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Home > Books > Hunting with the Bow and Arrow > The principles of hunting
Chapter IX
The principles of hunting
Part 2 of 2

We found from the very first that the arrow was more humane than the gun. Counting all hunters, for every animal brought home with the gun, whether duck, quail, or deer, at least two are hit and die in pain in the brush.

Just to illustrate this, Mr. Young reported to me the results of his shooting with a small rifle at ground squirrels. So expert is he that to hit a squirrel in any spot but the head is quite unusual. In one day's shooting between himself and his young son, they hit thirty-six animals, sixteen of these escaped and disappeared down their burrows, there to die later of their wounds.

The Patron Saints of American Archery, Will and Maurice Thompson, as they appeared in 1878
The Patron Saints of American Archery,
Will and Maurice Thompson, as they appeared in 1878

With the arrow it is different. Not only is the destructive power as great as a small bullet, but the shaft holds the animal so that it cannot escape. Practically none are lost in our hunts. A strange phenomenon is seen in larger animals; they are easier to kill with an arrow than small ones. A shot in either the chest or abdominal cavity of a deer is invariably fatal in a few minutes; while a rabbit may carry an arrow off until the obstructing undergrowth checks his flight. It seems that their vital areas and blood vessels being smaller, are less readily injured by the missile. A bullet can crash into the brain of an animal, tear out a mass of tissue and generally shatter his structure, but cause little bleeding. An arrow wound is clean-cut and the hemorrhage is tremendous, but if not immediately fatal, it heals readily and does little harm. The pain is no greater with the arrow than with the bullet.

Our hunting of squirrel and rabbits was merely preparatory to the taking of larger game; but even on our more pretentious expeditions, we fill the vacant hours with lesser shooting and fill the camp kettle with sweet tidbits.

Many a quail, partridge, sage hen, or grouse has flown from the heather into our bag transfixed by a feathered shaft. Both Compton and Young have shot ducks and geese, some on the wing. But we cannot compete with the experiences of Maurice Thompson who, shooting ninety-eight arrows, landed sixteen ducks on the wing.

Some amusing incidents have occurred in bird shooting. We consider the bluejay a legitimate mark any day; he is a rascal of the deepest dye, so we always shoot at him. Compton once tried one of his long shots at a jay on the ground nearly eighty yards off. His line was good, but his shot fell short. The arrow skidded and struck the bird in the tail just as he left the ground for flight. The two rose together and sailed off into space, like an aeroplane, with a preposterously long rudder, the arrow out behind. They slowly wheeled in a circle a hundred yards in diameter when the bird, nearing the archer, fell exhausted at his feet. Compton picked up the jay, drew the arrow from the shallow skin wound above his tail, and tossed him in the air. He disappeared with a volley of expletives.

With an arrow it is also possible to shoot fish. Many wise old trout, incurious and contented, deep in the shadowed pool, have been coaxed to the frying pan through the archer's skill. Well I recall once, how shooting fish not only brought us meat, but changed our luck. Young and I were on a bear hunt. It had been a long, weary and unsuccessful quest of the elusive beast. Bears seemed to have become extinct, so we took to shooting trout in a quiet little meadow stream. Having buried an arrow in the far bank, with a short run and a leap Young cleared the brook and landed on the greensward beyond. The succulent turf slipped beneath his feet and, like an acrobat, the archer turned a back somersault into the cold mountain water. Bow, clattering arrows, camera, field glasses and man, all sank beneath the limpid surface. With a shout of laughter he clambered to the bank, his faithful bow still in his hand, his quiver empty of arrows, but full of water. After a hasty salvage of all damaged goods, we journeyed along, no worse for the wetting. But immediately we began to see bear signs and ultimately got our bruin. Young later said that if he had known the change of luck that went with a good ducking, he would have tried it sooner.

We have often been asked if we do not poison our arrow points. Most people seem to have the idea that an arrow is too impotent to cause death; they conceive it a refined sort of torture and have no conception of its destructive nature.

It is true that we thought at first of putting poison on our arrows intended for lions, and we did coat some broad-heads with mucilage and powdered strychnine, but we never used them. My physiologic experiments with curare, the South American arrow poison, aconitin, the Japanese Ainu poison, and buffogen, the Central American poison, had convinced me that strychnine was more deadly. It would not harm the meat in the dilution obtained in the blood, and it was cheap and effective.

