Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting in England in 1907, wrote a book called Scouting for Boys.* The book was based on his outdoor boyhood experiences and later in the Army in India, Africa and Canada. Baden-Powell wrote “I knew every true red-blooded boy is keen for adventure and open-air life, and so I wrote this book to show you how it could be done.”
Most wildlife are very shy and reclusive in their behavior. They have learned over time that their most dangerous predators/enemies are often humans. So, since wildlife rarely wins in a direct confrontation with man, avoidance is the best means of defense and survival. Animal species each have their own “avoidance mechanisms.” Some have several. For example, coyotes and foxes and elk have acute senses of smell. Others, like deer, have highly developed senses of hearing. A misstep on a dry twig may serve as a red flag warning and results in the stalked animal fleeing rapidly away. Some animals have highly developed visual acuity such as owls and hawks and eagles.
Stalking, then, involves creeping up on wild animals without them smelling or hearing or seeing you. It requires considerable skill and patience to observe animals in their native habitats. This ability is necessary, not only for hunters, but also to those who like to photograph and even just observe wildlife.
Some of Baden-Powell’s* teachings on stalking follow:
War scouts and hunters who stalk game always carry out two important things when they don’t want to be seen: 1) They make sure that their clothing is the same color as the background where they are pursuing wildlife; and 2), They use wisdom and good sense to remain completely still without moving. An example of the latter is an experience I had a couple of months ago while hunting for buck mule deer. As I was cautiously and quietly making my way through the woods, I suddenly came upon several female mule deer (does) within about 50 feet. Although I was in plain sight, I froze. The does at first were very alert looking suspiciously in my direction—however, after a few minutes, since I was downwind and perfectly immobile, they resumed feeding. It was only when I consciously began walking in their direction that they bounded away.
In regards to clothing, consider color. If you are dressed in light colored khaki, stay away from white or dark backgrounds. If you remain perfectly still while in khaki-colored sand or grass or rocks, it will be very difficult to see you, even from short distances. If you are dressed in dark clothes, stay among dark bushes, in shadows of trees or rocks. If you are in a lookout situation, such as on a skyline, be very careful not to show yourself as a silhouette against the sky.
Slow Motion—At night, stay as much as you can in low ground—ditches, creek beds, ravines, etc. One advantage of this strategy is that if an enemy comes near you, you will be able to see him first–outlined against the stars. Of course, dark clothing is usually best for night reconnoitering or stalking.
Silent Walking—Another key point in keeping hidden while moving, especially at nighttime, is to walk quietly. Walk on the balls of your feet, not the heels. It may take everyday practice to subconsciously learn to do his, as most people walk on their heels in a heavy-footed manner. You will find that your endurance over long distances will grow as you learn to walk in this manner. Recent snow or rain dampens the terrain and makes moving about noiselessly much less of a challenge. Walking on wet leaves is surely less audible than walking on dry leaves. The same goes for small branches and dry shrubs, as moisture makes them more flexible and less likely to snap or crackle.
Keep Down-Wind—Always sample for wind direction, even if it is so slight as to make leaves barely tremble. Always work against the wind. Wind direction can be sampled by licking a finger and holding it up to see which side feels the coldest. Throwing some dust or dry grass or leaves in the air and watching which way they drift is another effective method.
Disguises—Especially during scouting games and even during actual enemy situations, disguises may become useful. Baden-Powell tells about Indian scouts wearing wolf skins in prowling around enemy camps, mimicking wolf howls. They sometimes wore wolfskin heads when there was possibility of being seen against a skyline. In Australia, natives stalk emus (ostrich-like birds) by putting emu skin over themselves and walking with body bent and one hand held up to mimic the bird’s head and neck. Scouts may tie a string or band around their heads and stick grass or small branches, through it, some upright and some drooping, camaflaging their faces. When hiding behind a big stone or mound, look around the side of it, not over the top.
Stalking is a learned skill. Practice sneaking up and photographing small animals. The quality of your photographs will be an indicator of how far your stalking skill has progressed.
*Scouting for Boys by Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell, World Brotherhood Edition, Copyright 1946 by the (British) Boy Scout Association