By Hal Blood - President of Big Woods Bucks
If you are old enough to remember the band Buffalo Springfield, then you’ll remember the lyrics to one of their songs that went, “stop, hey what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s going down.” When you’re hunting the sounds you here play an important role and may tell you what’s “going down” if you know what you’re hearing. At times sound can be more important sight. Part of being a good hunter and woodsman is being able to identify the sounds in the woods where you are hunting. Sometimes these sounds may be as subtle as the faint grunt of a bull moose or a spruce cone being dropped out of a tree by a red squirrel. Now if you don’t hunt where there are moose, you might not here that sound, but if you go on a moose hunt you might want to learn it. I’ve heard plenty of deer hunters say that if you hear a red squirrel chattering, that there is a deer approaching. Well, that might be true but more often than not, it’s one squirrel chattering at another. Either way, it might behoove you to stop and try to figure out which one it is.
There are constantly sounds going on in the woods, if you take the time to listen. When I was guiding hunters they would often comment on how quiet it is in the woods. That’s because they hadn’t learned to hear the woods sounds. They thought it was quiet because there were no dogs barking, planes overhead or sirens blaring, which are the common sound to most people. I hear plenty of sounds in the woods and every one of them means something to me. A squirrel chattering off in the distance will catch my attention more than the one that is over my head. I assume any squirrel that can’t see me and is chattering is being bothered by something else and might need investigating. Sometimes a raven will make noise similar to a deer snorting. Learn the different sounds the birds and animals make, as they all mean something.
There are also lots of sounds made on the ground and in the leaves and sticks. Again I’ll bring up squirrels as red or gray ones inhabit just about every piece of woods around. Squirrels rustle in the leaves and hop around in them, but when they do it doesn’t sound anything like a deer walking. Likewise a moose walking in the leaves doesn’t sound like deer. A moose make more noise and has a different pace. If you spend enough time in the woods and pay attention, you’ll learn the difference. A stick snapping in the woods is something that gets my attention right off. Usually it takes something with weight to make a stick snap, especially a loud snap. I always stop until I figure out what made the stick snap.
If I hear a sound in the woods that I can’t identify or have never heard, I always try to figure out what it is. One time I was still hunting for deer high up on a mountain, with a series of shelves. I was sneaking along a shelf when I heard a strange noise below me. At first I thought deer but it wasn’t quite right for a deer. Then I thought it must be a moose so I moved closer to the edge. The next time I heard the noise, I knew it wasn’t a moose. The sound was close and just below me now and when I peered over the shelf, I could see a mountain ash tree shaking. I looked up the tree and there was a bear climbing down it. I watched as the bear got to the bottom and jumped onto a log. That’s when I could see that he was huge. I had never shot a bear before and had always wanted one for a rug, so I figured this was the one. One shot from my Remington 7600 carbine 30-06 and it was all over. That was twenty five years ago but I never forgot what kind of a sound a bear makes when it’s in a tree.
Another sound that is subtle but distinct is the sound of a buck standing up from his bed. Most hunters have never heard it and probably never will as it is so subtle and you have be close to hear it. As a matter of fact I think you feel it on the ground as much as you here it. The only way I can describe it, is that it sounds like a quick light thump. If you do here it, start looking around as the next thing you hear will be the sound him running away! The last time I heard it I was sneaking down a new skidder trail through some thick firs while on buck track. I heard it off to left but all I could see was that thick wall if firs. The buck bolted away without me even seeing a glimpse of him, but I was within 30 feet of him.
I’ve trained myself to hear between my footsteps even when walking in the crunchy leaves. That way I can move right along when I need to without missing out on what’s going on around me. When I’m guiding a moose hunter, I have them walk one or two steps behind me. I do this for two reasons. One is so their footsteps blend with mine and I can then hear beyond them and the other reason is so that I can hear anything ahead or off to the sides. Even when walking down a road, I have to be able to hear if anything is around. I was guiding a father and son moose hunting one time. We had been walking a winter road all morning, calling as we went. We walked for about three hours and never heard the sound of a moose. When we got up onto a ridge, I heard a stick snap about fifty yards off in the woods. The snap was subtle but big enough so I knew it was made by a moose. I gave a few light cow calls with no response. Then I could hear walking in the woods. To make a long story short, I finally heard the sound of antlers hitting the trees. I decided to walk into the woods challenging the bull. We caught the 54” bull standing with a cow at fifty yards and shot him. That bull snapping that one stick and me, being able to identify what it was cost him his life.
Get in tune with the sounds of the woods and I guarantee you become a better for hunter for it!