How to Get Close To Your Game

get-close_DAVID-WEBBIt’s the hunter’s ultimate goal — get close to your game. Here’s how to do it effectively.

We had been on the trail of a herd of cape buffalo for the better part of three hours when the tracks led directly into a patch of waist-high grass and mopane scrub. As we continued tracking into this less-than-ideal cover, I can assure you that the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. The next thing I knew we were right among the herd and had buffalo standing up out of the grass all around us, including a massive bull that was glaring me down at a mere 20 paces. Right about then the .458 Winchester Magnum that I was carrying felt pretty puny. The spine chilling effect of this encounter is as fresh today as it was 25 years ago. I would be hard pressed to admit that in the world of hunting there is anything much more exciting than getting close to big game. It can send your heart rate into the stratosphere and make shot placement a thing of sheer willpower and absolute focus. But how do we get there? Game survives by effectively using senses such as smell, hearing and sight to detect danger. Subsequently, to be successful we, as hunters, must minimize these primary defence mechanisms.

Using The Wind

Most species of game have, as one of their primary defence mechanisms, a very keen sense of smell and they use it. To counter this hunters from the beginning of time have learned to use the wind to get within striking range of their weapons. It was a matter of survival for both the hunter and the hunted. On the surface it sounds simple, just hunt into the wind and you are sure to get within range. Well, some of the time, yes, but as we all know, the wind on many occasions can be fickle or is just plain wrong for the hunt or stalk we want to make. Here are some tips that I have used over the years:

  • Use the wind and hunt into it whenever possible. If necessary, plan your stalk or hunt accordingly, including making a long circle to get downwind. Game will do it, so should you.
  • If the wind is light and variable, keep checking its direction as nothing will give you away faster than an errant wind shift, especially when you are getting close. I often use a few fibres pulled from a strand of wool to test for the slightest shift in wind direction. A short stand of wool for this purpose is simple and easy to pack anywhere.
  • If the wind is plainly wrong for your hunt or stand, hunt another area where it is not.
  • Use crosswinds to your advantage as you don’t always have to have the wind directly in your face. A steady crosswind can do the job very nicely.
  • If you need to get ultra close, use a strong and steady wind whenever possible as it will not only prevent your quarry from smelling you but it may also hide any noise you are making during your stalk or hunt.

Scent Control

While using the wind to your advantage has been and still is a fundamental strategy for getting close, the world of hunting changed with the introduction of scent control of which there are essentially two types. The first is scent control clothing of two types. One is clothing that contains carbon, a coal-based element that because of its microscopic sized pores absorbs the larger human odour molecule instead of allowing it to pass through. The down side to this approach is that, depending on the level of activity, it needs to be reactivated by a stint in the dryer every 20 to 40 hours. Whereas the latest approach, antimicrobial technology, does not. The silver ions, which are embedded in the fabric, actually kill the bacteria that cause odour. I have used the latter most effectively on stands and during stalks, although I must admit I always like to combine the use of odour free clothing with all my “Using The Wind” tactics. When used together this type of clothing can, at times, cover for that small shift in wind that might have otherwise given you away.

Next is the use of various products such as sprays, detergents and soaps to eliminate or block human scent. All will aid in eliminating or blocking scent when used as advertised, but you must pay attention to detail and it usually takes a combination of a number of these products as part of your hunt strategy. For example, Hunter’s Specialties recommends washing your clothing in Scent-A-Way detergent and storing them in their scent safe bags and then only dressing in these clothes when hitting the woods. They additionally recommend showering with their Scent-A-Way soap right before heading out for the hunt as well as spraying all your clothing, including your boots/soles and pack, with Scent-A Way.

Camouflage Clothing

While hunters for thousands of years have used various coverings, including animal skins, to remain hidden from their quarry, the use of camouflage clothing in all its various forms is a relatively new hunt strategy. But how does it work? Researchers have found that deer pretty much see as a human with red-green colour blindness, but they do pick up blue and purples well. So if we wear camouflage with predominantly green, browns and even yellows, we should be all but invisible, right? Not necessarily so, for a couple of reasons. First, if your camouflage has a large amount of UV brightness, either from the manufacturing process or from laundry detergent, it will show up to a deer at dusk as a blue glow. A simple way to test your clothing is to put it under a black light in a dark room and don’t be surprised if you are shocked at what you find. Thankfully, it can be combated with UV killer. Next, despite wearing the best of camouflage, deer will quickly detect movement so the reality here is that while camouflage will certainly help you blend into your background, a sudden movement may well still catch their eye. In other words, select the most suitable camouflage clothing for the type of country you are hunting in but always bear in mind that movement, smell and noise can still give you away. Which leads me to blinds and hides.

Blinds/Hides

I probably first used blinds for photography. Most were homemade affairs usually constructed on site and most proved effective in permitting me to photograph wildlife at close range. I next used them for hunting waterfowl, particularly in marshes where they proved effective when combined with a few decoys in luring many a duck or goose to within shotgun range. But when I started using them for hunting big game, and in particular for deer, a whole new world of hunting opened up to me. Most are still built on site with either local materials or camouflage material I have packed in with me. When constructed on an ideal site that offers background relief and plenty of visibility that covers a well used deer trail, feeding area, pinch zone or scrape, it is remarkable how close all types of wildlife will approach. I have had everything from coyotes to deer walk by within all but an arms length of my blinds. I can assure you that this can give you a real sense of accomplishment and on many an occasion is the only reward for the long hours of sitting in one. At times it need not even be that elaborate, when combined with good camouflage, scent-free clothing. My advice here is to use natural settings whenever and wherever it may be to your advantage. I have even used everything from old abandoned barns, hay bails, rock or brush piles, fallen trees or even a patch of willow or slough grass for the this purpose.

I have since acquired a number of manufactured blinds, which has certainly cut down on the construction time and, in some cases, was the only choice due to a lack of material. While most of my blinds have been of the ground blind variety, I have hunted out of elevated stands or blinds with considerable success. Although I would qualify this by saying that in many cases a ground blind, when used effectively, will often be all that you need. One other tip that has served me well and in particular if you like to still hunt, is if it is simply too noisy for hiking through your favourite deer woods, try hunting from a blind or a stand, as all it will take is a bit of scouting to find the right location. Over the years I have had far more success from a stand or blind than I have had by all other methods combined, including taking the majority of my best bucks.

While each of these many strategies can and will produce results independently, for optimum results I have always tried to combine as many approaches as feasible into my hunt plan. Last, in your planning pay attention to detail as most assuredly it will put more game in your freezer.

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