One week from today marks the close of the Northern Zone big-game season in New York. For those who hunt in the foothills region, as opposed to the interior of the Adirondacks, there’s also a week of muzzleloading through Dec. 15.
Some of the best hunting of the season can take place during its final days. I’ll be out there myself, and when hunting alone, or with one other hunter, I’ll be employing some time-tested still-hunting techniques that I just picked up on a weeklong whitetail hunt in northeastern Maine.
Some of you may recall a few seminars held in this region by Maine Master Guide Randy Flannery of Wilderness Escape Outfitters (www.wilderness-escape.com) in Danforth, Maine. Flannery was a past featured speaker at the Altona Sportsman’s Show as well as the Adirondack Sportsman’s Dinner down in Schroon Lake. He’s regularly featured in Field & Stream magazine and numerous other publications. Whether on the seminar stage or in front of an outdoor writer’s microphone, Flannery drills the concepts of a slow-moving still-hunter in a dense forest such as what exists in both Maine and the Adirondacks.
I first spoke with Flannery back in 2007 when I was assigned to write a profile about him for a regional publication. Our mutual appreciation for lever guns, especially Winchesters, was apparent about five minutes into that conversation. We’ve been friends ever since and he’d been after me to go up to his lodge.
Along with the hospitality of Randy and his wife, Sharon, the “Maine attraction” was the opportunity to hunt for big whitetails. Forget antler points and measurements, up there it’s all about body size. Two-hundred pounds is where things start to get serious and Maine has as many of these heavyweights as anywhere in the Continental United States. Having been lucky enough to get an Adirondack buck that weighed more than 200 pounds, I’d love to get a crack at another.
Flannery will be the first to tell you that his approach to still-hunting for whitetails is simple.
“Sound like a deer,” he says.
As a hunter he was tutored by his grandfather, who you’ll often hear him quote on the topic of deer hunting and life in general. His philosophy is that if a hunter sounds like a deer, they can get close enough to one in nearly all conditions for a shot.
Flannery advises hunters to master his grandfather’s five-point system that includes: navigational skills; knowing the land as well as how to use a map and compass; the ability to pre-qualify the woods to know that big deer are there; the ability to walk in the woods under all conditions, reading a buck’s behavior when you encounter him; and finally, the ability to shoot fast and hit what you aim at. That’s where the lever guns come into to play.
All of this is done with extreme focus on your walking cadence. On soft, quiet ground where you can go silently, a four-step, heal-to-toe cadence is fine. In the crunchy leaves that we were hunting in, Flannery advised a three-step cadence where you lead with your toe. “Shh, shh, shh,” he said of the inevitable noise you make. “The slow-moving hunter gets the deer.”
And slow it is. Our typical morning hunts involved covering three-quarters of a mile over the course of four or five hours. Our afternoon hunts covered a half-mile in about three hours. Overall, we didn’t do the walking we would do, say, while making deer drives in the Adirondacks.
But it was intense in the form of maintaining one’s focus and concentration while keeping your rifle at the ready. “That big buck could be laying in the next blowdown,” Flannery said.
We had some interesting weather at first but after a few days things settled down. One calm morning while slowly working through crunchy leaves, I suddenly found myself among a group of three deer. The third one was a fat four-pointer that presented me with as easy a shot as I’ve ever had on any buck. I did not pull the trigger.
While this was the was the only buck I saw on this trip, I’m OK with letting him walk. Had I taken this fine young buck he would’ve provided some hearty venison. By letting him go, perhaps a future Wilderness Escape Outfitters’ client will see him when he’s a little older. That client may be me as I intend to someday go back and hunt with Flannery again.
For now, I’m hoping that some of what I learned from him will help put some Adirondack venison on the table in the remaining days of this season.
Dan Ladd is the author of “Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks,” outdoors editor for the Glens Falls Chronicle, columnist for Outdoors Magazine and contributor to New York Outdoor News. Contact him at www.adkhunter.com.