The sixth annual JHO Pig-o-rama at the Tejon Ranch is now in the history books. Twenty-nine hunters came together on Friday, May 22nd, for a couple of great days on one of the most beautiful ranches in the state, and did their best to help manage the burgeoning wild pig population.
When all was said and done, and our last group of hunters came back to camp on the last day, our group had taken 12 hogs, ranging from approximately 225lbs to 5olbs. It was not our best showing, but by all accounts, even the hunters who came home empty-handed had a great time.
One of the things I always enjoy about this hunt is the opportunity to spend time with new hunters, or at least new hog hunters. I think I get as much fun out of helping them and watching their excitement as I do out of hunting and killing my own hog. As often as possible, I try to help out with information and guidance where I can, and usually try to take one or two of the new hunters to some of my “honey holes”. It’s hard to describe the look in the eyes of the new hunter when he or she has just shot that first wild hog. For me to play a part in that experience is a very satisfying (and somewhat addictive) feeling.
With this in mind, on Friday night I took to the field with a new friend, Jack. Jack had been asking around about a guided hog hunt, and my friend (and semi-annual elk guide) Rick, recommended that Jack give me a call. I told him I don’t really have any properties of my own to guide, but if he was interested, I’d be glad to recommend another operation, like Native Hunt or Bryson-Hesperia resort.
As we talked a bit more on the phone, though, I learned that what he really wanted was the opportunity to go out with an experienced hunter and learn more about hog hunting. I told him about our annual JHO hunt at Tejon, and he locked right onto it. I offered to help him get started if he joined the fun, and he signed up right away.
We hit the infamous “Speckmisser Ridge” (named for the handle I use on the JHO hunting forums) about three hours before sunset. This spot has never failed to produce hogs, and I had a lot of confidence that Jack would get a shot before the evening was out. The only catch was that the recovery would be a real bear, but that’s the other part of hunting this place with a buddy. If he put one down in the “hell hole”, I’d be there to help him haul it out.
Oh, and one other note about the Friday hunt… we were accompanied by the sports reporter from a local newspaper, the Antelope Valley Press. Alan Hendry had read about our hunt, and was particularly interested in the fact that we promote the JHO hunt as an opportunity for new hunters to learn from the experienced guys.
So it was that the three of us were sitting on the side of Speckmisser Ridge, chatting quietly about hog hunting strategies, techniques, and anecdotes. Suddenly, Alan pointed across the canyon. A sole, black hog was moving out of the thicket of oaks and feeding on the wild oats that covered the hillside. A quick check of the rangefinder showed that he was a little over 300 yards away… too far for a safe shot.
We scampered and slid down the hill to close the range, but by the time we got there and set up, the boar had disappeared back into the thick stuff. I told Jack not to worry, because this was just the first of many hogs that we’d see here. Sure enough, a few minutes later we watched as a wet sow (a sow with unweaned babies) and a couple of other small pigs trotted across the open hillside.
Shortly afterward, a couple of pigs showed up just below us on the opposite hillside. I ranged them at 220 yards. Jack has some experience as an elk hunter, and felt confident that he could make a shot at that distance. We discussed the likelihood of a difficult recovery. Convinced that he was up to the task, Jack lined up the shot. I told him that it was his call, if he was comfortable he could take the shot. He took a deep breath, leveled his rifle, and pulled the trigger.
At the shot, the hogs trotted away. I didn’t see where the bullet impacted, but it obviously did not hit the big sow he was aiming at. She trotted away with the others as they scrambled under a thick clump of oak brush. It was obvious that they really didn’t know what had just happened, but now they were out of range for a follow-up shot.
“Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “Those pigs don’t even know we’re up here. There’ll be more.”
As the sun started to go down, I told Jack to hold tight and keep watching while I went over the other side of the ridge to glass some other areas. I told Alan he could climb up with me, or if he didn’t want to climb he could hang out with Jack. I’d radio if I spotted a good opportunity.
No sooner had I crested the hill than I caught movement in the brush about 300 yards away. I ran uphill to close the distance, then started glassing the oaks and chemise. Suddenly a pig popped out, followed by another, and then another until there were five hogs, all about the same size. I guess-timated them at about 100 lbs or so, and figured that would be perfect. They were moving uphill, and I hoped to catch them on top of the ridge… a situation that would have presented the perfect recovery opportunity.
