I want to say first off that these tips are general principles and some of the points could be downright dangerous if you are hunting in a country with potential man killers. You will need to know the individual habits of the animal you are hunting. Bears, cougars, lions, will need different hunting skills and knowledge compared to the likes of rabbits, foxes, goats etc.
Hunter or Shooter? Are you a hunter or a shooter, don’t know the difference? A shooter walks quickly through an area, covers a lot of ground and the law of averages will work for him and he will see game but probably after the animals are aware of him. The shooter will miss out on a lot of game because of his noise and fast pace but because of the distance travelled still put meat on the table.
The hunter takes his time, works a smaller area, and spends as much time if not more stopping to look and listen as he does moving. Both types of hunting will work, I’m biased towards the hunter and therefore so are the tips listed here.
Best Time To Hunt: The best hunting times are early morning and late evening. By early morning I mean from before the sun rises above the horizon, when its still in half light and then possibly for the next hour or two. In the very early morning animals are on the move finishing off night feeding and heading back to their well hidden daytime hideout. In the last hour or so in the evening as the sun in starting to set, the animals are moving away from their daily hideouts and towards their feeding grounds. Generally during the day it is a lot more difficult to find animals unless you know their hideouts and if you do they will be very alert to anything out of the ordinary, like your approach.
The Wind: When hunting always have the wind in your face or if crossing the wind at a right angle look mostly to the upwind side for game, for most animals their nose is their primary sense to warn them of danger, or to zero in on their next meal (you?). They can smell your scent for miles if you are upwind of them, but if you are downwind they can’t smell you 20 feet away. Also be wary of occasional wind gusts from a different direction taking your scent to the animal.
Eyesight: Most animals eyesight is not as good as humans and some/most have a very limited range of colour vision. However don’t let that fool you into thinking you can run all around the place without being seen, animals are incredibly good at picking up the slightest movement. When approaching an animal, if your movement is spotted, immediately freeze, even on open ground, and after a short time they may ignore you and continue on doing whatever they were doing, because you have blended into the background. And then again they may see you or feel the danger and bolt, be ready for it.
Hearing: Just take it from me your hearing is so far below what an animal can hear, that all we can do is to attempt silence in our hunting. If game is in sight, don’t low whisper to your hunting mate, it will be heard and the animal will be instantly aware of you as something not from its natural world. If you are in thick bush and you know an animal is close but not sure where, take a tip from granny’s ear horn and cup your hands behind both ears and look toward where you think the animal is. You will be amazed at the increase in hearing ability from doing this, and when you take your cupped hands away from your ears you will realise just how deaf we are.
Tracking: The only way to get good at tracking is to do it and do lots of it, there are just so many variables between different animals, terrain, weather, light etc. Fresh tracks generally look darker on the forest floor because the ground leaves have been disturbed and are now showing some of their moist underside … but it wont last long. If you loose the tracks get down low at ground level, tracks will show better against the forest floor. I find getting down low in a lot of situations will help you pick up signs that an animal has moved through an area like bent grass stems which can be seen easier from low down. When you totally lose the tracks, go back to where you last saw them and start walking a small spiral around those last tracks seen. Keep increasing the spiral width until you finally pick them up again. Cobwebs in footprints, not a good sign. Fresh prints are sharp and darker than the surrounding ground, old prints have rounded edges and are the same colour as the nearby ground. Footprints with murky muddy water in them are relatively fresh, but be careful of the soil type as clays can stay murky for a long time. To really test your tracking skills over hard stoney ground, look for squashed ants on rocks to indicate recent travel, but I think these advanced skills are best left to the true keepers of tracking knowledge, the worlds ever decreasing population of indigenous people that live only by what they hunt successfully.
How to Move: Whenever moving through bush or undergrowth, move smoothly and if possible don’t touch anything except the ground under your feet. Get your whole body moving slowly around branches, sticks or whatever, don’t push through or even slightly brush branches, tall grasses etc. There are two reasons for this, first touching anything makes noise, even if you cant hear it, animals can. Second if you lightly brush a low hanging branch, small bush etc, it will show extra movement around your position and it will continue moving long after you have passed by. Its no good freezing if your prey has spotted your movement and behind you the branch you just pushed out of the way is still moving up and down from your passing. If you cant help brushing up against branches etc, hold on to them as you move around them to help stop any branch movement. Move your body like fluid around low hanging branches and undergrowth.
Moving Quietly: When walking slowly through a possible game area move in such a way that you can freeze your movement at any time, including half way through a step, bending around a branch etc. It takes good balance but with practice can be done. Place your foot heel first and then put your weight slowly to the outside of your foot and then the whole foot, be ready to lift the foot at any time if you feel a stick etc underneath that could cause noise. If you have to walk through muddy ground, put your foot ever so slowly into the mud and be careful not to create a sucking noise when you lift your foot out, you do this by twisting your foot to the outside to release any suction and then lift your foot slowly out of the mud.
If the wind is gusty as you close in on your animal, only move when the wind blows through the trees, it will help cover both your movement and any small noise.
