There are various ways to conduct a hunt. Some are dictated by the terrain, the type of animal being hunted, your level of fitness and the vegetation.
WALK & STALK
Walk and stalk hunting involves walking slowly and looking for signs of the animal in the veld, e.g. steenbuck latrines, zebra dust baths, bush pig paths leading to grazing, blue duiker dung heaps and paths, kudu bulls breaking branches or browsing levels, fresh spoor and droppings etc. This method works best for single and territorial animals in difficult country, or when minimum use of roads is available.
This method involves staying in one place to wait for the game. Give the bush time to settle down after your arrival. Arrive at your chosen spot well before you expect the game. If you sit elevated above ground level at more than +-3m, game won’t smell you.
Have your rifle at hand, where you can get it quickly and with the minimum amount of movement. Use a dead-rest if possible. This method can be successfully applied in the following situations:
- Next to game paths.
- In areas where game are abundant or near cultivated lands where animals come regularly, e.g. bushbuck and duiker.
- In forest and bush clearings for blue duiker, bushbuck, grysbuck etc.
- Most territorial game which has been spotted or seen before in an area can be hunted like this.
- In any area where there are lots of sign of game or known to be hiding places, e.g. fallow deer, bushbuck at sunrise and in the early morning or towards sunset.
- In fairly open country, sit on high ground and look for the animal (use binoculars) and once spotted, stalk the animal.
PLAINS GAME HUNTING
A sound knowledge of the area is of paramount importance for this kind of hunting. Generally speaking, plains game is difficult to hunt as you often see them but cannot get close enough for a shot.
Some suggested methods are:
- Drive along in a vehicle and see how close you can get. Get out and stalk to shoot.
- Try and be at a camp by selecting a spot where the animals often pass or stand at, e.g. bare patches on high ground used by blesbuck etc.
- Ambush them along set routs as in the case of blesbuck, gemsbuck, springbuck etc.
Drive to the spot where the animals were originally standing. Slip out on opposite side of the vehicle and lie flat until the game is watching the now moving truck which is going to droop the hunters to attempt to move the game on your direction. Try to predetermine the direction the game is likely to come from. This method often works as the game feels safe where they were when you entered the camp. It is handy if the vehicle and you have radios so that you can move to another position if the game is not doing what you expected. The driver can guide you to a better position.
When having radios available, it is often an advantage to leave a man on a high spot where he can watch the proceedings and watch for wounded animals etc. Often, if the game has used a specific route, they may again use that route. Take note of those routes and relocate yourself if necessary.
Another method is to try to approach on foot, walking at an angel to the herd. Stop often, sit down etc. Sometimes one can get fairly close this way.
Note: Remember that blesbuck, black wildebeest, bontebok, hartebeest and kudu are animals with a dark colour and therefore blood is very difficult to see on these animals. Count the herd before and after the shot, as there is normally no rush with plains game. This may save you a lot of time looking for a potentially wounded animal if the animal has dropped dead just out of sight.
USE OF A SPOTTER TO GUIDE YOU TO GAME
In some circumstances it helps to have spotters on high ground to watch for game – kudu, fallow deer, eland etc. They spot the animal and once you have established whether it is a shootable animal or good trophy, they guide you to the animal with the use of radio or hand signals. The method works very well in flat, bushy country below mountains or in river beds where you loose sight of your quarry.
DRIVING ANIMALS ON FOOT OR HORSEBACK
For this method, an excellent knowledge of the area and habits of the game there is essential. Choose a likely spot where animals will pass. Choose a vantage spot where a large area can be seen, e.g. next to game paths etc. You must be able to judge an animal quickly as it is normally moving quickly or running. One can combine this method with spotters to guide you the the animal should it break back between the beaters e.g. kudu, bushbuck, mountain reedbuck, vaal rhebuck and bushpigs.
This method is only possible where the terrain and substrate allows it, e.g. in soft ground or sandy terrain.
WALKING, STOPPING AND GLASSING
This method is similar to walk-and-stalk, but is done much faster and a far bigger area is covered in a shorter period of time.
Bait with a carcass of a dead animal for bushpig etc
Animals such as predators, duiker, steenbok and even bushbuck ewes can be called to the hunter’s position by means of a predator call. The latter can come in the form of a tape played in a tape player, or a hand held device blown by the hunter. For a fallow deer stag in the rut, hitting two sticks together can imitate two stags fighting, which may result in a stag hunting instead of the other way round.
An approach from downwind of your selected prey is very important. If you cannot get directly downwind, at least try to get at right angles to the wind. Never assume that the wind direction will stay constant. Use an ash bag or talc puff bottle.
Plot your stalk beforehand. If the animal is feeding or resting there is time to think and plan. In bushy country you can very often get within range without having to bend double or crawl, because there is plenty of cover of the right height. Where cover is sparser you mush look for the best line of approach that will keep the wind in your favour and will keep you obscured from the animal.
