12 Trips on the Edge

12 hard-core hunting and fishing adventures that are way out there.

Run a River Like Huck Finn

Risk Level: 3 | Physical Demands: 3
Biggest Threat: **A hooked 100-pound catfish intent on dragging you to New Orleans.
**Biggest Benefit:
Sixty miles of unspoiled river loaded with fish, not anglers.

Special outdoor adventures deserve to be called by special names. We call ours “The Survival Trip.” It began in 1996. I wanted to plan an unforgettable outing with my sons Matt, Shaun, Jared and Zach. I considered many options and decided on one that seemed perfect: a 60-mile float down the lower Arkansas and Mississippi rivers in southeastern Arkansas. Three friends joined us-“Uncle Bill” Hailey and Lewis Peeler and his son Justin.

Rain poured as we left the ramp below Wilbur Mills Dam-five boys and three men in a canoe and two johnboats. Game Boys, radios and all other modern conveniences were banned. Camping gear we had, but other than sandwich fixings, our food had to come from the river-no fish, no supper.

Rules were banned as well. The boys could run wild.

The sun soon returned. We swam, fished and explored. Civilization disappeared. No roads, no homes, no signs of people-only the river and the wilderness around it. The boys were eager to be on their own, so we made camp at noon and said goodbye. Justin soon returned with a nice bass. The other boys wrestled in a shallow pool, getting caked in mud. Leaves were added for camouflage. They were river rats, for sure.

We feasted that night on Justin’s catch, then retired to the tents. Our adventure had just begun.

On day two I rose to find our boats were gone. The river had risen six feet. I woke the others and cast off on an air mattress. “What if you don’t find them, Dad?” the boys asked. “Then pick me up in New Orleans.”

I found the boats a short way downstream. We rounded them up and broke camp. Lewis, Justin and Bill floated ahead. The boys and I followed on a raft of air mattresses.

White sandbars stretched to the horizon. We stopped now and then to swim and fish, but mostly we floated, watching the scenery unfold. None of us had ever felt so far from civilization.

We camped at the mouth of the Arkansas. As the boys fished for catfish in the first currents of the Mississippi, I told tales of early explorers. When DeSoto and his men landed here in 1542, Shakespeare had not yet been born. In 1673, Marquette and Joliet feasted here with local Indians. LaSalle, in 1682, set up a huge cross and took possession of the country for his king. Mark Twain was here, and so was Audubon. Some of the most memorable events connected with the exploration of the Mississippi River occurred in the place where we dreamt that night.

On day three the Mississippi swallowed us. “It’s huge!” said Matt. “It’s gigantic!” exclaimed Shaun. Then civilization rejoined us. We saw homes, roads, barges and litter-no more wilderness. Unfortunately, all good things must end. The Survival Trip was over.

We survived it. And each year since, we’ve gone back to do it again.

Contact: Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (800-364-4263; www.agfc.com).
Keith Sutton

[pagebreak] Run the Gorge for Unhunted Gobblers

Risk Level: 3 | Physical Demands: 4
Biggest Threat: Class III rapids.
Biggest Benefit: Huge smallmouths and turkeys that have never heard a call.

“Get ready!” screamed guide Chris Ellis above the din of the roaring white water. “I’ll try to keep the raft from entering the rapid or kissing the boulder in it. Make sure your lure lands right behind the boulder. A client caught a 20-incher there last week.”

My topwater plug did indeed land right behind the boulder, and the strike was instantaneous. Several seconds later, the force of the rapid pulled the raft, Ellis, the smamouth and me into its maelstrom. I was bent low over the side of the raft as I battled the smallie, so my face took the brunt of a three-foot wave that crashed into the bow. Another minute passed before the 19-inch smallmouth was netted. “Not bad,” yelled Ellis. And then he added, “How did you get so wet?”

