Whopper Chopper!

“Did you hit him?”

“I’m not sure. I think so!”

“He’s running!  Hit him again!”

“Dammit!”

“Did he go down?”

“I didn’t see.”

“Well, let’s go look for him.”

It all started with an email asking for a link exchange. 

I received an email from John, over at the Hunting with Jim video blog (vlog), asking if I’d be interested in providing a link to their site.  As I always do befor adding any site to my blog roll, I clicked over to see what these guys are all about.  The site was funny and irreverent, and also included some very nicely done video work. 

I emailed back with my compliments on the site and a promise to connect.  I don’t remember the details of the next several email exchanges (and you probably don’t care anyway), but I think they asked some questions about hog hunting and I offered to take them on their first hog hunt.

In the meantime, through conversations with Holly, the NorCal Cazadora, I found out that she and her boyfriend, Hank, were members of the Golden Ram Sportsmen’s Club… the same club I belong to.  We talked for a while about meeting up for a hunt if we could coordinate schedules, but it was starting to look like we’d never get it all together. 

In the meantime, we all (Holly, Jim and John, and myself) continued to keep in touch on our blogs, and the topic never died.  Then John dropped me a line to tell me that he and Jim would be available the first full weekend in June.  It worked for me, and Holly found out that she could be there as well. 

I called Golden Ram and made reservations at the Cholame property.  The barley was ripe and the hogs were turning up to mow it down.  We had a place to hunt, a date, and a reasonable chance to see hogs.  We were set!

Then things got better.  My friend (and regular participant here on the Hog Blog), Michael Riddle called to ask if I’d be interested in coming out to his place, Native Hunt, to help him out.  At the ranch, he has a herd of pure European wild boar for hunts, but he has seen a couple with undesirable traits and wanted to cull them.  One of them in particular was a really nice boar, and he wanted to use it for a full-body mount.  If I were interested, I could come do the shooting. 

I told him I was already going out with Holly and the guys from Hunting With Jim, so I didn’t know if that would work for him or not.  Since they were both (Jim and Holly) new to hog hunting, it could provide an interesting experience for them… but I sure didn’t want to presume on his hospitality.  “The more the merrier,” Michael said.  “Bring your friends.  I’m sure we’ll find something for them to shoot!”

And with that, it was on… 

 A nice euro on the trot...The plan was for Holly and me to drive down Friday, hunt Friday evening, and then meet John and Jim (we’ll call them JJ from now on) when they could drive up after work on Friday night.  We’d all hunt the Cholame ranch on Saturday, then drive up to Michael’s place after the Saturday hunt to finish up the weekend with a morning hunt Sunday. 

The Friday evening hunt was relatively uneventful, although I did find a spot that looked really promising for Saturday morning.  Fresh trails crossed older trails along the sides of a deep canyon that bordered the barley fields.  A high ridge road offered a perfect place to set up and glass at first light, and we should be able to spot hogs both in the barley and in the canyon. 

JJ (John and Jim) were delayed getting out of the city, and didn’t arrive in camp until pretty late on Friday night, and hunt time came pretty quickly on Saturday morning.  The blue light was threatening full sunrise as we drove out across the hills and barley fields to reach our vantage point.  I pushed Petunia until she rattled and bounced over the dirt roads, leading JJ in their own vehicle into the field, and covering them in a lingering cloud of dust and blue smoke.

For the first hour of daylight, things were slow.  Fortunately, it was a beautiful morning, and JJ was able to get some great video footage (John is the videographer, Jim is the “talent”).  Suddenly I spotted a black dot moving across a distant hillside.  A quick check through the Leicas verified what I thought.  A very large boar was mowing his way across the barley patch, zigzagging back and forth on the hillside.  I alerted JJ, and the chase was on!

We moved out along the ridgeline, hoping to be able to reach the boar without hitting the property fence.  I wasn’t sure where the property ended, so I was thrilled when the fenceline turned away from the ridge and the path opened up.  Unfortunately, as we advanced, the hog decided it was time to get to his bed.  If you’ve never seen a hog head for the bedding area across open country, you’d be shocked at how fast they can move out.  Those little legs cover some ground, and he outpaced us in no time.  By the time we reached the end of the field, he was already well across the neighboring ranch and headed for the chaparral and the safety of his bed.

