A Sand County Almanac With Essays on Conservation from Round River by Aldo Leopold was first published posthumously in 1949 with certain additions in later additions. It has become a classic read for those interested in conservation and the environment. I first read this small book over forty years ago. If you have not read it I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so.
Within the book there is one small essay entitled The Deer Swath. I found it summed up my thoughts about those of us who spend time in the woods observing nature and how we perceive what we see and hear. We all have different areas in which we are better than others. My chief interest is sounds, whether bird or mammals while my wife is busy concentrating on looking for tracks in the dust. She is always saying “What
bird, I didn’t hear anything” while I could have a herd of elephants walk through the area and not notice the footprints. I have a friend in New Mexico who excels at looking for elk and deer sign and another friend here in Illinois who is quite adept at looking at ‘sign” as described by the author.
We can not all be good at everything so my advice is for you to have several friends with you as you do your research and concentrate on those areas that are of particular interest to you and allow your friends to concentrate on their areas of interest. The correct dog can be a great asset in the woods. With keen senses my Karelian Bear Dog many times has alerted me to the fact that we were not alone in our section of forest.
The Deer Swath an excerpt from A Sand County Almanac – published June 1989
When the deer hunter sits down he sits where he can see ahead, and with his back to something. The duck hunter sits where he can see overhead, and he behind something. The non-hunter sits where he is comfortable. None of these watches the dog. The bird hunter watches only the dog, and always knows where the dog is, whether or not visible at the moment. The dog’s nose is the bird hunter’s eye. Many hunters who carry a shotgun in season have never learned to watch the dog, or to interpret his reactions to scent.
There are good outdoors men who do not conform to these categories. There is the ornithologist who hunts by ear, and uses the eye only to follow up on what his ear has detected. There is the botanist who hunts by eye, but at much closer range; he is a marvel at finding plants, but seldom sees birds or mammals. There is the forester who sees only trees, and the insects and fungi that prey upon trees; he is oblivious to all else. And finally there is the sportsman who sees only game, and regards all else as of little interest or value.
There is one illusive mode of hunting which I cannot associate exclusively with any of these groups: the search for scats, tracks, feathers, dens, roostings, rubbings, dustings, diggings, feedings, fightings, or preyings collectively known to woodsmen as ‘reading sign.’ This skill is rare, and too often seems to be inverse to book learning.