It shouldn’t come as a surprise, at least to anyone who’s ever hunted Tejon Ranch, but every hunt there is spectacular and fulfilling…even when nothing comes home in the cooler. It’s just a magical place, as I’ve probably repeated too many times, where just being there is a gift to the hunter/outdoorsman.
Still, wow! This trip really shone!
There were 29 guys on this hunt, mostly from Jesse’s Hunting and Outdoors forum, and we were all geared and eager to roll. It was like the date would never arrive, but when it did, 29 hunters were chomping at the bit and waiting at the gate. Most had been to the ranch at least once, and several of us had been here many times. My brother, Scott, had flown all the way in from North Carolina to enjoy his second visit to Tejon… and hopeful to score his second hog.
The weather, usually hot and dry at this time of year, turned ugly on us. As we were checking in for the hunt, the clouds and wind increased steadily until they unleashed a full-on rain squall on us. On the higher ridges, the rain mingled with sleet and at the highest elevations it turned to snow. Hail fell on some of the hunters in one area of the ranch. Everyone was damp as camps were setup and hunters dug through their gear in hopes that they’d remembered to pack rain gear. Fortunately, almost everyone came prepared for the fickle, California weather. You never know what you’ll get at Tejon Ranch.
By the time I’d finished getting folks checked in, checking their ammo (no lead allowed on Tejon Ranch), and directing those who asked for suggestions on where to hunt, it was finally my turn. I ran through the paperwork with Barbara, the Tejon representative who manages these hunts, then jumped in the truck and headed to the campground. When I arrived, almost everyone in the group had already set camp and headed for the hills! It was barely noon, but with the rain and overcast conditions, we all figured the hogs would be out and about.
And we were right!
Scott and I hit my honey hole around 2:00. As we worked our way out to the end of the ridge, we spotted two hogs trotting across the opposite hillside, right towards us. I had Scott set up next to a downed tree to wait for them, while I moved out to the point in case they tried to go around. The wind was howling, but at least the worst of the rain had dissipated.
The two hogs disappeared into the chapparal, but as I topped the last rise I spotted dark shapes moving in an oak flat below me. I got on the radio to Scott. “I’ve got hogs! I’m gonna try to get a shot.”
I dropped down the hill a ways until I could get a clear shot at the feeding animals. The hill was steep and covered in soft dirt, so it was more like skiing downhill than stalking. I finally reached a little ledge, and sat down to range the pigs. One boar, maybe 150lbs, was chomping the heads off the wild oats. I ranged him at 217 yards. I made the rash decision that this was a makeable shot, and set up the monopod and leveled the Browning. The crosshairs landed on the top of his shoulder, and I put my finger on the trigger. Just as the squeeze neared the critical point, the monopod slipped off a ledge of dirt and the shot went into the ground about six feet below the hog!
The entire herd, at least eight or ten hogs, took off across the bottom of the hill. I did my best to sidehill in hopes of getting another shot as they dropped into the ravine, but it never happened. As I sweated and panted my way back up the hill, Scott radioed to tell me he’d spotted hogs on his side of the hill. I told him to take the shot if he had it, and continued my climb. Just as I neared the summit, I heard the boom of my 30-06 (I’d loaned him my rifle so he wouldn’t have to deal with flying his across country). Turns out he’d shot twice, at two different hogs, but missed both times.
This was not the way I wanted to start our hunt.
Scott crossed over my “hell hole” to go look for blood sign, in case he’d hit his pig. I spotted for him while he tried to find any sign. A group of small hogs, including one really cool-looking blonde pig, entered the hillside and fed above him, at one point coming within 50 yards or so, but they were really too small to consider shooting… at least on a paid hunt.
When it was clear that there was no sign of a hit, we decided he should hunt on that side instead of trying to cross back over the hell hole. I went back across the ridge to glass a deep gully. A little later, the radio buzzed again. “I’ve got bacon,” my brother told me, excitedly.
He’d been about to call home and check in with his wife (he does this a lot when we’re hunting), and when he turned on the phone, the chimes apparently spooked a group of hogs from their beds less than 50 yards away. He made his shot on the largest of them, a 140lb sow at 100 yards on a dead run. I guess he considers himself redeemed for his earlier misses… personally, I think it was just luck.
After verifying that it was small enough for him to handle on his own, and giving him directions to get out of the hell hole and back to Petunia, I dropped over the ridge on the other side to try and get closer to some hogs I’d spotted. That effort failed, as the thick brush completely obscured them any time I got less than 300 yards away. I opted not to try a 300 yard shot, and finally gave up and went back up top to glass for something closer.
As I rounded a bend, I caught movement to my right. A lone hog was feeding its way up the hillside 175 yards away! I slid down behind a tree and found a solid rest for my rifle. My confidence wasn’t very high after the earlier miss, but with the tree for a rest, I felt as comfortable as I could. I centered the crosshairs behind the shoulder, took a breath, and squeezed. The shot felt great, and I was sure it was a dead hit, but somehow the pig took off at a dead run… uphill! I followed the run in the scope, pulled ahead of the hog and fired another round. The hog turned at the shot, and headed back downhill. After a few steps the sprint became a tumble, and the pig fell and rolled down the steep incline, crashing through brush and small trees like a boulder in an avalanche! The .325wsm had done it again!
I located the hog, about halfway down a steep draw. It turns out that the first shot had gone right through both lungs, pretty as you please. How that pig managed to run so far and so fast with that hit remains a mystery to me. The second shot, unfortunately, hit far back in the left ham, shattering the femur and destroying a couple of pounds of prime meat. Since that second shot turned out to be unnecessary, I was a little disgusted with that but at least I had my pig down… a nice, healthy boar with tusks about 2 inches long. Not too bad.
That’s when the work began. At first, I thought I’d lucked out. From where the boar fell, the draw was relatively clear and dropped steeply down to a feeder creek. The feeder ran into a main creek where I knew there was an old road that ran out to the pavement. I figured an easy recovery which started by simply rolling my pig down the hill to the bottom.
But it never works out that way, does it?
About three quarters of the way to the bottom, the trail turned ugly. And instead of coming out just above the old road, the feeder creek turned away and then wound around and about for quite some distance. After dragging the dead weight for an hour and a half, I decided to go ahead and bone him out and pack the meat instead of dragging. This made things much easier, but I opted to leave the head for later. I could come back and get the “trophy” if I had the energy later in the weekend… but for now my main concern was the meat and my physical health.
Finally, I spotted the headlights of my friend John’s pickup. They’d come up the trail to look for me, since Scott had driven back to camp in Petunia without me. I put the meat-laden backpack in the truck and gratefully collapsed onto the seat.
Ten hogs were taken that evening, including another hog for my chiropractor, Steve (that’s three for three now at Tejon, since his first big game hunt with me there last spring!). The weather broke some on Saturday, and 9 more hogs were taken. The fog and rain rolled back in on Sunday, limiting visibility and driving several of the folks out of camp. The handful of die-hards took three more hogs in the foul weather for a camp total of 22 hogs killed. All 29 hunters took at least one shot over the weekend, with various factors accounting for several misses… wind, rain, distance, and poor judgement.
Video will be forthcoming as soon as I have time to finish cleaning gear and getting the video edited.