Finding where the game is located in hunting country is far more dependent upon an understanding of its basic characteristics and traits than upon an ability to follow each consecutive hoof mark in a trail.
An experienced hunter in strange country can often take one good look around and estimate fairly well just where any game is apt to be. And by climbing the first big ridge in that area he can also tell what species is there and its approximate abundance. Such skill is not based on magic or exceptional vision but on past experience and close observation.
PATTERNS OF MOVEMENT
Here are generalizations which will help the beginner:
Generally game is found higher in summer than in late fall and winter. Game goes high in hot weather to escape heat and insect pests. Also, summer feed is more abundant higher up than in the parched regions below.
An early fall brings game down sooner than a late fall. A sudden violent storm also tends to move most game downward, just as clearing weather tends to move it upward.
The largest males of most species are found at the upper peripheries of their range. When traveling in a band, the biggest males ordinarily come last, with the females and small animals ahead. This applies to elk, deer, antelope, caribou, and moose.
Most game feeds in the early morning hours and again at dusk, either bedding down, shading up, or moving to slightly higher elevations during midday. Feeding game will normally be more in the open than will resting game. All game common to wooded country likes "edge" country - that is, areas where foliage meets meadows and similar clearings. Browsing and grazing feed grows better where there is more sunlight, and the edge country offers immediate cover for concealment if enemies appear.
In order to survive, game animals must continue to do fundamental things. They must eat, excrete, rest, reproduce, dodge enemies, and remain within a habitat suitable for their species.
Any time game moves it leaves certain evidences which inform its enemies of its whereabouts. It must do so for its own survival and reproduction. As an example, the minute traces of scent which deer leave upon brush from the metatarsal musk glands during the fall rut tell passing bucks where the does are.
The "flashing" of an antelope, caused by raising its white rump hairs, can be seen with the naked eye for two miles or more in bright sunlight. It tells the hunter and predatory coyote where the antelope band is located, but it also alerts other antelope of the danger.
In any tracking, the first necessity is to identify the spoor. The novice looking at the hoofs of such medium game as antelope, sheep, goats, and deer, is apt to say that they all look the same. There are, however, detectable differences; and these differences are not so much in the shape of the hoofs, as in the way the different animals strike the earth when walking or running.
The resulting imprint, with its often minute differences in shape and contour, gives the observing hunter his cue to the animal's identity. Often the type of country helps to corroborate this. Tracks that only looked like deer tracks, in flat desert country might well be antelope tracks. And those big blunt "buck" tracks, far up in the crags and intervening alps, might prove to be a ram's tracks. The terrain does help to identify the spoor.
The dung of game animals is another fine way of identifying a species. Briefly, the kernels of deer dung are dark brown, almost black, are usually individually separated, and are about the size of a little fingertip. They are blunt on one end, sharp on the other, like a filbert.
Antelope dung is similar but smaller.
Elk dung is also dark brown with individual kernels which are almond shaped and elliptical, about the length of the first section of an index finger and about s inch in diameter.
With time and experience, these aspects of hunting will become second nature to you.
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