The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
Home > Articles > Yahi Archery > Hunting
Part 3 of 3

In approaching game, Ishi would rather skirt an entire mountain than come up on the wind side. His observance of this rule was almost an obsession. He tested the wind by wetting his little finger. In travel over the country, certain places would appeal to him as ground favorable for rabbits, quail, squirrel, wildcats, or bear.

His hut in Deer Creek canon was built on an old bear trail, many of these animals having been trapped within a few miles by an old hermit-like trapper of those parts. Years ago this same man caught an old Indian in his bear trap, maiming him for life. Ishi admitted that this Indian was his relative, perhaps his uncle or stepfather.

When in a part of the country suitable for rabbits, Ishi would hide himself behind a bush and give the rabbit call. This consists of a kissing sound, made by the lips with two fingers pressed against them. It is a shrill, plaintive squeak or cry, identical with that made by a rabbit in distress. He repeated it often, and with heart-rending pathos. He said that jackrabbits, wildcats, coyotes, and bear would come to the call. The first came to protect its young; the others came expecting food. Upon one afternoon's hunt, to test the truth of his assertions, I had Ishi repeat this call twelve times. From these dozen calls came five rabbits, and one wildcat emerged from the brush and approached us. Some rabbits came from a distance of one hundred and fifty yards, and approached within ten yards. The wildcat came within fifty yards, and permitted me to discharge five arrows at him before a glancing hit sent him into the forest.

As the game drew near, Ishi kept up a sucking sort of kiss with his lips while he adjusted an arrow on the bow. When the game was within a dozen yards, he shot.

He also used a call for deer, which he said was effective only when the does were with fawns. He took a new, tender leaf of a madrone tree, folded it lengthwise, and placing it between his lips, sucked vigorously. The sound produced was somewhat similar to that made when a small boy blows on a blade of grass held between his thumbs. It resembles the plaintive bleat of a fawn.

In decoying deer, Ishi also used a deer's head. He had one in his original camp from which the horns had been removed, and it was stuffed with leaves and twigs. This he placed on his head, and raising it above a bush, attracted the attention of his game, stimulating its curiosity while luring it within bow shot.

In none of our trips with Ishi were we able to kill a deer. Upon several occasions we secured shots, but owing to the distance, fall of the ground, or lack of accuracy, we failed to hit. The nearest shot was at sixty yards, and this is well beyond the Indian range of effectiveness. That it is possible, however, to kill large game with the bow, we proved upon a subsequent hunting expedition with Mr. W. J. Compton. We shot and killed two deer with the English long bow. One of these bucks Mr. Compton shot running at 65 yards. The steel pointed arrow penetrated the chest and protruded a foot the other side, breaking off as the deer bounded through the brush. This animal died after running about 200 yards. I shot another buck at 45 yards. The arrow, penetrating just back of the diaphragm, caused an intense intra-abdominal hemorrhage, and death resulted after this deer had run a quarter of a mile. This would indicate that the Indians would have had little difficulty in striking down game. The arrows used by us were of the type of the old English broad head, 29 inches long, weighing from one ounce to an ounce and a half, heavily feathered and having steel heads one and one-half inches long by one inch wide. Mr. Compton shot a six-foot yew bow weighing 65 pounds, while mine was a sinew-backed yew bow 5 feet, 10 inches long, weighing 54 pounds.

In one deer killed with a rifle, 1 tested the penetrating power of Ishi's arrows. Stationed at thirty yards, he drove one arrow through the neck, half the shaft entering; the second shot struck the spine and probably would have caused paralysis; the third arrow entered the thorax back of the scapula, its head piercing the opposite chest wall. This also would have been fatal.7

In shots at buzzards, hawks, and gulls in flight, it often occurred that an arrow coming very close was dodged by these birds. To make this less possible, Ishi smeared his arrow shaft with black mud. and selected one with a close-cropped feather, that it might be less conspicuous and more silent than usual.