How To Find Game
by Captain Chauncey Hugh Stigand (1877 - 1919)
An early start from camp is advisable, and if the grazing grounds are far it may be necessary to start before dawn. For sable, roan, eland, hartebeest, waterbuck, warthog, &c, the dambos should be skirted before the game has left for the thick bush.
A dambo is an open stretch of ground with bush on either side. They take the drainage of the forest land, and during the rains are practically marshes, while during the dry weather they are, till fired, covered with tall, rank, thick grass.
Where the old grass has been burnt and the fresh green grass is springing up is a favourite place for game, and it comes here also to lick the salt from the burnt ashes.
On cloudy, cool mornings, game will probably remain longer than on a bright day.
If no decent head is seen one should try to get on the spoor of an animal that has been feeding there during the night or early morning.
If found fairly early it ought to be overtaken when lying up at midday.
Should no animals or spoor have been seen when the sun has got well up, it will be best to try the bush.
For kudu, bushbuck, impala, &c, the denser places should be searched, as they seldom leave thick country.
When there is a river or water in the vicinity of camp, their neighbourhood should be observed for spoor of animals that have drunk during the night.
Later in the day it would be of little use, as game would probably be some distance off.
Many animals travel great distances to drink, notably elephant, rhino, lion, and zebra, while others are seldom found far from water, for example, waterbuck, reedbuck, impala, puku, lechwe, and situtunga. The last two practically live most of the day in water or marsh.
When camping in a native village it is always worth while having a look at the cultivated patches on the way out to shoot, as elephant, hippo, eland, and roan often come to feed on maize during the night, sometimes right up to the huts, and the elephants even pull down the basketwork stores to help themselves to the harvested maize cobs; while kudu invade the patches of castor-oil plants.
The spoor of many nocturnal animals, such as lion, leopard, hyaena, jackal, porcupine, and the lesser cats are seen on the native pathways early in the morning before they have been trodden on.
The favourite ground of kudu are wooded slopes, as they, with sable, zebra, bushbuck, and duiker are often to be found in very rough and broken country, and at high altitudes.
We have shot sable considerably over 6,ooo feet above sea level.
On most of the rocky summits are to be found klipspringer, who seem to be able to live without water.
These are very rarely to be seen in the low country, and perhaps then only on their way from one range to another.
Elephant, rhino, and buffalo inhabit, as a rule, much wilder country, and following them involves the hardest work.
Elephant drink nightly, and their spoor can be picked up going to and coming from water.
It is necessary to be on their spoor very early, owing to the immense distances
they travel. They generally stand in the shade at midday. Rhino live in thorn
tree country, and like thick grass, through which they make well trodden and winding runs.
Buffalo are seldom far from water, or go any distance during the day unless travelling from one place to another, as they drink in the daytime as well as at night.
Lion and leopard, being nocturnal, are very seldom seen, and, if they are, they are generally come on by chance; but on a cool morning they may remain near their kill till after the sun has risen.
When put up, they bound away grunting, leaving an easy spoor to follow for the first few hundred yards, but soon settle down to walk " carefully," as the natives say, leaving hardly a trace to be seen.
There is no systematic way in which to hunt lion in Central Africa, as in desert countries like Somaliland.
They may be come on by accident or got by sitting up at night. If fresh khubber of a kill can be obtained, and there is a good moon, the chances might be favourable, but " tying up " is very disheartening work and generally results in a blank night. A lion is very suspicious, but when he has killed or is very hungry seems to lose all his natural caution.
He generally eats little of his kill the first night, and returns for a gorge the next; for this reason there is a better chance of obtaining a shot by this method.
After leaving his kill he will always go to water before lying up.
When he gets into a goat kraal he seems to delight in killing as many animals as possible and more than he can eat.
They do not take to man-eating in the same way as the tiger does in India, but pass from game to man as the opportunity occurs.
A great number of human beings are annually killed by them in Central Africa, more especially during the rains, when the grass is long, and presumably they meet with the same difficulty in stalking game as does the hunter.
If he should drag his kill, as he often does with a man, there is little difficulty in following him.
Hippo come on shore during the night to feed, and often wander some distance from the water, returning before daylight. They generally go in small herds. They are not only found in the large lakes and rivers, but also in smaller streams if the pools are deep. When found in these they are very fond of papyrus swamps, in the midst of which they are difficult to find; entering and leaving these they make deep muddy runs.
In the dry weather, when the swamps are shallow, it is sometimes possible to reach the pools where they are lying by wading through the mud.
The hyaena is seldom seen in the daytime, though occasionally he may be noticed making for thick cover after a late night out.
Jackals are often seen about dusk, when they begin to move. The claws of both these animals may be seen in the spoor, whereas those of lion and leopard are shot out only when they are preparing to spring, in which case the ground is seen to be torn up.
