In any game area, it is generally the same hunters who, year after year, bring home the biggest trophies or a supply of venison. This is especially noticeable where hunting conditions are difficult and in country where there’s heavy hunting pressure. How do they do it? The answer is easy – hunting know-how.
Successful hunters are the ones who have spent a lot of years in the field and have spent time getting to know the country and the habits of the animals that live there. They have developed skills far beyond those of the casual weekend hunter by backpacking into remote areas and living off the land whenever
they find it necessary. While actually hunting, they’re quick to notice that a novice moves too fast, moves noisily and if accompanied by a companion chatters away to alert game to their presence. Chances are too, that he’ll be hunting an area devoid of game, but if it isn’t it soon will be. These kind of guys find it hard to define the reason for their lack of hunting success. Game-sense and hunting skill are combinations of many factors, which the unsuccessful hunter has little knowledge of.
How then, can todays hunter, with increasingly limited time afield, develop real hunting ability? Or improve it?
The easiest way is to watch someone who knows how. There is no better way of absorbing the basic fundamentals of game hunting than to go out with an experienced hunter, take close notice of the reasons behind his actions afield, and learn from his experience.
This is not always easy to do. For many, the opportunity is either impossible or extremely limited. For the truth is: most experienced hunters don’t want to be aggravated by having a tyro dogging their footsteps or be bothered to answer their many queries. The alternative is to learn by one’s self. This can be done, first by developing an understanding of hunting fundamentals, and then by learning something of value from every day spent in the hunting field whether one bags his trophy or not.
Much of the art of stalking big-game can be reduced to four simple rules:
1. Move more slowly than you think necessary.
2. Stop frequently and look and listen more intently.
3. Hunt in terms of animal behaviour.
4. Always try to approach game from the unsuspected direction.
To these rules I might add, be patient, don’t try and hurry things along. Remember the sage advice an old indian offered the paleface hunter: “White man walk a lot, see little; injun walk little, see a lot.”
To understand the necessity of moving slowly, one has to know something of the keener senses of the quarry versus that of the hunter. Game has keener sight, more sensitive hearing and hyper sense of smell. In other word it can out-see, out-hear, out- smell, and move faster. Game can move through brush making less noise and be long gone. The hunter’s presence then, is much easier for game to detect, by noise and sight, especially when he is on the move.
And it only takes only a slight breeze to alert game to danger.
From this it should be apparent that the fast moving hunter is usually detected by the game long before the hunter spots the game which gives it time to quietly sneak away. Too often the novice thinks, “The faster I go, the more country I’ll cover”. What he doesn’t realize is that any hunter sees only a limited number of the game population of any area he stalks, and in brush and timber the noisier and more visible he makes himself, the fewer animals he’ll see.
In open mountain country where you can see a long way, instead of tearing around like a fox with its tail on fire, the good hunter finds a vantage point. He sits down to spot, look and listen. He may spend a half hour or more, doing nothing which the novice could discern except “sitting”. It is actually very difficult for the novice to develop his field craft simply because his day-today living habits have conditioned him against acute observation and listening. The experience hunter is content to sit and thoroughly scan the surrounding terrain back and forth, time after time, for hours on end, while the novice is satisfied to take a quick look through his binocular and move on. His lack of keen observation and listening carries over into the field where the habits of a lifetime are hard to change in a few weeks.
The successful hunter has trained himself not only to see everything about the landscape that may conceal game. He has taught himself to identify not only everything within range of his vision; he has also learned how to pick out objects which “don’t belong”.
A deer in the bush is not a “Landseer-calendar” stag standing broadside on a hillside devoid of any cover. The hunter sees his quarry first as a white rump that has no business being there; he may catch the flicker of an ear; or sunlight glinting off an antler tip or a palm above the bushes.
Nature designed the game’s camouflage and the shyest and wiliest game species know only too well that their shape, colour and form can be integrated into natural backgrounds in their habitat. A big share of true hunting skill lies in the ability of the hunter to interpret such skimpy evidence to be able to recognize possible animals instead of rocks, trees or brush.
