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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Still-Hunting Trophy Whitetails, by Bill Vaznis

Reviewed by Steve Sorensen
Published by Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA., 2007; 242 pages, 25 chapters. Paperback.

If you’re willing to get out of your stand and
try a method that will make you a better woodsman,
a better student of deer, and a more successful hunter,
this book has arrived at the right time.

Since Teddy Roosevelt’s day, outdoor writers haven’t written much on the subject of still-hunting. In fact, it was way back in 1882 that Teddy’s friend Theodore S. Van Dyke wrote The Still-Hunter, which remains the classic work on the subject.

Still-hunting fell out of favor during the years of high deer populations. Most of the old-timers who mastered the method are now gone. My old friend Leroy was one; he knew the woods like he knew his living room. My grandfather was another. And when my dad had younger legs he was pretty good at it, too.

Today, with more hunters competing for the prize – meat for the freezer and antlers for the wall – still-hunting has given way to stand hunting. Times have changed from a day when no one had a tree stand, to a day when most hunters have more than one.

If you’re a stand hunter, your aim is to find a white-hot deer trail or gain access to a nutritious food plot. Find them and your odds go way up. Most rifle hunters settle into a stand that overlooks an escape trail, hoping that a buck will go by like the one they shot last year or the year before. Die-hard archery hunters use a similar strategy, but look for trails where deer will be relaxed, or they hunt over cultivated food plots if possible.

But, if you’re a hunter who doesn’t have the time to scout for the trails, or the land on which to plant high quality clover, the method that makes the most sense might be still-hunting.

The hunters who traditionally practice still-hunting are guys who live in areas with big woods and low deer populations, boots-on-the-ground-hunters like Dick Bernier of Maine, the Benoit family of New Hampshire – hunters who can truly be called woodsmen. Another is central New York’s Bill Vaznis.

Vaznis’s new book on the topic, Still-Hunting Trophy Whitetails (Stackpole Books, 2007), will likely give a boost to this time-tested method because it shows up when most hunters are getting frustrated with stand hunting. If you’re willing to get out of your stand and try a method that will make you a better woodsman, a better student of deer, and a more successful hunter, this book has arrived at the right time.

Few methods of deer hunting are more satisfying than still-hunting. The still-hunter matches wits with a wary game animal in his own environment. He uses skills that many people associate with Native Americans, but they’re skills that any committed hunter can learn.

Vaznis says that still-hunting works for rifle hunters and bow hunters alike, and his book is a detailed manual that aims to teach the method to both. While it’s true that hunting can’t be learned from a book, this book can definitely shorten the learning curve.

The effective still-hunter doesn’t blunder through the woods hoping to intercept an unlucky buck. He sneaks along, taking advantage of every feature of the terrain, every wind current, every feeding and bedding area, and every skill including calling. Vaznis even has a chapter on how to wear blaze orange effectively.

He destroys a number of myths that people associate with still-hunting, arguing that you don’t have to be absolutely silent, that you don’t always move slowly, that you don’t get bored when still-hunting, and that still-hunters actually see more deer.

Lots of hunting books contain stories that you’re not sure you can believe. The stories and examples in this book have the ring of truth. That’s one feature that makes it such an excellent how-to manual. And they’re backed up with plenty of great color photos.

I spent years hunting from stands before I gained confidence that I could become a good still-hunter. That confidence would have come much sooner if I had Still-Hunting Trophy Whitetails a long time ago. Now that I have it, I’m making a regular habit of studying its contents. My advice is that you do that same, because the day will come when the art of still-hunting will rescue your season.