“I was waiting on the machan for a Hymalayan bear, but a tiger came to the bait!” No, this is not a quote from a 100 y.o. Indian Shikar book, this is the reality for a contemporary big-game hunter in Russian Far East as testified by “A Tiger-Flavored Bear Hunt” by Igor Volokushin, from December issue of Russian Hunting Magazine. This fantastic story ismy Christmas present for the readers of this blog.
I first saw a Himalayan bear in Moscow, as a trophy mounted by V. Sukharev’s taxidermy studio. The bear looked so natural as if it just froze for a moment before roaring. I felt the urge to get my own trophy of the “white-breasted” bear, as it is known there, and it wasn’t long before I negotiated a hunt with Stalker Group outfitters, and landed in Khabarovsk, with Valery Mitroshin, the manager of a hunting preserve in Lazo Region, to meet me and guide me.
Heavy rains made the dirt road impassable, and at some point I had to stay with the 4×4 while Valery walked to the lounge to get a home-made ATV on enormous low-pressure tires. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Valery assured me that the area with the machans and the baits is accessable only on this vehicle, code-named The Beast.
We spent a few days in two parts of the preserve waiting over a bait and stalking, but without success. I saw one bear but it vanished before I could shoot, and a roe deer buck on a salt lick, but its antlers were too small. We often travelled along old log roads, which were also used by local wildlife – including tigers. Valery tried to convince me that tigers are afraid of people and never attack them. But I knew that statistics proved him wrong. Dozens of tiger-human incidents have been registered in Primorie and Khabarovsk Districts, including attacks when the tiger had been gun-shot before, and attacks provoked by humans.
On that day we decided to start early and stay on the machan all night. When we arrived at the bait, everything was warm, quiet and looked perfectly safe. As we got out of the vehicle, I heard Valery whisper: “Look!” Not 5 meters away a tiger’s head showed out of the grass. The tiger inspected us with interest and without any fear, then disappeared. We grabbed our packs and rifles and flew up the ladder to the machan. We sat tight, trying not to make noise, both thinking “Now what?” Then I saw a head of a huge tiger in the bushes, and whispered to Valery about it. He said there wasn’t any tiger, but asked me for the binoculars, which I handed him, when the tiger reappeared. We didn’t need the binoculars to tell that it was a tiger, but not the same tiger. This one was much bigger than the first. At the same time, another tiger walked out of the woods and went to the bait, obviously interested in tasting it. And then the third tiger came out of the bushes on the other side, and also walked to the bait. Now it was clear we were dealing with a tigress and two cubs. I call them cubs but they looked as big as any full-grown tiger, and gave me the creeps just as well.
The show was on. The tigress stayed away, and the cubs kept posing, as if they weren’t aware that two humans were clutching their rifles desperately on the machan. Then one of the cubs made a big jump to the bait and bit it open, the meat showering over the clearing. The other cub grabbed what was left of the bag and carried it off. It didn’t take them long to finish the meal and leave. The tigress was still in the bushes. Then she went to the log road, walking right under the machan, and began to call her cubs. We used the break to consider our position. We had no idea why the tigers were there, what did they want, and what we were to do. A few hours passed, darkness set in, and we heard something walk to the bait. Valery switched on the tactical light on his rifle, and we beheld an idyllic family scene of two cubs and a tigress setting themselves down for the night in the clearing. The show continued.
After a bit of rest, the cubs rose and went in the direction of the log road. The tigress also got up and came to our machan. Valery kept the ray of his light on her, but she couldn’t care less. The tigress came to our tree, put her front paws on the ladder, and then, perhaps smelling humans, jerked back with an angry snort. Then she lay down again. She completely ignored the light, and paid no attention even when Valery threw the water bottle at her.
Then I heard a scream of a badger. The tigress got up, but before she left she put up a great show. She dashed up and down the clearing, whipping her sides with her tail and roaring like mad. I had butterflies in my stomach, especially considering our vulnerable position. The badger kept screaming – the tiger cubs must have been playing with it like kittens play with a half-strangled mouse. It continued for half an hour, then the badger’s screams stopped and the tigress began calling her cubs again.
Ten minutes later all was quiet, and we were sitting in the dead of the night, thinking of how lucky we were to witness such a scene. At least, I did.
Morning came suddenly. Of course nothing dared to come to the bait after the tiger show. We checked the tracks near the bait and discovered what it was all about. A Himalayan bear sow with cubs had come to the bait in the afternoon. The tigress was lying in ambush waiting for them, but we ruined her hunt. That’s what she probably tried to tell us with her parting complaints. But our hunt was ruined as well, and the neighborhood was so disturbed by the tigers that we thought it best to stay in camp for the evening, too.
Now I had only two days left. 5 pm found us waiting over another bait. The “white-breasted” bear came out of the wood, slowly and with dignity, went right under the machan and approached the bait. It stood there for a while, looking and sniffing around, and then started to eat. I slowly raised my rifle, aimed behind the shoulder and fired. The bear tried to get up, I shot again, it went down and crawled off in agony, but after the finishing shot it remained motionless.