In a comparable way, keen listening pays off. The novice hears a rustle of leaves, a twig snap, the dull pounding in earth, or the distant rattle of loose stones. These indicators are all ignored, since he is intent on watching for game. The seasoned hunter knows these sounds are not natural; and in them he hears a walking game animal pushing through bushes, the rapid running as an animal takes flight, or the quarry walks over loose talus across the gully.
Incidentally, the best way to listen for such slight sounds is with the mouth open. The best way to practice is every time you hunt. This intent concentration must be forced at first, but it gradually becomes second nature.
Learning the field behaviour of game takes practical experience. It can be speeded up, however, if one will take the trouble to learn a few basic factors, then add to these by personal observation every trip he takes to the field. Here are a few fundamentals:
There are “best” hunting times. Most novices think that the only productive times to hunt for all species is the daylight- till-sun-up and dusk-to-dark periods. Game moves about, feeds, and will be more in the open at these times, and will be easier to spot and stalk than while bedded down in cover during mid- morning and late afternoon.
Most novices (and even some guides with clients) return to camp from mid-morning and don’t go afield again until late afternoon in the belief that game doesn’t move about in the middle of the day. The truth is, a lot of game comes to water at mid-day, and then slowly grazes its way back to the bedding area. This is a good time to set up an ambush near a well-used waterhole in a gully or creek.
Furthermore, game tends to move downward during a big storm. After sheltering for its duration in brushy gullies, the game will move upward again with clearing weather. Sambar can predict a snow-storm in advance and will drift downward accordingly. Red stags will roar on a clear frosty night, but little during fog.
Another generality is that the biggest trophy bearers are the wiliest from experience and hard to bag. They frequent the roughest terrain of their range, and are usually located higher than the females and youngsters. Deer like “edge” country where timber and brush border open clearings. The best feed is in the open, but proximity to cover is necessary for shade and quick escape from enemies.
Mountain game roaming territory with sparse cover is most often found in spots where it can quickly escape pursuers in, or from, at least two directions. They’ll bed down at the base of bluffs and under crests where visibility is good in several directions. Big goats and deer will often stand partway up a sloping hillside from where they can watch the flats below and see in four directions. When spooked, such game will run in a beeline, uphill or around the sidehill, but may be depended upon to pause at the last crest to identify the danger. The patient hunter tracks them in his scope and takes the shot as soon as they came to a halt.
An experienced hunter with acquired game sense can go into strange country, glass the terrain, get the lay of the land, find spoor, if any, and quite accurately predict where game is to be found. He knows from experience that game may be anywhere, but knows the best areas to stalk.
Game loiters in areas which are difficult to approach, and where planned escape routes can always be reached. Their route movements have been rehearsed so the backtrack can be watched. Game may cross open areas where it may be seen, albeit briefly, but such places are crossed quickly and only after a survey of the place has been made from inside cover.
Game’s natural enemies follow their quarry from spoor left behind. Because of this, trailing or tracking game is often non- productive. A far better method is to hunt exactly opposite. After learning where the game is, or logically where it is likely to be, the stalk should be made from an unsuspected direction. Mountain game can best be stalked by circling and coming down on them from above – not up from the gully bottom. And game on the flats which can spot the hunter from far away, can be stalked close only by manoeuvering about until some kind of intervening rise or shallow gully can be made use of. After that, by keeping out of sight, the hunter can often get within shooting distance.
Approached game, whether it has seen the hunter or not, will often give him enough time to get his shot away. It is hard to determine the exact instant of “flight”, but the interval the hunter gets before the animal spooks, is usually from five to ten seconds. This is the period before it will normally move to another position, or during which it realizes the intention of the hunter.
There’s no better way to learn “game sense,” than to hunt with an experienced hunter, or think of yourself as being the hunted. But it is just as well to bear in mind the chase is a campaign in strategy and hide-and-seek.