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leslie's guiding traditions

Another traditional activity is stalking. It has always been about getting close enough to animals to learn about them, and photograph or sketch them, not about hunting.

Before you can effectively stalk animals, you have to practice and develop your skills. The first thing to consider is your outfit. Firstly for colour - you want colours which may blend in with your background - usually camouflage brown and dull green colours, dark colours if you will be out in dusk or after dark, potentially white if going stalking in snowy conditions.

Having considered the colour, think about the details. Do you have any belts with shiny buckles, or jewellery which may catch the light? A pocketful of jingling coins? Long cords on your jacket which may get caught on foliage? Simplify your clothing and any bags you are carrying so your accessories are not a giveaway.

The next thing to consider is your footwear. You want weatherproof well-fitting shoes, in which you can walk comfortably. But they need to be flexible enough and broken into your feet so you can step lightly in them.  

Then practice your stalking movements. Step forward onto your toes then gradually lower your foot onto the ground. Watch for twigs which may snap underfoot, or gravel which may noisily slide, causing you to skid. Be ready to freeze on the spot if you are spotted. Watch a cat stalking and see how smoothly it moves, how carefully it places it's paws, how it is ready to freeze at any second.

Often though, there isn't enough cover to move upright, so it is important, too, to be ready to crawl beneath the line of the cover. In this, again observe how a cat crawls when stalking - how it naturally ducks down and stretches it's full length, spine, how it moves steadily with front left and back right, then front right and back left paws - and is constantly looking to see if it might be spotted.  

Sometimes, however, the cover will be short - in which case you pull yourself forward using your elbows to pull forward, and the toes of your shoes to push forward.  

With either technique, be aware of keeping your body down - when crawling keep your hips down, and if you want to look to check, look round the cover not over.

No matter what you are stalking, the wind direction is vital. Animals are far more sensitive to scent than we are, so without us being aware of it, we give off a scent which animals can spot easily if the wind is blowing our scent towards us - it is a total giveaway. For this reason, we need to consider whether there is a breeze, and if there is, work out which direction it is blowing in. Then make sure you are approaching the animal you want to stalk with the wind in your face, so your scent is being blown away from the animal, and not towards them.

As well as scent, the other thing to be aware of is sight. Animals' eyesight can vary - some have more sensitive eyesight than us, many less so, but the thing all of them are sensitive to is movement - just as it catches the eye for us, so it does for them. Hence we need to be aware of how to use cover to our advantage - for instance, to look through cover instead of over it. We can use a bunch of foliage held in front of our face to break up our outline. But in all you do, move slowly and steadily, so you do not attract attention.

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