It was Thanksgiving Day, 2016. The wife, the kids, and I had the good fortune of spending the day at Gran’s house along with my extended family. I readily consumed copious amounts of home cooked food. I know that Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day of reflection, and thanks for all of the blessing of the year, but it is the perfect holiday for me. One devoted to the act of socially acceptable gluttony.
After the festivities, my oldest daughter and I grabbed up our gear, threw on some old cloths, and drove an hour and some change to a favorite ladder stand craftily positioned in the crown of an old elm tree. That tree just so happens to be situated with a view of around 800 yards to the North, and around 300 yards to the East. And wouldn’t you know it, the wind was blowing at about 2 mph out of the northeast. As we made our way South toward the stand, I could already hear the hogs rooting around in the palmetto woods on either side of the road.
My daughter, age 11, was making her first hunt with me on this occasion. As we walked down the road, with the echo of unseen beasts rummaging around on either side of us, I stopped once we cleared the wind direction danger zone to position us for a shot in case one of the hogs stepped close enough for my 6.8 SPC rifle to spit a little fire. It was my intention for her to harvest her first animal on this trip. My daughter looked up at me with her brown eyes, and motioned toward the stand which was several hundred yards away, and said “Dad, I don’t want to be on the ground…I want to be in the stand!” I explained that if we stood there, we would get a shot, and could still hunt from the stand once we got there. I saw the worried look on her face as she surveyed the position of the sun getting lower in the afternoon sky. She then looked down the road to the stand, still quite a walk from where we stood crouched behind some dried ragweed on the side of the road. She looked back at me with her brow pushed together, and said “Dad, I really want to get in the stand.”
It was then that I realized that she was afraid. At this point in my life, it had been several decades since my father dragged me through the woods in diapers on my first couple of hunts. In fact, it had been so long that I’d forgotten what it felt like to wonder what “that thing” was that was making some random noise. I smiled, and asked her if she was afraid. She nodded as if a little ashamed. With a chuckle and a pat on her little back, I said, “There’s nothing to be afraid of or I wouldn’t be here either, but lets go ahead and get in the stand before it gets too dark.” I added as an afterthought, “It’s okay to be afraid sometimes. Fear is what helps to keep us out of trouble most of the time.”
Within 200 yards of the stand both the road, and the woods surrounding it had been virtually destroyed by hogs. Driven by the hogs’ never ending hunger, they had rooted huge holes, with zombie like ferocity, on both sides of the road. They did the same on the road itself revealing patches of blackjack clay dirt beneath. I showed these holes to my daughter, and told her that the hogs had done this. Her eyes got wide, and she began scanning the wood line with her head on a swivel. Some of the holes were deep enough for her to stand in up to her knees.
We arrived at the tree without further incident, and got settled into the ladder stand that was welded by my uncle. He built this particular stand strong enough for Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to land on the foot deck. It was big enough for one really fat dude, or for me and my daughter to sit side by side with comfort. By the time we got situated, we were already hearing hogs in the brush to the Southeast of our position.
Every time a hog would squeal or growl, or bust through a patch of palmettos, or flip a rotten log over to check for grubs, my daughter’s head would swish in that direction willing her eyes to reveal the dark shapes that were the source of the noise. Within 30 minutes, a small, jet black hog appeared in the shooting lane cut through the dense woods to the East of the stand. I had her stand in front of me, and asked her if she was ready to try to take a shot. She stared me strait in the face, and said “I don’t want to shoot a hog. I want to shoot a deer!”
I wasn’t sure if it was time to give her the less than scrupulous virtues of wild hogs, and how they were a detriment to the environment, or perhaps explain to her how delicious they were, or what! For the first time in my life, I didn’t have the words. I finally said, “Baby, we may not get a chance to shoot a deer today. God provides whatever he wants, and today it is a little black pig.”
For some reason that seemed to make sense to her. She gave a slight shrug of her shoulders, and squared up on the rifle. By this time, the little shoat had fed within about 75 yards of us, and was completely unaware of the steely eyed gaze of this pint sized huntress who was poised to strike. The little sow turned broadside, and as we had discussed many times, she picked a spot just above the elbow joint, and then….the hog turned and faced us still feeding. We had discussed angled shots, in case that’s all we had, but it was not the plan.
