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DON'T SHOOT UNLESS YOU'RE LOADED
Charles Thayer
December 05, 1966
There is a lot of trophy-size stag, bear and boar roaming the forests and fields of countries behind the Iron Curtain. Foreign hunters are always welcome to have a go at the game—provided they bring plenty of money with them
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December 05, 1966

Don't Shoot Unless You're Loaded

There is a lot of trophy-size stag, bear and boar roaming the forests and fields of countries behind the Iron Curtain. Foreign hunters are always welcome to have a go at the game—provided they bring plenty of money with them

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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.

The Rumanians 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.

That evening, 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.

"But don't 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.

"Above all," the doctor reiterated, "don't get nervous. Remember, the doubleur will always be covering you."

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