The four of us turned and began the long trudge back to our initial glassing point.  It’s pretty amazing how much ground you can cover when you’re moving downhill in pursuit of an animal… and that distance seems twice as long when you’ve got to walk back empty-handed. 

We strolled along in the mid-morning sun, chatting about aspects of hunting, past experiences, and the various other things a group of newly-met, hunting friends chat about.  Suddenly, Holly stopped and pointed.  “Theres a pig!” she stage-whispered.

Sure enough, another big boar was standing right out in the open on the opposite side of the canyon.  I ranged him at almost 400 yards and decided we should try to get closer if he’d give us time.  Like a gift from the hunting gods (or just real good luck), the boar nosed around for a moment then lay right down in the thick weeds, disappearing from our sight.

The wind was favorable, and he had no idea we were there, so we dropped down to the low side if the ridge and moved uphill to take position across from him.  We then eased back over and took up positions directly across the canyon.  We couldn’t see the boar in his bed, but I ranged the weed patch at 155 yards… not a bad range for either Holly or Jim with their .270s.  I had the .325wsm as well, of course, but I’d decided to let them shoot first, since it would be someone’s first pig. 

We settled in, got the camera rolling and the rifles in position.  And then we waited.

And waited.

And kept waiting.

We began to wonder if the boar had somehow given us the slip, but a scan of the surrounding hillside showed us that there was simply no way he could have gone anywhere without us seeing him.  Besides the weed patch in which he was sleeping, everything else was covered in sparse weeds and dirt for acres around the spot.  So we knew he was still there.  So we waited some more.

Suddenly, a black, bristly back stood from the weed patch!  He was up!  Rifles came to shoulder, and I put the binos on him.  He stood broadside, nicely exposed, and I tensed up in anticipation of the gunshot I knew was imminent.  I stayed focused with the intent to see where the bullets hit so I could direct the fire if there were a misplaced shot or a complete miss.   His head was down as he rooted at something on the ground.  Any second now…

But the shot didn’t come.  The boar turned and faced the other direction, and I looked to see that both shooters were trying to stay with him… but nobody was shooting.  Jim, with great chivalry, told Holly she could have the shot, but she was having trouble finding him in her Leupold scope. 

I thought the hog was about to strolll away unharmed, but then I saw his shoulder drop and he folded his legs and lay back down, disappearing from our sight.   We all looked at one another.  What the heck? 

I checked Holly’s rifle, and sure enough, her 2x-7x scope was cranked all the way to full power.  It’s a common mistake, even among experienced hunters, but I kicked myself for not thinking to ask her about it sooner.  No wonder she couldn’t see the boar. 

We relaxed a bit, and waited for the hog to stand again.  In the meantime, since we had the barrier of distance and a favorable wind, we were able to talk and get to know one another.  It was actually sort of pleasant for about a half-hour or 45 minutes, when suddenly the hog stood again.

He stayed up a little longer this time, but he was rooting around in the weed patch.  He offered almost no good angle for a shot as Holly and Jim both struggled to get the crosshairs on his kill zone.  It didn’t help that I’d asked them to look carefully before shooting, to make sure this was a boar and not a wet sow tending her brood.  I was fairly confident that he was a boar, due to the huge head and shoulders in relation to the rest of his body, but it’s good to be sure when you can.  Without being able to see the belly (for gender traits) or his tusks, there was a shadow of doubt that bothered me.

I was hoping he would go ahead and walk out of the weed patch into the open, but he simply worked himself around in a small circle.  Finally, the boar seemed satisfied with whatever he was doing and lay back down again. 

We were laughing now.  It was like the danged thing was taunting us.  I half-joked that next time he stood up, I was gonna shoot him if no one else did so someone better whack him.  Then we passed more time sitting on the hillside before, once again, he clambered to his feet.  This time he was only up for a couple of moments, but for a brief time he did offer a really nice target.  It wasn’t there long enough, though, and the boar bedded down once again without anyone getting a shot at him. 

