The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, and Cooking in the Wild - Dave Canterbury (2016)

Part III. Living Off the Land

Chapter 11. Hunting and Trapping Game: Fundamentals

“Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.”

—Samuel Butler

This topic could take up an entire volume in and of its own! But in this chapter, I am going to cover the basics that will give the most success while hunting and trapping in primitive fashion. For our purposes, we’re looking to hunt and trap edible food; we’re not trying to trap for fur or anything like that.

Locating Animals

Hunting is a skill set all its own, and to be a good trapper one must be a good hunter as well—not in the sense of being able to catch prey necessarily, although that is the end game, but knowing where the game will likely be at a given time. This is the key to success in both skills; the rest will come in time.

For both hunting and trapping there are legalities to follow: licenses, tags, method of take, and size or type of animal and even sex in some cases. Once you are armed with the proper permissions, you can begin hunting. The first thing to learn is where to go to find your prey, no matter your chosen method of dispatching the animal.

Animals have many things in common with people. They need water, food, and shelter or cover that protects them from both severe weather and predators. Understanding your prey will help solve the puzzle of finding then.

Game Trails

If an animal like a squirrel is known to prefer hickory nuts, then the most obvious place to find a squirrel is in an area with lots of these trees around. All animals will need water, so any location that has a single water source such as a small pond is a great place to look. If crop fields are near your location, this will feed many animals like raccoons and deer, and these are a good place to start. Any open field with low-growing browse forage is a good place to find deer and rabbits.

Animals prefer to travel in certain ways and at certain times. Understanding this will help you key in to areas for hunting and ambush as well know when travel routes can be found between the areas mentioned previously. Most animals travel the same game trails daily. They prefer the path of least resistance. Some animals prefer higher ground; for instance, minks and raccoons will travel along bank lines to forage for food, but a deer is more likely to travel down from higher ground and then pretty much straight back up from a creek or stream. These are all animal behavioral clues that a wise hunter understands.

Impact of Weather

Weather has an effect on animal movement. A front like rain or cold will cause animals to move. Moon phases have a great effect on salt-water fishing and maybe some effect on shallow-water fishing, especially on full moonlit nights. Fish in shallow water see movement from above. Even just the shadow of movement can trigger a flight response, so full moonlit nights have to be treated as sunny days and some stealth may be necessary on such nights to catch fish in shallow water. But moon phases are not the major determining factor in upland game movement.

Temperature however does have great effect on movements of animals, especially during the hunting seasons, generally fall and winter. For a long time, many hunters have believed that the day before, day of, and day after a full moon are times when deer do not move. However, this is greatly dependent on temperatures. If it is unseasonably warm on these days, then the old tales hold true and upland animals tend to not move but on cold fronts they seem to move no matter the moon phase.

Bushcraft Tip

Spot-and-stalk hunting is a slow methodical process. Oftentimes you take a few steps an hour, depending on the situation. Still, hunting will usually be from an ambush point like a known travel route, where you’ll wait for the game to come to you. Understanding the animals’ behavior will aid in both instances.

Animal Behavior

To be effective hunters and trappers, we must understand that all animals need the same things we do: shelter, water, and food. If we understand the routes animals use to obtain and move from one to the other, we can recognize good places for hunting and trapping them. Useful information to have is a working knowledge of what the target animals eat, where they live, and where they travel.

Animals are predictable to a certain degree, and understanding the patterns of their movements will also help us increase numbers of animals caught or spotted, whether we are trapping with primitive or modern traps or hunting or a combination of all of these.

Beyond requiring shelter, water, and food, an animal’s sole purpose in life is reproduction of its species. Animals are most relaxed when sleeping, followed by traveling to and from a feeding or watering area. They are most wary when feeding or watering. Remember that animals will travel on the same routes most of the time depending on season, and they can be patterned because of this.

But because of this, they, like you, can recognize when something has changed in their direct environment. While scent of humans is nothing new to an animal, changes like a trap set in the area may take a couple passes to overwhelm the curiosity. So be prepared to wait it out, and don’t get anxious because a trap has not been visited or tampered with in 48–72 hours after it is set.

Animal Sign

Animal sign is the key to successful hunting and trapping. Do not waste your time hunting or trapping where there is no sign.

Sign is anything the animal leaves that is a trace that it passed through the area. Because animal behavior is somewhat predictable, if an animal has passed through a certain area, it is likely he will pass again.

There are seven types of sign we need to be familiar with and this familiarity will help us identify things like species, eating habits, and numbers.

1.    Tracks. Tracks of an animal are the easiest way to identify species and can also help with numbers and frequency of travel in that area. See Figure 11.1.

2.    Scat. Scat left when the animal defecates can identify species as well as what the animal is currently foraging on.

3.    Slough. Slough is something from the animal’s body left behind after it is gone. It could be hair left on a fence wire, a feather dropped while preening, or the shed skin from a snake.

4.    Remains. Remains is the carcass of an animal. This will not only provide bait for other traps but also may give some idea of other animals like coyotes or foxes in the area. Obviously, if there is one that is dead there are surely more as well.

5.    Refuse. Refuse is the animal’s garbage, what it has left after feeding, that will help identify its species and its travel routes. Refuse may be a squirrel’s midden (areas where they have eaten lots of nuts or are digging and eating stored nuts; it will be littered with shells), or it could be the chewed trees and branches left by beaver or muskrat.

6.    Dens. Dens are the animal’s home: holes in the ground, in the bank, or in the hollow of a tree. Many times we can tell species from this sign alone.

7.    Odor. Odor is the trickiest. Cat urine has a distinct smell; so too does the smell of rotten meat from a carnivore den, like that of a fox. Obviously you would smell a skunk in the area, but you can identify other subtle smells as well.

9781440598524 Animal track

Figure 11.1 Animal tracks

Tips and Tricks

·        The early morning and late afternoon will often yield the better results when hunting and trapping.

·        You can use bait animals to lure food animals. These bait animals are the animals that every other animal seeks as its food. Animals found in or around the water’s edge fit this category very well—think frogs, crayfish, and fish, as well as mussels and snails.

·        Knowing what the target animal eats is another important factor in success in trapping because a baited trap is about a hundred times more likely to catch an animal than a not-baited set.

·        All states require hunters to take hunter-training classes, so don’t be surprised if you’re asked to show proof that you’ve fulfilled this requirement before you’re allowed the necessary hunting licenses and permits.

·        If you haven’t hunted or trapped before, think small. Keep your expectations to a minimum, and don’t think you need to buy every possible gear item to succeed.