The ability to get close to an intended target animal undetected is what hunting is all about.
Getting close is a challenge to any hunter, keeping us coming back time and again to improve our skills outwitting game. Hunting techniques have no doubt changed with evolution and technology, but the fundamentals of stalking remain the same. It is vital for any hunter to possess skills enabling them to close the gap between themselves and their intended quarry, should they wish for success.
Hunting larger game, I prefer to get in as close as possible whilst remaining undetected. This ensures an easier shot while giving me time to assess trophy qualities while the animal is relaxed and undisturbed in its natural environment.
I am often asked by novice shooters how I manage to close the gap. There are a few key factors to remember when stalking game. Some may seem simple, but given the unpredictability of the hunting environment, can be quite hard to master. Starting with these basics, any hunter can hone their skills with experience and persistence.
Remember animals rely heavily upon their senses for survival. Don’t be disheartened if you fail to get in close the first time. As with anything, practice makes perfect. In this column we’ll cover two essentials to master and next month look at some more.
Upon locating an animal worthy of a stalk, it is important to observe the lay of the land. Take note of the environment and plan a route toward the animal which offers quality cover and concealment to mask your approach. Using cover not only allows the hunter to approach an animal unseen, but will also assist in muffling noise.
Humans subconsciously use 5% of their visual ability at any given time, as we often focus on a single object. Animals like deer, in contrast, exercise excellent eyesight. Constantly scanning for approaching danger, deer routinely use 95% of their visual capabilities to assist other sensory assets. The likelihood of a deer spotting your approach is therefore far greater than expected. It is imperative to remember that bipedal “human” movement is alien in the Australian environment. Consequently it is wise to use available cover to your advantage.
Experienced hunters are aware of what the wind is doing at all times. Of the basic sensory assets, animals possess the ability to smell encroaching danger from extreme distances. Novice hunters must use the wind to their advantage to get as close as possible to their target animal.
Topography like mountains and gullies plays a pivotal role in wind awareness, as breezes often follow the contours of the land, changing directions unexpectedly. As with using cover to mask your physical approach, it is important for hunters to be aware of and adapt to possible wind changes while stalking game.
The simplest way that I have found to counteract this phenomenon is to carry a small empty “eye drop” squeeze bottle filled with talcum powder. A small squeeze of powder into the prevailing conditions will give the hunter
an exact direction of wind, thus allowing a simple change of strategy if necessary. My old mate Tom Varney (RIP) was a big advocate for this method and used it to good effect while whistling foxes and stalking red deer.
Remember that most Australian game animals possess a sense of smell that is several thousand times stronger than that of the average hunter. So it is vital to consistently approach any target animal with the wind in your face.
By assiduously practising the use of cover, concealment and wind to your advantage when stalking, you will be well served to bring home the venison. Next month, we’ll explore the concepts of camouflage, the challenge of open ground and how to deal with sentry animals when out hunting.
This article was first published in the Sporting Shooter February 2014 issue.