How to Be a More Complete Deer Hunter

I grew up wanting to emulate my dad’s excellent still-hunting skills. Photo by Steve Sorensen.
I grew up wanting to emulate my dad’s excellent still-hunting skills. Photo by Steve Sorensen.
I grew up wanting to emulate my dad’s excellent still-hunting skills. Photo by Steve Sorensen.

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

Now that it’s early archery season, every bowhunter is anxious to spend as much time as he can in a treestand. Nearly every gun hunter anticipating the firearms season also has treestand ideas on his mind. Lots of hunters today can hardly imagine hunting on the ground like our grandfathers did, and consider a treestand almost as indispensable as a gun or bow.

Many hunters aren’t in the same league Grandpa was in. We can’t fill his L. L. Bean boots because we haven’t spent nearly as much time hunting from the ground as he did. For many of us, deer hunting has been reduced to one primary skill – scouting for stand locations and sitting with patience. It’s no wonder many hunters lack confidence in boots-on-the-ground still-hunting.

Why not follow the footsteps of your forefathers, and get comfortable with hunting on the ground? You won’t sacrifice any skills you already have, and will likely increase your odds of tagging a buck. It’s simple. Split your time between the trees and the ground, but don’t do it aimlessly. Employ a strategy. Capitalize on your skill in finding stand locations, but don’t limit yourself. Alternate your time – an hour or two in a treestand followed by an hour or two on the ground. Here are seven detailed steps to start your still-hunting off on the right foot.

  1. You already have good skills for choosing stand locations, so select two or three good spots for your stands. Prime areas may change annually because of food availability, new logging sites, or other variables that occur from year to year.
  2. Invest in some basic ladder stands. If you opt for a climber, you’ll need one that’s top of the line or it won’t be easy to carry and quick to climb with. I recommend at least two, and three ladder stands if possible, for several reasons.
    • Three safe, simple and serviceable ladder stands can cost less than a good climber.
    • A ladder lets you climb more quickly and easily than you can using a climber. And since a climber takes time to set up, it might cause you to hurry from one spot to another.
    • Working your way up a tree using a climber also makes more noise than climbing a ladder. It might cancel out your effort to still-hunt quietly from one stand site to another.
    • A climber may give you more flexibility in where you set up, but it restricts you from carrying much else and can create unwelcome challenges when you’re on foot.
  3. Select stand sites roughly a half mile from each other. I suggest that distance so you can avoid hurrying from one to the other, yet cover the distance quickly if you need to. Move slowly and quietly. Spend more time standing still than moving. If you hunt food plots, put your stands there and still-hunt through the cover between them.
  4. Adapt if you need to. Suppose you want to set up one stand in a spot above a bench where you can watch an area loaded with acorns, but you can’t find a good tree for your stand. Then get an inexpensive tent-style blind and position it a few weeks before you plan to hunt from it.
  5. Make sure the woods between your stands, and especially the route you plan to follow, has a network of deer trails, crossings and food sources. That will increase your likelihood of seeing deer when you’re on the ground.
  6. Avoid still-hunting through a bedding area. Moving deer from their beds makes them unpredictable, and might cause them to run by your stands when you’re not there. If a bedding area lies between your stands, circle downwind so you don’t alert deer to your presence.
  7. You may wonder about timing – when to stand and when to still-hunt. That’s where you’ll have to use your judgment based on weather, time of day, location and distance to food sources, and when deer tend to move in your area. Make a plan, and be flexible.

These seven steps will let you develop still-hunting skills by practicing in small doses. You won’t abandon treestands completely, and you’ll be a more complete deer hunter by adding a new skill to your bag of options. Don’t be surprised to find that you kill just as many deer from the ground as you do from the trees.


When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at


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Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning outdoor writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, and insights on how to think about hunting. His byline has appeared in the nation’s top hunting magazines including Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Deer & Deer Hunting, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur-Fish-Game, North American Whitetail, Bear Hunting Magazine and more. He contributes regular website content to Legendary Whitetails and Havalon Knives and is a field editor for Deer Hunters Online. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at to invite him to speak at your next sportsmen’s dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).