Being able to move quietly through nature is important both for hunting and wildlife photography. Dr Ariane Schmidt from the Natur- und Jagdschule Edelweiss is an expert on stalking. Here she shares her top tips for stalking animals.
Human beings were hunter-gatherers for some 2.5 million years. “And we still have it in our bones”, says Ariane. Hunting used to be an essential survival skill. Nowadays, it’s a popular hobby.
Many people see stalking as a counterbalance to their busy, hectic lives. It’s a way to rediscover the fascination of moving slowly – whether with a gun, camera, telescopic lens or binoculars.
Ariane recalls how she recently stalked a fox in her local area. Not to shoot it, but for the sheer enjoyment of watching it. She looked on for 30 minutes as it dug for mice – just 20 metres away. “You only get special moments like this if you know how to move very slowly and quietly.”
A camera, field glasses or rifle might be your weapon of choice. However, it’s worth thinking carefully about your clothing too.
Ariane prefers to wear her own home-made woolen clothes. She’s aware that they might be slightly unusual: “Yes, I suppose I look a bit like a hermit.” However, there is a reason behind it. “Natural materials like wool make very little noise when you move in them,” she explains. Synthetic fabrics might be functional, but they all rustle to a certain extent. Generally, Ariane recommends materials such as woolen Loden cloth or if has to be synthetic, then a soft fleece.
The way clothes are cut makes a difference too. Ariane’s tip: “If the legs of your trousers are narrow and rub together, then animals will hear this.”
When stalking animals, or hunting, you don’t want to be seen or heard. Ideally, you want to be invisible for animals. Choosing the right colours is important. Muted browns are generally first choice for camouflage clothing. However, Ariane says it pays to think about wearing other colours too. “Animals perceive colour differently to us.” There are differences between different species:
Contrast to the background is even more important than colour choice. Camouflage clothing should contrast as little as possible to the surroundings. This means:
When it comes to footwear, Ariane is also pretty unconventional. Her self-made moccasins have a smooth leather sole that give her more sensitivity underfoot. This allows her to step really, really softly – like an Indian. “You have to watch where you put your foot though!” she warns. Rusty nails, sharp twigs and gnarly roots can easily pierce the thin soles. And they don’t give much protection against twisting an ankle either.
Maybe the best compromise is a sturdy boot with good grip that still gives you good feel underfoot. “Ideally, you should be able to feel the ground with your feet,” recommends Ariane. Whether mountain boot or lightweight trekking shoe, it depends on the terrain. For stalking ibex in rocky, alpine terrain a more rigid boot is recommended than moorland terrain, such as the Scottish Highlands.
In swamps and marshes or in rainy conditions, waterproof boots are an advantage. Wet feet can soon become cold feet when you’re waiting deep in the woods, or sitting in a hide. Furthermore, take into account how much stalking equipment you want to have with you. The heavier your backpack, the more support your boots should offer.
After you’ve purchased your boots, the following tips will help you make them better for stalking or hunting:
These tips for your boots and clothing also apply to the rest of your stalking or hunting gear. In addition to core functionality, your stalking equipment should not make unwanted noise or be highly conspicuous. For wildlife photography, avoid bright, noisy rucksacks with lots of buckles. When buying new stalking gear hunters and animal watchers both look at and listen to how products work before they buy them.
What’s more, it’s not just human noises that scare off wildlife. Animals also have an acute sense of smell. This is why you should wash your hunting or stalking gear with perfume free washing detergent. Avoid using strong smelling care products before you set out into the woods. Wild animals will smell you coming before you get anywhere them. If you’ve got a new perfume or aftershave, – best leave to leave it at home.
Once you have all your equipment together, it’s time to make a plan. The pros plan their trips ahead, right down to the very last detail. “It’s definitely worth giving it some thought before you head out,” Ariane advises.
To stalk successfully, you need to be able to move silently. You can work on improving your technique at home. “The idea is to feel with your feet,” explains Ariane. How does it feel when your foot makes contact with the ground? Experiment with how to set your foot down as softly as possible. How slowly do you need to go to move as silently as possible?
To practice at home, try walking over crumpled newspaper, without making a noise or try the same over lego bricks. Can you move silently over gravel paths? Moving silently is the key to successful stalking.
There is no such thing as a magic recipe for successful hunting or wildlife photography. However, by following a few rules, you can increase your chances of success. It’s important to respect the countryside and follow paths where crops are growing:
Watching wildlife and stalking animals is fun. “However, if everyone started creeping through the undergrowth to photograph wildlife, we could end up damaging natural habitats and annoying foresters and hunters,” says Ariane. As such, we should all respect the countryside when photographing wildlife or stalking. In practice, this means:
By following these tips, you should be more successful with stalking animals, wildlife photography or birdwatching. But don’t worry if it doesn’t work first time. “There are always days when nothing works,” says our nature expert Ariane. “I sometimes feel like a bull in a china shop, even with my years of hunting experience. It’s bound to work better next time around.”