Use the contours of the land, if available. It is important to pick a landmark that will keep you on track – it is easy to become disorientated. Also, don’t yield to the tendency to hurry. If the animal looks likely to move, you may risk putting on a spurt. Otherwise, all you will achieve is to get out of breath, which is detrimental to your shooting. If the animal (alone or part of a herd) is moving, plan your stalking route to enable you to intercept it – or even better – to get in front of it.
During the final stages of a stalk when you move, do it slowly. Keep an eye on the quarry! When crossing exposed ground, take your time. Keep a wary eye open for other animals.
Sometimes you can come unexpectedly on an animal or small herd. If you are close and they bolt, wait a while before taking up the spoor. If however they are far enough away not to feel threatened, but are fully alert, you can stay in the game by using your head. Don’t make any sudden movement – such as dropping to the ground – for this will simply cause them to gallop away. Just stand still and wait. If the animals also stand still for a minute or two, turn around very slowly and retrace your steps until you are out of their sight. Then wait a while before checking if they are still in the same position before planning a stalk. The temptation in this situation is to sink slowly to the ground and await events. It seldom works for the reason that the animal can no longer see you, but he knows you are still close by.
Approaching animals right out in the open is very difficult, but there is a trick you can use to close the distance a little. Instead of working your way directly towards the game, move at an oblique angle towards them. In this way you can appear to be moving past them while you are in reality closing the distance between you.
When you are stalking a small herd of animals (or a solitary animal) that is feeding, you can cross open ground by moving only when they have their heads down. You must stop the moment one of them looks up.
When you spook an animal that you have been stalking, stay perfectly still, watching it for as long as you can. IF it runs out of sight – as it probably will – don’t rush for some vantage point. The animal will run until it feels it has put enough distance between you then it will stop and look back on its tracks for any further sign of danger. Be patient. Sit down and wait for at least ten minutes before starting again. This allows feeding again – something it won’t do if you are hot on its heels.
There are a few exceptions to the above. The common reedbuck in areas where it is not heavily hunted will often break cover at the approach of a hunter; run a couple of hundred metres – and then stop to look back. Steenbok often do the same thing. So does the roan antelope. Mountain reedbuck and klipspringer often respond to a shrill, sharp whistle by stopping for a few seconds. Being aware of this possibility means that you can prepare yourself for a shot, and that’s another reason why, once the animal breaks cover and run, you should stand perfectly still.
In the late afternoon, or early morning, one can approach one’s quarry in very open terrain by making use of the sun tunnel. For about 15-20 minutes, if you can position yourself between the animal and low-in-the-horizon sun, you can easily walk to within shooting distance of your quarry. With the sun at your back and in the buck’s eyes, this is often the only way to approach a wary animal, if the wind is in your favour.
Consider situations from the animal’s point of view. If you’ve spooked an animal, he is going to watch his tracks when he calms down. Approach him from a different direction.
Many stalks are abortive, sometimes because you’ve done something wrong, other times because of reasons beyond your control. It’s all part of your sport. A man who wants to go out, find his game without effort. have it stand perfectly still and broadside on, and at very close range, while he takes his shot, is better off going to the butchery. His attitude tells you that he merely wants to kill, he doesn’t want to hunt.
FACTORS TO KEEP IN MIND
During walk-and-stalk hunting, keep the following in mind:
Wind direction is critical. Plan your route so that you walk directly into the wind or across it. During calm conditions, the cool heavy air of the early morning and later afternoon tends to roll down off the high places and flow down the valleys, while the warm light air during the rest of the day tends to rise. Hunt upwards early and late, and downwards during the heat of the day.
Try to hunt with the sun behind you in the early morning or late afternoon. Aim your shadow directly at the animal you are stalking. Stick to shadows cast by trees, rocks, etc.
Try to stay out of sight as much as you can. In traversing ground, use natural features such as gullies, stream beds, dead ground, hills etc. to stay out of sight. In the high places try to stay off the skyline. Walk below the skyline where you ca use the background of the hill or mountain as cover. Stick to shadows if available.
Go slowly. All movements should be slow. Any fast, sharp movement is out of place and will immediately attract attention. Step once and look twice and stop often. It is easier to spot game movements when you yourself are standing or sitting still. Rather cover a small area slowly and thoroughly than rush through a large one.
Know what you are looking for. “Educate” your eyes. Carry a picture of your quarry in your mind – prominent features such as big, cupped ears, colour, horns glinting in the sunlight, outline etc.
When glassing an area, divide it into far, middle and close, and search fro right to left, closest areas first, because one’s eyes skip ground, missing small areas. Take it slowly – bush by bush, shadow by shadow. Don’t look at the bush: look into, under and through the cover.
During walk and stalk, take a break to rest every 20-30 minutes. Freeze when you see any sign of life. Keep your face down if you can, If the animal hasn’t seen you, squat or get into cover.
