Although modern air rifles are incredibly accurate, their power is relatively low (even in the case of most FAC-rated airguns), and that means we need to get up close and personal with our quarry to take responsible shots. And the ability to get close to wild creatures hinges on keeping yourself hidden.
A lot of shooters overlook the fundamentals of concealment, and just assume that the latest printed camouflage suit is all it takes to go unnoticed in the hunting field. I often take clients out for in-the-field instruction days, and their faith in camo clothing never fails to amaze me; it instils in them the sense of invisibility that Harry Potter must feel when he pulls up the hood of his magic cloak. The way some shooters stomp about, believing that their patented ‘magic jacket’ will keep them hidden from all wild creatures, has to be seen to be believed – it’s little wonder they don’t shoot much and have to seek instruction.
Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than designer camo-wear to outwit most wild critters. These modern patterns do make a difference, and I use them myself, but the difference is only a small one. The real secret to going undetected is learning how to use natural cover to keep you hidden. Master this and you’ll find it a whole lot easier to get within range of your quarry.
When you’re dressed from head to toe in greens and browns, keeping still is sometimes all you have to do to go unnoticed. But remember also to keep your hands and face covered when targeting wary quarry. Species such as corvids and woodpigeons fear and shun humans when they encounter them in wild places, and the pink blobs of your face and hands are usually the first thing they spot. A head net or snood pulled up over your nose will stop your face from showing up like a beacon, and a pair of gloves will help prevent your hands attracting unwanted attention. These distinctly human features set alarm bells ringing when spotted by wary quarry, so keep them hidden.
Camouflage clothing works far better when you’re close to natural cover that will help further disrupt your human form. Leafy concealment is sparse at this time of year, but the woodland hunter can usually find evergreen species to hide among. Holly, yew, ivy, rhododendron, wild privet and pine trees offer useful hiding places during the winter and early spring months, when most deciduous trees are bare. If you can’t find leafy cover where you need it, a thick tree-trunk or steep bank may provide a sufficient backdrop to keep you out of sight for an ambush.
Shade is an excellent form of cover that is frequently overlooked. Wild creatures will find it much harder to spot you if you’re hidden in the shadows, especially on clear days when the sun is low and bright. Their eyes will have adjusted to the light and they’ll really struggle to see a shooter lurking in the gloom. The concealment provided by shade works far better when you’ve got a solid backdrop behind you, too. Without this, there’s a serious risk of your cover being blown when wary quarry spots your silhouette shifting against a background of light. It’s not such a problem when you’re absolutely still, but most sharp-eyed creatures will be alerted to your presence when they see your outline moving against chinks of light flooding in from behind. Simply positioning yourself against a tree-trunk or the root plate of a wind-blown tree is often all it takes to overcome problems caused by backlighting.
Of course, the risk of being heard is just as big a problem as that of being seen. Most modern shooting clothes are more or less silent, but we all get caught out by the occasional clumsy footfall. When ambushing pigeons and crows in woodland, I often like to stand and wait so I can shift position slightly to ensure clear shots when opportunities arise. Although it’s a great way to get the right angle, moving about like this can blow your cover if you plant a foot on a dry twig or among a pile of brittle leaf-litter. Whenever I settle into a woodland hiding place, one of the first things I do is shunt fallen leaves and fine twigs away with the side of my foot. By doing this, I can quickly create an area of soft, bare soil upon which I can move silently as I shift my weight from one foot to another when I’m trying to line up a shot.
These small points can seem insignificant, but they can make a big difference, especially when combined. Best of all, such simple elements of fieldcraft don’t require any bulky hide-building kit to keep you hidden. Bear them in mind the next time you’re setting up an ambush… and you should stand an even better chance of going undetected by your quarry.