By Scott Haugen
No matter how well a hunter knows their equipment, how accurate they shoot at 3-D competitions, or how many practice hours are logged on the range or in the back yard; if you don’t know the behavior of the animals being pursued, it can be tough closing the deal. Understanding animal behavior is vital to our comprehension of how to best hunt a target species, but it can also dictate when we take a shot.
Once, when I once called in a pair of bull elk, the young bull came in first, stopped within range, but busted me. He didn’t leave, rather stood staring, ears perked, nostrils flared, trying to wind me. The older bull followed, but didn’t see me. When my cow call stopped him, broadside, I didn’t hesitate letting the Tribute do the rest. Had I shot at the first bull, I’m convinced he would have reacted (“jumped the string”), possibly resulting in a bad hit. He was too amped’ up, and though he was a good bull and I wanted him very badly, the situation simply did not feel right. The decision not to shoot paid off, in not only a bigger bull, but one taken with a confident and cleanly placed shot.
In the closing moments of a hunt – that is, when you prepare for the shot – there’s nothing more important than reading an animal. At this stage in the game, the last thing you want to think about is your technique or whether your gear will perform. All that practice throughout the year got you to where you are; trust it and focus on the task at hand, which is connecting on the shot.
Not only is learning animal behavior of vital importance, but being able to predict an animal’s next move is also key. To do this, there’s no better way than spending time in the field, observing the animals we hunt.
I’m fortunate, for I make my living hunting and photographing wildlife. I’m no better hunter than a lot of folks out there, but one advantage I do have is time afield. I’ll normally spend over 200 days afield, and what better learning grounds than to be among the animals, observing their behavior. Listening to their various levels of communication, watching how they interact early and late in the season, or even in the spring, teaches us a great deal about how to hunt them.
On a more intimate level, observing body language and facial expressions of animals allows you to think more closely along their lines, and better understand which situations resulted in their behaving a specific way. Of course, during hunting season, a great deal can be learned from your mistakes. Any sudden movement that may have alerted an animal to your presence, a poor selection when it comes to setting up a tree stand or rattling station on the ground, or simply pushing an animal too aggressively, are just some of the factors we as hunters can learn from in order to perfect our approach. And the best way to learn is by being in the field, observing animals as they react to our intrusion into their environment.
This year, dedicate yourself to spending more time in the field, whether it’s bow season or not. What can be learned from the animals will not only teach you how to better hunt them, but will help you decide when is the right time to make that all important shot.