Ethical Bowhunting Part 2: How do you hunt?

How Do You Hunt?

Part 2 of Ethical Bowhunting

This series of articles first appeared in the national Traditional Archery Australia (TAA) newsletter. I wrote them on request of the TAA committee. Whilst this is very different to tours, it plays a huge part in becoming an ecologist and understanding the Cape York landscape. An introduction can be found in the first article ‘Why do you hunt?’

Well crikey Mick that’s a question that would take quite a few nights by the campfire!  

Rather than delving into the specifics of things, I thought I would share some more niche notions.  How you hunt is impacted by many factors; what animal you’re after, where you are, what time of year it is, what bow you’re shooting.  For example, hunting a pig with an incredible sense of smell, is wildly different to hunting deer with impeccable vision.  Even hunting pigs in March compared to November leads to different techniques (at least in the north) due to the availability of water and heat.  But as hunters, we all develop different instincts and gut feelings that we learn to trust.  These characteristics are what make us unique hunters.

man with bow near pig

Getting close to pigs is an art. But it also makes you observe them closely and builds a connection with your game that other forms of hunting lack.

I recently told the TAA Secretary Leslie, that I hunted as much with my ears as I did my eyes.  Unfortunately, my nose is average, a result of ignoring the chemistry teacher when she would always say “waft the beaker, don’t sniff it”.  Luckily, I can still use it enough to target a few specific smells while hunting.  But what I lack in my sense of smell, I make up for with my hearing.  And I do my best in my day-to-day life to protect it. 

Our eyes are astonishing organs…

We can see colour, pinpoint movement, and have great long distance and peripheral vision (well some of us!)  But our ears (and working noses) can really complement the hunting experience. On several occasions, I have found snakes (I’m a snake nerd) by hearing leaves move, or by recognising an alarm call from a frog, knowing it’s being eaten by something!  The same can work for hunting…

feral pig covered in mud eating

Pigs often diminish their sight and hearing significantly, while foraging for bulkuru, especially when their head is entirely underwater!

In the bush, scanning with your ears, is as important as scanning with your eyes.  A twig cracking or a rock falling could be your target species nearby.  Or just as importantly, cattle you’ve spooked that might impact your hunt.  Birds calling could inform you of an unknown water source, or give you away if they’re alarm calling above you.  And of course, a pig grunt or squeal, or a dear roar is certainly something that gets the blood pumping.  Scanning with your ears is easily, as important as scanning with your eyes.

This is also the reason you rarely see me hunting with an Akubra.  I find the brim of the hat affects how noise reaches your ears.  A cap (and sunscreen) allows sound to travel to your ears unimpeded, and let’s you pinpoint the direction with more ease.  An outfitter I worked with in Canada would walk or drive the roads and listen for game calling back to his calls.  He would cup his hand and place it gently behind his ears, to help him pickup more noise.  There’s a trick to doing this properly so you don’t create noise by moving your hand!

The flip side to this, is I believe in using the knowledge and tools you have to your best ability.  I no longer carry a GPS device, but rather carry my phone with a mapping app, and a compass as a backup.  Before I head into an area to hunt, I spend hours looking at maps and satellite images, to understand the lay of the land as best I can.  I want to know where the ridges are and how steep they are.  I want to know where water is and where good shelter might be.  I also want to identify places animals would avoid, like roads or buildings.  I do this, because I don’t get to hunt as much as I used to, and when I’m out there, I want to be efficient and make the most of it. 

“If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. 

aerial image of feral pigs in swamp

A mob of pigs runs through fields of their favourite food: bulkuru.

Once I’m in the bush, I walk.  By crikey do I walk…

If I’m hunting pigs, I prefer to hunt in the later part of the year when water has receded.  Animals are then concentrated on water and knowing the behaviour of your quarry is critical.  Pigs lack functional sweat glands, so must thermoregulate by either wallowing, or bedding up in the shade.  Thus, their habits in tropical Australia are highly restricted by water availability.  Know your animal, know your plan.  I then walk to all the potential water points following a good circuit that leads back to camp, to ensure minimal doubling back, and minimal scent contamination.   Having maps at your fingertips is an incredible revolution in the hunting world.  One that not only makes it more efficient, but also makes it safer. 

I’ll leave you with a story of a more ‘unique’ technique I tried with my father while hunting pigs once.  We were approaching some pigs on a big swamp, and the wind was chopping all over the place.  We got to the point where there were no trees for cover for quite some time, so we just slowly made our way towards the next bit of cover.  Unfortunately, one of the pigs picked up our movement.  We were busted!  However, pigs are renowned to have poor eyesight (know your animal).  So, with nothing to lose, I said to Dad “put your arms on my shoulders, let’s pretend to be a cow”.  And so, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town, were two humans, dressed in goofy camo, half crouched, pretending to be a cow.  You wouldn’t believe it, but it worked!  We managed to get much closer, but the wind was such a mess it blew our cover eventually. 

So how you hunt, is truly based on your own experiences, lessons and the tools you choose to use.  You can either use part of your toolbox, or your full arsenal.  I highly recommend the latter!  And don’t forget to listen while you’re out there!

Happy safe & ethical hunting to you all!

See the next article in the Ethical Bowhunting series:
What do you hunt?

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