Unfortunately, the pigs turned about two-thirds of the way up and started to sidehill toward me. At 165 yards, the biggest sow turned broadside and stretched out her neck to feed. The .325wsm barked once, and she flopped down, stone dead. I was thrilled that she fell in a little hollow, only about fifty yards down from the ridgetop. It would be a little tough to get back to the ridgetop, but the rest of the haul back to the truck would be relatively easy. Those who’ve hunted with me know how rare this is.
The other pigs milled around for a moment or two, trying to figure out what just happened, then turned and filed back down the hill on the same trail they had come up from. I turned back to my sow just in time to see her suddenly start rolling down the hillside. I suppose she had some post-mortem nerve spasms or something, but all I know is that my easy recovery was getting tougher with every bounce and roll. She disappeared into the thicket near the bottom of the ravine, and I listened in dismay as she continued to crash through the brush and limbs.
I radioed Jack to let him know I had a pig down, and that I’d be going down to take care of it. Then I started the steep descent. It turns out, the sow was almost twice as big as I’d estimated. That’s a trick with pigs, estimating their size, especially when the whole group is fairly homogenous.
Dragging this thing out intact was not an option, so I pulled out the knives and the game bag and went to work boning her out. There’s no sense packing out bones, hide, or head anyway. With the meat packed in the bag and lashed to the pack frame, I started the hike out through the bottom of the canyon. I’d have one of the other hunters meet me at the bottom and take me back to Petunia (my Samurai).
Fortunately, my friend Wayne had shot a pig across the canyon, and ended up packing his animal out onto the ridge below where I’d parked. Since I left the keys in Petunia (a good course of action here), he was able to drive her around and come to pick me up. After about three hours of packing and hiking, those little headlights were a very welcome sight!
Back at camp, the boned meat from my hog weighed in at about 35 lbs. That’s a lot of steaks, roasts, and ground meat!
I slept in a bit on Saturday morning, but on Saturday evening I was back up on Speckmisser Ridge with a couple of friends from JHO, Dan and Chuck. Both guys had been hog hunting before, but Dan had never taken a pig and I wanted to change that up for him. They laughed at my confidence when I guaranteed a hog sighting, and the likelihood of a shot. Honestly, as the sun started dropping toward the western ridge tops, I started to wonder if I’d be skunked for the first time in this spot.
Once the sun was low enough, I took Dan out to the point of the ridge, and left Chuck to watch the eastern side. Soon we started to see hogs popping out into the open, although most of them were inaccessible to us and well out of rifle range. Another friend, Eric, was set up across from us. Before long, I spotted a big hog feeding below him, but the ridge was too steep and he couldn’t see the boar. Shortly afterward, we saw several other hogs on that ridge, but Eric never got a glimpse. I told Dan we could get in range for a shot, but it would be a really rugged hump. After some thought, he wisely declined.
The radio crackled shortly afterward. Chuck had spotted a big boar and was trying to get into range. I ran back to a high point and glassed the far ridge to spot the hog. It was moving at a pretty good clip, and headed right for a road! I called Dan and started moving back up the ridge in hopes of heading the boar off at the road. It would be awesome to get an easy retrieve for a change.
We moved up and I lost sight of the hog. I also lost contact with Chuck. I stopped on a knob and tried to find him when the boom of his 30-06 echoed from the hollow almost directly below. A few minutes later, he called on the radio to confirm his kill. I’d hoped the hog had gone down close to the road, but as usual for me, Chuck dropped it one ravine away. They’d have to quarter it and pack it out in pieces.
Fortunately, we weren’t that far from the road, so once the cutting was done, the hike out wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Even so, it was after 0100 when we pulled back into camp.
I didn’t leave camp on Sunday morning, so I was there to cheer the last hardcore guys who brought in hogs at the “wire”. We policed the camp area, got everyone packed up, and left the ranch for our respective homes. Despite our success ratio (less than 50% for the first time in years), I think everyone left tired, but happy.
More stories and photos from this hunt can be found at the JHO Hog Hunting Forum.