Friday, December 15, 2006

Loaded For Bear

It's that time of year again.

I took this photo last year down at the Hartford Exxon which has now been fancied up into the Pigeon River Smokehouse. Their barbeque is okay. I'm something of a barbeque snob though, so it's hard to please me. Once you've been spoiled by the likes of The Pink Pig or Maurice Bessinger's Piggie Park...well, it's just hard to please me in respect to barbeque.

Now, I tried really hard to boycott Maurice's back in 2000 when all of the debate was going on. And it's true...he's a terrible racist. But the siren song of pulled pork cooked slowly over oak embers and tangy mustardy sauce would draw me back to my shameful addiction. Boy howdy, the man knows his pig. Guess it takes one to know one that well.

His brother, Thomas, also has outstanding barbeque in Charleston. I actually prefer it to Maurice's and they also have the most amazing onion rings that are coated in a puffy sweet bread-like coating.

I don't know how I got on this tangent about barbeque when I actually meant to talk about bear hunting, but I guess I'm just waxing nostalgic for the foods and sights of my homeland in coastal South Carolina. But there is something about barbeque and hound dogs that just seems to fit so well together.

The Tennessee barbeque is okay, it's just not something to dream about. Or maybe I haven't gotten out like I used to and roamed in search of the perfect piece of pig.

So, back to bear hunting.

Every year about this time, they hunt the black bears that are everywhere here. The hunters use dogs. There will be one dog that is the lead pack dog and the most valuable one, who sits on top of the dog box in the back of the truck and sounds when he gets the scent.

They've gotten very high tech here with this sport. The lead dogs are outfitted with GPS collars. The hunters can be seen standing around with little satellite dishes trying to pinpoint where the dogs have got the bear treed or cornered.

I remember the hunter who had these dogs told me that they had almost lost a few dogs when the bear turned on them the day before these photos were shot.

They have lots of bear hunting clubs here. My favorite is the "Po' Boys Bear Club". I was quite covetous of their club T-shirts. I really really wanted one. Off season, the clubs involve themselves with bear conservation. Last year they rescued a cub, not an itty bitty one...just one that had gone off from its mother recently. He'd fallen in the French Broad and the Bear Club members went and rescued him and got him to the wildlife rehabilitator.

I grew up in a family of hunters and fishermen. I still enjoy going on a squirrel hunt now and again and I still love to fish.

This has been a really news filled year for Black Bear. We had the death of a young child in the Cherokee National Forest earlier this year. People were on high alert after that. They caught and killed one bear that turned out not to be the culprit before finding the one that did. I think I heard they found human DNA on the one they finally decided was the one who killed the kid. I remember driving through Cherokee on my way to Bryson City to pick up my new bucks and saw the rangers out with their sniper rifles. Everyone was a little jumpy after that.

Then, some idiot in Gatlinburg got out of his car to go after his unleashed dog who was going after a mother and her two cubs and almost got whacked. The mother bear did get whacked in the end and the two cubs ended up being raised by wildlife rehabilitators.

I haven't seen a live bear since I came here, though I often hear the hounds running them through the woods. I did see a magnificent bear that a hunter had shot and was taking to the game station. I'd never been that close to one before.

They eat the meat here. It seems that men really love it, but most of the women I've spoken to don't care for it much. I haven't had an opportunity to try it yet. I'm hoping to get some bear fat this season to render down into lard to make soap with. We'll see.

I was told when I first came here that if a man brings you a bear haunch that it is tantamount to a marriage proposal.

Of course, you get to be the one to cook it.

I'll stick with barbeque for now.

1 Comment:

  1. Velociman said...
    I lived in Charleston 3 years, and Piggie Park rocks. But Jim Neely's Interstate Barbecue in Memphis... sublime.

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