Monday, February 18, 2013

Full Cry for Bruins

Hunting behind a pack of hounds is more exciting than most know.
By Chuck Adams

It was late morning when we found the track—a kidney-shaped flat spot on a snow-covered bank by the road. My heart leaped to my throat. The print was made by a hind foot … an oval impression wider than my hand. It was the biggest I had seen on the hunt.
Bucky Stone inspected the track, falling on one knee to study every detail.

“Nice bear,” Bucky finally said. “Let’s try him.”

Bow Shooting
He dropped the tailgate on the 4×4 pickup, exposing two dogbox doors with wire-mesh centers. Behind milled a dozen Walker hounds, scrunching their noses against the wire with nervous whines. Bucky slipped an arm behind one door and pulled out Toughie, a raw-boned hound with badly tattered ears. He closed the door and led the dog to the track. Toughie sucked in air and uttered a drawn-out bawl of joy. The other dogs went absolutely nuts. It looked like we might have a bear race after all.

Four days of hunting had made me begin to wonder. Bucky was one of northern California’s most widely respected bear guides, scoring close to l00 percent for hunters every year. As a matter of fact, he operated on a no-kill, no-pay basis—proof of his ability to produce. If a hunter wanted a bear, Bucky could get him one for sure. The only hunters who did not score were too soft to walk to the bear once hounds put it up a tree.

The past few days had not been dull. I had seen a bear every day but one. My problem was a desire to shoot a really big bruin with a bow. It was November l98l, and I had taken average bears with archery tackle in the past. Now, I wanted a magnum hide with thick, late-fall fur. I knew that California produced some of the biggest bears on the continent. All I had to do was find one.

What to Look For

Track size is not always an indicator of trophy size, but it usually tells the tale. A few small bears have big feet—just as a few small people wear size l2 shoes. But a bear with big feet normally has a big frame and a big skull to match. As Bucky opened both hound boxes and a stream of dog flesh poured over the tailgate, I crossed my fingers and hoped the bear at the end of the tracks had plenty of distance between its ears.

On the surface of things, hound hunting seems simple. Hunters drive roads until a bear track is found along a cutbank or road shoulder. A sharp-eyed hound man can spot a track in the snow at 30 miles per hour. For insurance, a “strike dog” is put on the back of the pickup to test the wind as the rig moves along. When air currents are right, a seasoned strike dog can smell a bear track up to eight hours old. If scent remains, the hound bawls its head off.

Excerpted from a recent issue of Bow and Arrow.

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