Stalking Skills




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By Gillcraft

How to get down to it

 Stalking is usually associated with the wilds, with big game hunting, and sometimes with deer stalking in parts of our own country. But it is not necessary to have something very large to stalk, one can get a lot of good fun and practice out of stalking a dog or a cat at times. Certainly there is as much, or more, satisfaction to be got out of a good stalk for its own sake, as out of the wounding, killing, or capturing of any kind of wild animal. I have tried both and I know. The Chief Scout says in Scouting for Boys: " Every animal is interesting to watch, and it is just as difficult to stalk a weasel as it is to stalk a lion."

The ability to stalk does not come naturally; it must be acquired at the expense of much practice and the cost of many abrasions and scratches. I have already indicated something of what is required ir) the way of observation. Color, just a spot of it, movement, just a flick of the ear, sound, just a tinkle of a hoof on gravel, are the indications which help you to locate the quarry. The acquisition of this knowledge of what to look for demands considerable observation and practice.

Then it is necessary to know something about the ways of your particular quarry. It is always a mistake to underestimate one's opponent. How and where does it feed? What precautions does it take to guard against surprise? How quick is it to take alarm? What sort of places does it frequent? What kind of cover does it go to? How does it get there? And, when you have observed, comprehended and analyzed all that, and more, then you must consider how you are going to solve the whole problem of getting right close up to it.

So it is not such an easy matter as some would have its imagine, and because it is not so easy, there is all the more fun and enjoyment to be got out of it.

All the time, if you are up against another Scout or a large animal, you may be being stalked in your turn and be in blissful ignorance of the fact. In the diary of an uncle of mine I came across this confession:

There were lots of tracks of bears on the soft ground and mud, and I was eagerly looking out for a shot. I retraced my own track, after a short interval of some ten or fifteen minutes. There, on the top of my own foot tracks, was the fresh trail of a bear, which had apparently followed me along for a considerable distance, but though I had crept stealthily along, watching for a chance, I never got a glimpse of him.

"Stealthily" was a good word to use because it so exactly describes the mode of progress that should be adopted in stalking. The actual method, walking, crawling, slithering, varies according to the distance you are from your quarry and the kind of country you are moving through, but all the time you must use cunning and move stealthily.

Firstly, mention should be made of the "cautious approach," which merely consists in walking calmly and quietly in the direction of the supposed quarry, or in a direction which you consider is favorable to your purpose. You have not come to grips with the game yet, but there is no knowing when you may come to close quarters and so you have to be wary and to take advantage of rising ground, of dips, of the cover afforded by trees and bushes or the bed of a stream. Even this requires practice and an eye for ground, so that any casual observation does not lead you along a wrong line which will suddenly expose you to the view of everybody and everything within miles.

Secondly, when you are getting within range, your approach must be made still more cautiously, and it is best to adopt what is usually known as the "upright crouching position." 

tt056.jpg (35895 bytes)
Upright Crouching Position

This requires practice in lifting the feet and in balance. For this you should adopt the Backwoodsman's walk. The feet should point straight forward so as to offer the least resistance to any obstacles that may be encountered, for if the toes turn out they act as hooks. The knees should be kept slightly bent and relaxed. The feet should be lifted well off the ground at every step, and not shuffled along. The ball of the foot should touch the ground first, followed by the heel. The weight of the body should be placed gradually on the whole sole of the foot so as to avoid snapping any twig that may be underneath it. A firm balance should be obtained on each leg in turn before the other is advanced, so that at any moment, in any place, and in any position, you can remain poised like a statue and as quiet. At the same time the arms should be kept still as you move and not be swung violently about. Every movement should be stealthy, silent and deliberate. In fact, you must put your brain into the sole of your feet and your eyes into your toes as you feel your way along.

For practice, indoors or out, such games as "Grandmother's footsteps," "Statues," "The Valley of the Blind," "The Blind Pirate" and others will be found useful. Out of doors the best practice ground is a small wood or coppice which is strewn with dry leaves, especially beech leaves.

Thirdly, there is the "feline crawl," which is brought into use when the distance between you and your quarry is lessening and when cover is getting scarce. 

tt057.jpg (57873 bytes)
The "Feline Crawl."