Now 155 yards really isn’t very far.  This boar had shown himself three times, and no one had been able to put a bullet in him.  We’d been sitting on the hillside for the better part of two hours.  Desperation and impatience began to take their toll, and I considered alternative tactics. 

The canyon was deep and steep, but I could see a route to the bottom.  If someone dropped down, then made the steep climb up a draw, they’d come out about 50 yards from where that hog was bedded.  That would offer an extremely simple shot, and whoever stayed behind on the hill would be able to shoot “back-up” if the hog got wind and spooked out before the stalker could shoot. 

Of course, as soon as I suggested it to the group, I realized that if the hog got spooked and boiled out fast, it was likely that nobody would get a shot and he’d just be gone.  After all the time we’d just spent sitting in the heat and sun, that would be a really disappointing end to the adventure.  Since he was obviously not in a hurry to go anywhere, and we still had the whole day ahead of us, we decided just to wait it out.

Still, we were all getting a little tired of waiting.  Jim and Holly discussed it, and decided that if the hog stood again, Jim would take the shot at his first opportunity instead of waiting for her to shoot.  He had a little more experience with a big game rifle, and was able to get on target a little faster. 

We didn’t have to wait quite as long for the last time, when the hog stood and stretched.  It turned broadside, and was watching through the binos when Jim touched off his first shot.  I didn’t see a hit, and the boar turned and started bolting up the hill.  About five or six steps up though, I could see he had a “hitch in his git-along”, and I told Jim to shoot again! 

And this is where you came in…

All of us crossed the canyon, sweating and huffing in the steep terrain until we reached the weed patch.  There was no blood in the well-used bed, and we began to slowly follow the trail of his exit.  There were several fresh trails coming and going to the bedding area, and after a moment we split up to follow different routes.  Still, there was no blood or sign of a good hit. 

I’d followed well-hit hogs before, so I knew their thick fat and bodies could absorb the blood and clog the wound around the shot.  I also knew the hog was running hurt after the first shot, although I’m not so sure about that second one.  We just needed to find some sign.  I crossed the ridge, then turned to backtrack and start over on the trail.

As I neared the bed, I heard Holly yell to Jim.  She’d spotted a long chute of matted grass down the hillside where she was sure the hog had fallen and slid down into a deep ravine.  Sure enough, Jim dropped down into the hole and with a triumphant shout, let us know he’d found the hog! 

We did a quick post-mortem, and found that the 130gr Remington Core-Lokt bullet had gone in a little far back, but with the angle the boar was standing, it proceeded up through the body cavity, through the liver, and into a lung.  All said, it was a devastating hit! 

Now typically, in my hunting tales, this is where the really hard work starts.  The hog was BIG, I estimated him at over 200 lbs, with a good two-inch cutter on one side (the other was broken off).  I didn’t look forward to trying to fight him across this canyon.  Fortunately, the first part of the haul was downhill, and the gully we were in was relatively even on the bottom. 

Jim and I dragged the boar down into the bottom of the ravine, then stopped to evaluate.  There was a little plateau about 15 or 20 yards above us, and I was pretty sure I could drop a rope over the ridge and down to the hog on that plateau.  Then I could just tie the rope to Petunia and drag him up. 

Despite my past history, my plan worked out!  It turned into one of the easier recoveries I’ve ever done, although I have to say the great company and high spirits made it seem a lot easier. 

Jim field-dressed his hog while John filmed and we all joked and chatted.  In almost no time, the field dressing was done, and we hauled the boar back to the skinning shed to be skinned and cut up. 

After lunch and a little rest, we headed back out to see if we could get another hog or two before dark.  Unfortunately, we didn’t really see anything of interest the rest of the day, and as the sun set we headed back to load up the vehicles and head over to Michael’s ranch for Part 2 of the hunt.

Holly and Jim should have photos of Jim’s boar on their sites.  Since I didn’t take any photos myself, I don’t have one here.  You can also read or view their accounts as soon as they have them edited and published. 

Stay tuned for Part 2!  Our adventures definitely continued with Michael over at Native Hunt!