Much of the pleasure in working as a journalist stems from opportunities to write outdoor columns and features for local and national magazines. My most moving assignment was writing a sad tribute column titled “To a Hunter Dying Young.”

A lean, rugged and boyish prankster, Perry Welch wore whiskers as untamed as his spirit. Had Welch been an Alaskan, he would have loved the subsistence life. His freezer bulged with game and fish. He barely earned his high school diploma because he was a perpetual truant, skipping school regularly to hunt and fish. “Perry just had to be outdoors,” his wife Linda once told me.

One evening, Welch and I sat side-by-side cheering our sons playing Little League baseball. I wore my editor’s tie and vest; he wore camouflage and a gimme cap. The next day, he was blown apart on the job in a sewage treatment plant explosion.

Sioux hunters once thought life after death was similar to life before death, and they looked forward to seeking game in happy hunting grounds. I held that thought at Welch’s wake as I looked at photos pinned to a corkboard of Perry with his family on one hunt or another. A minister comforted Linda and her four children. He told the kids that even though their dad had left them at age 36, he had given them hunting and life lessons to sustain them all their lives.

I wished Perry Welch good hunting in the afterlife as I peered into his coffin. Not even a Sioux hunter could wish for a better sendoff. His wife dressed him in green and black hunter’s camouflage instead of a suit.


My favorite story assignment

No question my most unusual hunting article was commissioned by an airline magazine (remember them) that sent me to Arkansas.

There I visited hunter Wayne Davis who practiced an unusual means of alternative hunting transportation: a 1,500-pound pet Brahma. And that’s no bull I’m throwing.

The idea of taking a bull on a hunt may sound farfetched, but do not knock it till you ride it.

The first time he took Dozer on hunt back in November, he swaggered home with a ten-point buck. To capture a trophy that size many of you hunters would gladly straddle a chicken.

Genuine horsepower is a disadvantage on a hunt compared to bullpower—it’s as simple as that.

“You miss a lot if game on a horse, because you pay more attention to the horse than to your hunting,” said Davis in a molasses thick drawl. “I don’t need to pay any attention to Dozer. He’s slow and steady.”

Davis named his faithful steed Dozer. That’s short for “bulldozer,” because “he kind of pushes right along wherever he goes,” Davis said.

The Brahma is gun-smoke gray and boasts a well-formed hump and excellent conformation. He’s been known to scarf down a blooming azalea bush for a quick energy snack.

Bulls have a definite advantage over horses on a hunt. “It usually gets real boggy in the wintertime, and horses can’t stand up in the woods, because their hooves are round and get more suction,” he said. “So when it’s wet , you often have to stop riding and start walking, which takes a lot of fun out of a hunt. A bull’s got a split hoof. He doesn’t bog down like a horse.”

In a field near Davis’s home in Pine Bluff, he threw an old Western saddle atop Dozer and kindly offered me a ride. In the interest of investigative journalism, and because I’ve never been accused of having too much common sense, I agreed. Standing alongside Dozer, I kept thinking that anything this big should have four wheels and a license plate on its butt.

My opinion changed not whit as I vaulted up into the saddle, my left leg in one county and my right leg in another. The beast took off, and it was appreciated what a fine horseman—er, bullman Davis really is.

The saddle girth, you see, is impossible to fully tighten on an animal with a belly so massive. Davis’ experience as a rider and his amazing balance kept him aloft with ease. I, on the other hand, have always possessed the equilibrium of an etherized elephant.

Dozer swayed one way, I swayed the other. Soon the saddle had slipped so that the saddle horn was somewhere in the vicinity of Dozer’s right rib.

My foot caught in the stirrup, and I hit the wet earth, my head resting a couple of inches from a hoof wide enough to store umbrellas.Now, any self-respecting horse would have taken the opportunity to scrape my hide along the ground until I fell off. But good ol’ Dozer stood as still as Gibraltar, his brown eyes looking at me over his nose ring.Davis was nice about the whole thing , telling me that I had ridden “pretty good there at first” a compliment that diminishes in value when you consider how “pretty dang bad” I rode at the end.

The only difficulty thus far that Davis has experienced on a hunt is that he must isolate Dozer from the company of trail horses lest a stampede ensue.

A difficulty I had was getting him to stop on command. It sounds like a new version of an old joke:

Question: When will a three quarter-ton bull stop on command?

Answer: Any time he wants to.

Hank Nuwer has covered hunting, fishing and the outdoors for Outside Magazine and, as a hunting and fishing columnist, for an Indiana newspaper.