Wish You Were There
Sean's knee sounded like peanut brittle. A few yards in front of him, I heard a sick 'pop.' In mid-stride, my face winced vicariously for him; I froze. "Sean, really, you want me to get the truck and drive you back to camp?"
I turned around to find him paused for a moment; the only evidence from him that he was in pain would be a sincere grimace. "Man, that was a bad one," he finally said.
"That's the understatement of the year, Sean." I said, "That one sounded like a Louisville Slugger hitting a fastball."
This conversation would repeat itself every 100 yards.
Sean has a history of knee problems. And as we had put in a number of miles over the last few days, his knee was complaining. Often and audibly. Oblivious to Sean's knee issues were our 9-year-old sons, Saxton and Nico, who were currently bouncing about in the coastal hills of California enjoying themselves as nine-year-olds should.
We were hunting blacktail deer with Jim Schaafsma. The day before, with Jim, Sean, and the kids' help, I had killed a mature doe on their well-executed drive. So, hoping to return the favor, today I wanted to help Sean in any way I could.
The hunting had been uncharacteristically slow. The week before we arrived, there had been a very unseasonable warm snap that saw temperatures in the mid 80s. Jim glassed from a ledge overlooking a deep gorge, "30 years, I've been here." He removed his optics, only long enough to make eye contact, shaking his head, "I've never seen it like this."
Now, marked by the arrival of a blanket of fog, temperatures were, again, cold enough to put frost on the ground in the morning. The normal weather pattern had settled back in.
It was mid-day; we made our way back to the truck and were heading back to camp for lunch. I was glad to see Sean, finally, relaxing his knee. We had only just pulled out when Saxton noted a large dot on an open hill, a few hundred years away. "Pig" Saxton said, pointing out the back seat window, as if it were an everyday occurrence for him. Jim pulled over; all optics were pointed at the dot that was running up a hill with no intention of slowing down.
"He's right!" Jim said, somewhat surprised that a nine-year-old, without aid of binoculars, had been the one who spotted the hog. "He's a big boar." Jim said. "Big!" Jim's use of the adjective "big" was not quite accurate; the boar looked like a Volkswagen Bug on 4 stubby legs.
There was a palpable energy in the truck, and Jim, as is his way, was the epicenter. "Who wants to hunt hogs?" Jim said, breaking the surface tension.
I looked to Sean who was wiggling his eyebrows, smiling broadly, "It looks like we're hunting hogs!"
Jim drove the truck to a nearby overlook; we glassed through the fog to a distant ridge to observe a group of hogs. "Cripes!" I said looking through my binoculars, "12…13…no…15 hogs in the group." Sean, the designated shooter, had never killed a hog, so I was excited about this opportunity for him.
Jim hunts hogs with the help of his cattle dogs that were currently in the back of the truck. I have killed many California hogs, but had never done so with dogs. An open country spot-stalk bowhunter, I had some reservations about hunting hogs with dogs. I enjoy the whole process of hunting: waking before the sun, glassing, hiking miles, tracking, and stalking; my reservation centered around not wanting the dogs to circumnavigate the process that I simply enjoy. But as I was not the hunter, I viewed the opportunity as a great way to see what it was all about.
We discussed how to approach this group of hogs. By now, Sean's knee was obviously hurting him. Jim suggested that he drive the truck to the bottom of the hill, and we (Jim, the kids and myself) would hike down the hill to drive the hogs to him. "Sounds good" Sean said, hopping behind the wheel of the truck. Out of habit, I grabbed my recurve and patted Sean on his shoulder which was hanging out the drivers-side window. "Good luck, Pachuco," I said to him.
The boys, as always, were enjoying the walk. They ran about, playing with, and chasing, Jim's dogs. As we were driving the hogs to Sean, I didn't mind, nor did it matter, that they were being noisy. Jim smiled in his genuine way, watching the boys enjoy themselves so much.
Jim showing Saxton the ropes…literally
We walked for a mile or so, and suddenly it hit us. Jim and I smelled the musk of hogs; the smell was stronger than I had ever smelled it. In fact, the smell was so strong that it alarmed me. A second later, the dogs began to wail; Jim took off towards the dogs. My immediate concern, remembering the large boar we had seen earlier, was to gather the boys and get them to a safe place. The boys sensed the importance of the situation and came running toward me. I scanned the surrounding area for a tree for them to climb. Unfortunately, the area we had crossed into was chaparral; the tallest trees, if one could call them that, were manzanita. I found one whose main trunk branched off three feet off the ground. "Get up there. Quick!" The boys climbed into the taller branches, they looked into the briar where the dogs were barking. "Don't get down from here until I come back for you. OK?" Their eyes were wide with the reality of the situation. An ice cream truck would not bring them down.