We were coursing down West Virginia’s New River, specifically that section known as the New River Gorge National River, which runs from a mile below Bluestone Lake Dam in Hinton and continues for 53 miles until Fayette Station. What’s more, some 62,000 acres of heavily forested mountain land encompasses the river for most of those miles. This is the best opportunity I know to combine white-water rafting for trophy bronzebacks with spring gobbler hunting.

Although these longbeards receive little hunting pressure, be assured that they are no pushovers. My morning hunts in the gorge have often begun with a near-vertical climb to arrive close to a gobbling bird, only to see him pitch off the side of the mountain toward hens yelping several hundred yards below. Of course, knowing that I will spend the afternoon angling for behemoth bronzebacks and the night camping out near a roaring rapid makes the experience memorable.

Contact: The Mountain Connection at Glade Springs Resort (800-634-5233); Southern West Virginia CVB (800-VISIT-WV); New River Gorge National River (304-465-0508). Bruce Ingram is the author of The New River Guide (Ecopress, 800-326-9272).
-Bruce Ingram

[pagebreak] Track Down a Mountain Lion

Risk Level:3 | Physical Demands: 4
Biggest Threat: Becoming the hunted.
**Biggest Benefit: ** Cougars are moving to the suburbs-you could save a pet or two.

Bob and I beached at the mouth of a draw, miles upriver from most other hunters. Above, clematis choked the draw and pines dotted the rims high above the river. Beyond them, deer were wintering on mosaics of sagebrush and dry-land wheat. Deer draw cougars.

Cougar hunting without dogs used to be as pointless as canoeing without a paddle. Then lawmakers bowed to environmentalists howling for cougar protection. Hounds were subsequently pulled from the field in Oregon, Washington and California. Ironically, the resulting lion boom prompted Washington to issue two tags per hunter and Idaho to legalize electronic predator calls for cougar hunting.

You still, however, need luck to find a mountain lion. Bob and I were lucky. We cut tracks in fresh snow and followed them up-slope through brush and jumped a cougar from its bed. A mature cat, it streaked up-canyon with a fluid grace that left us gaping. Danny did better. Last winter, he tracked a cougar from dawn until noon, up into rimrocks. Rather than enter the rocks, Danny stationed himself above just as the curious cat padded into view on his track. A .25/06 bullet claimed Danny’s second cougar of the season.

These cats are territorial, so when numbers climb, youngsters must move out of places dominated by mature males. You’ll now find cougars near towns, where you can call or track them. Tracking takes a fresh snow. Start early and carry lunch. Snowshoes help if an animal draws you into higher country or deep powder. Use your binoculars-even in open areas lions can be very hard to see. They move low to the ground and vanish in the sparsest cover.
-Wayne Van Zwoll

Cast Off for Trophy Whitetail Bucks

Risk Level:2 | Physical Demands:2
Biggest Threat: Flipping your canoe while crossing an ice-cold mountain lake. Biggest Benefit: A chance to rattle in unpressured, Adirondack-size bucks.

Whitetail bucks often grow big in the Adirondacks and then die of old age without ever catching a whiff of a stinky human. Why? Few people are willing to take up the pursuit more than an hour’s walk from the nearest trail or unimproved road.

That’s too bad, because you don’t need to be Daniel Boone to give chase to unpressured wilderness bucks. All you need is a topographical map, a compass and a sturdy canoe.

The strategy is to paddle to the far side of a large body of water and hunt state land that goes virtually unhunted all season long. You can begin by zeroing in on places like Cranberry Lake, Stillwater Reservoir (although everybody hunts the unimproved road to Beaver Flow on the south shoreline) and Big Moose Lake, where there always seems to be a racked buck or two hanging around the inlet. Other good areas include Long Lake, Utowana Lake at its Route 28A access (which is part of the Raquette River Flow) and the east side of Raquette Lake, where you might even bag a bear.

The trick is to hunt the transition zone between hemlock swamps, where bucks bed, and hardwood ridges, where bucks feed. Also, don’t be afraid to try rattling downwind of any scrape line you come across. Just be ready to shoot before you start rattling, as any buck within hearing distance is likely to come in fast and furious!

