When taking a new prospective hunter into the bush, the most important thing is that they are quiet. Sources of noise come from gear – boots with squeaky rubber soles, plastic gaiters, noisy fabrics etc, but also from the way a person walks.
When the wind is right it is surprising what you can get away with. I once climbed a very steep ridge to sneak in on some deer, it took me about 45 minutes to get up there on my hands and knees, pushing my rifle in front of me. I huffed and puffed and cursed occasionally, loosened rocks, and crawled through bushes. When I got there the deer had vanished. I was sure that I must have scared them off, so I forlornly descended back to the bottom. As soon as I did I could see that the deer had simply moved to the next valley over, so back up the hill I went, to have a successful hunt. Getting the wind right is critical. Sometimes you just cannot win, and it is swirling all over the place. You just have to hope for the best in this situation!
Some noises carry through the bush and ruin your chances. The key ones I think of is a heel strike against a tree root, walking on gravel, and snapping twigs. Of course if you fall down a hill or flat on your face that doesn’t help either… !
My tips are:
- Quiet fabrics. A surprising amount of hunting gear is useless in this regard. Run your nails over it in the shop – if you can hear it, don’t buy it. Compressed fleece gaiters are good, avoid the plastic or heavy canvas types. Even the fabric on your pack can be important. Emergency rainwear is about the only thing that is less of a worry.
- The right boots. Some soles squeak every time the toe comes off the ground, and this can be a giveaway. If you walk and they make any other kind of noise (eg creaks / groans) it will really stand out in the bush. I once hunted with a friend with the noisiest boots I have every heard – from over 30m away it was incredibly obvious. He blamed it on the fact that he was taller and heavier than me, but I was about to make him walk in his socks and leave the boots in the bush!! It is a matter of personal preference – but I like softer leathers with a bit of flex. Rigid full grain leather can mean you have to place your foot straight up and down, and it is harder to walk quietly on some terrains like this. As a side note – if the laces keep undoing then replace them. Nothing more annoying than having to stop every half hour to fix them, especially when they sneak undone despite a double knot. If you stand on laces you will make a big squeak and probably land on your face.
- Technique. Last weekend Iwent for a walk and I thought about how to explain this. I vary my way of walking depending on the terrain, and you may have to just play around and see what works for you. For some types of ground I walk with a flat foot and lift it vertically. Others I walk on the balls of my feet. Place your feet gently. I tend to absorb the movement into my hips, as if an animal spots you it will likely be your top half so don’t go lumbering along! I can be almost silent like this, as it also avoids the deep thump of heavy footfalls. Avoid hitting roots and rocks with the heels of your boots, and try not to stand on sticks. In a mid-drought beech forest this is almost impossible.
- Stop periodically and just listen. Move slowly. Red deer are quite noisy and you will hear them feeding, snapping twigs and moving about. This is sure to get your heart rate up! You need to engage all of your senses in the bush. Smell the wind – when you suddenly get the scent of a deer close by it is very exciting. Look for subtle movements, flicking ears etc. If you are following behind a lead hunter and they suddenly freeze, then for goodness sake’s do the same.
- Practice on goats if you are really new. They are pretty hard to scare off. My mate and I managed to get within a metre or two (not even joking) of a doe and her kid before he did a terrible “mahhhh!” and made her jump a metre in the air and can it down the hill. Goats are often in mobs and they usually will snort loudly when they know something is up. There can be many eyes on you – but it is very fun to sneak in on them ad excellent practice.
- Crown fern will make you feel like a Stegosaurus. Try to avoid walking through it if you can.
Sometimes despite your best attempts, things go pear-shaped. Keep practicing. Go without your gun sometimes so that you can focus on the stalk, challenge yourself to see how close you can get. Sometimes you end up on a trip with someone who is disappointingly loud and they have every excuse under the sun for why. Other times someone you have less faith in will be so quiet you will have to check if they are still behind you! I can’t hunt with my partner because he falls down hills and thinks it is funny. It is not funny, especially if combined with dehydration or hunger. Sometimes you are stalking really quietly and there is sign and things look good, and your companion pipes up in full voice, leaving you stunned at why they thought that was a good idea. Leave them at home next time!