At a very early period in our association with the Yahi, we undertook various little hunting excursions, and upon two occasions went upon extended trips into the mountains.
In shooting small game, such as quail, squirrels, and rabbits, Ishi was very proficient. His method was that of still hunting; walking, over the ground very quiet and alert, always paying particular attention to wind, noise, and cover. He was indefatigable in the persistence with which he stalked game, and seldom left a clump of brush in which he knew or suspected the presence of game, until all means of getting it had been tried.
His vision was particularly well trained, and invariably he sighted the game first. This acumen was manifest also in the finding of arrows. Ishi nearly always could find a shaft in the grass or brush where we overlooked it.
He shot rabbits as close as five yards. On the other hand I have seen him shoot a squirrel through the head at forty yards. The usual killing distance was between ten and twenty yards. Game was nearly always shot while standing still, although an occasional rabbit was shot o running. Arrows striking these small animals frequently passed completely through them. Death did not always result from the first shot, and one or more additional arrows were sometimes necessary to kill.
If a rabbit were shot and caught, Ishi would break all its legs with his hands, then lay it on the ground to die from the shock. This seems to have been a hunting custom, and he seemed to dislike having the animal die in his hands. Later, he adopted, with us, the more humane method of tapping his game on the head to kill it.
Animals shot at do not always become alarmed, should the arrow miss them, but often permit several shots to he made. Quail struck with an arrow in fleshy parts, sometimes fly, or attempt to fly, with the missile transfixing them, and are only detained by its catching in the brush or foliage of trees.
In hunting deer, Ishi was particularly careful in the observance of several essential precautions. He would eat no fish on the day prior to the hunt, because the odor could be detected by deer, he said; nor would he have the odor of tobacco smoke about him. The morning of the hunt Ishi bathed himself from head to foot, and washed his mouth. Eating no food, he dressed himself in a shirt, or breech clout. Any covering on the legs made a noise while in the brush, and a sensitive skin rather favored cautious walking. While Ishi was proud of his shoes acquired in civilization, he said they made a noise like a horse,/ and he immediately discarded them when any real work in the field was encountered. In climbing cliffs, or crossing streams or trunks of trees, he first removed his shoes. So in hunting he preferred to gop barefoot and the strength of his perfectly shaped feet gave him a very definite advantage over his civilized companions.
It was a custom among his people to practice venesection before hunting expeditions. From Ishi's description, it appeared that this consisted of simple scarification over the flexor sides of the forearm and calf of the leg. This was supposed to strengthen and increase the courage of the hunter. Small chips of obsidian were used in this process.
In hunting deer, Ishi used the method of ambush. It was customary in his tribe to station archers behind certain rocks or bushes near well known deer trails. Then a band of Indians beat the brush at a mile or so distant, driving toward those in hiding. Upon our trip into Tehama County with Ishi, he showed us old deer trails near which , curious small piles of rock were located at intervals hardly exceeding ten yards. These he indicated as ancient spots of ambush. They were just large enough to shield a man in a crouching position. The moss and lichen on them spoke of considerable age. One would hardly notice them in a boulder country, but the evidence of crude masonry was apparent when one's attention was called to them.