Thirteen miles from the nearest paved road in Utah's northeastern backcountry, high on an impossible bluff, a predator stalks its prey through snow-filtered moonlight. It has incredible night vision, padded feet, wicked claws, hearing that finds the feeding mule deer below like radar and canines that can sever the spine of an animal that vastly outweighs it. In one violent whirr, the 130-pound masterpiece of muscle and stealth pours onto a mule deer and seizes its neck like a Conibear trap. Moments later, the mountain lion drags its lifeless prey up a rock face while heavy snowflakes erase what few crimson clues remain of the deer's demise.
As sunlight crests the mountain's peak, the predator takes another half-pound of flesh from the softest parts and begins to cover the rest for later. Then suddenly its ears attune to the distant, detested, bawling sounds of its only enemy in this country as they resound up the ridge and grow nearer. With a distended belly, the cougar will have trouble running. This time it may have to fight.
Three miles away, a hunter struggles to keep within earshot of Suzi, his lead hound. He'd cut the track the evening before, grabbed a restless night's sleep in his pickup and put the hounds back on it two hours before dawn. By sunup he knows the 5-inch-wide print like it is his own, as does the relentless Walker with the talented snout who lives to fill it with fresh scent of feline. In this wet snow and with this wind, the hunter likes the odds, but he knows it's never even close to a sure thing. Any second the big tom could bound up sheer rock and over miles of mountain. What if he can't get there fast enough and his beloved hounds mix with the cat? Sweat sluices down his back as he picks each snow-laden foot up past the other and crunches them down, metronome-like, in the energy-sapping powder.
When bawls give to frenetic yaps, it's evident age-old enemies have spied each other. Spurred, the hunter double-times and trudges uphill alone, as determined as a man can trudge, directly toward the sounds of hell and its trappings. As the houndsman nears the ruckus in the pines, he thumbs the leather thong of his holster and peeks between the cylinder and gate of the Super Blackhawk. This time it's rimmed with five .44 caliber hollow-points, because this is not another practice run. This is opening day.
Tips to Lay Out Ol' Tom
Fly-down time at dawn
is, quite naturally, assumed by many hunters to be the best time all day to bag a tom. Trouble is, the hen or hens that old fella is visiting at that time of day may not let him off the hook long enough to pay attention to your calls and come anywhere near your setup. But during the peak of the breeding season, those hens are apt to visit their nests by noon. Your best shot at calling him close may come then, when old tom is lonely for attention.
Many times a tom hangs up
not because of an obstacle, but because he's walked far enough toward your call and, having not seen a hen, walks away. Your mistake: setting up too far outside that all-important range and never seeing him. When you call, be sure of a good line of sight through terrain and vegetation, and depending on cover, try to get within 100 yards of him before plopping down.
If you hear a gobbler moving away from you,
don't waste more time and breath trying to call him back. Instead, get up and hustle in a wide circle around him. If you need to hear him for reference, use a locator call. When you feel you are ahead of him, quickly set up and give a series of aggressive yelps with a call you haven't used yet. Many times this "fresh hen" tactic will prove successful.
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Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »