Article Contributed by Field Staff Writer S. Stone.
In my own current hunting career I find myself moving more towards the Method Stage, in regards to the Five Stages of a Hunter. As a young hunter I was quite active in the Shooter Stage and Limiting-Out Stage consecutively, enjoying a lot of small game hunting which gave me plenty of opportunities to do both. Although I do tend to revert back to the Limiting-Out Stage, when my freezer starts to get low, I currently find most of my time in the Method Stage of hunting. The opportunity to improve my hunting skills and tactics has always been more important to me then the size of the animal itself.
For me, my Method Stage takes on two key areas of focus; the taking of game with archery tackle and still hunting. Although not the sole tactics I use, these two methods make up 90 percent of how I hunt. I took up archery only a few years ago, initially for the extended seasons that it offered at certain times of the year and for the ability to hunt certain areas that were reserved for archery hunting only. What I found was there is a direct correlation to the amount of time invested in practicing to the amount of success achieved with archery tackle. Yes there is a similar correlation with rifle hunting but less so. Training your muscles to be able to smoothly draw your bow back and hold at full draw for extended periods of time, consistently finding the same anchor point, having your pins float over your targets. These are all methods that are quite unique to the bowhunter and have also made me a better rifle hunter as well.
Now still hunting for me is the ultimate challenge as a hunter. Being able to slow yourself down to the point where it seems as if you are not moving at, being as silent as possible, and attempting to spot game before they spot you, generally in close quarters. These are some of the keys to being successful as a still hunter and are what make it so challenging. There’s always a tendency to move too fast. You spend a great deal of your time, as you learn to properly still hunt, forcing yourself to move slower. Despite moving so slowly it is extremely physically exhausting. Because still hunting will generally put you in close quarters to the animals that you are targeting it makes it a very effective method when bowhunting as well. To me, these two methods of hunting go hand-in-hand.
My real passion for still hunting comes from the pursuit of blacktail deer. For those who have not hunted blacktail deer before they are one of the most, if not the most, difficult of the deer species to hunt. Bucks can be extremely nocturnal throughout the entire year, including the rut. They are extremely skittish and will generally take off at the smallest of sounds. They also tend to live in the densest parts of the forests and seem most active only during the heaviest of rains. It is these very reasons why I enjoy the challenge of hunting them so much and my love has been amplified by now pursuing them through still hunting with archery tackle.
It is possible to get within rifle range of these wily creatures consistently, but to get within bow range can be very difficult. Being a smaller deer and living in the densest of cover makes seeing them before they see you quite challenging. Trying to spot one of these deer before they spot you will expose any weaknesses in your still hunting tactics. How slowly you move, how little movement you can make while still scanning the surrounding area. Purposefully placing each footstep to ensure that you make no sound. These still hunting tactics are essential in the pursuit of this wary deer species.
Since I took up the pursuit of chasing blacktails with a bow while still hunting I have only been successful on one occasion. It was a small crab claw buck that took me three seasons to get. To this day I still feel immense satisfaction when I look at that small set of antlers. Since that occasion I have had the opportunity to harvest some other blacktail bucks larger then him but my attention now has shifted more to the pursuit of mature blacktail bucks. For me the score of the buck is not important but the challenge of locating, getting within range and being able to take a shot at a mature representation of a species that I feel is probably one of the most difficult to do so is most appealing. And by becoming a better blacktail hunter I have become a better hunter for every other species as well.
In the near future however, my kids will be coming of the age where they will start hunting with me and I can already feel another shift coming. Where my interest will be in getting the satisfaction in watching them progress through their own stages as hunters, I am looking forward to that most of all. No matter what stage you are in, just realize that hunting is a part of our heritage, it’s a tradition and a privilege that we get to take part in. Enjoy, take in every aspect of the experience, do your best to share and pass on this great past time with others, and get out there as often as you can.