“You’re going to hunt from the tank,” Dmitri grinned.
“What do you think of that?”
We were heading out to do some road hunting, Russian style. I sure hope there aren’t any skunks or opossums around here, I mumbled to myself. ‘Cause I know whatever we shoot, we’re going to eat.
We landed in Sverdlovsk. Dmitri told us that Sverdlovsk is the unofficial capital of Siberia, which starts east of the Ural Mountains. Boris Yeltsin got his start here as a big shot in the Communist Party. Yeltsin was the Communist boss of the Sverdlovsk region until 1985. This place was hard-core pro-Soviet, so it is ironical that Yeltsin had been the leader of the resistance movement against the Communist coup just a few weeks earlier in Moscow.
Dmitri also told us that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had reportedly stopped here on his way home from the 1943 Tehran Conference, where he met with Churchill and Stalin to discuss the reconstruction of post-war Europe. We were once again smack in the middle of an area of historical significance. This fact was not lost on any of us.
After deplaning and gathering our gear, we jumped into a couple of waiting army jeeps and took a long, bumpy ride through the forest to camp. We were amazed to see that most of the people here were living in log cabins. It was like stumbling onto a set of Little House on the Prairie television show. We wouldn’t have been surprised to see Laura Ingalls Wilder walk around the corner of one of those log homes.
We arrived at our hunting lodge late that night and fell exhausted into bed. The following morning, after a breakfast of bear meat and noodles, the guides told us to load up and get ready to go hunting.
They didn’t have to tell us twice. We were pumped and ready for the hunt to begin. We grabbed our gear and headed outside to where the jeeps we had traveled to camp in the previous evening were parked. As I opened the door of one of the jeeps to climb in, Dmitri said, “No, no. Over there. Load up over there.” He was pointing to an old, stripped down army personnel carrier parked in front of the lodge.
“That?,” I asked. “We’re going hunting in that thing? You’re kidding!”
“Yes. That thing,” Dmitri said, chuckling.
Must be they’re going to take us out in the tank and drop us off somewhere, I thought to myself as we climbed aboard. I soon found that wasn’t the plan.
“They’re taking us to the hunting area in this thing?,” I asked Dmitri, as the tank rumbled out of the yard.
“No, you’re going to hunt from the tank,” Dmitri grinned. “What do you think of that?”
Hunt from a tank? That’s when it struck me. We were heading out to do some road hunting, Russian style.
“Hunting what?,” I asked, still a bit in shock. “If something runs across the trail, shoot it,” Dmitri instructed.
“You’re kidding,” I shot back, again in disbelief. “You’re saying the deal is … if it’s brown, it’s down, and if it flies, it dies.”
“Yes. Real Russian hunting,” Dmitri chuckled.
I sure hope there aren’t any skunks or opossums around here, I mumbled to myself as we rumbled out of the yard and into the woods. ‘Cause I know whatever we shoot, we’re going to eat. And what about road kill?
“I can’t believe I’m actually riding a Russian tank,” I shouted to ny cousin Terry over the roar of the engine as we clunked through the forest. “I figured the only time I’d see one would be in a Vietnamese rice paddy.”
We soon learned why the tanks were used; the roads were rutted and extremely muddy, not negotiable by truck or jeep. The tank even got stuck a couple of times.
The ride proved to be a thrill. Everyone should try it…once. It makes the Demon Drop at Cedar Point (at Sandusky, Ohio, billed as the roller coaster capital of the world) look like a kiddy car ride. Going 25-30 miles per hour down muddy trails and through the woods, knocking down trees and careening off old stumps, was an experience. We hung on for dear life.
We didn’t shoot anything from the tank. No surprise. It made so much noise roaring through the woods it scared everything away before we could get close to it. I thought the Russians were just taking us on a joy ride to see the countryside on our first day in camp, and just maybe, to see if they could scare us a bit. I have to admit, it was exciting and I will never forget it.
That evening, Boris Shiryaiev, one of our guides, asked me if I wanted to hunt moose. I explained to him, through Dmitri, that while I had enjoyed the tank ride a bit earlier, as an editor for a large outdoor magazine, I’d have difficulty selling a hunting story that involved shooting game from the front of a tank. Could we hunt on foot? No problem, Boris told Dmitri.
