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.
Do This at the Range
Start range sessions with an understudy rifle
that mimics your deer rifle. You likely haven't fired a round in earnest in months, and no doubt your skills are rusty after the winter/spring layoff. So don't beat yourself up, waste expensive ammo or grow frustrated. Use a rimfire to concentrate on breathing, relaxing, squeezing the trigger and following-through on meaningful shots. Then move to your centerfire rifle of choice.
Bore-sight a new scope at close range.
Weighing 55-70 pounds, shorthairs push size limits, but they can make charming house pets if not overly hyperactive. They may not require as much exercise as setters or pointers, but probably need more than any dog on this list.
Move off the bench.
In preparation for hunting, a bench rest is good for one thing only—assuring your rifle is zeroed. There are no shooting benches in the woods, so why use one for practice? Instead, fire from the prone, sitting, kneeling and offhand positions most likely used while hunting.
Become proficient with artificial shooting rests.
The best field-shooting position can always be enhanced with a backpack, a pair of shooting sticks or a proper sling. Practice shooting with all three, make them part of your "kit" and never leave home without them.
Identify problems with rifles and ammo now.
Extractors break. Scope erectors grow weak and stop taking adjustments. Ammo misfires. Now, not November, is the time to wring out problems with equipment.
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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.