Contact: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Region 5 (518-897-1200); Region 6 (315-785-2239).
-Bill Vaznis

[pagebreak] **Go Mobile for Monster Muleys **

Risk Level:2 | Physical Demands:4
Biggest Threat: **Elevation sickness from packing out deer meat at 10,000 feet.
**Biggest Benefit:
You’ll be above most other hunters, where the biggest bucks hide.

I came over the top too fast. From a wind-beaten bush, a great buck sprang up. My shot came as a reflex, but the bullet caught the buck’s ribs and sent him tumbling. Luck was my salvation.

Hunting that ridge was part of a successful strategy I had used before. The technique entailed prowling along trails a short rifle shot below the crest, moving across the thermal drift with the sun to my back or side. In sunlit places at dawn and dusk, keeping to shady slopes during midday, I’d glass clumps of white-bark pine and subalpine fir, with occasional looks into and across mountain basins. Through mid-October in most alpine deer range, bucks stay high. Young bucks typically move in bachelor groups, veterans by themselves or in pairs. They bed just off the ridge so that they have more escape options and a view. The best places are where snowmelt or springs keep forbs green through autumn.

Because the mule deer’s summer and fall range is much bigger than its winter range, finding early-season deer can be daunting-until you realize they prefer specific hangouts near timberline. Then you’ll find lots of bucks with your binoculars.

Hiking ridgelines in the Rocky Mountains can be done from a base camp, but you’ll spare yourself vertical dealk from the nearest trail or unimproved road.

That’s too bad, because you don’t need to be Daniel Boone to give chase to unpressured wilderness bucks. All you need is a topographical map, a compass and a sturdy canoe.

The strategy is to paddle to the far side of a large body of water and hunt state land that goes virtually unhunted all season long. You can begin by zeroing in on places like Cranberry Lake, Stillwater Reservoir (although everybody hunts the unimproved road to Beaver Flow on the south shoreline) and Big Moose Lake, where there always seems to be a racked buck or two hanging around the inlet. Other good areas include Long Lake, Utowana Lake at its Route 28A access (which is part of the Raquette River Flow) and the east side of Raquette Lake, where you might even bag a bear.

The trick is to hunt the transition zone between hemlock swamps, where bucks bed, and hardwood ridges, where bucks feed. Also, don’t be afraid to try rattling downwind of any scrape line you come across. Just be ready to shoot before you start rattling, as any buck within hearing distance is likely to come in fast and furious!

Contact: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Region 5 (518-897-1200); Region 6 (315-785-2239).
-Bill Vaznis

[pagebreak] **Go Mobile for Monster Muleys **

Risk Level:2 | Physical Demands:4
Biggest Threat: **Elevation sickness from packing out deer meat at 10,000 feet.
**Biggest Benefit:
You’ll be above most other hunters, where the biggest bucks hide.

I came over the top too fast. From a wind-beaten bush, a great buck sprang up. My shot came as a reflex, but the bullet caught the buck’s ribs and sent him tumbling. Luck was my salvation.

Hunting that ridge was part of a successful strategy I had used before. The technique entailed prowling along trails a short rifle shot below the crest, moving across the thermal drift with the sun to my back or side. In sunlit places at dawn and dusk, keeping to shady slopes during midday, I’d glass clumps of white-bark pine and subalpine fir, with occasional looks into and across mountain basins. Through mid-October in most alpine deer range, bucks stay high. Young bucks typically move in bachelor groups, veterans by themselves or in pairs. They bed just off the ridge so that they have more escape options and a view. The best places are where snowmelt or springs keep forbs green through autumn.

Because the mule deer’s summer and fall range is much bigger than its winter range, finding early-season deer can be daunting-until you realize they prefer specific hangouts near timberline. Then you’ll find lots of bucks with your binoculars.

Hiking ridgelines in the Rocky Mountains can be done from a base camp, but you’ll spare yourself vertical dea