It was not much of a sound. Just a click. It came from behind a thick wall of briars not more than 40 feet away. It could have been a squirrel or any other creature of the forest, but I was guessing it was a whitetail deer standing up from its bed.
I froze. Nothing moved but my eyeballs and for all the good it was doing I could have closed my eyes. I could not see anything but the maze of brambles between me and the sound.
Ten long, quiet minutes passed. Then I heard another slight sound. It could have been a deer shifting its feet. It could have been a bird feeding on the ground.
If it was a deer, and I had to treat it like a deer even if it was something else, there was nothing I could do but wait for it to make a move. The light breeze coming off the swamp was in my face. That was the main thing I had going for me.
I could not see what made the noise and if I moved to circle the briars the deer would bound off before I could get get a shot in the thick cover.
I remained motionless with my trigger finger resting on the safety of my 30 06 Remington pump. I was anxious to see what was behind the briars, but I knew unless I allowed the deer to make the first move the game was over. That is if it was a deer.
Again I heard a sound slightly off to my left and my eyes focused on the spot. At first, I did not see anything but the cover, but then there was movement and I saw part of a deer^s leg through the briars.
With calculated slowness, I eased the rifle to my shoulder. My heart was pounding as it always does when I see a deer, particularly when it is very close.
When the deer^s head appeared at the edge of the briars, it was instantly identifiable as a good buck. However, the buck looked right at me. Even though I knew better, I felt like a flashing neon sign with by florescent orange hunting togs. My mind pondered whether to take a chance of shooting through the brush or waiting for the deer to take another step and present its shoulder. I decided to wait.
The buck took its eyes of me and took a step at the same time. When it did, I pressed the safety button. The click of the safety caused the deer to snap its head back towards me, but it was the buck^s last move. The shoulder shot dropped it in its tracks.
The mediocre Louisiana ten pointer was far from the most spectacular buck I have killed, but it is one I will never forget because I beat him in a one on one encounter in his territory.
Still hunting is probably the least popular method of whitetail hunting in the southeast part of the country. Most deer killed in the Southeast are taken as a result of dog drives, from tree stands or from blinds. There is nothing that can be said against these methods that produce venison, but none provide the excitement and satisfaction of killing a buck while still hunting.
I have told people that it is no fun killing deer from a stand or blind or during a dog chase. Actually, I stretched the truth a little. It is exciting killing deer no matter what method is used. And if the real truth were told, I don^t have the patience to spend all day in a stand or blind waiting for a deer to show up when I know my chances will improve if I go into the woods after him.
There are two reasons why many Southeast hunters reject still hunting. Many say the territory is too thick for effective hunting. Others object to cohabiting with poisonous snakes.
Well, I can^t say I look forward to associating with cottonmouths, copperheads or rattlers, but they were here first. As the intruder, I feel it is my place to take precautions against snake bite.
One of the primary requirements of successful still hunting is to move quietly through the woods. One of the best ways to get into snake trouble is to move to striking range on one that does not hear you coming. Hunting without protecting the lower legs makes about as much sense as giving a fish a bath.
Likewise, the snakes that are in trees, on logs or rocky ledges can be seen. One uses his eyes continuously while still hunting and, if in snake country, it makes sense to keep an eye out for snakes that could strike you on the arms or upper body. The other eye will earn its keep by sighting deer.
As far as the country being too thick for still hunting, there is no truth to that at all. I did not start deer hunting until I was a young adult because there were no deer in the area where I grew up. I learned to deer hunt on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and if there is thicker country in the Southeast I have not found it. There are parts of the Eastern Shore that look more like Louisiana bayous than the real thing.
When it is too thick for you to see, it is too thick for the deer to see, also. The smart hunter uses thick cover as a screen to get really close to deer. The Louisiana deer that I killed at about 40 feet was a long shot when compared with some of my kills in Maryland.
My second deer was a six point buck that I shot at 20 feet.
My first Virginia buck was killed at about 25 feet.
Because of the thick cover, I was able to let the Virginia deer walk up that close before I dropped it with a shot through the neck.
While I have killed some deer in thick cover with some incredibly short shots, I have missed a few at those same distances.
I missed a nice buck in Alabama at 30 feet. I will never forget it. The deer walked right in front of me and I squeezed off the shot. It was following two does and I assumed they made all of the noise when deer ran off after I shot.
