Hunter’s Journal: Nighttime Hunt For Monster Boar
Dave Warner said trophy hunting isn’t really his thing, but he says he’s thankful to have lucked into this giant hog.
By Dave Warner
So, a sizable portion of hunting has gotten a bad name. The bad press comes from hunters who hunt for trophies and not to provide food, help with invasive species eradication or do dangerous critter removal. I don’t want to pass judgment on folks who hunt for trophies, but it’s just not my thing.
But over the course of years spent in the woods while hunting for food, chances are good that a trophy-sized critter will cross your path. This story is about that very thing.
Nick Ciarlante and I have spent the last 10 years learning the basics of being outdoors, handling firearms, dialing in the habits of various critters and generally laughing about how the world took a big U-turn for a couple of lifelong city dudes.
Early on, we pursued guided hunts. While they were a little pricey, they did give us access to critter-filled country with tree stands in place and a guide to point us in the direction we needed to look. This was particularly helpful when hunting for wild hogs.
Nick and I laughed through our first overnight hog hunt not far from Lake Eufaula. We got dialed into a hunting retreat that was in the middle of nowhere. The lodge was an unrestored plank cabin that dated to about 1850. No AC, no TV, no internet. And as luck would have it, we booked our four days over what turned out to be the hottest stretch of days going back to 1930. Daytime temps peaked at 106. As luck would have it, we got our first hog. But hunting from a stand was like catching trout from the trout pond—big fun but no skill required.
A year later, we decided to try a place near Macon. Our guide would be Brandon, a young buck about 25, and he was ready to put us on some wild hogs.
We had met Brandon at 3:30 a.m. at a Huddle House off of I-16 just below Macon, got our briefing and headed to our first hunting spots. As often happens in hunting, we didn’t see anything in the morning session. We took a lunch break, laid down for an hour and then saddled up for the afternoon/evening hunting session. Unlike deer hunting, hog hunting can go on all night. We dutifully waited in our tree stand for the sounds of approaching hogs, but all we ever heard were spring peepers and jungle sounds.
Around 11 p.m., Brandon came to get us in his 4-wheel drive pickup. We headed back to the campground, trading stories of past misadventures, hunters he’d dealt with and prospects for the next hunt. Just as we pulled in, he casually asked if we were up for any more hunting or if we were ready to go to bed. One thing about Nick and I… we always come ready to hunt.
Even though it was approaching midnight, Brandon was happy he had a couple of clients who would work the overnight shift. The plan was to head out directly from the campground and hunt the Twiggs County property of Jay Cranford, walking into the swamps and fields nearby. This time, there would be no tree stand to offer us the safety of heights. We would be in the bush, in the middle of the night, walking and listening for a pack of wild hogs. This walk-and-stalk style of hunting is my personal favorite.
So walking into the blackness of the woods and swamps, we were outfitted with several things deemed vital to safety—snake guards, bug repellent, a large caliber sidearm and a large caliber rifle. Brandon would work the spotlight while Nick and I walked point in a scene straight out of the jungles of southeast Asia. Trying to get comfortable carrying my rifle (a Henry lever action 30-30) while picking a line to walk in the darkest hours of the night quietly was disconcerting, to say the least.
In the beginning, we stopped for the sound of every twig breaking or leaves rustling. It took us about an hour to go a quarter of a mile. Eventually, we got the hang of it… walk softly, stopping every 30 yards, listening, looking, start walking again. After about three hours, we traversed swamp edges, pine forests, millet and soybean fields, fallow fields and dirt roads. Brandon led the way while we followed behind him about 20 yards. He would walk, stop, listen and every once in a while, hit a patch of blackness with the spotlight.
By 3:30 a.m., we were dog tired. We decided to get through the last rows of planted pines and across a couple of big millet fields, which would put us back at the campground.
We walked another 10 or 15 minutes when I heard Brandon say, in a low but excited voice, “there they are!… hear ’em?” He kept his spotlight off, and we quietly walked another 20 yards, stopped and turned our ears to the direction he pointed. Sure enough, you could hear the sound of a group of wild hogs. One thing about wild hogs, they don’t take care of being quiet. Now we could hear the grunting and activity of what sounded like a dozen or more hogs. There were also high-pitched squeals as the older hogs roughly asserted dominance over a group of piglets.
Now the adrenalin was in overdrive. Brandon eased up over the crown of the field and whispered, “there they are, right over there.” I heard them but could see nothing. He said, “OK, I’m going to walk toward them, and you need to stay behind me about 10 yards and off to the side. When I get as close as I can, I will hit them with the spotlight. When that beam comes on, you will have about two seconds to pick the hog you want, get the crosshairs on it, and fire because when they see that light, they will scatter in every direction at a high rate of speed. Got it?”
