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Secrets of walk-and-stalk hunting: part I
The photo shows a dirty face and clothes, an impala ewe skilfully posed with an arrow positioned strategically and a smile that shows more emotion than joy.
This is what most bowhunters dream of. The success of a hunt that ended with an animal that was hunted on foot by using skills that took years to develop and patience beyond what most could master. It took dedication and endurance, insight and instinct and the understanding of nature in the same way a leopard utilises it to feed its hunger.
To obtain the skill and all the other factors that contribute to a successful walk-and-stalk hunt, a person must condition himself or herself even more so than what it takes to win a competition in archery.
Through a few articles I shall try and introduce the reader to some of the things that he or she must master in order to have some success in the hunt. The first part of the preparation can start in the comfort of your own home.
You can start by studying ecology. Trees, scrubs and grasses are of the essence to every animal in any hunting area be it herbivore or carnivore. Without the correct grazing or browsing there would be no prey for any predator in a given environment.
Most of the animals that are hunted as trophies or for biltong are grazers. They utilise all the different grasses in different ways. Some grass are not palatable at all and will not sustain the grazers or be utilised be them. Some are eaten only during the first growing period while others can be grazed upon anytime.
By getting hold of a study guide that can educate you in all of the different species and the uses of the grass in the area that you prefer hunting will already give you a huge edge when the time for stalking dawns on you.
Knowing what grass is preferred by what animal in what season and with you being able to identify that grass will give you the knowledge to predict where to search for that animal. Most hunters that start walk-and-stalk hunting drive around a farm until they see an animal in the distance and only then do they try and stalk close enough to release an arrow.
Although it can be seen as a walk-and-stalk hunt, it was still using a "mobile blind" and cannot qualify as the purest pursuit in hunting. The same goes for the hunter that just walks off with his face into the wind until he spots an animal that fits his or her budget. Only then will he or she try to get within bow distance. The type of walk-and-stalk hunting that I am talking about is when you sit in your lounge after the last hunt of the year ended and you are still waiting for the biltong to dry.
It is when you dream of creeping up on that 55-inch kudu or that old dry wildebeest cow with the shiny rump. It might even be to outsmart that warthog that kept evading you by only coming to the water so late when the light was too bad to take any ethical shot. It is a walk-and-stalk hunt when you decide that you are going to target a specific specie or animal and that you respect it so much that you are going to hunt it on its time and on its terms.
By studying grass you will get to know that certain animals can eat less palatable grass when others have to move on in search of food. I have spoken to many hunters that still wonder why wildebeest and zebra graze together, but do not bed down together. The real reason is that zebra are medium and long grass grazers and that wildebeest – because of the shape of their mouths – are short grass grazers. The wildebeest follow the zebra during the time that grass grows so that the zebra can prepare the grass for the wildebeest to feed. They do not normally feed together during the dryer time of the year.
Zebra are also bulk grazers (they eat most grass species) and animals like waterbuck are selective grazers. Not only are certain animals bulk or selective grazers, but they are also selective on the height that they feed at, as well as the part of the grass that they feed on. Each and every grazing specie has its own preferences and habits. By studying this any hunter can eliminate areas on a farm that do not suit the specific specie that he is targeting. This can take months or even years of study to get it all filed away in your "mental quiver".
This not only gives you a better starting point for when you go hunting, but it also gives you a better knowledge of nature and everything that lives in it. By understanding grass you will also learn about soil types and water. This is the medium that the grass grows in and is just as important to be used successfully. It all sounds like a lot of boring book work, but believe me that when you start learning and you can identify just a few species, you will get a rewarding feeling inside that goes a long way in the satisfaction of a hunt gone well.
There are many more interesting facts that can be mentioned about the advantages in hunting when you know and understand the interaction between animals and grass, but this is "hopefully" enough to spark an interest in you.
Next time – Browsers and trees.
Fritz Rabé – Melorani Safaris/Fritz Rabe Bowhunting
Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014 9:12 AM
About the Author
Fritz has been bowhunting for the past 28 years and the last 22 years as a Professional Hunter (PH) that specializes in dangerous game. He was the first PH to guide a female bowhunter on a successful lion hunt. He was also the first PH to guide one client successfully for the Big Six and crocodile. He has hunted/guided clients to all the huntable species in South Africa, except the black rhino. He also hunts all over Africa for special trophies like mountain nyala in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia, Lord Derby eland and giant forest hog in the Central African Republic, dwarf buffalo, forest elephant, bongo and forest sitatunga in Cameroon.
Fritz hunts a lot in the Zambezi Valley of Zimbabwe, the Kafue area of Zambia and the Zambezi flood plain of Mozambique. He is a full member of PHASA (Professional Hunters Association of SA) as well as a SABA (South African Bowhunters Association) instructor. Fritz has also hunted and guided in Canada and Spain.