MAKING THE STALK
An essential ingredient for successful stalking is stealth. In nature, predatory stealth is counter-balanced by prey alertness. When an animal is feeding it is least alert and thus least difficult to stalk.
To avoid losing the animal’s whereabouts during the stalk, before setting off, pick out and memorize any prominent natural features in the landscape you can use as markers to get a line on the animal later.
Plan your stalking route so as to make use of natural features you can use and which you should avoid. If you can point your shadow at the quarry (come out of the sun) especially if the sun is low, you can get very close if the wind is also favourable. However, when making the shot, try to get out of the line of sun and animal. Your telescope may magnify the sunlight and blot out everything in a blaze of blinding light.
Should the animal you are stalking be moving in a set direction, try to work out is probable route and plan your stalk to intercept it. Make sure – if the animal is going into the wind – not to get ahead of it. Whilst you should keep out of sight during a stalk, keep the animal in sight as far as possible.
When stalking an animal. as long as it is moving (even chewing the cud) it will not spook at first sight of someone approaching. It will become absolutely motionless when it first detects or suspects movement, in order to evaluate the degree of danger involved.
You can also try to break your human outline/silhouette by using camo net and walking obliquely up to the animal.
Towards the end of a stalk, be extra cautious and slow right down. In noisy country, if the wind is gusting and you are very close to the animal, time your movements to coincide with the gusts.
A lone animal is far easier to stalk than one which is in a herd.
METHODS AND TIPS ON STALKING
Crouching position – remember to take your rifle off your shoulder and carry it in your hands. Ben over double with knees flexed.
All fours crawl – Loosen belt and slip rifle down your back and under the belt, then tighten it again. Place the bolt downwards so that it snags into your clothing (an not your belt when you want to get it out again). It will not slide and you can piggy back your rifle securely for as far as you want to go while walking on all fours. IF your belt is tight by placing a hand behind you on the butt to steady it, you can sit up with the rifle still in place while you look around. Drawback with all fours position – poor field of vision.
Duck-walk – Squat on your heels and walk. The rifle becomes an aid – use it as a paddle while moving. Thrusting the butt on the ground beside you will give you balance and forward momentum and the muzzle is no higher than your head.
Sitting position (also called “hoovering”) – Move yourself forward on your hands and heels. The advantage is that your head is up giving you excellent vision. You can lie back if you need to suddenly lower your profile and yet can still keep moving slowly forward on heels and elbows. The rifle can be carried in a comfortable manner with immediate access for a quick shot. Turn the rifle upside down; place the small of the butt across the top of your right foot just in front of the ankle, with the barrel resting across your left groin. It is secure and you have both hands free. If you need to shoot, lean forward while you pick up the rifle, rest your elbows on your knees and you are in the sitting position to shoot.
Leopard crawling – Get flat on your belly, moving yourself forward on elbows and toes. The rifle can be shunted along the ground beside you, lifting it with both hands and placing it forward onto some protection (dry stick or clump of grass) to keep the muzzle out of the sand. You can also carry it on your back. Put the bolt downwards and it will just like there between your shoulder blades. The action of pushing forward on your elbows causes a crevasse between your shoulder blades and if the rifle does slip, a cautious hand behind with soon set it right.
Browsers such as kudu, bushbuck, duiker, nyala and others have been observed to be far more active during moonlight evenings. This results in those species then bedding down pre-dawn, and only emerging after dusk, as soon as the moon has risen. During dark moon phases they tend to be out at dawn, actively feed till mid-morning and then bed down till late afternoon, when they have another browsing spree for an hour or two till dark. This is probably predator driven behaviour. Hunters thus booking hunting trips for any of those species are advised to keep te phases of the moon in mind when finalizing dates for their hunting trips.
- Know when the rut is and thus know where mature animals will be eg. territorial dung heaps, when running in bachelor herds or with the females etc.
- Use the sun to your advantage when stalking game. Sun shining on animals, not looking into the sun, stalk out of the sun etc.
- Use the wind to your advantage with all animals, even plains game. An ash bag or a scentless talk puff bottle work well here.
- The time of day can be used to your advantage, for example in early mornings or late afternoons, get the sun behind your position to spot game.
- Use the terrain to your benefit for your stalks.
- Keep track of the wind shift, then concentrate on the “S” factors;
- Sight – look around and behind you carefully and continuously.
- Scent – watch that the wind doesn’t carry yours, and be aware of any scent which you may pick up.
- Sounds – listen for any unusual sounds, at the same time listen for sounds which should be or are there but suddenly go quiet.
- Shapes – look for unusual shapes in the bush.
- Sun – be aware of the position of the sun relative to your direction of travel or prey.
- Shadows – be aware of your and the animals.
- Silhouettes – make this work to your advantage.
- Slow or sudden movement – keep yours slow, and watch for ears or tail flicks, or leg movement.