The specialty of
the house of hunting in Rumania, they made clear, was bear. The only difficulty
is that there is no Macy's basement for bear hunters. Big bears, medium-sized
bears and baby bears all cost $1,000. Furthermore, the Rumanians, rich in oil,
coal, iron and other natural resources, are not so desperate for hard currency,
and therefore scorn bargain hunters. So, after a brief and vain effort at
haggling, I accepted their terms. They in turn agreed to try to find for me the
biggest and blackest bear in the country.
claim to have over 3,000 bears, and the Bear Five-year Plan, unlike Rumania's
other economic programs, calls for no dramatic increase. Each year the entire
natural increment of about 60 bears may be shot, but only on the written
authority of the Minister of Forests. The reason for the exception is the vast
damage bears can inflict on more essential crops, notably plums, from which
Tzuica, the Rumanian national drink, is produced. During my travels throughout
the country I saw entire orchards destroyed in a single night by hungry bears
who climb the trees, embrace the fruit-laden branches and then hurl themselves
and the branches to the ground, where they strip them of their fruits.
The area selected
for my bear hunt was high in the Carpathian Mountains just north of the Ploesti
oil fields about 35 miles from Bucharest. The expedition consisted of Lician
Preda, my official escort from the Rumanian tourist agency; Nicolai Dima, the
president of the Ploesti gun club, who was to organize the shoot; and his bear
expert, Lika Serbanescu.
All agreed that
the four days I had at my disposal was more than ample to bag a big bear, so
when we made our first base in an old baronial castle converted into a
sanitarium, the director, Dr. Gogulescu, suggested we spend the first day
snipe-shooting. It turned out to be costly in ammunition but completely
harmless to the snipe.
never having participated in a bear hunt, I asked the affable doctor just how
the shoot would take place. He described the strategy with an air of great
authority. The area to be hunted—a mountainous country about 10 miles
square—was to be combed by 15 or 20 beaters, accompanied by perhaps a dozen
large dogs. The beaters, starting in small groups seven or eight miles apart,
would converge on the spot where the principal gun—myself—was to be stationed.
Since I alone had authority to shoot a bear, any that chose to break out
elsewhere would go scot-free.
As the beaters
approached, the doctor went on, the first game to emerge would be the wolves.
There is a bounty on wolves, so I should shoot as many of them as I could.
Following them, in all probability, would come a lynx or two. I could shoot
them, too. Next would come the wild boar. The doctor suggested I pass up the
boar, as the bears usually followed close on their heels and might be put off
by the rifle fire.
Last of all would
come the bears, brown or black, sometimes in groups of three or four. The
blacks, he said, were the biggest and most ferocious.
get nervous," he reassured me. "You will usually be in a stand, high in
a tree, and will always be accompanied by a doubleur, in case anything goes
wrong." The doubleur, I gathered, was a sharpshooting backup man.
The maximum range
would seldom be over 30 yards, but, as bears are very agile, it would be best
to shoot over flat sights, aiming my rifle as though it were a shotgun.
all," the doctor reiterated, "don't get nervous. Remember, the doubleur
will always be covering you."