We mentioned before that one should listen carefully when after game for the sounds which betray their presence. Galloping game can be heard at a great distance, and if a herd of zebras are disturbed their thundering hoofs will give the alarm to any game near.
Roan, sable, hartebeest, and animals in large herds, as a rule, do not go far before stopping.
If having seen or winded you they are heard galloping off, they would be worth while following up.
Many buck bark when they see you, e.g., kudu and impala, while reedbuck and oribi give a shrill whistle, roan snort, and hartebeest make a guttural sound.
Lion, leopard, and pig grunt when they are put up; wounded elephant, besides trumpeting, make a very shrill scream ; but what is of more use to the hunter are the sounds not caused by their having seen you, and which enable you to locate them.
Such sounds are the stomachic rumblings of elephant and the flapping of their ears, the bellowing of buffalo, the tapping of roan, sable, and kudu's horns against trees, the blowing of hippo. The latter is heard upwards of a mile, and from that distance sounds like a deep-drawn sigh close at hand.
Just as a woman's voice differs from that of a man, so does that of a female animal from a male's.
The bark of the male baboon is gruffer, the roar of the lion is more powerful, and, when roaring at night, it can be distinguished if there are a couple, or only a lion by himself.
Many animals emit a strong smell, which can be recognised after a little practice.
When following up an elephant through thick grass, his smell is noticed at places where he has stood, but is especially useful when following a wounded animal.
In the winding grass runs he walks so noiselessly that he might only be a few yards ahead of you round a corner without your being aware of it if it were not for the smell.
Rhino also have a strong smell, differing a little from elephant.
Waterbuck have a musky smell quite peculiar to themselves. Of other animals, buffalo and warthog have distinctive smells.
We have touched on spooring by tracks, browsing, sound, and smell, and also on the most likely places in which to find different game, and will now endeavour to show the best ways of spotting them.
Needless to say, the most important thing is to prevent them getting your wind, so in arranging the day's shoot, work out your direction so that in traversing the places in which you most expect to see game you will have the wind right.
Naturally, you will not adhere rigidly to this direction in places where the spoor is difficult to see, but, while keeping your general bearing, will zig-zag so as to pass over likely ground, and parts where spoor is easy to be seen.
Any changes of wind should be noticed and conformed to.
On a cloudy day in thick country it is difficult to keep one's bearings.
For this reason the direction of prevailing winds should always be noticed, as the grass bent down by them is a sure index.
Also the ways streams flow should be noted from maps, as a guide to where you are.
It should always be known when the last rain fell, as a guide to the age of spoor.
It will well repay trouble to climb every anthill on your way, in order to have a look round for game.
In very thick country, especially when after elephant, it will often be necessary to climb trees for this purpose.
The sportsman should invariably carry his rifle himself, or he will miss many opportunities, and he will only have himself to thank if he loses valuable game by not doing so, as it is a native peculiarity never to be at hand when wanted.
He should not walk out on to a dambo at once, but inspect it before reaching it through the trees from a distance, and at any time that a new vista is opened up should approach cautiously and very slowly.
When he has satisfied himself that there is no game near him, he should keep up the edge of the dambo in the shade of the trees, and frequently inspect all likely places and objects, which might be game, through his glasses.
He should always go slowly, as in so doing there is less chance of being seen or heard.
If men are taken out to carry in any game shot, they should be made to walk at least half a mile in the rear in open country, and not come up close, as they always try to do.
If they see anything they should pass up word by whistling or signal.
One should at all times walk noiselessly, even when one thinks that game is not close, and avoid treading on sticks and dead leaves.
The habit of pointing which natives are fond of indulging in should be discouraged, as any quick movement attracts the attention of game.
Your native hunter will often see things first, and should be taught to indicate the direction with his hand below the waist and close to the side.
The two great maxims to observe in looking for game are, to go quietly and to keep the wind right.
The first is by no means easy, as in the dry season the ground will be covered with dry grass, reeds, brittle sticks, and leaves, not to mention thorn bushes, overhanging boughs, holes in the ground, stones, and fallen timber; and in the wet season the green grass will make a swishing sound. Therefore, to go quietly one must go slowly.
Care should be taken to pitch camp at least a quarter of a mile from any water where game may be expected to drink during the night, so that it should not be disturbed by the noise and smell of the camp.
This especially applies to the larger game, such as elephant, rhino, and buffalo.
Of course, this is not so important on the banks of a big river, where the game may drink anywhere, and where two trackers may be sent to look for spoor up and down stream, on both banks, at early dawn.
At a small pool which game frequent, by neglecting such precautions, it may be driven off, thereby necessitating it to drink elsewhere, and perhaps the next pool may be a day's march away.