Making the Right Moves

Footwork and focus keep you on your game.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Going after that trophy buck or monster black bear can take you to the most remote, dense, rough country you'll ever enter. Hard terrain can beat you as badly as the elements. And falls are one of the leading causes of outdoor injuries. Here are some techniques for moving over the ground efficiently, with an economy of energy and minimal risk of getting hurt.

Step Over, Not On
Never step on something you can step over. Moss-covered rocks, loose-barked logs and loose boulders can send you head over heels. Stepping on dry twigs that snap will spook game, and stepping on dead limbs can twist your ankle if your footing slips.

But-and this is important-when stepping over an obstacle you must look to see where your feet are going to come down (and what critter might jump up and bite you in a tender spot). Hence the second rule....

Go Around
Whenever possible, walk around obstacles rather than stepping over them. By taking the time to step around rather than over, you avoid the risk of losing your balance while trying to stretch across something too wide for your stride. Stepping around also allows you to walk naturally, so you have less chance of taking a tumble. It minimizes the strain on muscles, joints and tendons that can suddenly let go when the stretch is too great. Balance and control are improved and the risk of physical injury is reduced.

Maintain Balance
When taking a step, you should be able to retract the lead foot and place it somewhere else without losing your balance. This requires practice, because most people throw themselves into each step and will fall over if the step doesn't go as planned. Should the advancing foot land on a slippery surface, you'll probably fall. Catch your foot on a snag, and over you go. The way you load yourself with your backpack, gear and rifle slung over your shoulder affects your balance, so try to spread the weight evenly across your frame and secure it so it doesn't shift.

An erect posture helps you to maintain balance but is not always possible in the outdoors. When it's necessary to duck beneath branches, make sure your body is in balance before lifting one foot and advancing it to the next step. As the boot goes down, feel for secure footing before shifting weight to that foot. This may cause you to move more slowly, but with regular practice you'll gain speed. However, this is the kind of controlled, predator-like movement you want when still-hunting and stalking.

Hold Elevation
Give up high ground reluctantly. If you're part way up the side of a mountain, you've fought hard to gain that elevation. Having to give it up is a loss of time and energy. If you run into an obstacle on a hillside, try to find a way around it, even by going farther up a short way. Yes, you will cover more miles, but you'll expend less energy than you would by descending and then having to regain the high ground.

Tread Lightly
Even if you do everything else perfectly, you can still end up taking a bad fall if you don't pay attention to your footing. Loose sand or pebbles can act like ball bearings underfoot, especially on hard surfaces. A puddle can be deeper than it appears. A moist surface can actually be a quicksand bog. When the surface is suspect, step with one foot lightly to test the ground. Don't commit all your weight to the next step until you are confident that the surface can support you.

Look Up
Although you're giving all this attention to your feet, you also need to look up to make sure you don't run into anything. In dense cover or rough terrain move at a pace that allows you an easy glance upward from time to time. Overhanging branches or ledges can pose a hazard to your eyes and skull, depending on how hard you hit them.

Basically you need to be aware of your whole body when you're movving. Your senses will be focused on tracking and pursuit, but don't forget to tune them in to yourself and your position, including the bodily extensions of your backpack and slung rifle.

Beware of Shadows
In snake country, closely inspect shadows where serpents might rest during the heat of the day. Never step off a rock ledge without suspecting that a snake could be lying in the shade beneath the shelf. Be equally careful of where you put your hands as you climb over boulders, up hillsides or deadfall. Also have a good look over the place where you sit for a rest.

Crossing Sidehills
Sidehills can be dangerous because loose soil and gravity gang up on you. When faced with crossing a sidehill where there is no firm trail or where the trail has been covered by a landslide, seek an alternative route by going higher and then going around.