On Walking Like a Deer

The very first morning I hunted whitetails (at age ten), my father said (like many fathers yet advise their kids today), “Walk like a deer. Take a few steps, stop for a few seconds, take a few steps, stop for a few seconds (and so forth). Nearby deer will then think you are a feeding deer and your chances of seeing one up close  (an easy shot) will be much better.”

Some years later after beginning my scientifically-based, hunting–related studies of wild whitetails, I learned this wasn’t true, at least when it came to mature, much-experienced whitetails—proven many times by various mature deer in my first whitetail study area over a period of twenty years. After certain deer and I finally became well acquainted with one another during periods they weren’t being hunted, I discovered I could approach within 25 yards of them from the opposite sides of downwind ridges without alarming them. After crossing the crest of the ridge (not moving directly toward them), they calmly continued whatever they were doing, feeding or chewing their cuds while bedded. When any of my sons who rarely accompanied me except while scouting and hunting tried this, those deer always disappeared before they reached the crest of those ridges, proving mature whitetails can distinguish different humans via sounds characteristic of their individual footsteps alone.

 Having booted, insensitive feet about ten times larger than sensitive whitetail feet (hooves), human footsteps are necessaily much noisier and different than whitetail footsteps, crushing greater numbers of dried leaves beneath each step, greater expanses of crunchy snow and many more twigs and branches that snap much more often and much more loudly underfoot than whitetails. Humans also characteristically drag their boots (heels) through dried leaves and across coarse surfaces (gravel, for example). Having ears that can hear footsteps of average hunters more than 100 yards away on a quiet morning, it is therefore difficult to imagine experienced whitetails cannot also easily distinguish nuances of footsteps that are characteristic of footsteps made by approaching hunters.

 On many occasions I have observed feeding whitetails growing increasingly alarmed while an unseen, downwind hunter was stalking toward them. Ordinarily, if mature whitetails (not 100% true of fawns and yearlings) cannot identify whatever is approaching via its footsteps, and it is not hunting or stalking (sneaking and often halting), they will not abandon the area. Instead, if not in the path of whatever is approaching, they’ll simply freeze where they are or move to nearby cover and freeze there until they can determine via additional sounds, sights and airborne odors whether to remain in the vicinity or abandon it, noisy and quickly or cautiously with stealth.

Obviously realizing whitetails do this, while cruising in search of vulnerable prey, singly or as a pack, the grey wolves of my study area typically march nonstop past selected prey (unless very near) without turning their heads until out of sight and hearing and downwind or crosswind. Mature whitetails hearing or seeing wolves marching past in this manner—seeming to be not hunting and therefore currently harmless—simply watch the wolves pass, thereafter resuming whatever they were doing before the wolves were discovered. This wolf ruse thus ensures their unsuspecting chosen prey will be close to where it was initially detected when the the wolves begin their actual hunt.

Following this discovery, My sons and I began regularly using this wolf ruse while hiking to and from stand sites and while hiking along our human “cruise trails (long series of selected connecting deer trails)” in search of fresh tracks and other signs made by mature bucks (next stand sites) during hunting seasons—contributing greatly to taking the 98 mature bucks my three sons and I have tagged since 1990. After discovering the wolf ruse and its benefits, I’ve long encouraged hunters to use it. Yet almost daily I still receive at least one message from a deer hunter determined to continue “walking like a deer,” Old deer hunting traditions, productive or not, are hard to change. See the complete details for using this ruse in my new Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition, easily ordered by going to my website, http://www.drnordbergondeerhunting.com and clicking on “store.”

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