The hunting experience described above illustrates that woodsmanship for a hunter may be defined as understanding the behavior of a game species at a specific time and location. This understanding culminates in the hunter’s ability to “read the sign,” or described another way, “interpreting an animal’s behavior based on the sign it leaves behind.” A game animal’s behavior is dictated by habitat preferences for available forages/cover and reproductive cycles at specific times of the year. Someone does not need a college degree in wildlife to link animal behavior and woodsmanship skills to become a more proficient hunter.
Woodsmanship is more than just recognizing sign; it requires a certain level of interpretation. This understanding helps a hunter envision the behavior of the animal that was “standing in the track” earlier. Tracks, to illustrate the point, usually indicate general direction of travel, but a woodsman will ask the question, “Where was the animal coming from and going to, and why”? Habitat types and seasonal preferences play a huge role. It may be a young pine plantation with a broomsedge understory that affords deer concealment for bedding cover and an adjacent white oak ridge littered with acorns for feeding in the fall. Or it may be a creek bottom where an old gobbler roosts before flying down to strut for his harem of hens in a large, bordering pasture in the spring. By exercising woodsmanship skills, you can accumulate clues from the landscape to develop a keen sense of productive hunting set-ups.
Our hunting heritage is grounded in the early frontier where woodsmanship skills were of paramount importance for wild game to be placed on the dinner table. Using these same skills today will help us all become more effective and knowledgeable hunters. In addition, mentoring woodsmanship to future generations of hunters will ensure this art is not lost.
For more information, contact Steven W. Barnett, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, 30571 Five Rivers Boulevard, Spanish Fort, AL 36527; phone 251-626-5474.