- Hits: 1895
Traditional skills of the Bushmen - Part 4: Hunting and tracking techniques
By Koos Moorcroft and Raphael Gunduza
All preparations and planning are completed, and weapons inspected for the hunt. The hunters are ready to set off after a night’s rest at a Kung San base camp.
The hunters set off in groups of two or three early in the morning, in directions determined after long discussions during the preparation phase of the hunt. The groups scan the ground for any signs of animal tracks. On identifying fresh game tracks, discussions take place on what the animal is doing, where it is going, and whether it is worthwhile following. Because they were such excellent trackers, the Kung San could make many accurate deductions to assist their decisionmaking when hunting down an animal.
The following are some examples of what they could interpret from tracks, a skill developed over a lifetime:
• Species, sex and age of an animal.
• How fast it was moving.
• Whether it was alone or with other animals.
• Its physical condition.
• Whether and on what it was feeding.
• The time of the day the animal passed a specific point.
• Identifying characteristics
The shape of the hoof print and the scat indicates the animal species, while the shape of the print indicates the sex of the animal. The length of the stride as well as the size of the print can also assist the tracker in determining the animal’s sex. A set of immature prints moving together with adult hoof prints, for example, tell the tracker/hunter that the animal is a mother with her young.
The size of the print indicates the size and age of the animal. The depth indicates its weight. Older animals can be identified by the length of uneven strides, and crippled animals by one hoof print being deeper than the other.
Determining the number of animals is not always easy, because when feeding they criss-cross frequently. By following a herd the hunters could determine that it was moving at a slow pace and that the animals were browsing or grazing. Sharp, deep prints to the front leading edge, sand kicked up and the lengthening of the strides indicate that an animal is running.
Observing scat indicates the animal’s diet a few hours or even days previously. The scattering of fresh leaves that have dropped from the lips of the animals and observation of missing plant tips is also an indication of diet. All these observations can be used by the hunter to interpret the habits of the animal, and at what time of the day they take place.
The following simple signs indicate the time of the day animals passed certain areas:
• Zig-zag tracks from shade trees indicate that the animal passed during the heat of the day.
• Tracks passing on the western side of trees indicate that the animal was looking for morning shade, while those on the eastern side show that it was looking for afternoon shade.
• Tracks passing on either side of trees indicate animals passing the area at midday.
• Tracks milling in the open indicate a herd sleeping in a confined space during the night.
• Tracks leading into dense growth indicate animals resting in shade in the heat of the day.
Changes in the prints can determine the age of tracks:
• Fresh tracks – clean cut.
• After about one hour – fine covering of sand can be blown into the print.
• Later – twigs and grass fall in.
• Insects passing through prints as well as other animal tracks.
To follow or not to follow
Once all the signs have been interpreted by the hunters, decisions are made as to whether or not it is worthwhile to follow up on a spoor. A rule of thumb used by the hunter is that the animal is followed if it is determined to be several hundred metres ahead. However, if the animal is about two kilometres or more ahead, a follow-up is not even considered.
Together with the vegetation in the area where the animal is browsing or grazing, the following factors play a decisive role in committing the hunter to the hunt, after he has followed an animal track and found the animal:
• Wind direction – if approaching an aSnimal down wind it will get scent of the hunter.
• Hunters should circle down wind of an animal to set their final stalking approach, with wind blowing from the animal.
• Thick vegetation, which enables the hunter to stalk the animal without disturbing it.
• The animal’s speed and behaviour, even if the hunter’s presence is not known.
• An animal that feeds and rests, moving slowly through the bush is the preferred target. To sum up, the ideal hunting situation is a slow-moving animal, feeding and resting while moving up wind approximately 400 metres or less ahead, in thick bush.
When a group of hunters follow tracks, one man acts as lead tracker. If the tracks become fresh men will remain silent and communicate by means of silent signals or sign language.
To ensure that the hunting team members do not lose one another, even if they do perhaps lose sight of each other, they make use of prearranged bird calls so as not to startle the game while they are closing in.
If the lead tracker loses the track, the rest of the team will fan out to find the correct spoor. If a fresher track crosses the spoor they are on and appears to be more promising, they will change to the fresher spoor.
Where spoor splits or fresher tracks cross the spoor, the hunters will make a joint decision on which spoor will be the most promising to provide new food for the hunters.