Sixth Sense: When I was in my teens I used to read hunting books written by old timers who knew a thing or two about getting wild game. One thing that used to make me a little skeptical was their claim that when you are hunting wild animals and are closing in on them, they can feel your eyes on them. However, once I had some serious hunting experience under my belt I too became convinced that at times they could. For example when hunting deer, I would come across a few with their heads down grazing the grass some distance away from me, after a few moments of watching the deer and planning my stalk to get closer, suddenly one deer would lift its head straight up and stare directly at me, then after a few seconds of staring it would go back to feeding. This happened so many times that I began to do what the old timers recommended which was when moving in closer to get a good shooting position, only look briefly now and then at the deer to keep a fix on them and then look away while moving in for your shot. Weather you take this with a grain of salt or not is up to you, but a lot of experienced hunters swear by it.
Bare Feet: If you really want to get serious about hunting, hunt in bare feet, its the only way to move silently (but thorns can change that) Your bare feet can feel everything underneath and you can easily manage how much weight to place on your foot and prevent crushing a noisy dry leaf or twig which will give you away instantly. Carry a pair of sturdy running shoes behind you on your hunting belt for rocky ground, crossing rivers and heading home.
Dangerous Animals: Question, what is the most dangerous animal?
The answer is any wild animal that has lost its natural suspicion/fear of man. Most true wild animals have a healthy fear of man and prefer to move away rather than create a confrontation. Some of the most dangerous wild animals are in zoos, any wild animal that scavenges from a camping ground or out of rubbish tins, eg: monkeys, bears etc and watch out for farmed stags during the rutting season. Be very wary of them at all times because if disturbed they can quite suddenly turn nasty in an instant, you wont have time to get to safety. Treat any such semi-wild animals with EXTREME caution!
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Travel Down a Mountain River: Usually the advice for wilderness travel is to follow a river down a valley, however if you are in steep mountain country often the upper reaches of a river are narrow gorges with a series of high impassable waterfalls at various points on the way down. Blindly following the river down through the gorges can be deadly as each time you encounter a waterfall you have to climb back up out of the gorge to get around the waterfall and then climb back in below the previous water fall only to find out again further down you are faced with yet another waterfall. It’s the perfect recipe for exhaustion, running out of daylight and finally in panic taking risks you wouldn’t normal take, ending in exhaustion, hypothermia or a fatal fall. If you have no alternative route, the best way to get down is to follow a main ridge down, mindful not to loose the location of the river you want to follow. If in thick forested country be careful you keep on the main ridge down and don’t unintentionally get on a side spur leading you to the river gorge. This takes considerable experience and if you don’t have it, don’t be there to start with.
Walk a straight line open country: When traversing flat relatively open country you can keep a straight traveling line by lining up a far mountain, hill or prominent feature with with a tree (A) etc that’s not too far from you, and keep the tree lined up with the mountain (B) when walking, when you get to the tree (A) choose another tree (C) to line up with the hilltop and just continue doing this … this stops you from using up time and energy walking in an arc or a S to your destination. If you cant walk a straight line all the way to your next tree (C) because of a gully or cliffs, and you will loose sight of it, mark another tree, rock etc (D) between you and the far off tree (C). Move through the gully etc and get back on line to the tree or rock (D) noted before moving into the gully. ” Doing it is a lot simpler than my explanation sounds!”
Walk a straight line thick bush: This can be done, but its very time intensive and obviously its not going to be such a straight line as in the open. With a compass line up two trees (A+B) in your intended direction and walk to the first one (A) then line up another tree (C) past the original second tree (B) and continue doing this, in really thick vegetation your tree might only be a few steps away but just keep repeating this. As the marking distance is so short you could be ‘drifting’ to one side as you travel, so you actually end up doing an arc or an S track to your destination and not a straight line.
Without a compass is tricky and not advised, you really only have the sun as a guide to your direction, remember the sun moves at 15 degrees an hour and you will have to allow for that when travelling.
If you have a map in hilly terrain you can sometime see out through the forest canopy to other hills to get an idea of your location on the map and then which way to head.
WARNING: The very easiest place to get lost and disorientated is in flat forested country with no visible horizon on a cloudy day. There is no sense of direction when the sun is hidden by cloud, I guarantee you will walk in circles, a compass is a must for successful navigation in this situation.
River Crossing: Crossing rivers is always a risk from slipping on slimy underwater rocks and getting uncomfortably soaked, to getting swept away to your death by a flooded raging torrent. If the river is flooded, a dirty grey mud colour and has logs and sticks being carried along – forget about crossing.
If you cant see the river bottom but its still crossable, your risk has increased greatly for unstable footing and hidden buried logs or sticks on the bottom that can trip you over into the water. If you are unsure of your footing when crossing, carry a strong stick that you use as a third leg and only use it on the upstream side of you where the water will force the stick into the river bottom, if you use the stick on the downstream side the force of the water will lift the stick off the bottom and over you will go. Generally cross a river at the top of rapids where it is widest, the water will be the most shallow here and moving more slowly.
Just Do It: Final tip and perhaps the most important one … get off your butt and get out into the wilderness on a regular basis because there is plenty more to learn other than these few tips. You can read all the information you want, and its a great start, but knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom only comes from experience. Get out to where it counts, good luck, good skill and safe hunting.
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I could go on with more hunting tips, I will add others as time goes on.
Here’s a selection of well known classic New Zealand hunting authors that I grew up with, they fed my hunger for anything hunting. The books are written some time ago but the stories and advice are still very relevant for today.
I want to give a special mention to the author Phillip Holden and his book Pack and Rifle, I read this book so many times in my early hunting years and it inspired me to get out there and experience the New Zealand wilderness and hunting lifestyle.
After having written dozens of hunting books for New Zealand and Australia, Philip Holden sadly passed away in 2005 .