By Naomi K. Shapiro
Here are some tips that the more successful small game hunter uses, and which can make the not-quite-as successful hunter a little better. I'm not talking about the hunter who has a pack of trained dogs and radio location equipment that bring the game right in to where they're waiting. This is just for the average Joe or Jill who wants to walk through the woods for a day, and have some fun. Some of these tips, you may already know, but if you're like me, there's always more you can learn.
Patience is a virtue. There are trails and old logging roads that hunters just walk, waiting for game to show up. If you're one of these hunters, you're probably not going to be very successful. The reason being is that the animals are used to people walking these trails, and they avoid them. Or maybe somebody got there before you, and shot everything good the trail had to offer. Suggestion? Get off the main path. Make your own trail. And when you do this, be slow, be steady, and be silent.
When you're going through the woods, take a few steps and stop. When it comes to grouse, rabbits or squirrels, walk through real slowly. These critters and birds are not dumb, and they will hole up and let you walk right by them. If you take five to ten steps and stop, and just wait a minute or two, these same animals get real nervous. They think you saw them, and they flush.
Another little trick, is after you've stopped, and before you take your next series of steps, stomp your foot on the ground real hard. Don't do it every time you stop, but every four or five stops. What that does to even the most wary animal, is push them over the edge, and they flush.
Most people who have a gun in their hands literally watch the ground in front of them as they walk. What you should do is to move slowly and patiently as we've said, and look out, in front, left and right, 40 to 50 yards, watching for movement. Scan the horizon so-to-speak in all directions. In these situations the quarry is far enough out that they're not alarmed, because your presence has not been noticed, but they are still well within shooting range. A rabbit, squirrel or grouse can be spotted before they even know you're around, and you can get off a great shot.
But not all shots are directed at quarry that are sitting nice and still. In small game hunting the animals or birds are often moving, so you'd better be a decent shot. Not Buffalo Bill or Annie Oakley by any means, but you're going to have to be able to pick off a moving target. That means, going to the range and target shooting. It's that simple. Join a shooting club, or practice on a safe, public or private range. Snap shooting is an acquired art, but it's worth the effort and your percentage of success will go up markedly.
Let's assume that small animal you shot landed in some thicket or swampy tag alder area, how do you find it? It may sound silly, and over-the-top basic, but when you've jumped that animal, and took that shot, mark where the bird or let's say rabbit or squirrel falls. You may not see the exact spot because of brush/branches/trees that are in the way. But you'll at least have a good idea of generally where they landed. Even if another bird or animal flushes as you are taking your shot, keep your eyes and mind totally focused on the initial landing spot of the animal you've killed, because if you waiver for even a second you will not be able to pinpoint the same spot, because of the confusing way that trees and brush meld together.
I've trekked plenty of wilderness all over the world, and believe that while I am surely no expert, I do have a decent sense of where I am, how to locate things, and find my way. Having said that, I've become totally discombobulated many times, even in areas that I am completely familiar with. The woods have their own special sense of camouflage, which can and will disorient and trick the most savvy hunter or wilderness trekker, which means you can lose your animal. The old saying that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," is all too true. Be totally pinpointed on the animal you've shot. Don't let anything move your mind, eyes or ears elsewhere.
One final suggestion: If you are in an area where a Native American tribe is situated, try to contact the tribal office and see if you can work with or hire an experienced tribal member who will teach you some of nature's ways, which include animal behavior, that no one else comes close to knowing. My husband did that, and after 15 years in the wilderness, while still a relative amateur became a pretty good animal tracker. His mentor was a tribal elder who had the infinite knowledge of nature that can only come from generations of ancestral heritage. Good luck and good hunting!
More hunting articles: