The Hunt For Kong
The hunt for a 500-lb. Henry County wild boar turns into a three-year quest for a traditional bowman.
The boar stood just 4 yards away, and his massive size was nearly overwhelming. Missing him at this range would be like missing a minivan. But before we go any further, there is simply no way to get to the end of this crazy story without going back to the very beginning in the fall of 2011.
That’s when I received an e-mail from a guy who was a nuisance animal trapper. He knew I guided for hogs and asked if I could give him some pointers on a hog removal job that he had been contracted for. The hogs in question were reported to be true monsters, and the two of them were basically terrorizing a small neighborhood. We discussed a game plan for establishing a bait station as the hogs were solely nocturnal. Several weeks later, he reported that he had in fact killed one of the boars, and it was a monster with an estimated weight at more than 400 pounds. Unfortunately, the second hog had escaped.
He hunted this second hog several more times, but the close call along with being shot at a second time left him with a hog that had become very wary. After many more attempts, the hunter called me back and asked if I would like to take over the hunt. I jumped at the chance. I have always loved hunting giant hogs. I killed my first hog in 1980 and have been hooked on chasing big hogs ever since. Most would call it an addiction for me.
I have been a hog hunter for nearly 40 years, and I guide hog hunters, among guiding for many other things, for a living. I have taken more hogs than I can remember and have never had a great deal of trouble taking a specific boar, given enough time. I am providing this bio to help put the rest of this story in perspective. I am not new to the game of big hog hunting. To be honest, I thought I would make fairly short work of this big boar. I had no way of knowing that an incredible journey was about to begin in my life.
I am a trophy hunter by most folk’s definition of that term. What I mean by that is I like to specifically hunt mature animals. Four- to 5-year old deer, bear and hogs are what drives me. Now, having said that, I really couldn’t care any less about the size of the rack or the weight of the bear or boar. It is the challenge of hunting any animal that has survived so long that it has reached a level of intelligence that makes him nearly impossible to hunt that I love. I like matching wits and don’t mind a bit getting out matched by these awesome animals. My ability to eat regular helpings of humble pie would serve me well over the next three and a half years.
From the very beginning I knew there was something different about this hog. Sure he was a giant, but I quickly came to realize that he had been pressured to such a state that he wouldn’t ever move in daylight hours. This was no big deal for me. I had hunted this kind of hog before, but what happened over the first several months taught me that everything I had learned in nearly 40 years of hog hunting might not be enough to outwit this paranoid porker.
I began by trying to find entry points into the jungle he called home. There were several sections in excess of 3 to 4 acres where even crawling in was next to impossible. This area contained the thickest mix of privet, kudzu and briars I had ever encountered. In some places, this thick growth formed a dense canopy over sections of an acre or more. Even getting up through the canopy to place a tree stand was difficult, and when you did break through, you had to chop a hole to shoot down through it.
I began by attempting to hunt the hog on trails, but there was no way to approach his bedding areas without making noise. Even if it were possible, most of the locations wouldn’t even allow you to stand to shoot, much less draw a recurve bow. I placed a bait or two and thought that he would certainly come in. Wrong again. Well-worn trails would go dormant as soon as bait was placed. It was evident that the memory of his near-miss human encounters was going to make this extremely difficult. I became aware of his extreme aversion to anything human related as I walked down a sandy creek bed one morning. I picked up his huge tracks and followed them as he approached a bait station. Thirty yards from the bait, his tracks showed that he had become aware of the feeder ahead and had milled around a moment. The tracks then climbed out of the creek bed and circled around the bait, and then he reentered the creek only to continue away from the bait station. I stood looking at the tracks in disbelief knowing that this was not a normal hog, and now I was sure this was going to be much more difficult than I previously thought.
At this point, I had yet to even get the ghost on camera. I just wanted to see what I was dealing with. He seemed ghost-like in his ability to detect cameras and would stop short of the camera view every time. I had to develop a plan, and I knew that cameras near bait sites would never work. I changed my camera plan to travel routes, and I blanketed the area with 10 cameras. It took a full six months to get the first picture. I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on that hog. It did not seem possible that a hog could be this big. I gave him the nickname Kong. It sure seemed to fit. At first, his reaction to being caught on camera could be described as explosive. The trail-cam set in video mode captured violent reactions. In time, the sheer number of cameras in the area made it impossible for him to travel and not be recorded, and after several months he began to ignore them.
I quickly discovered there was never a pattern to his movement as far as trail usage, but he did travel between the hours of 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. He would enter the backyards of several families and wreak havoc in gardens and lawns. I knew the only way to have a possible opportunity at him would be on a food source. I hunted apple trees in season, white oaks and others, but it was impossible to pattern him. I then came up with an idea that turned things around. I took feeders and suspended them as high as 20 feet up into the trees, so that he would not see them. This would change the game, and about a year into hunting him, he finally started coming to a feeder. These early hunts showed me just how unbelievably intelligent this animal was.
Kong would circle baits 100 percent of the time, but I had anticipated this and placed the baits where this was not possible. Using creeks and ravines, I made circling impossible, and I hunted on very specific winds. He countered this by simply coming in and refusing to get closer than 30 yards. He would approach the bait and stop and stand for periods of more than an hour without moving a single step. I didn’t think an animal of this size could do this, but it occurred many times. It became apparent that if he could not use the wind for protection that he would stand and wait on it to change. If it would not change to his advantage, he just simply walked away. This cat-and-mouse game happened countless times over the next few months. I spent many all-night hunts in those first three years. On the occasions that he did detect me, he would emit a deafening roar of disapproval and would leave the area for up to two weeks. He never once took a chance. Everything seemed calculated. As the weeks turned into months and he countered every tactic I had, I realized that everything was calculated. This hog was thinking.
My first time seeing him was an event I will never forget. I had established a bait in a nearly impenetrable area of privet, and I ghosted in a full hour before dark prepared for an all-nighter. While I was looking at my phone 30 minutes before dark, I sensed something approaching from my right. I looked at the area and determined nothing was there. I returned to my phone scanning, and my brain reminded me that every other scan to my right did not include a massive black area just 40 yards away. I snapped my head back up and was stunned to see Kong standing there like a ghost in the swamp. I was absolutely amazed at his size. I have seen hundreds of big hogs in my life, and this just did not seem possible. He moved forward a few steps and disappeared from view about 25 yards away. He stood without moving for nearly an hour until full darkness set in, and then he started a slow circle. Once downwind, he let his absolute disdain for my presence be known with a series of roars. It would be weeks before he would return to the area.
A move of bait stations was needed to get him feeding again, and spring of 2014 found me on the edge of a steep-banked creek. I had chopped a shooting hole down through the thick canopy and waited two full weeks before returning to hunt on a rare east wind. Kong approached at around midnight, but the unfavorable wind had him pacing back and forth for an hour before he decided to leave. It is difficult to describe how these all-night hunts could be both so much fun and physically demanding at the same time. There is obviously a danger associated with exhaustion, so a strap system is needed to both prevent falling and keep you upright and ready for an encounter. It is also beneficial if you are borderline crazy. At 4 a.m. I heard the distinctive sound of his heavy breathing just 15 yards away in the inky blackness. I could tell that he was assessing the danger. This went on for 20 minutes or more, and then suddenly he simply started walking right to me.
These swamps have a jungle-like canopy, so to tell you it is pitch black would be the understatement of the year. The only possible way to take an ethical shot is to have a lighting system on your bow. I had experimented with countless designs over the years, but when hunting pressured hogs, I prefer a red light with a rheostat that allows the light to be dialed up slowly enough that the animal can’t perceive the increase. In the darkness I could tell that he stood just 5 or 6 yards away. As I slowly turned up the light down through my shooting hole, I was frustrated that I could only see a massive black hole, but no Kong. Months of effort had gone into this moment, and I simply could not see him. I could hear every breath and could hear him chewing…
Where was he?
I dialed up the light a bit more, and suddenly I could see two small white objects on the edge of the black hole. In amazement, I suddenly realized that this “huge black hole” I was staring into was actually Kong’s back, and those white objects were his tusks. His size at this short range was overwhelming.
It would have been impossible to miss at this short range, but it became apparent that he was facing me. I certainly could have hit the back of a single lung, but there was no way I was going to risk wounding this great animal. Recovery in this jungle would be near impossible if he did not leave a blood trail. I did not expect a pass-through shot from this near straight down angle. I waited for him to turn for a full six to seven minutes, but he stood like a statue without moving. I then realized that he was waiting on a wind change. A minute later, he got it. I climbed down at daylight and staggered back to the truck. Depressed and fully aware that it would be weeks if not months before he would return.
• • •
The fall of 2014 had a good acorn crop, and as in years past, Kong took on a gypsy approach to feeding and never returned to a bait site. My sole encounter with him was a single run-in under a giant white oak as I walked in to deer hunt before daylight. Winter and early spring was going to be my next chance, and I spent a couple days preparing a site in the thickest area so as to provide him with the greatest security approach.
Several weeks later I checked a trail camera and determined that it was time to give it another shot. I approached the bait site and was disappointed to see that the feeder and everything around the bait site had been destroyed. It was as if someone had taken a sledge hammer to everything. The evidence showed that Kong had developed a new and very bad habit of ripping the legs off the feeder, ripping the motor off the unit and crushing the drum. This happened several times, and I finally resorted to using heavy wire to hold the unit in a large privet bush.
A few weeks later I was perched over the site a full hour before dark with a good wind. Thirty minutes before dark, I heard a twig snap. I slowly stood and with bow in hand, and I looked down to see Kong just 5 yards away staring at the base of my tree. The problem was the canopy. It was impossible to shoot down into this tangle without fear of deflection and wounding him. I had a perfect wind at this point, but something told him this was a bad situation, and with a roar he was gone. With a broken spirit, I strapped into the tree hoping he would come back after dark. He never did.
There were countless encounters like this over the three years of this adventure. With the exception of guiding my hunters on my hog properties, I pretty much just stopped hunting all other hogs. I felt like a werewolf prowling around all night. My girlfriend (being used to my crazy hunting antics after 14 years together) would just smirk at me as I crawled in defeated after each all-night defeat. As crazy as it may sound, I loved every single minute of this game.
I would have several encounters with him over the next few weeks, and while he never knew for sure that I was there, he seemed to always sense me. Kong would stand like a statue for an hour or more, just yards away in the darkness, before walking away.
Everything changed on Feb. 8.
I would be guiding hog hunters in another area the following day, but I decided that the southwest wind would be good for another try. I got to the stand site to find that Kong had crushed everything again, but my pack contained everything to get it back in service. He had been coming to this site just 20 minutes after dark, and to be quite honest I fully expected a quick encounter that would be a repeat of countless other nights where this awesome hog beat me up again. On cue, I could hear him coming in with that methodical walk that would always quiet to a ghost-like approach in the darkness. He stood for almost an hour before approaching to within 15 yards. He stood another 20 minutes in total silence before starting his customary circle to get my wind. This time, however; his circle would carry him much closer to the tree on the downwind arc. This would prove to be a fatal mistake on his part.
When he was at 7 yards and directly downwind, he stopped and breathed deeply. I held my breath, and after a few minutes he continued his circle. When he reached the upwind side, it occurred to me that my three-year wait was about to provide the long-awaited shot opportunity. All I had to do was make it count.
Even at 5 yards the full canopy and darkness of the night prevented me from seeing him. I strained for any sign of him, and suddenly he appeared in my shooting hole at 4 yards. The lower limb of my Black Widow recurve bow was tucked into my boot, and while my light was on, it was set at its lowest setting. He was very slightly quartered to me, but at 4 yards with a 16-foot elevation, the shot was certainly doable. I then told myself that unless he gave me a perfect broadside shot, I would let him walk away. He had given me so much adventure over the last three years that there was simply no way I was going to let this story end with wounding him or having him suffer. He stood without changing positions for about 7 minutes, and I took the time to just simply take in the moment. His size was amazing, and the strangest feeling began to overcome me. I knew that there was no way I could miss him at 4 yards, and I wanted this moment to last. The longer he stood there without giving me the perfect shot, the longer we would still be playing this game. Call me crazy if you like, but I was almost sad that it was about to be over.
He finally changed his posture, and I knew that he was dropping his guard. He took a step forward and pulled his leg forward fully exposing his vitals. As I pulled the bow to full draw, I noticed a quarter-sized spot of mud right where I needed to arrow to go. A second later my lighted nock appeared on that spot.
With a huff he stormed out through that jungle with the nock lighting his every step. I also had a string tracker attached to the arrow, and the whirring of the string gave additional comfort that the arrow was still with him. As soon as the red glow disappeared, everything went silent. A second later I heard a step or two more and felt a short tug on the line. The sound of his last roar drifted back to me. He had traveled less than 80 yards.
I stood motionless for a moment longer, and then just sat down in silence for a long time. It was over, and I was having great difficulty figuring out how it made me feel. This was not the first time this feeling had come over me, but it was certainly the most intense occurrence. My first call was to my son Luke. He was happy and jumped at the chance to bring my Bavarian blood tracking dog (Bear) to the site. I called another buddy, and he organized a drag team. The trail was good but could only be followed on hands and knees down hog tunnels. We used the dog to follow the blood trail, which turned out to be quite easy given the string tracker line had stayed with Kong all the way to his last bed. As we approached the down giant, it was a very special moment. Yes, he was a giant, but to me it was so much more than that. What a magnificent, awesome, intelligent animal lay before us. The end of this story could have come right then, but it actually occurred three days later.
My 17-year-old son advised me upon returning to the truck that he had lost his knife during the tracking. He was quite upset because it was a beautiful custom knife that I had given him for Christmas that a friend had made. To be honest I started to scold him but bit my lip when he said, “Dad I wanted Kong to be the first animal that I skinned with that knife.” It’s funny how a couple of words can change your perspective.
I told him I would go back in a couple of days to look for it, but it would be like looking for a needle in a hay stack. I would spend a couple hours crawling through those hog tunnels looking without success. I changed gears and began to remove gear from the stand site for the haul back to the truck. With the last load on my back, I walked out the same trail Kong had come in on. His tracks were still there, and I paused to take it all in one last time. Sure he was just a hog, but those of you who have had the rare opportunity to have that 2- to 3-year connection know the feeling. I took a knee and gave thanks for the many blessings I have in my life. I then stood and looked up into one of the deepest blue skies I can remember. I shouldered my load of gear and took two steps out of that jungle to see that special knife covered in frost. I smiled all the way back to the truck thinking there simply could not have been a more perfect ending.
Location: Henry County
Date: Feb. 8, 2015
Equipment: Shot with a Black Widow PSAX Recurve; 51 pounds, 28 inches. The arrows were GT 5575 with 100-grain inserts and topped by a scalpel sharp Magnus Stinger.
The Hog: Kong had been on this property for at least six years. His weight was 507 pounds, and both cutters were between 5 and 6 inches long.
Video: The hunt recovery can be viewed on Jerry Russell’s Youtube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfQ8I4KwUUo.