Sunday, January 3, 2010
The Annual Christmas Hunt
Remember the “Gallimimus Stampede Scene” in Jurassic Park when the long-legged dinosaurs trampled past Dr. Grant and the kids? Remember the noise of that charging herd? That’s about what this flock of hens sounded like as they bum-rushed the feeder for a late afternoon meal of whole corn.
Travis and I had constructed a ground blind of palmettos and other debris in hopes of sticking a big boar with our bows. Hogs were on the brain – knew turkey came here, but they were an afterthought. Imagine the excitement, then, when you hear this commotion quickly advance from behind, and all you can think about is your flimsy hideout being demolished by hungry snouts and clacking cutters of timer-trained swine. Nonetheless, you are hunter, and must remain totally still if you want the kill. Imagine the strange relief and catch-your-breath moment when, instead of being bowled over for foolishly getting in the way of some stud swine’s supper, you are staring eye to eye with a clucking jake.
The flock fed under the feeder for five minutes or so, vacuuming up every last kernel. Eventually, they meandered off, though they’d return every 30 minutes or so until we heard them fly up before dark. The hogs never paid a visit. With the turkeys holding such vigil here, it’s no surprise why the hogs didn’t visit.
This was our annual Christmas hunt at a ranch in Sarasota. Some members abandon to camp after dinner Christmas night. I, not wanting to be single, usually leave the next morning, and it’s then I reach the full holiday spirit. It’s a fun hunt, nothing too serious. Pigs are the usual fare with the occasional doe or predator taken along the way. In fact, this effort for an archery boar was even a bit more than we do on this trip. Typically, this is a spot-and-stalk from the truck ordeal. The ranch owner and manager wants ‘em dead and there’s a lot of land to cover.
Really, this campaign may have been too successful the last couple of years. I can’t prove it beyond empirical evidence, but I think we’re finally putting a dent in these things. Piling up a half-dozen an evening used to be no big trick. Times, they have a-changed.
In full disclosure, I had my chances. The Sunday after Christmas, with the woeful Bucs having just beaten the Saints, E-Man, Dirty, and I were cruising through a sod field when E-Man noticed movement in an adjacent cow pasture. Out in the open, four to five hundred yards out, was a pretty decent mottled-colored boar. We hopped out of the Dodge and hurried along the barbed wire. Recognizing he wasn’t sitting still for very much longer, we reached a fence post where I could get a clear 250-300 yard shot with the .300.
At the report, the boar swapped ends, ran in a circle, then off into oblivion. Normally, I’d kept slinging lead his way, but he ran right towards a herd of cattle. We marked him well but still found no spoor, not totally surprising as those boars can soak up even big loads. Disappointed, we returned to the truck and pressed on – he turned out to be the only hog spied that night.
E-Man had better luck earlier that morning. While driving through an orange grove, someone caught sight of the hog he had shot Saturday night. A 220lb. – on a scale - listed barr hog, we couldn’t decide if he’d hit the pig that night, his 6.5 Mauser not leaving any sign in the poor light of the grove. We settled on a miss, but Sunday morning proved us wrong. E-Man’s mood flipped in a hurry. The meat was still good and full of fat, perfect for a BBQ. It was just another reminder of how tough those animals are.
Don killed a few sows. Travis popped a doe. Dirty and E-Man each added another hog or two to their coolers. Young Jacob had his granddaddy call in a fall gobbler for him, but he missed the shot. Once he advances past Junior High he’ll have to start taking his lumps about this. His brother, Austin, may have taken the trophy of the weekend, a fine bobcat that stalked around a feeder. It was the biggest critter Austin had taken, he made a perfect shot, and we were right proud. And in another sign he'd gotten closer to full initiation into the hunting ranks was the cut on the bridge of his nose where the scope caught him on the recoil. And out came the war stories from everyone who'd done something similar.
Hunts like this are few and far between. This crew has hunted together a long time - the elders even longer. There’s a fair amount of teasing and lying involved, with a toddy or two flaring that fire. Food is always hot and plentiful. And the wildlife on this ranch is something to behold. Besides the hog and turkey and deer, we saw fox squirrels, caracaras, bald eagles, teal, mottled ducks, and ibis of several different varieties. I think I remember at least one guy saying he’d seen a coyote, outside the standard fare of gators, coons, possums, and armadillos.
Lucky, no doubt, that I’m able to do this year after year. These Christmas gifts amongst the trees are quite often better than any I’ll ever find under a tree.