By Adam Heggenstaller, Editor in Chief, Shooting Illustrated
The season begins with 22 of us staring at a net of rhododendron that rises steeply to meet a lead-colored sky. Before long we will thrash our way through the tangled trunks and branches, metering our toilsome progress with boisterous shouts of triumph and profanity, but for now utter silence rings in our ears. The seemingly impossible task that lies before us weighs heavily on our minds. Our hope is to bust a bear or two on this slope, but we’ll settle for finishing the drive with unbroken bones and rifles. The odds of either happening are substantially less than 50/50.
We know there are easier ways to kill a black bear. We could go west in the spring when the bruins are stuffing their stomachs with new grass, find one in the open and shoot it. Or head north and spend a few days lounging in a treestand until a trophy poses over a pile of syrup-laced pastries. Even team up with a dog man and let his hounds do most of the work for us. All are sound tactics but none are legal in Pennsylvania, so we embrace earning our bear rugs through lots of sweat, some blood and the occasional tear when a whippy rhododendron branch connects just right with a sensitive body part.
More than any of us care to admit, our struggles are as necessary to the hunt as the bears. We’re two dozen men rapidly approaching middle age who sometimes need to prove—to ourselves and our buddies—we can hunt as hard as we did in college. We still own this mountainside, extra pounds, desk jobs and kids notwithstanding. Bears choose to live in this mess, and we choose to hunt them here. Because we can.
And so with cries that echo through the narrow valley, half of us push forward, carrying Winchester and Marlin lever-actions, Remington 870s and 7600s, knowing any shot we get at a bear will be fleeting and iron-sight close. On the other side of a half-mile stretch of rhododendron, the rest of our friends wait expectantly in an evenly spaced line that stretches across the height of the mountain. They’re the ones with the best chances. We’ll drive any bears holed up in the dense cover between us right into their laps. Gunfire is never a sure sign of success, but it quickens our steps. A blast that connects with a bruin brings collective glory. Individual accomplishment takes a back seat to that of the team. We don’t do this alone.
The longtime leader of our gang groups his acquaintances—and oftentimes society as a whole—into two categories: those who hunt bear with us, and those who do not. It is at once a simple and profound measurement that speaks to the types of bonds forged only when success is limited but efforts are tremendous. Those of us crawling through the dank rhododendron on this late-November morning hunt bear. We owe it to one another to make opening day.
Teamwork in the Dove Field
Find the Local Buffet
Noting dove food choices available in your area pays dividends when scouting fields. Freshly harvested grains like corn, wheat and millet are always top choices. Seeds of sunflower, safflower, sesame and smartweed also rate high. If grains and seeds aren't present look for freshly harvested hay fields with clover, alfalfa or lespedeza, or cattle feed lots. Pond banks provide fine grit doves use to fulfill digestive needs after feeding.
Doves travel to and from roosting sites to feed and water, so note the direction they fly when entering and exiting the field. Tree lines, waterways, roadways and utility lines—all are common flyways. Position hunters to take advantage of them.
Pick a Stand
Any stand that allows hunters to intercept birds as they enter/exit a field will see plenty of action, but shooters on the perimeter have the advantage. Shooters inside the field must settle for birds that have "flown the gauntlet" (frightened birds test the best shooting skills). Pick a stand as close as possible to two factors—water/feed, roosting site/flyway entrance, etc.
Depending on the size of the field, it could take several dozen hunters to keep the doves flying. Most shooting is conducted just outside the range of another hunter. Doves often swoop downward and become low-flying targets. Avoid shooting at low flyers. It's wise to wear not only ear but eye protection because pellets sent up must come down.
New 2011 Ram Tradesman 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 for under $22K (excludes destination) and a standard class-four trailer hitch with 9,100-lb. towing capacity, it's available this spring at a dealer near you. It's a tricked-out tool that's anything but standard for under $22K.
Ready for Whatever Forget flashy rims and custom bed liners. Ram knows that what you really want in a heavy-duty pickup is improved performance. Our engineers figured out a way to deliver it with best-in-class 22,700 lbs. towing and an astounding 800 lb.-ft. of torque. We just improved proven.
Ram Truck Month Ram trucks offer impressive performance statistics, and the numbers keep getting even better. You'll get a no-extra-charge HEMI® upgrade* when you buy a Ram 1500 or 2500. There's Strength in Numbers. Now at Ram Truck Month.
*Offer based on factory-to-dealer reimbursement. Dealer contribution may affect final price. Take new retail delivery by 3/31/11.
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.