Monday, November 16, 2009

Tioga Boar Hunt '09

It was 7am when I parked my ambulance, changed, and headed home to pick up two good friends, Louis and Eddie, for a wild boar hunt in Pennsylvania. I hadn't slept yet, but I was excited and it kept me up. After a few gear issues, (Eddie forgot his ammo) we headed up Rt 17. It was about a 4 hour drive, and as pleasant as you can make it for three 6 foot men and hunting gear in a Ford Ranger.

Our destination was a ranch in North Central PA. You can find their website here:

We made our way to the office and got checked in, then taken to our living quarters for the weekend. It was a small, cabin like house with two levels, the bottom of which was mostly a lobby type area. A small dining room and kitchen were on the left, and a TV room off to the right, but we didn't spend any time there. At the top of a steep set of stairs were several bedrooms, and we took one with 6 bunks and settled in.

Once our gear was in order, we took off for the range across the street (Ok, it was a dirt path) to the range to make sure we were still sighted in and nothing had been rattled off zero in transit. My Savage .30-06 and the Nikon scope mounted on top were still dead on, so I spent a few rounds practicing kneeling and offhand shots before I was satisfied that I would hit my mark the next day.

Louis had no issues with his NEF 12 Gauge, and we expected none. After all, it was wearing iron sights, not a scope and there is very little to go wrong with a solid single shot gun.

Eddie's rifle was a different story. Eddie is, out of the three of us, by far the worst marksman. He can generally keep his shots within a 14 inch circle at 100 yards and not much better. That's rested, of course. Ed had sighted his rifle in previously, but only to a point, and had expected to fine-tune it here. That was a mistake we'd warned him about. He couldn't seem to figure out how to use the low rest at the range comfortable, and decided to forego the rest entirely. He couldn't seem to get hits at 100 yards, so we moved back to the 40 yard target, and he still had trouble hitting. After about 10 rounds I took the rifle and fired a shot at 40. It hit about 3 inches high, which would be about right at 100. So we knew it wasn't the rifle. Frustrated, he put the rifle away to shoot Louis's Ruger .357 for a bit.

It's a fine pistol, and very accurate with a 6 inch barrel. The .38+P rounds we were shooting were mild, and they hit where you wanted them to at 25 yards. Louis and I left Eddie to shoot some more. After another 8 rounds or so, he'd managed a decent group and was satisfied with the rifle. It was a fine gun, a pre-1964 Winchester Model 70, but the scope was ancient and foggy, with a post reticle that was hard to master.

I laid down for a nap until dinner-Elk stew with buffalo sloppy joes. It was an outstanding meal. We sat up and chewed the fat with the other hunters for a little while after, then laid down for the night. Wake-up was 0600.

The morning was chilly, in the mid 40's but not uncomfortable, and very clear. We followed our guides for the day up the dirt path in my pickup and headed out to the area we would hunt.

Tioga's hunting is "canned", in that the animals are kept in fenced preserves. But it is not as simple as it seems. They have over 1500 acres of land with which to hunt, and our area was at least 300. Fallow deer, water buffalo, white-tails and of course, boar all co-exist in some sort of fantasy ecosystem inside the wire. Both Bald, and Golden eagles flew overhead, and I spotted an osprey once. There were a few Coopers hawks flying around the trees looking for songbirds as well.

Once inside the wire, we split up. Eddie went with one guide, Chase, hunting for a smaller "management" boar, while Louis and I went with the other guide, Carmen, after a trophy pig. They were in contact via radio, and we set out looking for pigs. We didn't find many right away, but Eddie did. We heard a shot ring out below us, and another just a few seconds later. Over the radio I heard that they thought he has wounded "a little spotted pig." Great, I thought. Now we're looking for an angry, wounded pig. This could be interesting.

