Dare the Bear

| April 07, 2005

Trucker Bill Piktel poses with his kill and the bow he used to take it down.

Bill Piktel lifted the mosquito netting from his face. Wedged in a portable tree stand, he drew his bowstring back to his cheek and aimed at the 300-pound black bear just 40 yards away. But he needed it to come closer. He was confident of his aim at that distance but concerned that even a slight error would leave his prey wounded. So he sat motionless.

It was dusk now and Piktel, 42, could hear the mosquitoes rising up out of the damp Quebec lakeside below him. The mosquitoes attacked his bare face. He would later count over 50 bites. But still he sat motionless, the bow drawn. Then the 6-foot-tall bear with the rich black fur suddenly turned and bounded away up the slope behind him.

Disappointed, Piktel, who drives a 2002 Century Class Freightliner for Transport America, relaxed. Maybe the bear would return, but he doubted it.

The Canadian lake was a regular fishing destination for Piktel and some buddies. But this time, after paying $450 to fish, Piktel paid another $200 for a chance at a bear and another $75 for a license. He’d brought along his Hoyt bow and carbon-shafted arrows with Jackhammer heads. It was late May and Piktel thought the bears would have been long enough out of hibernation to be seriously seeking food.

“The ice was off the lake, and it was starting to warm up. It had rained, and it was very cold at night,” he recalls. “The first night I tried it was real windy and my tree stand was only 7 feet off the ground. My scent was being blown into the trees. But I was there to hunt so I stayed. I sat watching some pine martens playing for hours. It was like watching happy little kids.”

Next day Piktel set his tree stand almost 30 feet up a trunk and further back into the woods from the shore. He also tossed out the odiferous thawed remains of some fish he had caught the previous season, hoping to trigger a bear’s curiosity. He climbed into the stand about three in the afternoon. Three hours later, nothing. Then Piktel heard something unusual.

“I heard rocks flipping over in the water. I figured a bear was looking under them for a meal of mud suckers, fish that eat algae and stuff off the bottom,” he says. “He was coming down a little stream to my right, and finally I could see him. He was a big boar and he was beautiful.

“I drew the bow. But he never came closer than 35 yards. I don’t feel a hundred percent certain at that range. I will only shoot if I am absolutely sure I can kill. I sat there with the bow pulled and those mosquitoes really lit me up. But the bear was very cautious. After about 10 minutes he just bolted and I thought I’d lost him.”

Piktel dropped the mosquito net back over his ravaged face. He sat dead still as dusk began to fall. He was hoping the bear would be attracted back by the scent of the fish. But there was no movement in the woods.

“It was silent. Then, about half an hour after he ran off, I heard one little twig crack to my left. I saw him about 40 yards away,” he says. “He sat down, his chest facing me, smelling the air. Fortunately I’d gone high enough and he couldn’t smell me. He just sat there sniffing, but again he was just too far away for me to be completely sure of the shot.

“I drew on him and waited. He stood up and came in, and when he was about 20 yards away, the wind suddenly changed. That bear was real quick; he turned and moved behind a bush just a few feet away and then he stopped. All I could see was his nose.”

Piktel kept the bow drawn. The bear was 25 yards away. He intended to shoot if the bear walked forward and exposed his chest when he extended his foreleg.

“I waited fully drawn again for 10 minutes. It seemed like hours. Then he moved, and it was like slow motion. As he moved his front leg forward, there was the shot and I took it. The bear just bolted. I was sure I’d make a clean shot, but after 10 minutes waiting I’d heard nothing. I was worried that maybe I’d just wounded him so I decided I had to go look for him.”

Piktel found his arrow. Only three inches of it was sticking out of the ground, and it was covered in blood. Cautiously he went after the bear. “I really didn’t know what would happen; maybe he was waiting for me. There was some tension there. But I only went into the brush about 30 yards and there he was laid out. He’d dropped in mid stride. The arrow had gone through his heart. When he bolted, he was running dead.”

Piktel had successfully hunted bear before in Maine. In fact, hunting has been a consuming passion all of Piktel’s life. But it was a passion that almost overwhelmed him.

Back home in Daisytown, Pa., Bill Piktel with (l-r) sons Willie, 22, Brian, 14, Robert, 6, and wife Becky.

He came to truck driving eight years ago after working for a tree trimming company. “I was going from paycheck to paycheck before, but driving gave me a better standard of living; in fact, it changed my life,” Piktel says. “I was over-the-road for the first five years, and when I got time at home I found I really valued my family and I wanted to be with them more. Before I started truck driving I’d go off hunting every chance I got, and I’d leave them behind and kind of not make them a big enough part of my life. I changed and put my family first. Now I’ve got a dedicated route and I’m home at times during the week and usually home weekends.

“The Transport America people were pretty good to me. When I asked them, they worked out a way for me to be home more. They’re like a second family to me, and Marge, the terminal manager, she’s like a second mother.”

Piktel lives in Daisytown, Pa., and his home terminal is in North Jackson, Ohio. He delivers to Dick’s Sporting Goods stores and his longest run is up to Green Bay, Wisc., an overnight haul. He also trains drivers for Transport America.

Piktel says the best lesson he learned about hunting and, “maybe about life,” came from an old man he was hunting with. “He told me he couldn’t enjoying his hunting as much as he did when he was younger and in better health. He said ‘I’ll tell you a secret. If you start saying “I should have,” it’s too late. You should have.’ I’ve taken that to heart.”

