Sound Advice

By Hal Blood
          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 hear 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 than 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 lots hunters say that if you here a red squirrel chattering, there is a deer coming. Well, that might be true but more often then not it’s one squirrel chattering at another. Either way it might behoove you to stop and try to figure out which it is.
          There are constantly sounds going on in the woods if you take the time to listen. When I’m guiding hunters they always comment on how quiet it is in the woods. That’s because they haven’t learned to here the woods sounds. They think it is quiet because there are no dogs barking, planes overhead or sirens blaring. I hear lots of sounds and they all mean something to me. A squirrel chattering off in the distance will catch my attention more than the one that is over my head. I figure any squirrel that can’t see me and is chattering is being bothered by something else and might need investigating. Try to learn the different sounds made by crows, ravens, and other birds as then all mean something. Sometimes a raven will make noise similar to a deer snorting. Learn the difference.
          There are also lots of sounds made in the leaves and sticks. Again I’ll bring up squirrels as they are in about every piece of woods around, whether they are gray or red. 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 snap.
          If I here a sound in the woods that I can’t identify or have never heard, I always try to see 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. I 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 coming down it. I watched as he got to the bottom and jumped onto a log. Then I could see that it was huge. I had never shot a bear and always wanted one for a rug, so I figured this was the one and one shot from the 30-06 and it was all over. That was twenty years ago but I always remembered 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 a quick light thump. If you do hear it, start looking as the next thing you here will be him running away! The last time I heard it I was sneaking down a new skidder trail through the thick firs on buck track. I heard it off to left but all I could see was a thick wall of 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 in the crunchy leaves. That way I can cover ground when I need to without missing out on what’s going on. When I’m guiding deer or moose hunters, 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 I can hear anything ahead or off to the sides. Even when we’re walking down a road, I have to be able to hear anything around. I was guiding a father and son moose hunting one time. We have been walking a winter road all morning, calling as we went. We walked for about three hours and never heard a 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, but then I could hear walking in the woods. To make a long story short, I finally heard the sound of antlers in the trees and we walked 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.