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.
Take These Tips Afield
Plan your attack.
Success isn't always a matter of luck; strategize appropriately. Hitting the field with only one or two hunters and a dog demands different plans than a dozen hunters and two dogs. Think ahead to waste less time watching roosters fly out the end of the field.
Read the land.
A good look at a field's contours reveals places where habitat changes. Note crop plantings, fence lines, irrigation and drainage ditches, and native trees and brush, then note the edges—where the habitat changes—to find the birds.
Walk this way.
When the sun is high birds protect themselves from flying predators by moving into habitat that shields them from above. In the evening birds move toward sparser cover to enable fast flight from ground-dwelling predators at night. Sweep the field accordingly.
Pay attention to the numbers.
A quick check of your state's roadside counts will tell you where the highest concentration of birds resides. It takes but a minute online, and it can save you hours of frustration and gallons of gasoline.
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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 »
Could 2011 be the year of the work truck? If so, the Ram Tradesman is ready to clock in. Equipped with a juiced-up HEMI® engine.... Read More »
The year that Sumner, Mo., erected a statue of "Maxie" to commemorate being the "Wild Goose Capital of the World."
Maxie sports a 65-foot wingspan while resting on a cinderblock building in a community park.
The number of cackling subspecies.
The cackling goose, a smaller-bodied goose prominent in Canada and Alaska, is a tundra-breeder with considerably more black plumage than the Canada. At one time, the cackling goose was considered the smallest subspecies of the Canada, but is now recognized as a separate species.