I’ve learned over the years that deer see more hunters than hunters see deer. I learned this lesson 30-50 years ago when we put on dog-deer drives in my home state of Alabama. Back then, dog hunting for deer was the way 90 percent of the people in Alabama hunted. We would have a drive that involved dogs and drivers. The drivers would walk through the woods yelling and moving into thick cover to try to spook the deer toward the line of standers waiting to take shots with their 12-gauge shotguns. “When you come up to a thick briar patch or a gall berry or a cane thicket, stop, and stand still for about 3 minutes,” Mr. Powell, our hunt master, told all the drivers. “Those older bucks know where you’re at as long as you’re walking and hollering. Once you stop and remain motionless and quiet, they can’t pinpoint you. They get nervous and will come out of the cover, and then you can take a shot at them.”
Time and time again over the years, I’ve found this wisdom to be absolutely true, not only on dog-deer drives, but when I’m walking through the woods to my tree stand or sneaking out of the woods as I’m leaving my tree stand. As long as the deer can hear or see you, he knows where you are and the direction you’re traveling. As long as you’re not about to step on him, he’ll hold tight in the thick cover and let you walk past him. When a deer knows you’re close by, because he’s heard you walking or has seen you moving, that buck’s not worried about you. He knows you can’t see him and won’t pose a threat. Once you become invisible by wearing camouflage and not making any noise, as Mr. Powell said, the buck will get nervous and will have to leave where he is.
Almost all hunters are in a hurry to reach their stands and then later to leave their stands, whether they’re hunting from ground blinds or tree stands. Most of the time if you’ll wear camouflage, walk slowly, stop occasionally for a full minute or two before you move again, you’ll drastically increase your odds for taking that buck of a lifetime that’s heard and seen you, but no longer can determine where you are.
By John E. Phillips, longtime deer hunter and outdoor writer.