Let’s not kid ourselves.
Hunting a whitetail deer on foot is a major challenge. In Iowa, some hunters might even think it a little…hmmm…crazy. Yes, that’s the word, crazy. Oh yeah, and trying to do it with a bow? Ha, you’ve gotta be joking, right?!
You’ll be up against the following: extremely good hearing, extremely good vision, and out-of-this-world olfactory senses (nose). Nobody would be foolish enough to attempt such a thing! Count me as a fool!
Bow hunting deer using your own two feet is going to put your skills and conditioning to the test. Are you really scent free? Can you accurately judge the wind? Is your stealth good enough to take on a deer’s keen ears? These are but a few things that should be considered when hunting a deer on foot.
Let’s assume you’re up to the challenge and start an inventory of what it’s going to take to be successful. Remember, hunting a deer on foot is no easy task, so don’t expect to go out and kill a deer without paying at least a tiny bit of attention to what I discuss in this piece.
You will need to be quiet, this also means moving slowly. Still-hunting is not about getting somewhere; it’s about going to where deer are. While you are walking, try to go slow enough that you don’t need to look down to see where you’re stepping, or only look down once every 10 steps. This can give you a huge advantage. If you’re continuously looking down for sticks, deer are going to continuously see you before you see them. You will be surprised with how many times you see a deer before it sees you – if you are keeping your eyes up while walking. If you can’t get comfortable keeping your head and eyes up while walking – keep slowing yourself down – until you get to the point where you can keep your head up! Remember that you are walking extremely slowly, so slow that deer may be approaching you from behind so keep your head up and look in all directions.
Being in good physical condition make noiselessness much easier; if you’re in shape, it’s easier to control your body movements. If possible, you’ll want to wear shoes/boots with a flexible sole. This will allow you to feel with your feet, sticks or stalks that could make a snapping noise if you were to step on them.
Hunt, don’t scout.
If you are spot and stalk hunting that is what you should be doing…hunting. Forget about scanning the timber for rubs, scrapes, and droppings. While that is useful information for stationary hunting it really doesn’t serve a purpose for still-hunters. In fact it just draws your attention away from detecting deer. Keep your head on a swivel, your eyes down range and look for deer off in the distance.
You will need to be scent free. It’s impossible to be completely scent free, so lets just say you need to be as “unsmelly” as possible. If you have a carbon suit, that is an excellent start. If not, you don’t need to panic. Washing clothes in a scent eliminating detergent works wonders…but don’t stop there. Wash all your articles of hunting clothing; you should use scent-killing spray in the field also. Boots, pants, shirt, jacket, hat, gloves, and facemask…they all get the scent killer treatment.
You should periodically hit all your stuff again while in the field (especially if you’re sweating a lot). Wear scent-eliminating deodorant also, to mask any human odor. I like to spray coon urine on the soles of my boots; this seems to really mask any odors that may alert deer as well. Don’t be afraid to try scent wafers or other cover scents, these can go a very long way in keeping you stealth. White acorn, black soil, pine needle, cedar tree, these are just a few of the cover scents that are out there – experiment with a few and decide what you like best!
There are also a few home remedies to mask and control scent: Exposing your clothes to campfire smoke is reputed to be an extremely good method of eliminating scent. It is also said that the odor of wood smoke is calming to deer. Putting your clothes in an airtight container with dirt, leaves, and pine needles to condition it may also be worth a try. Smelling like the environment your hunting is never a bad thing! Lastly, hanging your hunting clothes up outdoors for an extended amount of time should also get out any human elements…just don’t forget to check for pests when you put them on to go hunting!
You will need to stay out of sight. Wearing proper camo is only a small part of staying clear of a deer’s eyes. You will need to use natural cover and put it between you and the deer. Another great tactic is to use cover as a back drop; meaning you will be able to have a clear shot at a deer with some trees, vegetation, or other naturally occurring item at your back.
Simply though, this will also mean you have to sit still at certain times. This can be a hard thing for us hunters, we want to pursue and get into the position to make a good shot, and sitting still doesn’t seem like a constructive thing to do. However, if you can make yourself motionless when your deer is looking your way it’s only logical that he’s not going to spook and your chances at getting a shot at him are excellent!
Never underestimate the advantage of lying belly-down flat on the ground, especially in wide-open areas or sparsely covered tracts of timber. Deer get running when they see a human walking around upright. If you are getting worried that the deer are going to pick you out, all you need to do is hit the ground for a few minutes until you can see that they are back at ease.
Important tip: if you find yourself in position to take a shot, take one extra-quick look around for does in hiding. Being on the ground means you’re in a deer’s direct field of vision; when you draw your bow back it creates a lot of movement, which deer could pick up on. Keen-eyed does have busted me many times!
A good pair of binoculars is a must when on foot. Human tendency is to look at the closest thing to the eye and not beyond it. The problem is that if you are looking at a brush pile you may not see the deer bedded 15 yards beyond it. A good pair of binoculars will allow you to adjust the focus, and you can overcome the natural human tendency to look at the closest object. Try changing the focus of the glasses, and you will see that you can see through the brush to things beyond. Every time you stop to look around bring those binoculars up and get a good glance at what is in front of you and then adjust the focus so you can see what lies beyond.
If the three rules to real estate are location, location, and location, then the three rules for hunting on foot are wind, wind, and wind. You will need to play the wind! More importantly you will need to play the wind to your advantage and not the deer’s. The majority of the time a mature whitetail will bed with his face pointed downwind. This is done so that the deer can use his nose to detect anything approaching from behind, while using its eyes for anything approaching from downwind…pretty smart huh? By knowing this you can gauge your approach through the timber and when you do spot a deer your best method to use is to advance on the deer’s location from a 90-degree angle of the wind. By doing this you are taking away the deer’s eyes and nose…for the most part. If you were to walk downwind or head on into the wind a deer’s defense will have you detected long before you get into range.
I believe the best time to hunt on foot is when it is really windy. The harder the wind blows, the more your sounds are masked. This doesn’t mean you should be careless about what noises you’re making; it means you are able to hunt deer more directly though. During a late-muzzleloader season years ago, I snuck up on a yearling bedded on the edge of a timber, winds were gusting to about 25 miles-per-hour and I could’ve walked right up and touched him! A nice little tool to carry is a small bottle of wind-indicating dust. Just a small little plume of this stuff will give you an exact reading on the wind.
Bowhunting deer on foot is a challenge, and in taking the proper steps for scent control, wind-indicating, vision, and scent control you are going to put yourself in really good shape to take a nice Iowa whitetail. It is by no means an easy task, in fact I would be willing to venture that still-hunting is one of the most difficult challenges a deer hunter can do, but if you pay attention, take your time and hone your skills you can place be successful. Above all else that I discussed in this article a still-hunter has to have the mindset that he or she is hunting and not out for a leisurely stroll through the woods. Get the correct mindset and I have a feeling that once you’ve tried bowhunting on foot you’ll really like it; in fact, some would even say you’d be crazy about it!