How to Get Closer to Wildlife

A few users have emailed me asking how I get close to wildlife. Here are some basic tips that when combined together properly will get you close. Included is a short story of one of my many encounters with critters. Use with caution and at your own risk, it works, but they are called wild for a reason.

Basics: Unnatural sounds are very bad. Things like brushing against a thorn bush with nylon pants or a candy wrapper crackling in your pocket will alert wildlife up to a mile away of your presence. Quick movements are also bad, be smooth. Move slow and smooth. You'll know you're on the right track if you're real sore afterwards. Because surprisingly, it requires a lot of effort.

Stay down wind: Not just because the animals will wind you but for sound as well. Sound carries much further and more clearly downwind than up.

Natural sounds: Natural sounds will get wildlife's attention but will not put them in panic mode if done properly. Will get to technique in a moment.

The Shade: Stay in the shade as much as possible and don't silhouette yourself against the sky. Pick your routes carefully to stay in cover, in the shade, and quiet. Same thing the animals do. If you can also keep the sun at your back you are ahead of the game.

The Technique: After walking quietly down a canyon, wash, or depression for at least a quarter mile stop, preferably just before a bend. Calm your breathing, quietly check your gear. Then take two quiet slow short steps and stop for at least 10 seconds or longer until you've scanned in your surroundings. Take two more and stop, slowly look around. Then do three the same way. Look around. Mix it up. Don't do more than five steps at a time between pauses. I can't count how many times I lost my patience and regretted it later. If you break a twig or knock a rock down the hill freeze and wait a minute or two longer.

Watch a Deer or an Elk slowly grazing. How do you think it sounds? That's what the 'Technique' will replicate if done correctly. Here is one example of what happened to me one morning doing this.

When They Get Too Close: In the mountains in Central Montana I'm moving this way up a wash near Avalanche Gulch looking for Bear. Slowly making my way higher up the mountain I hear some twigs crack in a very thick Aspen and brush patch about 75 yards ahead on the left hillside. I freeze for a few minutes because I knew something was in there. I then used The Technique with very small steps and varied pauses. All of a sudden I hear the brush breaking directly to my left. Without moving I watched closely out of the corner of my eye. Three Bull Elk calmly broke through the brush and came over to me, one within 10 feet that stretched out towards me sniffing like a cautious dog. The other two stayed about 20 feet back and watched the closer one. (When critters are this close avoid direct eye contact and try not to blink) At this point I was getting a little concerned as his head and those pointy things were getting too close, but he decided to move slightly behind and downwind of me to get a smell before getting any closer. I twisted slightly to keep him in view.

Earlier my shoes were squeaking so I untied the laces and my foot odor had gotten pretty noticeable. I could hardly keep from laughing because I knew this bull soon would smell them too. I watched as the bull's nose slowly bent in my direction, then followed by an aburpt bend, confirming what he probably thought couldn't possibly be true. He quickly trotted off with the others in tow and me having a good laugh. I was glad it wasn't mating season yet!

The point is that they did not consider me a threat and maybe even thought I was one of their buddies.

Need to move faster? Study up on how the Apache move when being quiet, especially the Chiricahua and Lipan tribes. Breathing through the nose has many advantages not the least being sound but also smell. (i.e. you being winded more easily and you picking up scents) Remember moist air, including breath are more easily detected for longer periods. That is why good dry ground hounds are so special and rare. The only exception to this are very hot days with no or little wind. As important, study how the foot is placed and how the weight is balanced. Their effectiveness as warriors and hunters throughout history is their ability to appear out of nowhere. Brought about by a combination of technique, patience, self control, and a deep understanding of nature.

I have both studied and watched this behavior while the warriors were aware and unaware of my presence. The only animals I have observed that are as quiet and undetected are Bobcats and Mountain Lions. Aside from being the best woodsman anywhere, the Apache is an honorable, proud, and integrity driven individual. Much can be learned from one whom finds you worthy of their knowledge.

The Negatives: Yes there are some. You can get too close and when they spook you get run over or worse, they get mad. Had a tussle with a Mountain Goat once that wasn't fun. Goat is shown below just before he decided to try and stick me with one of those spears. It's obvious from the photo that he wasn't too impressed, tail erect and stamping his foot. Guess he didn't like having his picture taken. By the way, to this day that Goat still gives me the stink eye, he's easy to pick out of the group. Even had a Grey Fox stand his ground arching his back like a house cat and roaring like a bear only feet away. It's amazing how loud and scary a little Grey Fox can be. Make sure you give whatever you are close to an escape route, otherwise you could end up with more than you bargained for.

Mountain Grouse and Quail have their own challenges, they get surprised and alert every animal around that there is a predator nearby. So if you see these birds they'll test your patience, take your time. Sometimes they'll scurry away, other times they will panic no matter what you do and then the show is over, at least for awhile.

Try it, but be patient. Put all of the above together and use Multicam or a camo that breaks up your outline well without UV brighteners or dyes - I personally prefer King of the Mountain and WeatherWool Wools: little sound and odor, protective, no brigteners, works when wet (better be a strong swimmer in deep water though), and lasts. You'll see more wildlife and get closer than you thought possible, sometimes closer than you might want to be.

Be safe, bring a camera, and be prepared to climb the nearest tree. Mark T. Vitt

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