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.
Hunters' Field-Judging Tips
An exceptionally large male may lay down a track as wide as 5 inches. Tracks of adult females are 3.5 inches wide or less
When walking on impressionable terrain like snow or soft dirt, on level ground a mature male's average stride should stretch more than 40 inches; anything less is likely a female. More than one set of tracks likely indicates a female with young.
Gender isn't easy to determine. Mature males' skulls are larger and more round than that of females', with ears set lower on the head. They may also have tattered ears and scarred faces. Another good indicator is genitalia. Good luck checking that out.
Adults' teeth are usually stained yellow, and the tips of their canines are blunt; their coats are a uniform, tawny color, and their bellies are white. Sub-adults' teeth are bright white, with sharp canines; those less than 3 years old usually display faint spots on their sides and back, barring on the inside of their legs, and spots or barring on their bellies
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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 of cougars killed by Jay C. Bruce, a professional mountain lion hunter with the
California Department of Fish & Game, from 1916-1947
Degrees of latitude the cougar spans, from the northern Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes—the largest range of any wild land animal in the Americas
Skull measurement of the world-record cougar, according to the Boone & Crockett Club, taken by Douglas E. Schuk in Tatlayoko Lake, British Columbia, in 1979
Number of confirmed cougar attacks on humans in North America as of 2004; from 1890-1990,there were only 53
Weight, in pounds, reportedly, of the largest cougar ever killed
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.