Buffogen is obtained by the natives by taking the tropical toad, Buffo Nigra, enclosing it in a segment of bamboo, heating this over a slow fire and gathering the exuded juice of the dessicated batrachian. It is a very powerful substance, having an action similar to that of adrenalin and strychnine.

Salamandrine, an extract obtained from the macerated skin of the common red water-dog, is also violently toxic.

But we had a disgust for these things. We soon learned, moreover, that our arrows were sufficient without these adjuncts, and we deemed it unsportsmanlike to consider them. Therefore, we abandoned the idea.

Ishi knew of the employment of these killing substances, but he did not use them. In his tribe they made a poison by teasing a rattlesnake and having it strike a piece of deer's liver. This was later buried in the ground until it rotted, and the arrow points were smeared with this revolting material. It was a combination of crotalin venom and ptomaine poisons, a very deadly mess.

We much prefer the bright, clean knife-blade of our broad-heads to any other missile.

The principles involved in seeking game with the bow and arrow are those of the still hunt, only more refined.

An archer's striking distance extends from ten to one hundred yards. For small animals it lies between ten and forty; for large game from forty to eighty or a hundred. The distance at which most small game flush varies with the country in which they live, the nature of their enemies, and the prevalence of hunters. Quail and rabbits usually will permit a man to approach them within twenty or thirty yards. This they have learned is a safe distance for a fox or wildcat who must hurl himself at them. It is quite a fair distance for any man with any weapon, particularly the bow.

Most small game, especially rabbits, have sufficient curiosity to stand after their first startled retreat. Beneath a bush or clump of weeds they squat and watch on the qui vive. The arrow may find them there when it strikes, but often the very flash of its departure and the quick movement of the hand send the little beastie flying to his cover. Here two sportsmen working together succeed better; one attracts the rabbit's attention, the other shoots the shot.

Shooting brush rabbits.
Shooting brush rabbits.
Archers in ambush.
Archers in ambush.
Ishi riding a horse for the first time
Ishi riding a horse for the first time

The marmot or woodchuck, is an impudent and cautious animal and he is a difficult mark for a bowman's aim. But nothing has more comic situations than an afternoon spent in a ground-hog village. After an incontinent scuttle to his burrow, an old warrior backs into his hole, then brazenly lifts his head and fastens his glittering eye upon you. The contest of quickness then begins; the archer and the marmot play shoot and dodge until one after the other all the arrows are exhausted or a hit is registered. The ground-hog never quits. I can recall one strenuous noon hour in an outcropping of rock where, between shattered arrows, precipitous chasing of transfixed old warriors, defiant whistlers on all sides, we piled up nearly a dozen victims.

Quail hunting requires careful shooting, but it is good training for the bowman. A sentinel cock, sitting on a low limb, warns his covey of our approach, but he himself makes a gallant mark for the archer. I saw Compton spit such a bird on his arrow at fifty yards, while a confused scurrying flock made easy shooting for two hunters. I am ashamed to say that we have often taken advantage of the evening roosting of these birds in trees to secure a supper for ourselves.

But the archer must exercise caution in this team work in the brush. He should never forget that an arrow will kill a man as readily as it does an animal and that one should always consider where his shot ultimately will land, both for the purpose of finding his shaft and avoiding accidents. Arrows have a great habit of glancing. Once when hunting quail in a patch of willow in a dry wash, Compton shot at a bird on a branch, missed it, and at the same instant Young, who was on the opposite side of the thicket, heard a thwack at his right and turned to find a broad-head arrow buried up to the barbs in a willow limb just the height of the heart. It gave us all pause for thought. Look before you shoot!

While small game may be taken by tactics of moderate cunning, larger and more wary animals must be hunted by artful measures. Deer, still abundant in our land, and properly safeguarded by game laws, test the woodsman's skill to the utmost. To learn the art of finding deer, or successful approach and ultimate capture, one must study life in the open. Let him read the work of Van Dyke on still-hunting [Footnote: The Still-hunter, by Van Dyke. The Macmillan Co.] to gain some idea of the many problems entailed.

