Hunting The Elk by Snapping The Twig
Snapping The Twig
Reprint from Appletons’ Journal
Literature :Science : And Art November 19, 1870
ONE of the most beautifully illustrative incidents of the knowledge which the Indian acquires of the habits of the animals he pursues as game, is displayed in hunting the elk, by what is called “snapping the twig.” It is a “still hunt” throughout, and requires a degree of patience and skill, to overcome the watchfulness and self-preserving resources of the elk, which is almost inconceivable.
The elk, for self-protection, as an offset against many physical disadvantages, is possessed of the keenest scent, and the most exquisite hearing. It depends for safety more on precautionary measures than on aggressive defense or speed. To hunt the animal successfully when he is resting through the day, with every faculty wide awake, is therefore a test of skill which the Indians, along the line reaching from Canada to the Pacific, justly feel is worthy of a warrior’s skill.
The habits of the animal are taken advantage of, to find a trail made by him in going to his regular drinking-place. This done, the Indian hunters, one armed with a rifle and the other with a dry twig, know that the elk is spending his daylight repose somewhere along this trail, which may be a half mile in length. So acute is the hearing of the elk that these Indians have to approach this trail always from a right angle, with the greatest precaution, not even in their progress disturbing a leaf, or making the slightest sound by their footsteps.
Coming to the trail in this way, they examine the footprints, and no well-written document is more plain in its story to the scholar than are these natural signs to the children of the forest. The fact is developed, for instance, that the elk is between the spot of the trail they have reached, and the water it drinks. Moving cautiously away at right angles, they make an immense circuit round, until they reach another spot in the trail. The sign now is, that the elk lies between the first and the last examined spots. Again, the Indians patiently make another immense circuit, and strike the trail again—this time near enough to make a gun-shot calculation of the animal’s resting place.
Approaching the trail, the third, or possibly the sixth time, by this slow process, they are at last rewarded by distinguishing the elk’s enormous antlers above the long grass and intervening The Indian with his gun makes ready, and his Companion snaps his dry twig across his knee.
The elk springs upon his ‘forelegs.’ The sound is not necessarily a suspicious one; it might have been made by another elk, or by a dried limb falling from a tree,’ and for an instant only he speculates; but this exceptional hesitation is fatal, for the hunter fires, and the noble animal falls dead in his track—a victim of the superior wiles of man.