Confidently, I lit a cigarette and smoked it before going to field dress the buck that I was certain was just a few feet away.
When I approached the spot where I was sure there was a dead deer laying, there was nothing but some scuff marks where a deer had took off in a hurry. There was no blood or hair. I searched and searched for signs of a hit or a dead deer. There was none.
After a couple of hours of looking, I returned to the drainage ditch where I was standing when I shot. I looked to where I thought the buck was when I shot and there right in my line of fire was a sapling with a bullet hole centered. Thick cover presents some problems while shooting, but the hunter who uses it smartly has an advantage over the deer.
Still hunting is a matter of using your eyes, ears and brain. Your feet are probably the least important part of your body when still hunting unless you trip over everything in the woods.
Most hunters don^t believe it, but they have better eyes than deer. Besides the brain, it is, perhaps, the only advantage humans have. Deer do not have depth perception or recognize colors as well as humans. Likewise, they don^t interpret the still human form as a danger.
On several occasions, I have been caught in open spaces by deer and as long as they could not smell me or I did not move they were not concerned by seeing me.
I once had a spike buck and a doe walk within six feet of me because I was standing still. I did not have so much as a blade of grass to hide behind. When the deer passed me and picked up my scent, they just about turned them selves inside out in an effort to get away from me.
Deer have much better noses and ears than humans.
Still hunters must remember that a deer^s nose is their worse enemy. A deer may see or hear a human without getting too excited. However, when a deer smells a human the game is all over.
As long as you are hunting into the wind or at least quartering it, you are eliminating the deer^s most effective defense. This is such a basic principal of hunting that one would not think it need mentioning. However, many hunters completely ignore the wind direction.
When an obvious wind is threatening to take off your hat, wind direction is not as important as on those still days with very light breezes.
I once got to within 40 feet of a big buck with 20 knot wind blowing from me to the deer. I had no choice. The buck was in an open field and the upwind hedge row was the only cover I could use to get within bow shooting range. The wind must have been carrying my scent past the buck and into the next county.
On days with light variable breezes, I check the direction every few minutes. When I am playing a cat and mouse game with a big buck, I don^t want to lose because the wind shifted without me knowing it.
The object in still hunting is to see the deer before it sees you. This means you will do a lot of looking and a little bit of walking. Before each move be certain that you have studied everything as far as you can see.
How far you move depends on how far you can see. If you are in open woods, you may be able to move 40 or 60 yards. If you are in thick cover as you are much of the time in whitetail country, three or four steps may be as many as you dare take. The rule should be: Just move far enough that you have some new territory to look over.
Besides being as quiet as possible, another consideration in moving is to use every bit of cover possible. Keep trees, knolls, bushes, hedge rows or any other cover between you and the area where you think a deer is most likely to be.
Man is not built very well for still hunting. He is straight up and down, which makes him easy to see in the woods. The smart still hunter will bend at the waist when moving and instead of looking over bushes will bend over and look around them. Deer expect a man to be standing erect.
The still hunter must rely on his ears. In my younger days, I lost out on several deer because I did not believe my ears. If I had not paid attention to my ears, I would have had no chance on the Louisiana buck discussed at the beginning of this article.
The rule is don^t move or move with extreme caution when you hear a sound that could be a deer. You may waste an hour listening to a feeding squirrel, but if you move before you have identified the sound you could waste a day of hunting because you spooked the only buck in the area.
While the still hunter should uses his own ears, he should respect the superior ears of the deer. No matter how careful a hunter is, he is going to step on a dry branch or leaves. These sounds will crash through the woods.
Just because you have made some noise, don^t give up. the battle has not been lost. Unless a deer has been pushed hard, it will probably lock its eyes on the area where it heard the noise. If the wind is favorable and the hunter does not move, the deer will probably forget the noise after a couple minutes. The woods are full of noises and if a deer bolted every time it heard a noise they would be running all the time.
Many still hunters don^t think scouting is important. They like to think they can do there scouting while they are hunting because they are moving through the woods.
The still hunter who does not have a good idea where the bucks are feeding and bedding and what trails they are using to travel between these two range areas is going to need a lot of luck.
Killing a deer is the reward of the hunt, but when you successfully take a buck one on one on his home court, the reward is something extra special.