An experienced still-hunter moves into the wind mimicking the sound of a walking deer. Wary ungulates hunkered down upwind of the approaching human cannot smell what to them is a noxious odor, so they must rely on eyesight, a much less efficient sense than their noses.

Successful still-hunters capitalize on this shortcoming and try to get a shot before the quarry flees.

For nonhunters, allow me to point out that “still-hunting” means “still in the process of searching for game” — a perfect description of a hunter poking along two steps at a time, stopping and waiting as much as a minute or more between each pair of steps. Whether standing or walking, they scrutinize the surrounding woods for deer.

This hunting tactic requires patience and intense concentration as well as knowledge of terrain and deer behavior. When done right, hunters can and do sneak up to curious deer standing there watching.

During my early 20s, in the gray light of a November dawn, I was still-hunting along a hardwood ridge one mile north of Route 105 on the Windsor-Somerville town line. Newly fallen leaves had frozen in the night, so each step sounded like an explosion in such still air.

As the sun rose and spread golden light and harsh shadows through the bare hardwoods, I came upon the late Maynard French of Somerville, standing stoically against a beech tree, waiting for a deer. French had known me all my life and waved a greeting before motioning me to him.

When I reached him two or three minutes later, this man with 40-plus-years of deer-hunting experience whispered, “Before I saw ya’ good, Ken, I thought ya’ was a deer for sure.”

I never got a better compliment.

Still-hunting captures the American spirit — the lone wolf relying on no one else. Only infrequent chance encounters with people can hurt or help.

Trying to sound like a deer may strike non-hunters as dangerous, and granted, it was perilous in the 1950s before hunter-orange-laws evolved.

In the Truman and Eisenhower years, as many as 19 hunters were getting shot each fall in Maine.

These days, mandatory hunter-orange hats and vests for deer hunting and hunter-safety courses make the sport so safe that a year may pass with no hunters in all of New England suffering from a gunshot wound. In some states, a year may pass with more hunters dying from falls from tree stands.

When done right, still-hunting gives folks an excellent opportunity to shoot a deer and offers two pluses over taking a stand or driving deer.

When hunters stand downwind of a well-used deer trail and do everything right, they still may not get a shot because warm weather, swirling wind, daylight or overhunting keep deer bedded in thickets, except after dark. The only exception would be when a predator or hunger moves deer in daylight.

If hunters know a stretch of woods, driving works superbly. However, driving deer can be disastrous for folks with little knowledge of terrain. They cannot find a deer crossing or get lost while driving, so others in the party may spend more time hunting for companions than for deer.

Many still-hunters, including me, hunt alone and take turns through the day — sneaking along or taking a stand.

Typically, I still-hunt until tired and then sit for a while until boredom pushes me along again.

Whether still-hunting or standing, I use deer lures, deer calling and antler rattling. These aids keep my concentration level high.

Of the three, I use rattling the least, because carrying antlers is a nuisance. Those bags of sticks for rattling just don’t make it with me, either.

Here’s how these deer-hunting tools can work:

In 1986, an 8-point buck ran by upwind of me, just flashes of white and brown, and disappeared from sight.

Then the rutting buck hit the scent line coming from hot-doe lure squirted on a moss-covered stump, which drew him back to an opening, giving me a clear, standing shot.

How many hundreds of times have I put out deer lure, though, that didn’t work. We remember the times when it made hunting seem so easy.

Another time during a very black predawn, in an old clear-cut, I took two steps at a time in frozen leaves until coming to a low stump, where I could stand and shift feet silently should the need arise to turn around.

When legal shooting arrived, I grunted once on a deer call, a one-second burst that didn’t end abruptly. The sound just died in the last quarter-second of the call — my favorite tactic with this hunting tool.

A huge doe in a thicket behind me started running hard right at me, a loud crashing in frozen leaves, startling me big time. If I were sitting rather than standing, she might have gone right over the top of me.

I had no antlerless-deer permit so just watched — but what a rush and a lifetime memory.

Which once again proves that hunters head into the woods for far more experiences than the seconds it takes to kill something.

 

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]