Deer hunting is a traditional sport. As a deer hunter you follow many “traditions” some of which may surprise you. Take for example the eve before season starts at a hunting camp. (Hunting camp is a general term for where two or more hunters eat meals, sleep, and commune.) Ask anyone who has ever been to a hunting camp and the night before season consists of many traditions.
You must get to the hunting camp plenty early. Preferably, mid-afternoon before the first day of hunting, maybe even earlier. This logic is based upon the need to unpack the gear, stow away the food, check everything as you unpack, and allow you adequate time to do some light scouting of the area. Early to camp is a time tested tradition that everyone must honor, not only for traditions sake, but it also provides other benefits like allowing plenty of time to, (1) run into town to buy items that you forgot to pack, or (2) drive back home to get the hunting license you forgot.
Tradition really begins to overtake the hunting camp after the hearty dinner as everyone sits around the table exchanging time honored stories of earlier seasons, the big bucks that got away and the successes of former years. Tradition dictates it is appropriate to retell stories that were shared in prior years, however, you are required to embellish the prior version of the story with new tidbits of fact. These new facts are generally challenged by everyone else at hunting camp as exaggerations, so be prepared to have a handy reference list to verify the new facts. Your reference list though is just as likely to be challenged as fake, so you deal with it and everyone laughs it off.
Benjamin Franklin is famous for his statement, “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Mr. Franklin obviously was never a member of a hunting camp, because early to bed is considered a great sin among seasoned hunters. Tradition dictates once again. After stuffing yourself with the wonderful meal cooked by “the designated cook” and sharing some exaggerated hunting stories (fishing tales can also be shared), there is plenty of time for a cribbage tournament and for adults, the occasional intoxicating beverage and at least one “good luck cigar” before calling it a night. The appropriate time for heading to bed the night before the season opener, given you need to be out in the woods at 5:45 am (or earlier), is generally not before midnight. A good deer hunter doesn’t need a lot of sleep.
But enough about pre-hunting traditions, the intent of this blog was to discuss the traditional hunting methods, stand hunting, making drives and road hunting. Let’s first look to the road hunting method. This style of hunting involves getting into a vehicle and cruising around country roads for hundreds of miles a day, scoping out open fields and nearby wooded areas hoping to see a deer. Road hunters are obvious to anyone that hunts; generally two or more occupants in the vehicle, driving slowly and each occupant staring intently out the windows. There are numerous benefits to this style of hunting, you stay warm, you can converse with friends and there is most likely plenty of snacks and beverages. There is one inherent drawback to road hunting though, it is illegal in all the states that I have ever hunted in. Minnesota hunting laws prohibit shooting from a motor vehicle or on, over, across or within a road right-of-way. Additionally, shooting or hunting on agricultural lands without the landowner’s permission is trespassing. Road hunting is to be avoided, if your friends want to road hunt, don’t get into the vehicle with them.
The next style of hunting that is considered traditional is “making drives.” This consists of a group of hunters, some are walkers, some are posters. You pick a parcel of land and the posters situate themselves along a boundary of the property, generally in some random spacing wholly attributable to seniority, with the most experienced hunter standing where deer normally would appear and the remainder of the posters watching the other unlikely routes of escape. Making drives has it’s inherent drawbacks like any other traditional style of hunting. The biggest drawback is the posters will shoot at deer that are more than likely situated somewhere between the poster and the drivers. Making drives can be a very productive method of bagging deer, but it requires a fairly good group of hunters willing to walk endlessly throughout the day.
The third traditional style of hunting is being in a stand. This can be a ground stand or a stand in the air. Tree stands can be of the commercial metal type which are fastened to trees by two solid straps and a lot have nice ladders for easy access, or they can be home build wooden stands set precariously 12 to 16 feet high in a tree, to free standing enclosed and heated “cabins” sitting on top of a tower. The idea behind hunting from a stand is to be out of the deer’s normal vision area (deer generally don’t look up in trees for danger), which allows the hunter a bit of liberty in moving around, like shivering uncontrollably in an effort to warm up.
Stand hunting is why hunters get out into the woods well before sunrise. The thoughts behind this are it allows you time to wander aimlessly in the dark looking for the stand before you almost trip over the ladder and to get situated in the stand before legal hunting hours begin. Once situated in the stand, you sit there and wait. Quietness counts, so you attempt to sit as quietly as possible as you stare at dark objects shrouded by the darkness, thinking almost everything looks like a deer, only to find as daybreak lights the woods that the stumps, dark spots on trees and other natural occurrences no longer take on that mystical appearance.
Stand hunting is probably the most popular method of hunting deer, but this year, the Wisconsin hunting camp that I claim membership to tried another style of hunting that isn’t so traditional. Still-hunting will likely become a traditional style of hunting in the future for our camp. Simply put, still-hunting is walking through the woods in hopes of seeing a deer before it sees or scents you. But, still-hunting is far from simple, it requires patience and skills that develops over years and years of hunting. Like stand hunting, being quiet is required while you still-hunt, but its not nearly as easy since you are moving through the woods. Notice I didn’t say walking through the woods; that’s because experts will tell you that while still hunting, you should only travel 1/10th to 1/4th of a mile per hour. The whole idea of still-hunting is to move cautiously through the woods and not be seen or heard by deer.
Without getting into details about still-hunting at this time (hopefully another article will detail still-hunting), we had great success this year and the two of us who still-hunted were able to bag three deer. Two of the deer didn’t have any idea we were there and the third did spot the hunter, but wasn’t spooked by his movements because they were so un-humanlike. So if you want to move on to a typically non-traditional hunting style, start practicing now. Mark off between 100 yards and a quarter mile in a wooded area and start moving through the woods. Take a step or two and stop; look in front of you, to each side and periodically behind you. Pay attention to the surroundings and look for deer signs. Try to follow a deer trail, but remember, each step must be placed quietly, gently move brush away from you, so it doesn’t make noise brushing against you, keep your movements limited and walk with the wind blowing into your face. Understand the defenses a deer has to protect itself and learn how to overcome those and soon you will find still-hunting can be a method of hunting that may become your tradition.