Moving Quietly

To venture successfully into the wild, it's essential to develop a habit of quiet unobtrusive movement. Learning this takes patience, perception and practice.

Most of us clump around in town wearing inherently noisy garments such as jeans and heavy shoes that make walking a constant rustle and clatter. Our surroundings are often so noisy anyway that the racket we're making goes undetected, but in the wild it's a quite different matter. Firstly, the environment is much quieter so any noise we make will be relatively much louder, and secondly, the noises we make will be exotic and therefore very noticeable to creatures that are programmed to recognise the unfamiliar as a threat.

There are various accepted techniques of moving quietly - notably the poachers' walk or stalking crouch, which has been used in clandestine ventures for at least a couple of hundred years and is a highly effective way of stalking close up to a quarry. But I don't recommend it as a generally applicable technique of quiet movement for field recordists as unless you're exceptionally athletic it's difficult and tiring - particularly while carrying equipment.

The poachers' walk involves putting your hands on your thighs just above the knee, stepping high by bending your forward knee and raising your leg as high as you can, then lowering your foot to the ground so that its outer side makes first contact. As your weight is transferred to that foot, it rolls down flat onto the ground. You need very strong leg muscles because the knee rises so high and if you have to stop suddenly you're left standing on one leg. This has the advantage that in the stopped position your profile is not very recognisable as human, but it's a very hard position to maintain for any length of time. An alternative quiet quiet walking technique I've evolved avoids these problems and is less tiring as it allows you to stop on both feet on the ground.

In some circumstances it's necessary to crawl rather than walk - for example when approaching nesting birds in open grassland. There's no better technique for this than the flat crawl. You lie face down with your feet turned sideways and your forearms beside you, your arms bent at the elbow. Your hands should be in line with your ears. Keep your head down - turned to one side so you can see forwards. The aim of all this is to present a lowest possible profile vertically and as long and narrow an outline as you can. To move, push off with the sides of your feet and simultaneously slowly pull your body forwards over your forearms. Then slowly slide your arms forwards again. Each forward movement should be no greater than about ten inches (25 cm). All your movements should be slow and smooth, but your should only move forwards occasionally, with long static pauses in between.

The flat crawl is a very unobtrusive - if slow - way to approach your recording subject, and can be made even more effective by draping yourself with suitably chosen camouflage scrim.

But whatever technique of movement we adopt, its effective use relies on acute perception of both the local conditions and our own movements, so it's pointless adopting these techniques until one's perceptions have been sufficiently tuned. That means in order to move unobtrusively in the wild we first have to learn to recognise the noise we make in moving and it's effect on the creatures around us, identify its causes and then practice eliminating it. We also have to consider the extent of our movements, as in the wild it's essential to minimise these as far as possible.