Any common domestic cat can demonstrate this method to you. Watch a cat, study its methods and copy them, for the cat is a great stalker. The hind paw comes automatically up to the position that the corresponding front paw has occupied. You have to crawl along on hands and knees. The hand feels for a suitable place on which to rest and the corresponding knee comes up to the same position. Care should be taken to lift the knee and foot from the ground and not drag them, but equal care should be exercised so that the feet are not waved in the air. Care also should be taken not to hump the body up in the middle, like a camel, but to keep the hindquarters low. The head should be the highest part, and that too should be kept as low as possible, and certainly not bobbed up suddenly or jerked from side to side. As before, every movement that is made should be slow and deliberate.

I must confess that a great deal of my own practice in stalking of this kind was obtained in playing "hide and seek" amongst the heather, but it was not particularly a parlor kind of hide and seek that we affected as the seeker had to secure his quarry before he was caught, and that usually meant a low tackle despite any boulders there might be about! Apart from that, "Scout Hunting,"  "Stalking the Deer," "Stalking and Reporting" and other games of a similar nature are all useful in affording practice.

Lastly, there is the "flat crawl," when you are right up with your quarry. This method is slow and very tiring, especially for the stomach muscles, or after a heavy meal. This, above all, is the occasion when it is injudicious to go out in your best Scout kit. You will want an old shirt and pair of shorts for this game, or the "fighting shirt" which our Danish Scouts affect.

It is necessary to go down full length on the ground, flat on the stomach, with the head down. The body and legs should be kept absolutely stiff and the legs close together. The toes should be turned well out and the heels kept down so that practically the whole of the inner side of the foot rests upon the ground. If this is not done consciously, there is a tendency for the feet come up and attract attention. You now have to work yourself forward, bit by bit, a few inches only at a time, using the hands and the sides of the feet. This can be done by placing your forearm flat on the ground in front of your head and by bringing the other forearm up in front of it, and so on, the toes being used as levers on which to work. Instead of using the forearms it is possible to move forward by placing the hands on the ground close to, almost under, the body on a level with the chest, and to pull yourself forward with them. Care should be taken to keep the elbows well down and close to the sides.

If it is safe to expose the head sufficiently to look round, then it is possible to do the flat crawl rather more on the side than on the stomach, and to bend the knees sideways and bring them up to help. Your movements then will be something of a cross between a " feline crawl " and a " flat crawl."

tt058.jpg (48245 bytes)
The "Feline Flat Crawl."

Frequently you find that when you are stalking you suddenly, even when you are going dead slow, burst out of cover, and are liable to be spotted. In that case there is frequently only one thing to do. You must "freeze" instantaneously, and when the opportunity offers slowly and carefully work back to cover again, remembering that any sudden movement is liable to give you away.

To draw away under these circumstances, it is best to crawl backwards, keeping your body and legs absolutely stiff, and levering yourself back with your toes and hands working together. At the same time your face and head should be kept close to the ground and steady. Even when you are back in cover again, be very cautious indeed about raising your head to get a look round.

And now a word or two in regard to "freezing." It is not absolutely necessary that you should be behind something in order to remain unobserved. If there is a suitable background it is possible, as I have already said, to assume a position right out in the open without any very great danger of being noticed, provided you keep your body, limbs, and especially your head absolutely still. This also needs a good deal of practice at odd moments wherever, and in whatever position, you happen to be. Whatever method of stalking you are utilizing, you should have trained yourself to be instantly still and motionless for a considerable period exactly in the position you happen to be whenever there is the slightest alarm.

In The Drama of the Forests, Arthur Heming tells of his travels in the far north of Canada and of the skilled woodcraft he learned from Oo-Koo-Hoo, a mighty hunter. Here is an example of Oo-Koo-Hoo's teaching in regard to freezing"

" I should not only remain motionless while the animal was gazing toward me, but I should assume at once some form that suggested the character of the surrounding trees or bushes or rocks. For example, among straight-boled, perfectly vertical trees I should stand upright, among uprooted trees I should assume the character of an overturned stump, by standing with inclined body, bent legs, and arms and fingers thrust out at such angles as to suggest the roots of a fallen tree.

And he added that if I doubted the wisdom of such an act, I should test it at a distance of fifty or one hundred paces, and prove the difficulty of detecting a man who assumed a characteristic landscape pose among trees or rocks."

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