In Part 1 of this tale, our intrepid blogger/hunters made bacon down in Cholame, when Jim, of Hunting with Jim, made a nice 155 yard shot on a real good boar. Holly, the NorCal Cazadora, and I were still empty-handed. Our tale ended as we were wrapping up the day, and heading north, to hunt a private ranch near King City. We now bring you Part 2, the Conclusion.
“Wow, this place reminds me of Jurassic Park!”
“Welcome to Native Hunt, Holly.”
As we waited for my friend, Michael Riddle, CEO of Native Hunt, to roll back the big gate, I could see where the comparison seemed apt. Michael was an easy second to John Hammond, complete with khaki bush hat on his head, as he stepped aside to welcome us onto the property, and pulling in past the warning signs and security cameras, I could almost imagine the squeals, roars, and bellows of genetically recreated dinosaurs. (As a somewhat interesting sidebar that provides an additional degree of connection, Michael does have American Bison on the ranch. The “huff-snort” of a bison was used as the sound effect of the T-Rex inspecting the overturned tour car in the first movie.)
It was nearly midnight, following the drive down from Cholame, and we were all a little punchy. Still, I let Holly’s little revelation drive my imagination as we followed Michael up the mountain to the Native Hunt lodge. Michael’s operation is headquartered way out in the boondocks, and the isolation made the night that much darker. The road dove into a tight canyon, overhung by arching oaks that blacked out the starry sky, and the only light came from the headlights of our trucks. Suddenly, dark shapes darted out onto the road, bringing our little convoy to a lurching halt. A small herd of fallow deer, the bucks still in velvet, bounded across the road and disappeared into the brush on the other side.
I’m not sure what Holly and JJ (JIm and John from Hunting with Jim) expected the lodge to be, but I’m guessing they were a bit surprised at the luxurious, outdoor bar and kitchen where Michael formally welcomed us with cold beer on tap, and a fresh bottle of 18-year old scotch. The bunkhouse itself is also pretty comfy, with several bunk beds, a full kitchen, and best of all (at least to me), a full bathroom and shower. We would not be roughing it for this stage of the hunt.
Since we’d all been up since 0400 that morning, and the hour was now passing 0100 of a new day, Holly and John headed off to sleep, as did Michael’s young guide staff. Michael, Jim, and I stayed out under the stars a bit longer, Michael and myself catching up on things, and Jim getting to know both of us a lot better. Good scotch has a way of making the time fly by, and bringing new friends together.
Amidst the chatter and jokes, we decided on a plan for the morning hunt. I’d go with Michael to see if we could find that big, European boar he wanted me to kill. Jim already had a hog, and just wanted to tag along with us and John to video the proceedings. Holly would go out with two of the new guides to a different part of the property outside of the main fence, where feral hogs were slipping through and getting into the barley fields.
Since we’d be heading out before daylight, we decided to set a wake-up for 0430 and at 0340 we stumbled quietly into our bunks.
As you might expect, the wake-up call came a lot earlier than I was ready for. Michael was actually kind enough to allow us to “sleep-in” a touch, so instead of 0430, we didn’t roll out until 0500!
Blue light tinged the air, and there was no time for coffee or breakfast. I chugged a Red Bull, and headed out to get my stuff from the truck. As Holly and her two guides scrambled into their gear and took off, I grabbed my pack, rifle, and binos and walked toward one of the ATVs. “Which one are we taking,” I asked my host.
“I think we better walk,” he replied, much to my chagrin (Please pardon the cliche, but I haven’t used that phrase in ages).
I don’t typically mind getting out and burning boot leather in the morning, but after the previous day and night, I didn’t relish the thought of humping it straight up that mountain to reach the hunting area. I’d driven it a few times already, and knew what it entailed. Even worse, I think I may have witnessed a bit of demonic possession, because Michael fairly flew up the hill ahead of me, and I know that danged old fart shouldn’t have been able to outpace me like that.
John (of the JJ fame) was following with his video gear, as was one of the new guides. About 100 yards up the first stretch, the guide pulled up lame. We left him below, and continued the death run to the top. I was sucking wind, but was refreshed to see that young whippersnapper, John was struggling a little bit too. Heck, he even got a couple of hours of actual sleep this morning!
