Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy today’s tradition of football, crowded homes, eating too much and surely exhaustion by the end of the night. Here’s a nice family story from that’s appearing in our November issue:
Story and photos by Tim E. Hovey
I sat at the top of the hill, out of breath and frustrated. I had run to the top of the grassy mound hoping to see my daughter.
Two hours earlier we had encountered 20 pigs as they crossed the old two-track in front of us as we slowly traveled the ranch. The thick spring grasses covering the property made tracking the fleeing pigs easy. Despite the clear trail, I wasn’t confident we would ever find them. My daughter Alyssa thought differently.
Hiking almost 2 miles over the rolling terrain, we spotted several of the larger pigs moving through a bedding area. I placed Alyssa on a high point, played the wind and moved down towards the bed. I was hoping to kick the pigs out of their resting spot towards a waiting Alyssa.
The pigs had predictably scattered from the bed once I made my presence known, but their escape was anything but predictable. Several raced downhill and well out of sight on my daughter. A pair of boars came my way and in seconds were gone. Two large pigs headed into Alyssa’s firing lane and she instantly began shooting.
I carefully watched the trio of shots and thought she might have connected with one. Once they crested the hill, I watched Alyssa – rifle slung crosswise on her back like I taught her – running towards the departing pigs. Within seconds she disappeared over the hill as well.
On the hill, Alyssa was nowhere in sight. The hunter in me knew she was tracking the pigs we had just kicked out their bed; the father in me was a little concerned.
After almost 10 minutes of searching, I spotted Alyssa walking back dejected along the ridge. As she got closer, I noticed she was crying, something she seldom does. She fell into my waiting hug, sobbing. She was upset that we had put in such a tremendous effort in tracking and finding the pigs, and she had missed. The 2-mile hike back to the truck was somber and quiet.
A few weeks later we were determined and rested. Alyssa and I were back on the trail of wild pigs. Driving some familiar roads, she suggested that we hike back into the pig bed we had hunted last time.
Both of my daughters, Alyssa and Jessica, have inherited my stubbornness and they hate to fail. As they have matured into young adults, I’ve watched that hard-headedness serve them well in many aspects of their lives. Neither of them would ever give up. I knew why Alyssa wanted to head back to the pig bed. She wanted a chance at redemption.
AFTER WHAT HAPPENED DURING the last hunt, I had found a far easier way to get to the isolated bed through Google Earth. When we were there weeks earlier, I could tell that the bed was recently and frequently used. With the time between visits, I felt like it was a probably good place to start our hunt.
I parked about a mile from the bed and we got our gear ready. It wasn’t quite 10 a.m. and I could tell it was going to be a hot day. I loaded some waters in my pack, grabbed my rifle and we headed out. To illustrate her determination, Alyssa led the way.
Knowing exactly where we were going this time, we cautiously approached upwind of the bed. The thick brush patch sat in the middle of a heavily grazed slope, and was roughly round in shape and about 50 feet in diameter. Trails ran through its center and the entire brushy bed was surrounded by a dirt path, providing evidence of frequent use.
We quietly hiked down to the same lookout area where Alyssa had sat a few weeks earlier. I waited as she got set up and we both checked the wind. Conditions were perfect for a run through the bed.
I took a few minutes to glass the area to check for anything obvious. The bed looked quiet. I told Alyssa that I was going to work through it the same way I had done last time, hoping to push animals her way. She didn’t answer me; she just nodded.
I slowly worked my way to the top of the brush patch and started searching the soft dirt around the bed. While the area was loaded with pig tracks, the tracks were old. I kept moving.
Making my way down the backside of the bed, I looked across to make sure Alyssa was ready. She had her .30-06 up on her sticks and mounted solidly to her shoulder. She was facing towards her safe shooting lane, but she was looking towards the pig bed. I gave her a wave and she returned the gesture. I smiled knowing that if pigs were close, she’d make the most of her second chance.
ALYSSA HAS ALWAYS BEEN a pretty good shot. From the time she was 7 years old, she has honed her rifle shooting skills and shoots better than most of my regular hunting buddies. However, over the last few years having watched me take several animals on the run, she started asking me about the specifics of what I call instinct shooting.
I explained lead and distance to her, plus how a rifle shooter needs to take all that into consideration when connecting with a moving target. I also told her that when things get Western, she needs to dump the sticks and shoot offhand to move with the running target.
Now that I was within a safe shooting lane, I loaded my .30-30, engaged the safety and held it at the ready. I continued down the backside of the brush, looking and listening. Near the bottom, I cut a single set of fresh tracks headed into the bed and I could feel my heart start to race. These tracks were so fresh that as I got closer, a musky smell wafted right into my face. That’s a pig smell, I thought.
I took two steps and saw very fresh scat in the center of a trail where I had seen the tracks. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the still brush shake slightly – 10 feet further into the bed. I froze. The brush stopped moving. And then things exploded.
The single boar raced out of its bed and directly towards Alyssa’s shooting lane.
“Pig!” I yelled and took two steps back to get a bead on the escaping animal. Alyssa and I had already decided that it didn’t matter who dropped the pig, so long as we took home fresh meat for the freezer.
Alyssa’s first shot was in the dirt right under the pig. I shouldered the lever gun, put the crosshairs between his ears and pulled the trigger. The bullet hit the pig in the hip, but did absolutely nothing to slow him down.
Less than half a second later, Alyssa’s second shot hit the pig low, right behind the shoulder. A second shot from me before he disappeared over the hill was a clean miss.
I looked up to where my daughter was. She had been shooting offhand following the pig with the rifle as it crested the hill. She looked over at me. I told her that we had hit the pig and she should get on the trail. She cross-slung her rifle and headed out towards the last sighting.
I followed the pig’s tracks to the where I had first hit it. I found a spot of blood, but I knew it wasn’t a lethal hit. Six feet later I found a large splash of blood, with smears leading down his escape path. Alyssa’s shot was lethal and through the heart. As I stood up, a very enthusiastic “Woo-hoo!” came floating over the meadow.
I walked over to the same hill where I had stood three weeks earlier and hugged my upset daughter. At the bottom of the shallow canyon sat Alyssa next to a dead pig.
We celebrated our success and took a bunch of photos. We dragged the boar into the shade and started field dressing the 140-pound pig. During the butchering, I showed Alyssa her heart shot she had taken on the running animal. She smiled and told me that both her shots were taken off hand. As soon as she had fired the second one, she knew it was a hit.
I HAVE FOUND THAT exposing kids to the outdoors will yield many teachable moments. Alyssa’s frustration during the previous trip sparked her determination on the second trip. Her suggestion on returning to the same pig bed where she had experienced failure told me she wanted a chance to right that wrong. And her willingness to try a new shooting technique was clearly the difference between us loading meat into the cooler and going home empty handed.
Lessons learned in the outdoors are easily applied to everyday life, and I know my daughters learned to deal with frustration, determination and perseverance in the hills while hunting. They have both dealt with failure while hunting and have overcome adversity in very memorable ways.
I feel like those lessons learned molded their character and bolstered their self esteem. The lesson for this day was redemption. Alyssa passed hers with flying colors. CS