To open our Big Game Special, let's define successful big game hunting.
John Berriochoa enjoys life in a bear stand.
The bears had us surrounded. We'd seen six total, and now we could see five at one time, prowling through the brush around our Idaho bait site, popping their teeth and making threatening noises at each other. For my son-in-law John Berriochoa, who had never seen a bear in the wild before, this was a bit of bear overload.
Then the seventh bear, a big boar, arrived on the scene. Although John would have dropped the string on any of the others, I kept telling him to wait. "They're little ones," I whispered in his ear. "We'll see a bigger one." And here was a bigger one. "Shoot this one!" I motioned.
For the next 10 minutes, John stood with his bow at the ready, but the bear fed quartering toward us. No shot. When the bear finally did turn broadside, John drew his bow, but the bear turned with his rear toward us. No shot. Finally darkness settled in and closed the show. No shot.
As we walked back to the truck, John raved, "Dwight, I've never had such an adrenaline rush in my life. When I drew on that bear, my legs were shaking so bad I had to sit down to get them under control!"
To put that into perspective, you have to understand that John is no wimp. Growing up on the "res" in Oklahoma, he fought with other kids daily. He served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Desert Storm. As an amateur UFC cage fighter, he had 18 sanctioned matches and achieved national ranking. As a prison guard for many years, he kept rebellious inmates in line. In short, John knows pressure. But drawing down on that black bear gave him "the biggest adrenaline rush of my life" -- and shaking legs.
Isn't that what big game hunting is all about -- shaking legs? Some hunters seem compelled to judge the motives of other hunters and the ethics of certain hunting styles.
They appoint themselves as arbiters for right and wrong for all hunters. We see that at Bowhunter any time we publish stories about hunting methods that are not universally accepted, such as baiting. Readers jump all over us, questioning our judgment in publishing such unethical trash. One reader wrote:
"Most bear baiting today is done by professionals whose workhorses are ATVs and whose paying clients' only active participation in the 'hunt' is an unearned and anticlimactic kill."
Unearned and anticlimactic? Who has the right to judge that? Consider John's hunt. While John was not my client, we had a "guide/client" relationship in that John did not place that bait -- my friend Wayne and I did. So John didn't earn the hunt through physical effort. But he certainly earned it with desire and enthusiasm. And was it anticlimactic? Judge for yourself. John's knees were knocking. Case closed.
Hunting big game with hounds often draws a similar response, as the following letter attests:
"I've seen several articles about bowhunting for big cats and bears using dogs. I'm a bowhunter of 22 years, but I can't quite understand the rationale behind chasing down an animal with dogs. Where's the challenge? Isn't it cheating?"
In "Getting There" on page 92, Brandon Ray writes about his bear hunt in New Mexico on which he and a friend take bears with an outfitter -- using hounds. Will we take grief for printing that story? Absolutely.
But why should we? If you're a regular Bowhunter reader, you know that Brandon is a seasoned bowhunter who takes numerous adventure bowhunts on his own. He knows his stuff and doesn't need anyone to hold his hand. He doesn't need dogs to kill a bear. But for a new experience and a fresh perspective, he hunted bears with hounds.
End result? Brandon enjoyed a legitimate and first-rate big game hunt. How do we know? His legs were shaking -- not only from bagging a fine bear, but also from the fatigue of getting there.
One common thread governs all of us in the field -- legality. States and provinces set the rules, and we all must abide by those rules. If we do not, we are criminals. Legality has no gray areas.
But beyond that, who is big enough to judge what is "unearned and anticlimactic"? We all have different levels of experience and skill, different goals and personalities. Yes, whitetail hunting remains the American standard, bugling in a bull elk ranks as a huge thrill, and stalking muleys may be the supreme challenge. Most hunters would agree.
Still, some bowhunters chase dogs through the mountains to the point of exhaustion. Others nearly fall from a treestand at the sight of a black bear. Who's to judge what's right or wrong, better or worse? From our perspective here at Bowhunter, it's all good -- big game hunting at its finest. How do we know? The shaking legs. Just ask John.