Preparation is usually the prerequisite for success in anything in life and it’s the same for hunting. Most hunters make sure they have the best hunting equipment they can afford to assist in their quest for game; whatever that may be. But I’ve found over the years that it’s your knowledge of the animal you’re hunting and the area where you choose to hunt it that matters more than the equipment you wear or carry. There are numerous benefits for any hunter who bothers to scout a new hunting property before they begin to hunt.
1. SAFETY first, foremost and always. Knowing the exact location of any buildings both on the property you’ll be hunting and neighbouring properties as well. Often houses will be tucked away in bush and not overly obvious unless you take a good look around your hunting ground first. The location of livestock and in particular horses needs to be known so these areas can be avoided. Horses can be flighty critters that are often spooked by loud gun fire from firearms such as shotguns or centre-fire rifles.
2. Topography. Next is the benefit of learning both the lay of the land such as gullies, creek flats, hills, and patches of cover; be it bush, blackberries, ferns and even open paddocks. When in all these places take notice of the wind direction each trip and look for vantage points for future approaches where you’ll have good vision of “hot spots” and a favourable wind to approach them.
3. Animal habits. The most valuable knowledge gained by scouting however is learning how the local game use the property you’re on; such as where they lay up through the day, where they feed at different times of the day and night and the game trails that link such areas. After getting to know all these main areas try to understand why the animals are using that location at that particular time and therefore gain an understanding of the times of day or night when they would be there.
4. Landowner information. The owner of the land where you’re going to hunt is a great source of information for the hunter. First and foremost you need to know his wishes and instructions regarding the property and obey them at all times regardless of what game animal appears and tempts you to ‘stretch the boundaries’. Landowners who live on the property are an even better source of information regarding the daily habits of local game and specific target animals.
5. Know the neighbours. Regardless of where you are or who owns the land it is often common to find a neighbour or two who the property owner doesn’t get along with for whatever reason. In some cases the owner may not know them at all and keeps to themselves. Unfortunately it’s common to come across neighbours who have a problem with shooting or hunting and it makes sense to avoid shooting in the vicinity of the boundary of their property to minimise any issues. The landowner who has been kind enough to let you hunt on their property deserves to be considered over your desire to take game. By going around ‘to meet the neighbours’ you may well end up with extra properties to hunt and a reputation for being responsible and considerate; this will assist extra and future property access. Through having a chat about the local wildlife you can get an idea of what is acceptable to them and pay attention to that when hunting in the vicinity of their property. You may be thinking to yourself why bother when you have permission to hunt on your property? The answer is simple; it’s the reputation of shooting and hunting in Australia that you’re looking after and I think that’s worthwhile!
6. Night familiarity. Through scouting every nook and cranny of your new hunting property you get to know the lay of the land; the gullies, hills, creek flats, gates and buildings etc. Through memorising this information you’ll be able to move around your hunting property at night with confidence.
7. Follow the boundary. The first thing I do when setting off to scout a new hunting property is walk or drive the boundary fence. I prefer to walk where possible as you gain much more detailed information walking rather than driving past. Along the boundary fence you will see the main areas where game enters your new property from ‘next door’. Or you may see good cover for foxes that could be whistled into your property and shot. But most importantly you get to see what directions you can safely shoot.
8. Reading animal sign. The best time to read animal sign when scouting a property is a day or two after good rain. This allows time for game to leave sign too read after the old sign has been washed out by rain. Whilst old sign on hardened game trails is valuable as game often repeat their behaviour, fresh sign will offer up to date relevant information on the game present and how they are using the property.
9. When to scout your property. The time of day you choose to scout your new hunting property may vary with your situation. If you’re planning to hunt the property the same day you do your scouting it makes sense to be out and about through the middle of the day when game is tucked up in cover or down burrows. Avoid the likely bedding areas of game and minimal disturbance to your property and the game present will occur. Later in the day you may choose to set up in a vantage point using binoculars to observe the resident game as they come out late in the afternoon; providing you didn’t spooked them from their bedding areas when scouting.
10. Planning future hunts. Armed not only with your firearm but detailed information of your property you’re in a far better position to make the most of your property and what it offers. The amount of game varies greatly form one property to another but all you can do is make the best of the property you have. There is a lot of satisfaction in knowing where a particular game animal is likely to be without actually seeing it first, planning your hunt around this information and taking it cleanly when it arrives. Alternatively you may use your knowledge to stalk in close to game; regardless of the method of hunting you choose scouting will assist success and help you become a better hunter.
Enjoying the benefits. One of the great joys of hunting is exploration of new hunting ground. When you locate a big wallow frequented by sambar or a bracken fern ridge riddled with rabbits excitement flows within as you imagine future possibilities. Recently I was out hunting on a new property that has minimal game on it but is bordered by some good cover next door. The owner had informed me of the habits of the local foxes and after scouting to find where they most likely come from and where they enter the property on a previous trip it was time to hunt.
As the paddock was almost devoid of cover I got geared up in my camouflage gear, grabbed the .22 magnum and caller and was off. I came over the ridge and the damp wind of late afternoon fanned my face. A lone thin tussock stood upon the creek flat offering the only cover in a paddock of lush spring growth. The rifle and shooting sticks were left at the tussock before heading off across the creek flat to place the caller on the game trail that lead back to a boundary fence bordering bush. The squeal of a rabbit sang upon the game trail on and off for some thirty minutes, nothing, just the sound of the countryside winding down for the night with the birds going quiet and air becoming crisper along the creek. It was time to try something else!
With the amid the fading light the calls of a different animal drifted off into the bush and in no time a mob of cockatoos came in squawking loudly and circling the caller. They moved off a short way only to return and repeat the process. Silence had again returned to the creek flat apart from the croak of frogs and then I saw him; trotting out down the game trail straight towards the terrified sounds that drew him on further into the open paddock. The barrel of the .22 magnum followed his strutting progress down the trail until he stopped behind a small briar bush that I hadn’t even noticed. There he sat for some minutes at a distance of 80 yards. The caller had been muted and he eagerly awaited the next sound to locate his prey. Frustrated by the wait he cantered on with confident footsteps. I squeaked with my lips to bring him to a halt but he continued on to within metres of the caller where he would catch my scent and take off across the paddock. In desperation to bring him to a stop I squeaked loudly with my lips causing him to prop and stare in my direction. The magnum seemed loud amid the silence of dusk with the awesome ‘thwack’ sound pre-empting the echo of the shot in the gully behind. He dropped like a rock and never twitched. Light was fading so I opened the rifles bolt and headed up to inspect my prize passing through that wonderful scent of burnt rifle powder hanging in the damp night air.
This article was first published in Sporting Shooter, December 2011