Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pig Hunt

I was never an avid hunter, but I did enjoy it, and I always found it difficult to walk away from an opportunity.  Fishing was my first love, but the outdoors has always had a loud voice in my ears, and given a choice of hunting or nothing, I would definitely go hunting. 

My first real hunt was when I was sixteen years old.  I had a deer tag, but since I had no adult to go with me, I was limited to the use of a bow and arrow.  Texas laws at that time prevented me from owning a firearm of any kind until I reached twenty-one, although I could use one if someone over twenty-one was supervising.  I didn’t have that luxury, and I didn’t mind.  I was very good on a target up to sixty yards with the bow, but I had never been tested with a hunting situation other than a few rabbits.

My bow was three-piece takedown recurve with a seventy-pound pull.  I had six cedar-shafted arrows with a four-blade hunting tip on each one, and I loaded these into my hip quiver.  I had secured permission to hunt on some property about an hour outside of Fort Worth, and I drove my old car (yes, I was sixteen, but things were a bit different in the mid-sixties) to the gate and let my self in.  The dirt road disappeared into the trees, but I just parked out of site of the main road, grabbed my bow, strapped on my quiver, and started into the woods.

I followed the road for about two hundred yards, and then I moved into the trees.  It was a bit difficult to walk quietly on the fallen leaves of the oak trees, but I was taking my time and moving as slowly as I could while searching for a deer.  This process took me about sixty yards in an hour and a half, but I saw a deer between the trees about forty-five to fifty yards ahead.  It was a fat forked horn whitetail, and it had no idea I was around.

I slowly brought up my bow, drew back, held my breath, and released.  The twang of the bowstring seemed as loud as any rifle shot I had ever heard, but the deer simply looked up for a moment, and then went back to browsing.  I had missed.  I rarely missed a target center at that distance, but I missed the deer.  So I did it again, and again, and again.  The deer by now was fidgeting and soon began to wander off.

I stood still for about five more minutes and another deer walked up to almost the same place.  I brought my bow up again, drew back, and released.  Nothing.  So I did it one last time.  That was the sixth release.  I was baffled that I could not bring down a deer.  I walked back to the car.

I broke down my bow and put it into its case.  Then I took off my quiver, and to my surprise, all six arrows were still there.  It took me a while before I realized that I had simply been strumming that bow like a harp.  I never put an arrow to the string before making my draw.

I was too confused to go back into the woods that day, although I did return the following week and brought home a nice fat whitetail.  It took me several years before I talked about this event with anyone, but I did discover I wasn’t the first to do something like this.  It even has a name—buck fever.

A few years later I somehow managed to turn twenty-one, and I bought my first rifle and followed up quickly with a hunting pistol.  But I found that I still preferred the bow in most circumstances, and that was my weapon of choice when I was invited on a pig hunt.

The west Texas javalina is a mean pig.  They tend to not take kindly to strangers shooting at them and are known to take umbrage with even the smallest disturbance to their lifestyle.  And they smell bad.  I don’t mean they have a poor sense of smell, I mean they stink.

An old high school friend of mine called me one day and asked if I would be interested in going out to his family property in west Texas to hunt pig.  He and his dad were going, and if I could get a few days off work, they would be glad to have me join them.  I had some vacation time coming, and no plans, so the trip was arranged, and in a couple of weeks we were looking for pig.

I brought the rifle, pistol, and bow with me for the hunt, but I chose to use the bow.  As an afterthought I strapped on the pistol, and by sunup the first day, we were several miles back on the property.  The three of us were walking and watching for any movement that would betray the pig’s presence, but by mid-morning, we had not seen anything.

We walked up to a small hill, and I took the left side while my friend and his dad turned to the right.  It wasn’t a big hill, maybe fifty or sixty feet high, but it was about half a mile long and maybe a quarter mile wide.  I walked about five hundred yards and stopped near a small tree of sorts to take a break when I spotted a pig.  It was feeding on a prickly pear no more than thirty yards from me, and he hadn’t seen me.

I loaded an arrow (something I had learned to do several years earlier), brought up my bow, drew back, and released.  The twang of the bowstring startled the pig and it moved just before the arrow arrived.  Instead of a heart/lung shot, I clipped its ear.  And it didn’t like it.

That javalina turned to look at me, opened its mouth and squealed the most obnoxious noise I had ever heard.  And it was answered by many similar voices.  I looked at the low rise in the near distance and saw many dark quickly moving objects.  I was in trouble.  I grabbed another arrow and brought down the pig that started the problem, and then I looked at the only place I could take refuge—that low tree of sorts beside me.

The juniper tree was no more than ten feet high and had no real trunk, but I climbed in and up as high as I could.  My feet were about five feet from the ground, but there was no way to climb higher.  Then they arrived, and they were mad.  I unloaded my .357 carefully and deliberately making each shot count.  I reloaded with my last six rounds and brought down another six pigs.  Now I was stuck.  The pigs were madder than ever, and they were starting to chew the lower limbs of the tree.  I’m not certain how long I was in that tree before I saw the first pig fall over just before hearing the sound of the rifle, but I was already seeing my life flash in front of my eyes.

My friends unloaded their rifles into the pigs, reloaded and unloaded again before the pigs ran away.  They had heard my pistol and knew I wouldn’t be firing it unless I was in trouble, so they came running.  I climbed down from the tree and waded through the twenty-six dead pigs.  One look at the base of the tree told me that I had only a few minutes left before the pigs would have eaten through it.  Never again would I hunt with a bow, and never again would I short myself on ammunition.

Four years later they invited me to go back to hunt for more pig, but I had no desire to put myself back in that position, so I declined.  Later that summer, I learned that the pigs killed my friend’s dad on that trip.  I never learned the details, but it didn’t matter.  My friend was devastated by the loss; however, he understood the risk that was taken, and the last time I saw him, he was going hunting.

Javalinas are not something I hunt anymore; in fact, the only thing I hunt now is fish.  But pigs, deer, bear, or fish, it’s still a sport of man verses nature, and sometimes nature wins.

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