Stand or Sneak?

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2006

Last revision: Feb. 16, 2011

Missouri deer hunters take one of two general approaches to harvesting their game. They either wait in one spot for deer to come to them, or they move around, hoping to scare up deer, sneak up on deer or intercept deer that are themselves moving.

The first is called stand-hunting; the second, still-hunting. Which is better? Well, as any grizzled, deer-hunting philosopher would tell you, “It depends.”

Both methods are pretty simple. Stand-hunters wait in a ground blind, in a tree stand or behind natural cover, or they just remain out in the open, trusting that a lack of movement and noise on their part will allow them to escape the notice of moving deer. Very few hunters actually stand in stands; most sit and a few recline, sometimes luxuriantly.

Still-hunters try to walk into the vicinity of deer. Because deer are reluctant to share their personal space with humans, these hunters either have to be lucky and catch a deer that’s not paying attention, or they have to walk quietly and slowly enough that a deer doesn’t see or hear them.

I like to call still-hunting sneaking. It differs from stalking in the sense that you usually don’t have a specific target in mind. You’re just moving around quietly hoping to cross paths with a deer.

Both standing and sneaking work well some of the time, but neither works all of the time. In fact, the most frustrating thing about both methods is that they usually give you enough time between deer sightings to think that it might have been better to hunt the other way. When you’re not seeing deer in the woods, it’s very easy to imagine deer where you are not.

Oddsmaking

During one of those long mornings when I’d sat in a stand with nothing to look at but trees, rocks and shrubs and only my gurgling stomach breaking the silence, I tried to calculate whether sneaking or stand-hunting is better. I happened to think about those cowpie raffles, in which a field is marked off into sections and the location of the cow’s first deposit determines the winner.

I imagined the woods divided into 100 equal sections and containing only me and one deer. The winning combination would be when the deer and I occupied the same section. Given those conditions, at any given moment I have a 1-percent chance of that deer being in the section I’m guarding.

If the deer moves through

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