My best deer hunting of days past were spent still hunting, moving as slow (slower than slowly) and silently as I could through the trees and brush, stopping frequently, looking, trying to see deer before they saw, heard, or scented me.
When I was truly geared down in good country, I’d travel two miles, maybe, from dawn to dark and usually emerge the woods somewhere near my rig.
Every still hunter I know will tell you how exhausting still hunting is, doing the slow dance over rough and noisy terrain, and how hard on the legs, and that is not even counting the gratifying times they take a buck back in there and slave away dressing, dragging and packing him out.
Fortunately, I understood the day would come when the legs would no longer be up to it, and started to “bank” easily-accessible hot spots where I always saw deer, as insurance against the day when I could no longer go after the deer and would have to take up stand hunting, sitting and letting the deer come to me.
Most of what I know about deer and deer hunting I have learned from the deer and, increasingly lately, I have been thinking about how much of that has come since I have totally taken up taking a stand, sitting and waiting for deer to appear and studying them when they do.
All stands are not born equal: some are first, some last light stands, and some are all day suckers, particularly when the rut is really on. From any or all, you can see fascinating wildlife events, and not just deer.
Shortly after 4 p.m. recently, when I took up the last light watch of a trail into a hidden little field, a “steal” or “tiding” of 13 magpies suddenly sprouted 50 meters out there in the frozen second-growth alfalfa, marching around and back and forth in a drill, as if choreographed by a regimental sergeant major. Not one of them ate a thing and they left after 15 minutes or so, without giving me any tiding of what was going on. Twelve white tail does and fawns appeared half an hour later, obviously having forded the creek, as they are doing this year, rather than using the main trail from the bedding area on my side as they usually do.
As usual on this stand, with two minutes of legal hunting light left, a decent white-tailed buck came into the field off that main trail. Also as usual for this stand, sneak though I did into it the next morning, there was nary a deer in the field. Were they all in their beds, having gorged and caroused all night?
Then I went to the best mid-morning stand I know of, where my friend Don Hayden and I have taken four mid-morning white-tailed bucks in recent years, but on this morning only a prime, dry, mule deer doe sashayed by where no mule deer has been seen in five years.
After lunch I sat on an all-day stand frequented by a herd of mule deer does and fawns, where, if you glass hard and long with good binoculars, you can sometimes find a good mule deer buck back in the brush. This time I spotted a big buck trying to hide his 4X4 antlers as he sneaked back to his bed after checking out his harem’s eau de does for any hint of the hots.
That afternoon, deer of both species were everywhere, and I counted more than 60 by dark. Next day, bright, sunny, and warm, the only big game I saw was probably the best bull moose I have seen in “my” country, with a snowplow rack with ivory-tipped tines. Other hunters told me of the dearth of deer on that day. Why does this happen among those days when the air reeks with pheromones and deer are out and everywhere enjoying the rut?
I am disposing of my tree stands and one tower stand with the revolving seat: this is pure prudence, because the legs no longer “do” ladders, and tree stands, even for the strong of limb, are now the principal cause of hunting accidents. My stands have shown me amazing times because they have remained up so long they have become mere landscape for wildlife. Countless times I have walked in to a stand in the pre-dawn light, only to flush deer from right under the ladder (a sure sign the stand is in the right place).
One season a boreal owl used my tower stand as his night hunting perch, and would fly in a huff when I started to climb up in the dark.
Late one day, I had to wait to descend because a calf moose was browsing among the stand’s tripod legs, and if I startled him either he or mama could tip me over.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.