Getting Close to Wildlife by Stalking
by Morris Bennett Altman
(This tip was submitted by a user.)
Just watch any cat and you will see excellent stalking skills. I've observed
them, learned from a friend that is an American Indian, and used common sense and
trial and error to learn how to get close to wildlife. I break my approach into two
parts. The first is the distant approach and the second is the close approach. I
define the boundary between the two approaches by the point at which the animal takes
note of me as a possible threat.
The Distant Approach
My goal during the distant approach is to get as close as possible without
alarming the animal. If you have a choice, it's best if they do not see, smell,
or hear you. Staying out of sight is fairly straightforward. If you approach
from behind them they will not see you. Depending on the terrain, keeping quiet
can be tricky. If you are on hard solid land or in grass you can walk slowly
and not make much noise. If you have to deal with dry leaves, fallen sticks, or
iced-over snow you are going to make noise. If you are stuck making noise
because of the terrain, use a zig zag approach so that it does not sound like
you are getting closer and closer. To avoid being smelled, do not wear perfume or
cologne, or carry fragrant things or food. If you must carry food, keep it wrapped
tightly in zip lock bags. Double bagging can help. Note the wind direction. It is
best if the wind is coming from the direction of your prey. This will prevent
your smell from reaching them and will also carry some of the sound you make
away from the animal.
As you approach your prey, observe them. Do not take your eyes off them if
you can avoid this. You must notice when they have observed you. Even more
important is knowing the moment that they feel threatened. It takes some
practice and experience with each creature to know when they have observed you
and when they are threatened. Common signs of being noticed include their head
snapping in a position such that they can observe you. Some animals would face
you, while ones that see from the side will face their dominant eye in your
direction. They may track your movement, or keep looking back to you. Their
muscles will tense when they are concerned for their safety. They may move to a
nearby sheltered location. As soon as they show any sign of being threatened
you must freeze. Try to choose a comfortable position to freeze in, as you may
need to stay frozen for some time.
The Close Approach
That was the easy part. Once the animal becomes used to your being at this
distance it is a great time to take some photos, but wait! Move very slowly. Any
movement could cause the animal to panic and flee. Move your camera to the
shooting position. If your camera has an optical view finder or an EVF keep your
camera near your face after you take photos. I like to keep the camera just
below eye level so that I can point the lens at my target. To take more photos
lift the camera very slowly back into shooting position.
Let's get closer. Choose your approach carefully. You will have to move very
slowly and your prey is watching closely. Your goal is to be non-threatening.
Moving in the direction of your prey is sure to be noticed. Watch carefully for
any muscle twitches or small movements that might hint at a panic. A zigzag
approach can work well, but so can the straight-in approach. Take slow ½ steps
and watch your footing. If you trip, your prey is sure to panic. Keep taking
photos as you approach and remember to move the camera slowly. Eventually you
will reach your ideal photo distance or you will panic your prey and if you are
lucky, you see where it goes and can start again.
Sometimes you may have the wonderful experience of an animal coming to check
you out. Do not panic and do not move quickly. Take some extreme close-up photos
if you can.
Warning: Animals with young are extremely careful and may attack you if you
appear to be a threat to their young. If a bird attacks you, cover your face. If
a bear charges you, run down a hill if possible: their short front legs make it
difficult for them to go downhill forward. If they run they will fall down.
Make lots of noise and do not climb a tree as they can do the same or shake it.
If all else fails fall to the ground and make a ball. Sticks and rocks can make
good weapons, but remember that if you hurt an animal it will get angry so use
discretion and stay calm.
Tip: Have fresh batteries and lots of available frames when you start your
approach. Having to change film or batteries can panic your prey.
Tip: Camouflage colors can help, but don't kid yourself, your prey will
spot you in the best camouflage.
Tip: Choose an ISO that is fast enough to allow shutter speeds that you can