Assuredly, the mood in more than one Western New York state deer camp this year, on opening weekend, in some ways may mirrored the outside temperature.
"You'd have to be crazy to sit in a tree stand in those winds, and deep snow … and that cold."
"The deer are not going to be moving in this."
"I'll wait 'til next weekend."
Remarks like that might lead one to forecast a measurable dip in the opening weekend deer take, or kill.
Whitetails, however, headed en masse for deep wind-free pockets of cover to get out of the three-day statewide storm that spanned the opening weekend in Western NY with record snow depths of five feet or more in certain localized spots.
And while the record setting snowfall in the Buffalo area was five feet deep or so, once outside the southwest fetch off Lake Erie, many if not most of Western New York deer hunters had what we all dream about … a good tracking snow.
Just a few inches.
Hunting from elevated stands is by far and away, the most popular tactic to hunt whitetails, along with the popup ground blinds cutting into the dominance of the elevated stand.
The growth of the static stand industry and the popularity of videoed deer hunts has tilted the game to the average hunter that the way we are always supposed to hunt deer is to sit still, whether from the tree tops to ground level.
But there is also a very productive way to hunt whitetails during storms and blowing snow. Usually, the majority of deer I tag are taken by still-hunting, and not by sitting in a stand.
I've always had a hard time convincing other deer hunters that still-hunting is at least as productive as stand hunting and in high winds, blowing snow, and in bad weather, it is in my opinion the only way to go.
Deer hunting in a storm is the gift that keeps giving.
Looking back over the years, I have harvested as many deer still-hunting as from a static stand, and if the truth be told, most of my biggest bucks, too.
Expert still-hunters who write about their techniques sometimes fail to mention one key ingredient that makes this old-fashioned tactic extra lethal.
That one important element that makes still-hunting so efficient is bad weather. Opening day weekend offered us the perfect conditions to sneak up on deer.
And what an enjoyable way to deer hunt!
Part of the lack of buy-in to still-hunting to the average deer hunter who has never tried it is lack of confidence.
It reminds me so much of back in the late 1980s when I tried to get other bass fishing buddies to try soft stick or jerk baits. They just didn't feel confident rigged up with something other than their traditional go-to baits.
Most hunters that I know only hunt from a stand. And a mistake is not to hunt to the stand. Still-hunting is not akin to some mystical talent that only comes with years of practice and time in learning the ways of the woods.
It’s as simple as walking very slowly through the woods.
Granted, like anything, one does get better as time goes on. But speaking of time ...
As an older hunter, I can say with the greatest amount of conviction that age actually works to a deer hunter's advantage in this case. How? Because age slows us down. When we still-hunt we take a few steps, stop and carefully look at the furthest sight plane for an antler, deer form, or legs moving. Binoculars boost your odds more.
When I was younger, I moved through the woods way too quickly, covered much more ground than necessary, and in the process bumped a lot of deer. Now that I am older, it is most enjoyable, effective, and rewarding to walk up on deer feeding, bedding, or moving through the woods.
I have filled my buck tags, DMU permits, and archery/muzzleloader tags most every season by still-hunting through the woods on bad hunting days.
The wind may be howling, the snow blowing sideways and the trees groaning and creaking. Sometimes deer are bedded, and yet another may be munching acorns in the middle of the day, in the middle of a blowing wind and snowstorm.
Actually hunting in these conditions can be quite comfortable, with wind at your back, or quartering from the side. Hood, facemask, warm boots and gloves, snow-camo with a blaze/camo orange vest, the uniform of the bad weather still-hunter.
Whitetails find it difficult to hear or smell a hunter with the wind howling. And with the constant ambient movement of trees, limbs, and brush, a hunter has an advantage as movement blends with the background, if proceeding with a slow, start-and-stop cadence.
Move like the trees.
That’s how we have a good hunt on a bad day … with a still-hunt.
Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing Sunday in The Spectator.
This article originally appeared on The Evening Tribune: How to practice lost art of still-hunt, ideal for bad weather