Walk And Stalk
By Margaret Botha
Margaret Botha expounds her 10 rules for successful hunting. There is wisdom here.
For many non-hunters, the perception of the hunter is that we mindlessly and easily shoot at animals, from miles away, giving the animals no fighting chance, as we pull the trigger at everything we see move. As we know, this is not true. The true hunter actually hunts, as well as shoots. In fact, shooting is the easy part. It is during the actual stalk of the animal that we out ourselves at more of a level playing field with the animal and must rely on all of our senses to get as close to the animal as we can for a true hunting experience and to increase our chance of a safe and successful shot. Here, Margaret Botha, South African professional hunter and owner of Heart of SA Woman Hunt & Conservation, explains 10 important tips to help us get closer to our prey.
To stalk an animal to 5 to 25 metres is an exceptional experience and I would recommend it to all hunters. I am sharing my techniques with all the woman hunters who want to improve their walking and stalking technique.
Success lies in regular reading and in practice of the few basic techniques, as well as regular articles about this. Read and practice the techniques and apply them purposefully to the next hunting trip. It sometimes takes two to three hunting seasons before your schooling is done, do not lose courage.
1 - Tracking your animal
Sit calmly (as high as possible) and explore your hunting environment with binoculars. Use binoculars with the most suitable magnification eg 8 or 10x of high quality. Once you find the wildlife that may be hunted, then move into action. The distance between you and the animal can be determined with a laser range finder.
If the terrain is too flat and there are not high trees to explore the area, then move slowly from bush to bush (shady area to shady area) to track the animals. Also, you need to stop often and explore the area with the binoculars. With this method I have come up to 60 metres from the animal, often without it knowing I was there. The technique has also allowed an animal to walk onto me from behind a big bush.
2 - Wind
Determine the strength of the wind and also the wind direction. Wind strength is difficult to determine but by getting weather forecast the previous day you can be fairly sure of wind strength and the general wind direction. Throw dry grass into the air to make sure of the particular day's wind direction. Any moderate to strong wind is for the hunter's benefit, provided that the hunter is downwind of the animal (the wind is blowing from the animal toward you). Wind helps to hide odours and sounds from humans. Also make sure that you do not use aromatic soap or shampoo before the hunt. You can tie your hunting clothes in the evening before the hunt in a plastic bag with bunches and grass from the area or rub sand on your body and clothing the morning before you start your hunt.
3 - Plan your route
With the position of the animal and the prevailing wind strength and direction in mind, you can now plan your route to the animal. A poorly planned route usually leads to disappointment. Make sure you get your markers to track you along the way. Plan your route using thick bushes, ditches, rock banks, mountain peaks and shadow spots. Remember, you should be able to lay down the long distance between you and the animal as quietly as you can without the animal getting suspicious.
4 - Study the terrain
Make sure there are no other wildlife or birds on the trail that will later scare and spoil your hunt. Try to determine if the wind direction does not change on the planned route, it can only be determined by a good binoculars by watching the long grass and leaves of bushes and trees in the distance. If the animals are bedding down, it pays to determine the animal's position before the final assessment. Use trees or rocks as markers. It happened a few times that I thought that I passed by the animal when I suddenly could smell the animal and realised where it was.
5 - Camouflaging
It is important to be camouflaged as well as you can. If the animal detects movement and does not hear, smell or cannot identify a defensive profile, the animal will start to feed again or rest easily. Make use of camouflage patterns and colours that fit the environment. All camouflage patterns convey the illusion that breaks up your outline – colour is largely immaterial as long as you do not have blue in there. In open terrain you should focus on these colours in lighter shades. In dense terrain make use of darker shades and they must be narrower or dense, with good contrast. I generally chase with dark dense patterns in all terrain with reasonable success. Use camo paint for your face or a facemask and gloves. White backs of hands and faces can be very reflective in certain lights.
6 - Slow and purposeful movement
Here it means that you have to use a leopard’s technique. Move in a slow, focussed and purposeful manner. Use all the senses. I read an article where a hunter says it takes him 66 to 88 seconds to complete one step. Practice regularly to crawl. Your rifle/bow is large and with it on your back or at the hip it is necessary to practice crawling methods regularly. Also move in shade or dense areas as much as possible.
7 - Be Patient
From step one to 10, patience must remain your catchcry.Read the animal's body language and try to determine what the animal's next move will be , so that you can take your next step or be more sure of the shot. The longer you take (within limits) to get within your reasonable shooting distance from the animal, the quieter you will find the animal at the point where you can shoot.
8 - Be still
Wear clothes that do not make noise. Test the clothes at home and not during the hunt. Wear soft soled shoes and make sure the leather does not crack when you're squatting or walking. Some clothes will hook up to branches and if you get stuck, it may cost a clumsy move to get rid of. Do not step on dry leaves, branches or loose stones. If you can’t avoid it, roll the front foot from the heel to the outside of the foot to the ball before the next foot can be lifted. If possible remove the loose branches, leaves and stones from your path by hand. Remove your backpack and slowly put down any water bottles (mentally marking their position - Ed) before the final stalk. Now you can slowly move into position for the final shot. With slow movements take the safety off or if you are bow hunting ,nock your arrow before you cover the final few metres to where you take the shot.
9 - Do everything with confidence
Practice the steps as regularly as possible. You must build the self-confidence to use these hunting techniques. My advice to any hunters starting out is to not be afraid to go out by yourself to practice these techniques, even if you do not intend to shoot, or even do not take your rifle with you. It will help your develop independence in decision making. Make sure you:
Trust your equipment (range finder, rifle/ bow, arrows)
Master your shooting technique in the standing, sitting and kneeling position
Know your shooting distance, do not take shots at distance longer than you are comfortable. Rather try to get closer. If you can’t, let the animal go. It has won this round.
Only move if you are sure there is no animal that may see you.
10 - Trust your instincts
It's hard to teach someone this part of hunting. You acquire this ability by regularly hunting, receive information from experienced hunters and applying them to your stalks. Share your experience with fellow hunters so that they can help you identify your mistakes. Remember the moment you make a decision, you are alone and you have only yourself to blame if the animal gets away. Every hunt is different, even if it is in the same place. The weather may be different, you have new clothes, your equipment is new or your preparation was too short, the animals are behaving differently, the feeding or watering areas have changed. Morning or afternoon hunts also play out differently as well. Animals are also usually more active in the day during a dark moon, so plan (if possible) your hunt during that period.
PH and Outfitter in South Africa