I was uttering the words, “Wait for a broadside sho….” “BOOM!” I looked down the lane, and there, making dirt angels, was the little black hog. Deader than disco. My little lioness had adjusted her shot, and capped the little beast in the top of the neck as the hog fed with its head down. The handloaded 95 grain Barnes TTSX had gone through the head, neck, and heart/lungs in the chest cavity, exited by the solar plexus, then traveled through the ankle joint on one of the hams, exited, and ended up somewhere in the black gumbo mud beyond! (See Handloading for the 6.8 SPC II for the recipe for the cartridges used on this hunt.)
I picked up the rifle (which is still a little heavy for her to handle), and she looked back with me with a grin. As I congratulated her, hogs were running for their lives everywhere. I took a running head shot at one further down the lane (and missed). After the smoke cleared, I asked her if she wanted to come with me to retrieve her hog. She nodded yes.
We made it roughly 20 yards before hogs began making racked on either side of us in the thick brush. She immediately looked at me and said “I think I’ll wait in the stand.” I laughed, and saw her up the tree with a flashlight, and her cell phone. I passed up her hog, who was now in the peaceful slumber of an AR-15 induced dirt nap, and walked to investigate the running shot I’d made (not so excellently). There was no sign that I’d made contact with my shot, so I picked up her hog, and made my way back to the stand with her fist kill.
When I arrived at her stand, she was climbing down. She said, “Didn’t you see me trying to get your attention, dad? There was a really big hog that came out.” She motioned in the direction of the other shooting lane cut to the North. I said, “Well, I couldn’t have made a shot from where I was anyway, so don’t worry about it.” I was thinking that the hog she saw was long gone. No sooner had the words escaped my lips than she points to the North and says, “See…Look!”
There in the lane to our North were two pretty good sized hogs standing at about 165 yards or so. I looked through my scope, but didn’t feel comfortable taking an unsupported headshot at that distance. I said, “Do you want to see if we can take ’em?” And she quickly nodded, and began scurrying up the stand. By the time my old behind had plopped back in the seat, the hogs had disappeared back into the woods.
We sat and talked about her hog, now sitting at the base of the tree, and how cool this hunt was turning out to be. Within a minute or so, she motioned to the North, and I saw the characteristic black shape of a sizable hog on the edge of the road at what I estimated to be 340 yards or so. We had an empty feeder at 200 yards, and it looked to be 140-150 yards beyond that.
I said, “What do you think?” She said, “Shoot him.”
With a grin, I did a little math in my head trying to remember the ballistic tables for my handloads. I used the circles on my Nikon scope, and placed the hog between the second and third circles on the BDC reticle with the scope on 9 X magnification. The hog turned, and faced us in the middle of the shooting lane. I didn’t even realize I that I sent a round until I felt the recoil. The bullet made an audible thud as it struck the hog. The legs came out from under the beast, and it landed on its belly with every muscle in its body as taut as a sail in a gale wind. It let out a blood curdling squeal. My daughter said, “I think you hit it.” I laughed, and said, “I think so,” never having removed my eye from the scope’s eye piece.
The boar rolled on its side, and began kicking. It picked its head up, and made a feeble attempt to pull itself to freedom with its front legs. I sent another round into the side of its head to end it.
The first shot impacted the hog in between the shoulder blades with the head positioned downward in a feeding position, severing its spine. That round, even at roughly 340 yards had traveled through the spine, and into the vitals, and alone would have been a killing shot. Once again, the 95 gr Barnes TTSX bullet had done its job, and only lost one peddle. The second shot obviously sent him to the big hog wallow in the sky, but at that distance I was all about a little insurance.
We high fived, and before we started off for the truck, we gave my hog a minute or two just to make certain it was plenty dead by the time we arrived to retrieve it. We had done it. We showed up, sight unseen, and both successfully harvested a hog. My daughter is now part of a very devout club. A club that once joined can not be un-joined. It will start out as a pastime for her as it has for millions of others. At some point before she is fully aware, it will develop into a primal need. If she follows the trail blazed by many a hunter before her, she will spend her life sneaking away to some special hunting ground that only she knows about, at that time of year when the air is crisp, the North winds blow, and the time is juuuuust right.
Judging by her instincts and excitement, I think she just might yet be a huntress. This is one of the days for which to give thanks.