Big Bighorn

To bag a bighorn sheep, something he calls “one of Mother Nature’s grandest creatures,” George Drake needed two things: a permit and an understanding wife.
The permits are like gold in the Rocky Mountains, and frustrated big game hunters can try for years and never get one. But Drake, a 10-year veteran with Davis Transport of Missoula, Mont., and the company’s 2002 company driver of the year, got one the first time he applied in Wyoming.
“After a very serious conversation with my very understanding wife as to why I needed to raid our savings account, I booked the hunt,” Drake says.
He would hunt in Whisky Mountain country near Dubois, Wyo.
“I met the outfitter at the trail head and we went on horseback a couple of hours to the camp. Whisky Mountain is one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen. In our industry we get to see some beautiful country from the cab of a truck, but the horse allowed me to see places I’d only dreamed about.”
Drake’s base camp was in a high meadow with a high mountain stream and great camp food.
“We hunted for three days and saw a total of 21 legal rams. The outfitter kept telling me we could find a better one. On the fourth day the sheep gods smiled on us and we found the ram we wanted.”
Drake’s trophy was an 81/2-year old ram with 15-inch bases on his horns. One horn was 34 inches long and the other was 32 inches.
“This was the hunt of a lifetime.”


Off-Duty Destinations
Deschutes River State Recreation Area

In northern Oregon just off I-84 there’s a place where drivers can stop off and hunt birds or fish for a special trophy. Here is a park where ranger Jim Anderson says truckers often stop off with a trailer still hooked up, fish for an hour or two, and then drive on.

If you decide to stop awhile, this state park has a lot to offer. It’s a sheltered place where both spring and summer come early, giving you relief from the cold weather.

Anglers come from all over the world to the swift, green Deschutes River, attracted by a world-class steelhead fishery. These big fighting trout are a challenge to any fisherman, but they are a particularly special triumph here because of restrictions on both the bait and tackle you can use. If you prefer hunting, there are parts of the park well above the river valley where you can hunt upland game birds and waterfowl.

History buffs also get a special treat here. Traces of the legendary Oregon Trail can be seen across the river from the main campground. And just a few miles away in the town of The Dalles, America’s pioneers once loaded their wagons onto rafts for their journey down the Columbia River.

Not far from the park you can fish for salmon and windsurf on the mighty Columbia, and you can jetboat on both the Deschutes and the Columbia. Want to do more? The park offers equestrian trails in the summer and whitewater rafting, biking, boating and camping year round.

Yes, you can take your tractor into the park, hook it up and make your own little woodland cabin. But Anderson has two suggestions: “It can be tight to turn around here if you come with a trailer,” he says. “Always call ahead; sometimes there’s not much space available.” The park is open year round and there are no fees. But before you head out, take Jim’s advice and call the park at (800) 555-6949 or (541) 739-2322. For campground reservations call (800) 452-5687.

How to get there:
The park is off Highway 206, 17 miles east of The Dalles. Eastbound on I-84 take exit 97. Westbound use exit 104 at Biggs Junction. Follow the signs on Highway 206 to reach the park. Or, if you come north from the Redmond, Ore., area, you can exit to 206 where it meets U.S. 97.


Off the Beaten Road
Put Your Mettle to the Pedal
Off-road bike trails go through some of America’s wildest places.

Drivers who want to get out into wild America but can’t find the time – and I get a lot of e-mail about lack of “outdoor” time in a trucker’s life – can easily plunge themselves into some real open air adventures whenever they have a layover.

Mountain or trail biking may sound a little extreme, but consider this – it is a relatively inexpensive sport that has great health benefits. Biking is a great exercise, and when you live an over-the-road driver’s life, exercise is about the most beneficial thing you can do for your health.

Another plus is that equipment is easy to take along with you. Most drivers can fit a bike into their cab. There are even some bikes that fold.

The key to getting started is to find the right equipment. In this sport, equipment is not a one-size-fits-all thing. Try a pro bike shop, or go online. I suggest a good search engine like www.google.com. Or go to a site like www.dirtworld.com or www.mtbr.com. If you are looking for folding bikes, both Montague and Dahon make good ones (and an Internet search will find others).

Once you have found that perfect bike, you’ll need to know what riding opportunities await you along your route. This is one sport where the Internet helps tremendously. It’s the easy way to find places to ride, and directions for them, wherever you are. Some, like www.dirtworld.com and www.mountainbikingonline.com, are easy and helpful. But I suggest going to a major search engine and typing in “mountain biking” and the name of the state you’re considering for an outdoor adventure.

No matter where you decide to ride, keep one thing in mind: If you don’t exercise regularly, you shouldn’t just jump into the saddle. You should talk to your doctor before you start any new exercises like trail biking. And when you do start, begin slowly and build up gradually.

Here are a few examples of biking trails that are waiting for you:

California: At the Grant Ranch near San Jose, Ca., you’re out with the cows and, consequently, have to open and close a few gates and watch out for whatsit on your wheels.

Florida: In West Palm Beach, Fla., you could ride the K-Mart Trail, which is mostly flat but has some adrenaline-rushing spots like an abandoned coral rock quarry and, after heavy rain, a lot of mud to splash through.

North Carolina: At Beech Spring Mountain Bike Park in Charlotte, N.C., there are great rides for newcomers to the sport, but you can also take on Devil’s Drop and the Gravity Cavity once you reach expert status.

Oklahoma: Turkey Mountain near Tulsa, Okla., is a sprawling place to ride with lots of thrills and chances to get lost.

Texas: In Houston, you could try The Anthills at Terry Hershey Park, with a good mix of beginner and tougher trails.

Virginia: The Petersburg battlefield in Virginia, site of major Civil War action, provides some great variety in a scenic, historical setting.

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