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Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.  Albert Einstein

Seeing Critters

Zoë Van Nostrand, September 13, 2016

- From the Archives
By Dave Hall, Rural Youth Services Program Manager

Imagine having the ability to catch fish with your hands, sneak up to an unsuspecting whitetail or have a chickadee land on your head, all unaware of your presence. The skill of “invisibility” is a skill of utmost importance to any survivalist. Having worked with people of all ages in the great outdoors for many years I am continually inspired and motivated to pass on the skills of our ancestors to enable people to have close encounters with wildlife. What this means is teaching people how to do what the Native people of our world have done for millennia: get close to animals while remaining undetected.

In other words how to hide, move quietly, how to listen and look better, how to get rid of their odor and how to interpret the sounds around them so they can better decipher what nature is telling them.

Let’s begin. Keep in mind that invisibility is simply a matter of not giving the animals in your area a reason to know that you are there. One of the biggest mistakes that people make when entering a wild area (or any place for that matter) is that they literally make their presence known by announcing themselves. Stomp stomp stomp, crash crunch, stink stink, crunch, stink stink, crunch. Most people forget that we are the enemy number one when it comes to wildlife. Even if you consider yourself a simple birder who skips through fields of wildflowers you’ll still scare the living crap out of things if you go into the woods with the wrong attitude. So what to do? SLOW DOWN. BE QUIET. This is such an important rule and people constantly break it.

If you can slow down, minimize your movement and the sound that you make, you will literally be on the right foot when it comes to seeing your local fauna. Think of that crunch of leaf litter: that disturbance literally radiates outwards and is sensed by animals that didn’t even hear the actual sound.

Let’s take a look at how to move so that you can be successful. Hunter-gatherers actually walked differently than modern man. By watching hunting animals such as the cats, foxes, and herons they learned how to move quietly and fluidly. In purely mechanical terms your new walk should go something like this: keep your body centered over your hips. When you take a step it should be slow and deliberate; stop midway and check your balance. Don’t over stride. When your forward moving foot comes down the outside ridge of your foot should quietly meet the forest floor. At this point take care not to put any weight on your front foot. Now slowly flatten your foot. What you are trying to do is get an impression of what is underfoot.

Ask yourself, “am I going to make noise if I put weight on my foot?” (i.e. because of dry leaves, twigs etc.). If all is safe, slowly shift your weight from your back foot toward your front.

This motion should be fluid in delivery. Remember to keep your eyes up and alert, using peripheral vision and also turning your head slowly once in awhile. We’re out here to see wildlife and not our own feet. This first method of walking, which I learned at Tom Brown Jr's Tracker School, is called “fox walking” and should replace your normal walk. It enables one to see more, reduce noise levels and become more sensitive to the ground as well as the world around us.

Now what if you actually see a critter? Let’s move into stalking. Stalking is just like that lizard we’ve all seen on nature shows, moving so slowly that the unsuspecting bug has no idea it’s being hunted. In mechanical terms stalking is a natural extension of fox walking. It may help to mimic a heron at this point of the game, taking care to disguise our human silhouette. Stalking is different from fox walking in that it is painfully slow. One full step can take longer than a minute. Get in the habit of lifting your knees and feet high as if you were working your way through tall grasses. Point your toes downward as your foot is lowered. Placing your foot to the ground is done in similar fashion to the fox walk.

Let your feet tell you what is on the ground. Your eyes have the important job of looking and taking in all that is around you, using your peripheral vision.

Remember to shift your weight from your back foot to your front foot when you know you will make little or no noise. Obviously, you should move your foot if you cowon something that is going to make noise. If done properly, stalking can get you into a very close proximity to wildlife. Please be careful and don't put yourself into a situation where you could get injured by an animal.

How do you know if you are doing things right? If the animals are acting like that scene from Bambi during the forest fire, you’re probably doing things wrong. If on the other hand you are seeing animals acting like contented creatures of the forest, feeding, grooming, sunbathing, hunting etc. you can bet you’re doing things well. It is truly amazing how close you can get to the creatures around you. I’ve personally had a fox walk within ten feet, squirrels run between my legs and have caught fish with my hands. Remember it’s all about not giving the animals senses anything to detect.

Of course, there is a lot more that one should think about when it comes to remaining invisible in the great outdoors. In the meantime, take care not to get into ruts; vary your experiences so that you can see as many faces as nature is willing to show you. Make deliberate choices to spend time in the outdoors at different times of the day during all kinds of weather. Take notes, observe, and look for the interconnectedness of all things. You never know what will happen!


This article originally appeared in the Primitive Pursuits discontinued newsletter ‘The Tinder Bundle’ in December 2008.

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