We saw quite a few fallow deer, and heard of pigs elsewhere on the radio, but saw none in the first hour. I was glassing the pines ahead with a pair of binoculars looking for Eddie's wounded pig, when Eddie's guide said over the radio that a nice red trophy boar was headed our way. We quickly moved to head it off and I spotted him alone, working his way through the trees 100 yards off. I moved up, little by little from tree to tree at a crouch. Finally at 60 yards I took a knee and raised my rifle. I waited until he came out from behind a tree, a good broadside shot, and squeezed the trigger just as he started walking forward again. My rifle bucked, and the pig squealed, then dropped, his back legs useless. He turned and whirled, looking for whatever had hurt him, but found that he could no longer move. I moved up a little closer, and put another shot right behind his shoulder to finish him.

When he'd expired, we walked up to take a look. He was a nice sized pig as far as I could tell. I was upset because my first shot had landed too far back. It took out his spine, but wouldn't have done anything immediately lethal, and I'd ruined some meat. The second shot was a perfect heart/lung and I wished that I'd pulled that off the first time.

We linked up with Eddie and on our way, saw his spotted pig with another group. It didn't look hit at all, and they hadn't found a blood trail, so he had missed it entirely. We sat behind a stump for the next hour. I threw in a lip full of Skoal and watched a white-tail buck amble past. A group of pigs came over the rise behind me, and when I finally turned and spotted them, they took off. Louis and I moved on, splitting with Eddie once again. Our guide had found a pair of pigs bedded down in a field. They were tired and done running. We got close enough for Louis to get a shot off with a slug gun and open sights, but not close enough to endanger ourselves. Going by his first shot, we maybe should have been closer. He placed the first slug into her neck, and they both took off as if he had missed entirely. The slug passed cleanly through nothing but fat. She barely knew that he'd shot her. Eddie shot twice more soon afterward, with 2 more clean misses.

We tracked her about a mile back, down pine slopes and through a swamp. Carmen spotted her 100 yards out and wheeling back around, coming towards us. We got situated behind a huge stump and waited. She got within 10 yards and stopped, but it was a frontal shot. She might have scented us, but kept going. As she got broadside to the log, she caught a look at me. There was blood in her eyes, and she took 2 trotting steps in my direction before Louis dropped her with a well placed shot behind the ear. She died on the spot. She was no more than 3 yards from me. I realized that my hand was in my pocket looking for shells when he had shot. That pig wanted my bacon.

We trekked back to meet Eddie once again, while Carmen went back to grab an ATV and get our pigs back to the lodge. He fired once when we were walking up the hill, but once again, no pig. He was unable to get a follow-up shot in because some other hunters came up in front, they had radioed their position wrong. Lucky they were in orange.

We sat with Eddie for another half hour or so, but no pigs came through, and we started to walk back to the lodge, so that Louis and I could take a look at our pigs and get more pictures. Eddie was planning on going back out when we got back, but on the way out, I spotted a white head in the bushes. I almost didn't get us stopped in time, my first inclination was to hold my fist in the air in a military "halt", but then realized that I needed to actually say "hold up." Eddie managed to get within 25 yards from it, and finally put it down. He shot once, a little far back in the ribcage, missing the heart/lung but doing some damage to the liver and spleen. It was still on it's feet though, and he put a second shot in just to be sure.

Back at the lodge we learned that my pig was much more massive than we had originally thought. In the woods, he hadn't seemed exceptionally large, but next to some of the other pigs, all in the 200 pound range, his size was exceptional. In a class by himself really. We never exactly weighed him, but they had to use a backhoe to hang it up, and I would guess he was pushing 300 lbs, if not 325. There is more meat in my freezer than I know what to do with, so I will be having a BBQ this weekend if the weather holds, and may give some of it away as well. I still have a deer tag to fill, and no room to put it in.

It was a great experience out there, and a good entry to big-game hunting. I've hunted plenty of small game before, and tried to hunt deer and bear with no real success. I'm hoping this year will be different, and now I have little to worry about with 'buck fever', because I know that I can perform in the woods. Next time I'll be hoping for a one-shot stop.

Happy hunting, and stay safe.

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