In our country we have the Columbia black tail deer. Of course, only bucks should be shot; as an old forest ranger said to me, "Does ain't deer." And no one but a starving man would shoot a fawn. Here bucks are hunted only in the fall, just as they shed their velvet and before the rutting season. At this time they keep pretty quiet in the brush or seek the higher lookout points on mountain ridges. They browse mostly at night and are to be met wandering to water or back to their beds. The older ones lie very quietly and seldom move far from their cover. Sometimes in the heat of the day they stir about or go to drink. The younger bucks are more audacious and seem to feel that their wisdom and strength can carry them anywhere. For this reason a two-year-old or forked horn is much more frequently brought down.

It is interesting to note that even in this day of civilization and the extinction of wild life, deer are to be found within a radius of twenty miles from our largest cities in California. We, however, invariably journey by rail or motor car from fifty to three hundred miles to do most of our hunting. We seek those regions that are most primeval. Here game is largely in an undisturbed condition. From some station or outpost we pack with horses into the foothills or higher levels of the Coast Range or Sierra Nevada Mountains. Having made camp in a sheltered spot, we hunt on foot over the adjacent country.

Just at dawn and at sunset are the favorite times for finding deer.

The hunters rise from their sleeping bags, make a hasty meal of coffee and cakes, and long before the light of dawn sweeps the eastern sky, they must be on the trail. Silently and alert they enter the land of suspected deer. Taking advantage of every bit of cover, traveling into the wind where possible, looking at every shadow, every spot of moving color, they advance. Where trails exist they follow these, or if the ground be carpeted with soft pine needles, they flit between the deeper shades of the forest, watchful, and hearing every woodland sound.

Often the crashing bound of a deer through the brush proves that cautious though the archer may be, more cautious is the deer. Or having seen him first, the archer crouches, advances to a favorable spot, gauges the distance, clears his eye, and nerves himself for a supreme effort. He draws his sturdy bow till the sharpened barb pricks his finger and bids him loose--a hit, a leap, a clattering flight. Watching and immovable, the archer listens with straining ears. He must not stir, he must not follow; later he can trail the quarry. Give the wounded deer time to lie down and die, then find him.

It is a surprising experience to see animals stand and let arrows fall about them without fear. An archer has special privileges because he uses nature's tools.

The whizzing missile is no more than a passing bird to the beast. What hurt can that bring? The quiet man is only an interesting object on the landscape, there is no noise to cause alarm. Most animals are ruled by curiosity till fright takes control. But some are less curious than others, notably the turkey. There is a story among sportsmen that describes this in the Indian's speech. "Deer see Injun. Deer say, 'I see Injun; no, him stump; no, him Injun; no, maybe stump.' Injun shoot. Turkey see Injun; he say, 'I see Injun.' He go!"

The use of dogs in deer hunting should be restricted to trailing wounded animals. Here a little mongrel, if properly trained, serves better than a blooded breed. No dog should be permitted to run deer, especially if wounded. It is only the dog's nose we need, not his legs. An ideal canine for an archer would be one having the olfactory organs of a hound and the reasoning capacity of a college professor. With him one could trail animals, yet not flush them; perceive the imminence of game, yet not startle it; run coyotes, wolves, cougars, and bear, yet never confuse their scent nor abandon the quest of one for that of another. But as it is, no dog seems capable of doing all things, so we need specialists. A good bear and lion dog should never taste deer meat nor follow his tracks.

A rest at noon.
A rest at noon.
A lynx that met an archer.
A lynx that met an archer
The chief looking over good deer country
The chief looking over good deer country

A good coon dog should stick to coons and let rabbits alone. And the sort of dog an archer needs for deer is one that can point them, yet will not follow one unless it is wounded.

Every good dog will come to the ringing note of the horn.

And after all, there lies the soul of the sport. The fragrance of the earth, the deep purple valleys, the wooded mountain slopes, the clean sweet wind, the mysterious murmur of the tree tops, all call the hunter forth. When he hears the horn and the baying hound his heart leaps within him, he grasps his good yew bow, girds his quiver on his hip, and enters a world of romance and adventure.

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