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Rifle Magazine
March - April 2004
Volume 2, Number 2
ISSN: 0
Number 8
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Cover Photo by Bob Robb
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Even if you are an experienced hunter, some things take awhile to soak in. For me the learning curve to the perfect stalk took about 50 years. It is a fascinating thought process to realize our very first form of locomotion might also be the most highly developed and successful way to get in range of game animals. We are about to learn to crawl, long after we have learned to run.

When I say my learning curve was a long one, it is mostly because I ignored, or abused, this valuable hunting technique. Yes, once in awhile I would get down on my hands and knees, but rarely low enough or for long enough. Then, over the last two or three years, my light began to come on. I crawled some, gained some ground and usually screwed it up at the last moment. But, as Charles Goodnight said, "Mistakes come from bad judgment; good judgment comes from mistakes." I now am learning, have to a degree learned, to crawl again. Here is how.

As I study the art, it is surprising I missed the concept for so long. Great hunters are my heroes, and the greatest hunters of all crawl to stalk. Leopards, cougars, lions and tigers are the supreme hunters on earth. They are already low to the ground, sort of like we would be on our hands and knees, and when they hunt they get much lower. When any of the great cats really get into it, get right down to the life and death business of being successful hunters, they are down on their bellies. If you have spent any time watching the big predators (yes, watching them is much more valuable than shooting at them) in the wild or on TV, you will have witnessed hunting perfection. They routinely get very close to their game – not within rifle range, handgun range or bow-and-arrow range, but within spear and even knife range – before they launch their attack. Their perfection of hunting is relatively simple, or at least simple in a broad overview. To get close they basically do three things: move slowly, do not move when the game can see them and they get as low as possible.

Once I had a lioness stalk me. The thrill of it all aside, it was marvelous to watch her move. She began from a low crouch and then lowered herself until her belly was on the ground. When she moved toward me, it appeared as if her only locomotion was by wiggling her toes. Actually she was shuffling her feet, but they were all but invisible, and she was in cover that would not hide a soda can.

Beyond the great cats, the ultimate human hunters, those with a similar motive – life and death – are military snipers. They crawl; crawl for hundreds of yards – inches at a time – crawl for hours, crawl to remain invisible when there is nothing to use for cover.

So with that background, we see that when I speak of crawling, as a hunting technique for humans, I do not mean in the infant's way of hands and knees. That is useful sometimes, but the true form is to "slither on your belly like a reptile."

To begin, we presume we will be hunting with a rifle or perhaps a handgun. Because it is so portable, the handgun becomes the supreme firearm for stalkers. It rides in its holster until the last phases of the stalk, then it is in-hand, ready for action. But only a few of us use them, leaving most hunters with the much more difficult-to-maneuver rifles or shotguns.

With all the arms, safety is paramount. Because the arm is down in the sticks, grass and rocks, crawling greatly increases the danger of an accidental discharge. Management of the trigger, safety catch and, most important of all, the muzzle becomes absolutely important. The muzzle is the only part that can do harm, and it must never point at you or a companion.

If you are hunting with a guide or a friend, you should crawl in single file for two reasons: It presents the least visible profile to the game, and it allows you to be certain no one is in front of the muzzle. The rifle must always be in front. If you have a guide, he should take over the rifle and carry it for you during the crawl-phase of the stalk. If you are hunting with a friend, you go in front. If both of you have rifles, the person in the rear must absolutely unload his piece before you begin to crawl.

How to carry the rifle while you crawl is very important. The "GI" carry, cradled over your elbows may work for some, but it has never suited me. The "broadside" profile of the rifle is going to hit obstacles like brush, grass and trees.

Another abomination to all serious hunters is a sling. The sling is going to hang up on everything in the woods; the rifle on the sling hanging on your shoulder, or worse, around your neck, is going to be in the way of every known human movement. When you start to stalk, take the sling off and put it in your pack or pocket.

When I get really serious about crawling, I carry the rifle in and with one hand and arm, usually my left. My palm is facing up, with my hand grasping the forearm. The weight of the rifle is lying on my forearm, with the pistol grip about in the crook of my elbow. The butt extends back past my shoulder, and the muzzle is almost straight out in front. (Taping the muzzle is a good idea, so it does not get plugged.) Depending on the obstacles, the scope or sights can either be facing in (left side up) or out (right side up). Usually I prefer the latter because it leaves the bolt, or side-lever, upward, or the lever on a falling block, on the more protected inside. This, too, usually leaves the safety catch up where it is visible and least apt to get snagged.

Remember, this is no longer a foot-race but the supreme stealth maneuver. It is not about speed, nor yards, but inches. The plan is to be as low as humanly possible. With the firearm carried this way you can and should slither. Locomotion comes from your elbows, with a lot of power from one or both knees. We really are not designed to move this way, and it is very hard work. But if being a great hunter were easy, everybody could do it.

The "tallest" part of a crawling stalker will be the top of his head, or perhaps hips. It is a good idea to shed your day pack when you begin to get up close and personal, for it hampers your movement and sticks up in the air. If the cover is "solid," that is, there is enough grass, a rise in the ground, a tree or rock to perfectly conceal you, you need not and should not raise your head to look at the game as you stalk. Even if the cover is thin enough to allow you to peek, do not look at the critter very often. It is possible to crawl-stalk with your nose right down in the weeds, to essentially ignore the game for long stretches of time and space and not to give them a freebie by raising your head.

As I say that, it becomes necessary to mention yet another benefit to this stalking method. Not looking, keeping your head down, may have a "spiritual" advantage in addition to the obvious one of not allowing the game to see you. I believe game animals not only recognize the visual effect of seeing the eyes of a predator, but they can feel the eyes of the predator on them.

At this point some of you are tossing this otherwise fine magazine in the trash. But, my madness has some background. While the mental aspects of hunting are another subject, I am sure the sixth sense of the game is almost perfect. They can feel your thoughts, they can feel your eyes, and years of hunting with wild, hunting tribes around the world only strengthens that belief. Their basic stalking technique is rather simple: do not look at, do not think about, the critter you are after. It works.

But back to the real world. You have spotted a critter you want and are wondering whether or not to crawl. Because crawling is so difficult, we will try to consume all the ground possible while walking or crouching. You will, as I have and will again, walk too far or stand up too soon. You should probably crawl much more than you would like, much more than seems reasonable.

Here is a real deep, dark secret. One of the reasons crawling is so successful, for we human predators, is that is causes confusion. That is, even if the deer or whatever sees us, they almost certainly will not recognize us as humans. They might perceive us as a coyote, wolf, cougar, leopard or tiger – but they probably will not see a Homo sapien. Why is this so important? We are the only predator on earth who can smite at a distance. Cats or canines must literally touch their prey to cause damage. Most animals do not fear their predators at distances much over 20 or perhaps 50 yards. Evolution has taught them that if they can see the predator and he is at all distant, they probably can outrun him if he should attack.

Not so the human predator. He has taught them that he will cause harm at great distance, that he will chase with unrelenting machines, that he will make noise and death from across the canyon. So, when game animals see a vertical form, they are very apt to run at any range. But, if they see something slithering through the grass, they are equally apt to be very comfortable with that "predator" even though he is quite close.

So, when in doubt start crawling early and stay with it. Do not be tempted to stand to get a better look. Crawl up behind a tree and peek around with one eye, or slither up behind a rock and edge one eye over to have a look. If you are in the grass, stay down until you have them right in your pocket.

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