An hour later we left the lodge. On foot. Dmitri, however, stayed behind. %This ought to be interesting, I thought, as we headed for the woods. No interpreter. I don’t speak Russian, and Boris doesn’t speak English. Now we’re talking adventure.
It turned out to be one of the most exciting hunts I’ve ever been on.
As soon as we hit the woods, we came across a fresh set of moose tracks. Boris studied the tracks a few seconds, then stood up and began a game of charades. He spread his arms wide over his head and shook his head. He cupped his hands over his chest and nodded.
As he did this a second time, I understood and smiled. He was telling me this moose was not a bull. It had no rack. It was a cow. It had, well … it was a cow. I nodded in understanding.
Ten minutes or so later, we came across another set of fresh moose tracks. This time Boris put his arms up and spread them wide, nodding. This was a bull. I figured these were a bull’s tracks; they were much larger than the first set. Boris jumped on the tracks.
After following the trail several hundred yards, Boris knelt and pointed to the tracks. He showed me how they were spaced farther apart now, and mud was kicked up in front of the toes. He then pointed to his nose to tell me the bull had winded us. He pumped his arms and hands at his side quickly, to show me that the bull was running.
After following the tracks several hundred more yards, Boris stopped to show me the tracks were closer together again. He pumped his arms slowly; the bull was walking. He pointed to willow leaves that had just been nibbled on. The bull wasn’t spooked any more and was feeding. I understood what he was showing me. We were in sync.
Then, suddenly, Boris grabbed my arm, brought one finger to his lips and signaled to walk very quietly. The moose was close. We slowly moved along the trail. Boris froze, motioning for me to get my rifle ready. He motioned that the bull was right around the next bend in the trail. I had no idea how he knew this, but I believed everything he was telling me via hand signals. I brought up my rifle as we eased around the bend.
There, about 75 yards away in the woods, stood a large bull moose. I eased my rifle to my shoulder, aimed and squeezed the trigger. A solid “whump” told me the bullet had found its mark. The moose ran into the brush.
Boris turned with a questioning look and shrugged his shoulders. He was asking me if I thought I made a good shot. I smacked my right fist into my left hand, nodding my head. Yes, I had made a good shot.
Boris grinned from ear to ear, and we went to look for the bull. We found it piled up in the brush less than 100 yards away. After a round of back slapping and hugging, we went to work field dressing the bull. Day One and I had my moose. What a great hunt!
It wasn’t a record book bull, but it was a trophy to me. Besides, I sensed that if I hadn’t shot this bull, Boris would have shot me. Siberian winters are long and cold; a moose in the freezer gives these people a warm, fuzzy feeling. They live on what they harvest, as was evidenced by every meal. We ate bear, moose, rabbits, fish, game birds and some ‘mystery’ meat.
The next morning we learned there was only one moose tag in camp. This was a major oversight. The guys from CMI explained to the Russians would be in camp the following morning. Unfortunately, they didn’t arrive until Thursday, our last day in Siberia, too o=late for us to shoot another moose.
“While waiting for the moose tags to arrive, we hunted birds and bear. There were a few fresh bear tracks around, but we soon realized most of the bruins were denned for the winter. As we had feared, because of the coup we had missed the best time for bear.
“You come back next year in August and you will get bear, and moose, too,” Boris told us. “I guarantee it.”
# # # # #
For details, and to order IN THE LAND OF THE BEAR, go to www.targetcommbooks.com
by Dennis Geurink
Paperback, 6″ x 9″, 280 pages
About Denny Geurink
Denny was an elementary math, science and English teacher 1969-1985 in Jenison, Michigan. He wrote a weekly outdoor column that appeared in more than 10 different newsppers 1972-2012 and was Midwest Editor for FIELD & STREAM magazine 1985-1992. He was the host of a weekly outdoor TV show 1993-2004.
He led hunting and fishing expeditions to Russia 1991-2018, during which time he became the No. 1 brown bear outfitter in the world.
His book is all about the danger and adventure of hunting brown bears in Russia’s forbidding Siberia, in a strange land among a foreign culture. It has 23 exciting, sometimes danger-filled, chapters, among them: Journey to the Evil Empire, Hanging Out with the KGB, Bear Attacks, the people, the food (fish bread, anyone?), the culture, Surrounded by Bears, A Lesson on Fear, Tales from Grizzly Camp, Bear Excitement in Camp, Bear Charges Snowmobile, and more.