We finally made the top of the hill, and as I struggled to keep my panting to myself (no point letting anyone else see my weakness), Michael/Satan wandered over to the edge of the ridge to glass. I’m glad the hog we were after wasn’t there waiting, because there’s no way I’d have been able to hold my rifle steady at that point.
Several hogs were spotted, but not the one Michael was looking for. As we stood and glassed, I was able to point out some of the various exotics on the ranch to John. I’d told him what to expect, and it was great to see Corsican sheep, tons of hogs, bison, and one white-phase fallow buck (They can be spotted like axis deer, or pure white. The coloration is natural, not albinism.).
Once we’d all recovered from the death climb, I think Michael was able to exorcise the demon and we proceeded at a more normal pace. At each high point and draw we stopped to glass, scanning constantly for the big, gray boar with the blonde stripe down his back.
Now as I’d mentioned, this is a high-fence ranch. When the work is complete, there will be 1400 acres enclosed, which is a little over two square miles. That’s a lot of ground. But even though the current fence only encloses a fraction of that now, finding a single, mature boar in the thick, steep, central coast terrain was proving to be a challenge. But it finally happened.
“There he is!” Michael stage whispered, pumping his fist and signalling me to move closer.
He pointed out the gray pig, which I quickly ranged at 122 yards. Beside it were two much larger pigs. I thought he’d told me this was a really, big boar? It didn’t look so big beside these other guys. Nevertheless, after confirming that I was taking the right one (it was the only gray one down there), I settled the crosshairs and let fly. Boom! Whap! Done.
Moment of honesty here. John had captured the whole thing on video, and turned to ask me where I’d shot the pig. When I was taking aim, I had intended to go forward of the shoulder, breaking the neck, and this is what I told him. I explained some basic shot placement, and how the shot I took was very effective with an instant knock-down like we just saw. However, when we got to my pig the shot was textbook placement, down through the crease behind the shoulder and out low on the other side. I broke spine and took lungs too. This is where I’ve been hitting all my hogs lately, so I think I’m subconsciously readjusting my aim before I shoot. Nevertheless, the pig was very dead with no tracking and no finishing shot required.
We called back for an ATV, and when it arrived we rode down to collect my boar. The closer we got, the bigger that danged animal got! He didn’t look very large in comparison to those other two hogs, which means that they must have been absolute monsters, because this boy was a good boar. Not an absolute giant on the scale of Hogzilla, but an easy 250lbs on the hoof, with real good teeth (I estimated the cutters at 2 1/2 inches). His coloration was also very cool. Michael will do a full-body mount with him, for use at his booth when he travels the hunting show circuit. I think it’s gonna look awesome!
Back at the ranch, we hung the pig up, and Michael jumped in to do the skinning and dressing. I typically wouldn’t let someone else do that work for me, but I had two excuses. The first was a good one… I’ve never skinned a hog for a full-body mount before, and that requires know-how and finesse. The second excuse was… well, I was one whipped puppy. It was a long weekend, with very little sleep, and honestly, if someone else was willing to dig into the guts and gore on my hog, then I’d let him. I did butcher the hog later, before we rolled out for home, so I felt slightly absolved.
Meanwhile, Holly and her guides came rolling back to camp. She’d managed to down a meat hog out in the canyon, and despite the onset of a migraine, she was pretty happy. The shot wasn’t ideal, but as I tried to explain to her, that happens to everyone sometimes. The fact is, the pig is dead and there’ll be meat on the table. You can read her excellent account of that hunt over on her site. It’s online now.
All in all, it was one heck of a great weekend! It was awesome to hunt with the Hunting With Jim guys, and to get out into the field with Holly. Sure, sleep was at a premium and we were all kinda stumbling zombies at the end of the fun, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat! They’re all great sports and tons of fun. I’m looking forward to the finished video from JJ, and have enjoyed reading Holly’s take on the event on her site.
Many thanks to Michael for his gracious hospitality. Native Hunt is a great operation with some beautiful properties, both inside and outside the fence. His accomodations are top-notch, too, so any hunt with him is as much vacation as it is a hunting trip. If you go, plan to be spoiled.