I made my way down to Jim who was looking into the briar, "Are the kids OK?" he asked.
"Yea, they are up a tree." I said over the excited barks of Jim's dogs. "Is Sean close by?"
"No….No, Sean is still a far way off." He motioned towards the west, "Way down the hill."
There was crashing in the briar. I nocked an arrow. There was a large sow, standing broadside in the briar, looking back towards Jim's dogs. Jim shouted over the sound of barking and hogs crashing about, "Don't shoot her! She's pregnant." My eyes still on the sow, taking in her sheer size, I nodded OK.
Suddenly, there was a flurry of canine action; the large sow darted and was out of sight. In the briar was a medium sized boar; its coat was a swirl of black and crème. The boar was surrounded by a number of small hogs and piglets, so a shot, for a moment, was impossible.
The large sow appeared out of nowhere and stood next to the medium-sized boar. The sow dwarfed the boar, "She's a big one!" Jim said, pointing out the obvious.
Fifteen yards from the hogs, there was a small opening in the briar that would offer a shot at the boar; I moved a few feet over to get the best angle. Catching the movement, the large sow, turned frontal, and, in an instant, crashed through the briar on a full charge in my direction. Hoping that the charge was a bluff, I stood my ground, aiming a two-blade Eclipse at her head. I came to anchor, and was just about to release, when she stopped a mere five yards away. When she finally put on the brakes, she kicked up pebbles that bounced to my feet. Still watching her body language, I slowly let the arrow down; she snorted, turned slowly, and made her way back into the briar.
Jim, standing behind me, laughed, "That'll get the blood moving!"
"No kidding!" I said back to him. I laughed. I could only imagine what Saxton and Nico were thinking from their vantage in the tree.
The large sow began to trot to the far side of the briar where a shot would be impossible. Looking like a centipede, she was followed by a line of small hogs and piglets. The medium sized boar was following her; he paused for a moment in the small opening, and turned quartering-away. He reared as the arrow crashed into his side.
"Good shot!" Jim said, excited.
As Jim ran to towards the noise of the dogs, I ran to the tree to gather the boys.
"Did you see that big pig?" Saxton said, ignoring the fact that I had seen the hog up close and almost personally.
"OK guys, come down," I said. "We've gotta find the hog."
The boys were still talking about the "big pig" as we took to the trail. I made my way to the opening where the large sow had crashed through the briar. I pushed my recurve through the opening, and began to crawl into the briar. Expecting the kids to be right behind me, I turned to find them still tentatively looking into the briar.
"Come on buds!" I said into the tube of briar. They both looked at me as if I was asking them to jump into shark-infested water.
Nico Marchetti after helping with field dressing and receiving his first blood initiation. He was very proud.
"It's OK." I said, "The big pig is down the hill; they aren't around here anymore." Nico, taking a deep breath, jumped into the hole and crawled to my position. Saxton, scratching his chin, looked about his feet seeing hog tracks that were only seconds old. Ignoring his self-preservation instincts, he made his way into the briar, quietly repeating the mantra, "This is a bad idea...This is a bad idea…This is a bad idea…."
We crawled for a few dozen yards; the ground was dotted by generous spots of blood. A few more yards and the briar opened up to a large game trail with enough room to stand. The three of us made our way to where Jim was overlooking a small ridge.
Standing by his side, Jim pointed to the boar, which was down the hill about 30 yards. "It's a good shot. He's hurt real bad." The boar was swaying from side to side, his rear leg ebbing.
"I'll put another in him to end it," I said. Jim agreed.
I climbed up a deer trail so I could shoot over a bush that was in the way. I waited until the hog slowly hobbled broadside, then shot. The arrow knocked the hog off its feet, and limp, it rolled down the hill to be caught on a fallen moss-covered oak tree. With the boys in tow, I did a baseball slide down the hill and approached the hog.
Jim patted my back and congratulated me. "Thanks, Jim." I said, patting his dogs, "That's one exciting way to chase hogs!"
Jim returned the way we came to find Sean and the truck. I was pulling the hog down the wash to a ranch road that lay below. The boys, still excited, were bouncing from ridge to ridge of the drainage. After a long and exhausting drag, one that would be measured in hours, I was trying to lift the hog out of the wash. As I was cresting the ridge, I was greeted by Sean who was smiling broadly. He extended his arm, grabbing the rear-leg of hog with his super-human strength, and carried the boar off like a bouquet of flowers. I helped the boys up the ridge. They were excited to see Sean and relay the story to him.
With a plop, Sean put the boar down, patting its side, "Man, that's one nice looking hog!"
"Yeah," I said, "I wish you were there."
This conversation would repeat itself every 100 yards.