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Observation: by Bill McLeod

03/12/2021 5:24 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

So you are rocking through the bush knowing where all the deer tucker is and finding enough marks to make hunting worthwhile, what’s next?

You’ve got to see them!

In any area of bush or even grassland there are far more bushes and grass than deer. You need to be able to distinguish deer from all the objects which are not deer. In an open paddock deer are easily seen but in the shadowed bush they are far harder to spot. I think two characteristics stand out as the way to see deer. Shape and movement. Interestingly enough, the more deer you see, even in the paddock in deer farms, the more familiar you get with identifying them. You see the shape of a deer, from the line of a back, the profile of a part of the animal, the length of the neck and the positioning of its head, to the texture of the coat. You will recognise the colour of a deer which does vary depending on season.

Then I find that the live quality of the animal is visible. You can actually see that an animal is live often by its movement. The bush is full of movement caused by wind and running water. Small movements need checking to see if any other indicators are present. Colour is of lower significance than shape. I vividly recall seeing a sika stag crash off after I’d spooked him. Nothing else to do so I tracked him along the terrace, up a cleft on to the top terrace and then back through heavy bush. Saw a black silhouette in deep shadow the perfect shape of a deer front on. It was black and perfectly stationary. Decided it couldn’t be a stag. Plenty of time for a shot. Then it turned around and gapped it. I couldn’t believe I’d misidentified it.

There is always movement and noise in the bush. The noise can range from leaves rustling in the breeze to trees falling down and avalanches shaking the valley. While you are cruising along using your eyes to look for shape and movement you also use your ears to locate sources of noise. Virtually all the noise won’t be a deer but you need to check.  Some blokes are obsessed by the noise they make themselves sneaking through the bush. I’ve heard of hunters sneaking around in their socks. I’ve never seen a professional using this technique. I’ve heard the stories, I’ve never seen anyone doing it. One cobber said in one particular place he would take his boots off but that was a very specific circumstance. I have more respect for my feet, they are very necessary to convey me to my next deer.

Because the bush is a noisy place, I’ve never particularly bothered about being absolutely silent. As long as you can hear clearly what’s going on around you, you will be fine. Some blokes are naturally noisier than others. I took a mate into the Urewera for a hunt, he’d hunted with me in the Maunganuiohau and produced good tallies but hadn’t hunted in thirty years. It was like hunting with a mob of cattle behind me. Seemingly every stick on the ground was broken and every tree he went past got a clonk from the plastic-stocked rifle I had lent him. Giving up hunting terraces I took him up the more open riverbank in the Kurakura. He got the young stag I found. I went on and got another one. His bulldozer approach didn’t stop us being successful. 

The pace at which you hunt impacts on your ability to observe. It’s very sensible to keep your pace to where you are comfortable that you are checking most of the shape, colour, movement and noise that could be a deer. I found that as my experience increased, I could hunt at a quicker pace and still observe most of the animals. 

Don’t get disheartened if you spook deer and don’t get a shot. We’ve all bumped deer and seen or heard them crash off. Eventually you will get everything right.

While hunting the first thing to ask yourself when you spot something is

“Is that a person?” 

We can get fixated in trying to identify something as a deer and misidentify what we’ve seen. Hunters who shoot people have identified what they have seen as being a deer . That is because they are checking all characteristics they observe as possibly being a deer and sometimes are mistaken. In their mind they are shooting at a deer or else they wouldn’t have fired. They did identify their target, but they misidentified it.

Ask yourself first and second

“Is that a person?” 

“Is that a person?” 

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