by Beau Tallent
Hunting for late season, post-rut bucks can be tough. Bucks have been pressured, and the chance of a mature, mossy-horned monarch trotting by blinded by love are much lower once the rut peak ends. Let me recommend something that these days may seem crazy or foreign to some hunters. Climb down out that tree, and transform from a sitter and a watcher to an active deer hunter. I call it slip-hunting, although the method is often referred to as still-hunting—never been sure why.
I’ve always found slip-hunting to be more exciting than sitting in a tree and waiting on a deer to come to me. It’s more fun. It is also a more rewarding way to hunt deer simply because it is very difficult being on the ground in a deer’s element and going undetected long enough to get a shot.
Over the years, I’ve had countless close encounters with deer while hunting on the ground, yet few of those encounters actually resulted in a deer in the bed of my pickup. However, those hunts are some of the most-vivid memories I have from the deer woods. That’s the contradiction of slip-hunting. Generally, if you want to increase your odds of tagging a buck, climb a tree stand. This time of year is an exception to that rule. During the late-season, post-rut doldrums, slip-hunting can make you a more effective deer hunter in certain situations than staying put and testing your patience in a stand.
First things first, and like any type of hunting, the first thing with slip-hunting is safety. Your chances of being mistaken for game and getting shot are remote. A fall from a tree stand is much, much more likely. However, I’m always extra careful to let others know my intentions when I’m slip-hunting, and I also wear an extra-large hunter orange vest and a hunter-orange hat or cap. Slip-hunting is for private land where you know your fellow hunters and they know what you’re up to.
The idea of slip-hunting began after my first trip to Colorado bowhunting for elk and mule deer. Pretty much all the hunting, at least back then in that camp, was done on the ground. I loved it. When I got back home to the whitetail woods, I began to dabble with slip-hunting. Hunting from tree stands is still an option, and most of the deer I kill are from stands, but I also spend a lot more time slip-hunting these days. And there are some things I’ve seen and learned in the deer woods while hunting on the ground that could help others wanting to try this method of hunting.
My slip-hunting involves moving from here to there, very, very slowly. When I say move, I don’t move far, and very few times have I been actually moving when I saw a deer. It has happened, and as long as you see the deer first, you’re still in the game. My technique is to move from point to point, usually about 10 or 15 yards at a time, and then I stand, but only when I’m standing against some cover like a big tree, and only when there is some type of cover out in front of me that will let me get my gun or bow up if a deer appears. Between these points, I move quietly, but not necessarily slowly, because the last thing I want is to be caught in a position with no chance to shoot if a deer is heading my way. Before I move to the next point, usually I’ve been standing still at least 5 minutes, more often 10 minutes, and some hunts I might just stay in one spot for an hour.
The main thing that slows me down is my binoculars. Before I move to the next tree, I scan the woods with the binoculars in every direction, even behind me. I take my time and really look into and beyond thick cover. It takes time to do this, which is how I see or hear deer before they see me while I’m not moving. If I have a good view from the spot, I’ll do the binocular thing again.
When and Where To Slip-Hunt
This time of year, big bucks love thickets like privet bottoms or timber cuts, so that’s where I concentrate my efforts. Another key this time of year is food. If you have agriculture fields that are still providing food, slip-hunting just inside the woodline can be deadly—for the deer. If you have food plots, slip-hunting a course from one plot to the next is a favorite technique I use this time of year.
The ideal conditions for slip-hunting are when the woods are damp and there’s a moderate, steady breeze. The wind is the key. Steady wind is your friend. If the woods are extremely dry, you’re usually better off climbing a tree. There are times when you can still-hunt in dry conditions. Some land we hunted for a decade was bordered on one side by a busy road. The constant sound of traffic made it possible to move without deer hearing you. A flowing creek can also have the same effect, though it’s not as much of an advantage. Sometimes I’ll wade a shallow creek, shuffling slowly without lifting my feet so I don’t make noise in the water. I’ve also had success still-hunting in quieter pines.
My favorite time of the season for slip-hunting is late when the leaves are off the trees and I can see a long way. If I’m stopped and patiently glassing before taking my next step, I usually spot movement of a deer before I’m detected. You can also slip-hunt during bow season. That time of year, pick a course to slip-hunt based on food sources. A hardwood bottom where acorns are falling is ideal. The food will attract deer, and bottomland hardwoods typically have some huge old trees that make great cover for drawing on a deer and staying undetected until the deer comes into range.
The rut is another time when slip-hunting might actually be more effective than hunting from a stand. A rutting buck may come from the next county chasing a doe to your property. I love being mobile, especially on a still morning when you can hear well. There’s nothing like the sound of a buck chasing a doe through dry woods, and there’s nothing like being on the ground when that buck comes into view.
Find A Log
Other than a deer, the next-best sight when I’m slip-hunting is a good-sized log, one at that perfect height to sit comfortably. After a few hours on your feet, it’s time to sit for a spell. Sometimes I’ll hunt from the ground with the intention of staying in one spot for a while.
When that’s the plan, I usually scrape the leaves away from the base of a tree and sit on the ground. I don’t like ground blinds. When I’ve tried them, the deer seemed to pick me off more easily than if I was simply sitting against a tree. Even a camo blob is a blob, and I think deer are keenly aware of anything big that pops up in their woods. Another reason I don’t use blinds is because I’m then tied to hunting that one spot. A main attraction to slip-hunting is that every couple of steps opens up a new view of the woods.
Slip-hunting on the deer’s level is a challenge, no doubt, but this time of year it can be an effective technique. One thing is for sure, to me it’s more fun than sitting in a stand, whether I go home with a deer or not!
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