The forest is a quiet place. Within this tree-shaded realm the only sounds heard are gentle birdsong and the rattle of the wind as it moves through branches. It is a place of peace and calm, yet life and death here is constantly held in a delicate balance between predator and prey. The hunter moves slowly, with purpose. A part of the cycle, a part of the forest itself, he moves from tree to tree with all of his senses in tune and ready for a moment that may not come. Suddenly, he freezes mid-step as a new sound breaks the silence around him. Crunch, crunch…crunch, crunch. Through the trees, a gray body appears. It’s a buck, picking its way slowly, nose to the ground, as it too hunts for food. Now all the hunter hears is his own heartbeat as he raises his rifle and sights through the narrow window of branches. As the buck’s chest fills his sights, he squeezes the trigger. The quiet is shattered. This is still-hunting, and there’s nothing else like it in the world.
Underutilized in a modern hunting culture that favors the use of tree stands and the spot-and-stalk method, still-hunting remains one of the oldest, but still effective hunting methods. It’s been practiced ever since Cro-Magnon man realized he had a taste for meat. Native hunters, mountain men, and even the famous Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were primarily still-hunters. It’s a hunting method for those who like a challenge, because you’re pitting yourself against big-game animals on their turf.
Generally, still-hunting is thought of as an eastern deer hunting practice, but it can be effectively used to pursue any big game from deer and elk to bears—any animal that chooses to make their home in the timber. The best of both worlds, still-hunting requires all the patience of hunting from a stand, with the all the woodsmanship and stamina of the stalk. Still-hunting reverts the hunter back to hunting at its essence. It’s almost an art form.
Despite its name, still-hunting actually requires a lot of movement. Often referred to as “poking,” still-hunting is essentially taking a walk in the woods, looking for an animal. Yet it is so much more than that. A hunter has to be aware of the forest. Their movements need to be thought out and precise. One mistake leads to detection and their chance is gone. There is a level of awareness in still-hunting that few other hunting methods require. You’re using not only sight, but hearing and even smell to remain in tune with what is going on around you.
Still-hunting begins with knowing how to walk in the woods. Knowing how to move slowly enough, yet with enough purpose to cover ground. It takes a lot of practice. The hunter must walk quietly and look for game at the same time. One of the best methods to utilize when first starting out is called the “5 Step Memory.” Memorize five steps in front of you where you can place your feet on the ground without making any noise. After memorizing the steps, move forward silently while keeping your eyes up to constantly scan the woods. After your fifth step, look down and pick out five more. You also have to learn to use the terrain to your advantage.
Try to stay behind and in the shadow of the trees to break up your outline. Use the contours of the land—ridge lines, creek beds etc.—to block your movements. As you’re walking, keep your head on a swivel. Listen, look, smell. The more focused a hunter is on what’s going on around them, the better the chance they have of hearing a twig break, spotting the twitch of a deer’s tail or ear, or even smelling that bovine scent of a bull elk.
The best part about still-hunting is that it improves all aspects of a hunter’s skill and opens a whole new world of possibilities. Still-hunters can explore and scout new territory while they actively hunt. They can pursue the animals that retreat from the open field back into the trees. They can see the areas the animals frequent and observe them living in their natural state. Still-hunting is a method that opens a hunter’s eyes to the forest.
The intense concentration and focus of the still-hunter makes hunting almost a form of meditation. It’s a way for hunters to become a part of the world they so enjoy. Still-hunting is truly hunting as it was long ago, where the human hunter becomes a predator once again.