Whether is was a matter of sneaking up on prey to catch their next meal, sniffing out enemies who might be nearby so that they could be avoided, or planning a sneak attack on enemies, one of the most notable skills that native people had was stealth.
When Europeans came to the New World, they were often amazed at how native people seemed to be able to walk through the woods almost without sound. When you consider the amazing hearing of most animals, it makes you wonder just how hunting parties managed to get close enough to their prey to make a kill!
In the times before the white man walked in the New World, there were no telescopes, no long-range rifles, no binoculars. How did native people manage to get so close to game and avoid their enemies?
- Walk silently
It seems backwards to most of us, but indigenous tribes know that walking silently means walking toe to heel, not heel to toe. The native way of walking was to take smaller steps (no more than three feet or so) and place the toes on the ground first. The weight of the body should rest on the back leg. This allows you to check the noise value of the ground you are about to step on. This way, if there is a twig hidden under leaves, you will feel it with your toes before it makes much of a sound. This enables you to change your footing, if needed.
If the ground under your toes appears (and sounds) like a quiet step, you can now put your heel on the ground and transfer the weight to your front leg. Once your toes are on the ground, roll on the outside of the foot until your heel is firmly in place.
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This is the exact opposite to how most of us walk, and it will take some practice if you hope to acquire this valuable skill. Practice on a wide range of surfaces. Once you think you have the hang of it, get a friend to turn their back on you, while you sneak up behind them. See if they can hear you or if they can tell when you are within “attack” range.
- Be ultra quiet
While walking toe to heel is considered to be the main stealth skill, there are other things that matter. For example, no matter how silent your feet might be, if you are singing, talking, whistling or even breathing loudly, you will be heard! This is one reason why native people learned the songs and whistles of native birds. They could signal one another with natural sounds that few would suspect.
Being aware of noise makers on your person is another factor to consider. Your equipment, shoelace ends tapping on your shoes, nylon pants rubbing against your legs, a clanging water bottle or rifle, all make noise that, while it might not be much, will sound like a trumpet in the quiet of the woods.
- Watch your posture
Most people walk with their backs hunched forward and their heads up. This will naturally put most of your body weight on your front foot, which you don’t want. Learn to bend at the knees and keep yourself as low as possible while still keeping the upper part of the body erect. Yes, this means leg strength, so you might want to consider doing more squats to increase the strength of your thigh muscles.
While you are bending at the knees, keep your hands and arms at waist level. Use your hands (palms down) to balance and further help distribute your weight. In the dark, or even in places where the light level is very low, this can help you avoid smacking low tree branches. Picture the form: knees bent, torso erect, hands spread wide between rocks or trees. This is the perfect position to pounce upon unsuspecting prey or move quickly if you are suddenly ambushed.
- Breath differently
If you have ever watched a horror film and watched someone find a great hiding space, only to give it away with their labored breathing, you will find that this is a true fact, not just a movie stunt.
Of course, you need to breathe, but be aware of how loudly you are breathing. Many people find that they can breathe more quietly with their mouth open.
Another trick that indigenous people used was not staring directly at the person or animal until they were within range and ready to attack – believing that humans and animals could sense, somehow, that someone is watching them.
If you are not in a position to shoot or if you simply want to avoid being seen and your prey looks at you or even in your general direction, do not assume you have been spotted. Freeze right where you are. Eyes will quickly catch movement, but objects that are stationary, not so much.
Depending on your skin tone and what your purpose is, you might want to consider the lighting. This is why most native people painted their face and upper body (even their horses) with streaks of black and dark red. This helped them appear more like shadows. If you have very light-colored skin and will be in a low-light area, you might want to cover it with some streaks of dirt. While an animal might not recognize a shadow, a person surely will. Be aware of your position in the sunlight to avoid projecting a human shadow. Many native tribes tried to keep the sun on their back as they knew that most animals, and people, will turn their faces away from direct sunlight.
- Check the wind
While you most likely could not smell a deer or a person (unless that person was using perfume or lacked deodorant) until you were almost upon them, almost all animals have a better sense of smell than you. If the wind is chasing your scent directly to your prey, even an average deer can smell you coming from half a mile away! All the stealth in the world won’t help if your prey can smell you coming.