I said I did. I was wound tight and ready. There is a time in many sports when the essence of the contest comes down to a few seconds. The mind is razor sharp, and focus is dialed completely in. This was one of those times.
I shouldered the Henry, put my weight on the front of my feet, and leaned forward, ready to see what a pack of high-speed wild hogs looks like. The only thing in the world I was aware of at that moment was Brandon with his spotlight, that Henry rifle and the sounds of wild animals tearing up an acre of millet.
Brandon raised the spotlight and switched it on, yelling, “there they are!” I put a good cheek weld on the wood stock, looked through the Nikon scope and saw nothing but the top half of various wild hogs running in every direction on the compass. Your field of view is very limited through a scope, especially at night. Without thinking, I dialed in what looked like an enormous shape running from left to right. I could see the upper half, its humped back, its brindle coloring, and for the briefest moment, an ear.
Without thinking, I put the crosshairs on a spot 2 inches behind and 2 inches below the ear and pulled the trigger. Through the scope the only thing visible was a rolling high-temperature vapor field of ballistic gasses colored pink, purple and orange. I never even heard the shot.
The next second it was over. The hogs were rapidly retreating and soon quiet. Brandon turned and asked me, “so did you get one?” I thought so, but I wasn’t sure.
Slowly working our way toward where the hogs had been, Brandon’s spotlight picked up a big mass of varied colored hair down in a low spot in the field. It was difficult to tell what it was or especially its size. As we walked closer, I kept the rifle at ready, knowing that a wounded hog is a genuine threat to a hunter’s life.
It moved a little. Brandon immediately ordered me to put another round into it. I picked a vital spot and did. That was it. I had taken its life in exchange for the food it would provide. And it provided a LOT of food.
As we walked closer to it, Brandon gave out a guffaw. It turned out that this particular hog was the biggest one around and had been seen on various game cameras. I didn’t really grasp its size or the unusual nature of a hog so big. Laying in the depression in the field, it was hard to get a handle on it. Brandon and Nick left to get the pickup truck to get it out of there and to a place where we could do a basic field-dressing. When they disappeared into the blackness, I was left alone with the beast. It was an odd feeling.
When Brandon and Nick returned, we did the usual batch of photographs. It was only then when I realized there was no moving it to make the photo better. It was way too big. In fact, it was way too big for the three of us to get it lifted into the bed of the truck. I figured if it was too heavy for us three to lift, that it had to be 300 pounds or more. We eventually got half of it into the pickup truck bed, jostled it around some, and then got the other half into the truck bed.
Brandon got on the phone, called and texted his local hunting pals, and told them that the big brindle hog they had been watching for several years had been taken. When he put down the phone, he casually turned and said, “that hog has been on people’s cameras for the last few years, and no one ever got a shot at it. Some people are bumming right now. And just so you know, that will tip the scales at 450 pounds, plus or minus.”
Back in the campground, we laughed and traded stories of what had just happened. The block-and-tackle system failed as Brandon went to hoist it up on a telephone pole hanging rig. It was too big. So, Brandon field-dressed it in the back of the pickup truck. Now mind you, this hog was way too big to move, readjust or flip over. Brandon had to make a cut at the rear and go in and remove the innards with his Kershaw while his arm was buried right up to the shoulder. He gave us an organ-by-organ synopsis as he disemboweled a quarter-ton wild hog.
When it was done, Brandon asked the rhetorical question, “So you are going to mount it, right?” It had never crossed my mind. But when one considers the giant improvement possible for the wall by adding a once-in-a-lifetime stuffed hunting trophy, it’s a no-brainer. Plus, my bride and daughters would certainly be impressed by the new stuffed hog hanging up and the mighty hunter I have become…
“Of course,” I replied.
Writing this years later, the adventure still stands as one of the high points in life. In the end, it weighed in at 450 pounds and provided around 150 pounds of organic pork in various cuts. It also provided a big stuffed hog head with tusks that stare out at anyone who ventures into our garage.
It is unlikely I will get a repeat of the luck that put that hog there, which entailed a perfect shot in the middle of the night at a critter running at high speed 50 yards away. I figure the margin of error was about an inch in any direction.
I say I am not into trophy hunting, but I sure take pleasure from the time I lucked into one.
Editor’s Note: This story originally stated the hog was killed in Bibb County, but it has been corrected to show that the hog was killed in neighboring Twiggs County on the property of Jay Cranford.
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