There are three traditional ways to hunt bears, and I love them all.
Your mind has zoned out so it takes a minute to realize that, like a scene from a poorly written book, "suddenly it's quiet … too quiet." The air has become so still you can no longer smell the bait. The birds have stopped singing and even the mosquitoes swarming your head net have lost their buzz. Your "little voice" screams in your head that something is happening but your senses say it's quite the opposite. You stare into the fading light and try to move nothing but your eyes. From the edge of your vision you see a corridor through the brush you hadn't noticed before and at the end is a big, round, black head with tiny, dark, intense eyes. They are staring right at you.
Spot-and-stalk hunts are another kind of tense. There you are on an impossibly steep mountain in melting snow drifts. Each step extracts a big price as you suck in the thin air and wonder where all the oxygen has gone. Two hundred yards to your side, the ground is bare from snow sliding down the mountain as the spring sun warmed it days ago. But you can't walk there among the green shoots because there is a huge bear grazing on them. Fresh from its winter sleep, your binoculars showed its thick coat shining in the sun. You last saw the bear an hour ago, but faith keeps you going and if you can somehow keep your wobbly legs working just a little bit longer you can reach the big log that will mask your approach.
Then there's hound hunting. This fading tradition sometimes is so physically and mentally grueling you feel like a fading hunter. You realize that all the early mornings have taken their toll and there is not enough coffee in Brazil to fix your mood. The frost has soaked through your boots and your feet are cold. Your eyes are gritty, your nose runs and the ridge you're walking seems to go on forever. The view hasn't changed in a long time. The back you stare at has so many chains and leashes slung over a ratty coat the guy looks like an extra from a "Mad Max" movie. He is 20 years older than you and you resent that you can't keep up with him. Then a dog makes a little yelp you can barely hear and everything freezes in place. You watch as the dog turns into a machine, quivering and shaking as his nose sucks up the weak scent. He follows it, stiff-legged, to the top of the ridge and suddenly cuts loose with a howl that shakes the world. A black monster rises from a beech-leaf bed and runs by you looking more perturbed than worried. The movie extra turns loose the other dogs and the decibel level rises. You stand frozen and listening to the music of the hounds as they charge down the ridge. And somebody mumbles that a bear that big won't run far before he trees.
To a bear hunter, any day can become an absolutely perfect one.
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 »
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 »
Number (in pounds) of an average adult male
Number (in millions) of alligators across the southeastern United States, 3 million of which live in Florida and Louisiana
Number of documented attacks on humans in Florida since 1948, 17 of which resulted in death
Number of states dubbing the alligator the state reptile (Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi)
Length (in feet) of the largest reported alligator (killed by E. A. McIlhenny of Tabasco pepper-sauce fame on Marsh Island, La., in 1890)
Number of teeth in an average alligator's mouth
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.