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.
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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