross hairs drifted across the buck’s vitals, the 7mm roared and the buck disappeared.
I thought the buck was hit hard, but I wasn’t certain of it. I chambered a fresh round and walked over to where I’d last seen the deer. The buck was there, sprawled across a deadfall. It had been blocked from my view by thigh-high buck brush.
For many, the mere mention of deer hunting congers up images of a lone still hunter silently prowling the woods in search of a heavy antlered buck. Even in today’s high-paced high-tech world, still hunting remains the hands down best option for many Pacific Coast blacktail hunters. Yet the majority of blacktail hunters afield today do not understand the fundamentals involved in consistently harvesting deer from the ground. This is one of the reasons that a small minority of hunters tag the majority of deer harvested year after year.
The still hunter seeks to match his or her senses against those of the deer. When we consider the wary nature of the blacktail buck, especially those living on highly pressured public lands, it’s easy to see that the odds are stacked against the hunter. Now before you get the idea that still hunting is based on luck or that you have to be blood kin to Daniel Boone to be successful, let me assure you that good still hunting skills aren’t inborn. Instead, they are learned
Still hunting is by no means rocket science, but it is more than just a casual walk through the woods. Effective still hunting is based on a number of fundamental principles that must be observed. Woodsmanship, patience, concentration and experience are among the still hunter’s greatest allies.
The first things that still hunters must consider and overcome are the senses of the deer. Deer have a well-developed early warning system consisting of a highly refined sense of smell, keen hearing and good vision, particularly when it comes to detecting movement. The most effective way to defeat these senses is clearly to hunt from a tree stand or enclosed ground blind. However, there can be problems with stands.
Some hunters are not comfortable perched on a small platform 15 feet or more above the ground or cooped up within the dark confines of a tent like blind. Others find the waiting involved tedious and boring. Furthermore, for stand hunting to be effective, the deer must be moving. When the deer aren’t on the move, the hunter must exercise skill in seeking them out and then moving in close enough for a shot. Ranking a blacktails defenses in order of importance, I place his sense of smell first, vision second and hearing third.
The only way for the still hunter to defeat a blacktail’s nose is by keeping the wind in your favor. In theory, the process is simple: Determine the prevailing wind direction and move into it. Seldom are things so simple. In reality, reading the wind can be difficult and frustrating.
Air currents are strongly influenced by topography and thermal heating, making “wind doping” an unreliable science at best. A wind chalk bottle is a great help in reading subtleties of the wind and is a must have item for any serious blacktail hunter. Another trick I employ is hanging a small feather on a short section of dental floss from the front sling mount on my rifle or off my bow. To check the wind, simply allow the feather to hang straight down and it will betray the direction of any breeze.
I’ve read all the claims made the makers of cover scents and scent elimination products, but under field conditions I’ve never found these products to be effective. The human body is a veritable scent factory, and the fact that you’re moving this scent factory about in the woods makes it impossible to prevent or cover up those odors. It’s naïve to believe that we can mask our scent from an animal with a nose more sensitive than that of a bomb-sniffing dog.
“A deer’s vision is geared to detecting motion. No movement including the blinking of an eye seems to be too slight to be noticed. But motionless objects even if they don’t blend with their surroundings are seldom seen or recognized,” says deer expert Leonard Rue III.
Movement poses a significant problem for the still hunter. Moving too quickly is the main reason still hunters fail to connect. Everything a still hunter does, from walking to raising a pair of binoculars, has to be done S-L-O-W-L-Y.
In nature, quick movements signal danger. Not even the best modern camouflage can mask movement. A still hunter hunts with his eyes, not with his feet. Take two or three smooth, slow steps, then stop and glass the surrounding cover. Your goal is to spot a bedded or browsing animal, not to spook one into flight.
We are out of space for now. Check the next issue of The Fish Sniffer for the conclusion of article-Cal Kellogg.
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