By J. Scott Olmsted, American Hunter Editor in Chief
Many hunts can be described as hours of boredom punctuated by fleeting instances of action. Few put a knot of anxiety in your stomach like a hunt for dangerous game. Fewer still are punctuated by sheer terror if things don't go according to plan and the quarry is outfitted with claws, fangs or horns capable of ripping a man's gut from belt to throat.
Whether it's on the trail of our infamous brown bear or a member of Africa's Big 5, the dangerous game of the world, the hunters who pursue it and the hardware they use represent a triad of beast, man and metal so alluring as to be almost toxic. Whether you have pursued something that bites back or merely thought about it, you are influenced by the experience.
I have swung for brown bears twice and whiffed, but I still hope for at least one more walk to the plate. I probably never will kill an African lion mainly because the expense of such an undertaking is far beyond my means, but that doesn't mean I don't dream about it. I never have hunted elephant, either, but that will change later this year. I'll keep you posted. Or not.
I vividly remember the reaction of a friend of mine when I described how a companion and I would hunt leopard in Zimbabwe. There, cattle-killing cats are hunted legally at night over bait.
"We'll check baits daily," I said. "When we find one that's been hit, we'll freshen it with an impala we kill, build a blind then wait through the night. The PH and his crew will set up a spotlight on a rheostat above the bait. When we detect a cat on the bait, he'll slowly crank up the light and we'll shoot the cat. If the shot's on the money, the cat should fall from the tree dead. But likely as not we'll have to follow it into the bush and find it with flashlights."
"You mean you might have to follow a wounded leopard in the dark?" asked my buddy.
"Yep," I replied.
I can't repeat what he said next. Suffice to say he didn't think much of the plan. I must confess I wasn't keen about it, either, but when one flies halfway around the world he's obliged to do as he's told else risk going home empty-handed, or worse.
In the end we struck out on leopard, which is typical, but we each killed a buffalo. The pursuit of those magnificent beasts convinced me I had found my clarion call as a hunter.
A Cape buffalo hunt is a dynamic affair full of many things: hours of tracking in the hot sun; moments of confusion when sizing up bulls in a herd; nervous seconds while squatting, surrounded by dozens of critters the size of small cars all capable of stomping you to death; staring back at a beast that seems to ask, "What are your intentions?"; and if you're blessed, placing a well-aimed bullet that tests not only your marksmanship but your mettle. My first bull dropped to a 300-grain TSX through the brain. I wracked the bolt at the report of the rifle but the bull was dead when he hit the ground. I could hear Howard Cosell bellowing, "Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!"
Fascinating? You bet. But I wasn't scared. There was no time to be scared. That moment came last year on my third bull, when I stood mere feet from four dagga boys. So close I could literally smell them, I was sure I could thread a bullet through the brain of the one on the right but ...
When dangerous game is on the menu, your main job—if you love your family—is to be sure you're not also on the menu.
How to Put Down A Black Bear
Most hunters are used to aiming behind the shoulder on deer for a double-lung shot. This works on bears, too; you can aim right behind the top of the shoulder and nearly halfway up the side. Better yet, break one or both shoulders. A bullet that busts bone and bursts lungs is the best way to anchor a bear. Bullet and bone fragments should damage the lungs and maybe even the heart. If you accidentally hit high you should still sever the bear's spine.
Take this shot only on a wounded bear that needs to be anchored. Your target is the top of the tail, not below it, so nervous and skeletal systems are hit. You want to split the pelvis and take out the back legs so a finishing shot can be taken.
Try to brain a charging bear. From the front, your target is just above a line that would join the top of the eyes. If possible, wait till the head points down or at a 90-degree angle to the bullet path. Keep shooting until it is down, as an adrenaline-charged bruin can be hard to stop.
If it's facing you, aim just below the jaw to drive the bullet through the neck and chest. If it's quartering toward you, aim for the shoulder you can see and send the bullet through the chest cavity. If it's quartering away, do this in reverse by shooting up through the chest to the far shoulder.
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