Close-up on hunters who brave Siberia's rigors

``First and foremost it's love . . . some soulful interest, as if you had to go out there,'' says one of the men in Hunter and Son (PBS, Tuesday, 9-10 p.m., check local listings), the compelling second program in the 12-part ``Frontline'' series about the Soviet Union. It must be something as deep as that which keeps people like Mikhail Kuzakov and his grown-up son, Yuri, heading out each season into the vast Siberian taiga -- or wilderness -- to hunt for sable, moose, and bear. In a good year they can make a lot more money than an engineer. But it's an unforgiving world, where temperatures go to 50 or 60 degrees below zero, where your gun freezes against your fingers sometimes, where women wash clothes in a hole in the river ice.

The BBC crew who filmed the ``Comrades'' series -- the first from the West ever to visit the taiga -- quickly discovered just how tough it was when they were dropped off by helicopter some 40 miles from the nearest settlement. Wires ``snapped like uncooked spaghetti'' when they were bitten by the cruel air. ``It was awful,'' admits producer Richard Denton when he and host Judy Woodruff talk with two experts after the documentary footage.

This is not a nature film, and you actually see only one killing (a squirrel). The focus is on Mikhail and Yuri as they work their ancient trade in an isolated cabin in the taiga. Their home town is Preobrazhenka, a settlement of 800, and a far cry from the atmosphere of the first ``Comrades'' program, set in Moscow some 3,000 miles away. Built by the state as a collective farm about 60 years ago, the little town operates a prosperous fur trade supplied by men like Mikail and Yuri. You see Mikhail's wife, Darya, and Yuri's wife, Galya, do jobs like treating raw skins with sour milk before sewing them into fur garments for their husbands or preparing a homecoming feast with a special delicacy: raw moose liver.

In the wilderness cabin or during awe-inspiring glimpses of the taiga, the men's background voices tell you of the important little things in their lives, like new sable tracks, and the important big things, like how the hunting tradition is handed down through the generations and why the call of the wild makes them prefer this life -- despite everything -- to all else.

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