"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Monday, February 22, 2010

Weekend of Clays and Wild Hogs

We needed to post a 30 – the perfect score – in the final round of the clay shoot to tie for 1st. The leading team hammered the clays with cruel efficiency on Saturday. With the Olympics upon us, I’d like to tell you that our underdog team came back to beat the Goliath team in what we’d call, I dunno, The Miracle on Dirt, but it wasn’t to be.

Four shooters with 2 rounds each try to scratch down a flurry of six clays whizzing in from different angles. One practice and two “real” rounds of five flurries. Takes teamwork. I like it.

The practice round was tough. I couldn’t hit a clay if you’d set it on a fence post, a lingering result of the Captain’s Meeting the night before. We settled down in the first real round, dusting 26 of 30 clays to go into a tie for 3rd. The second round, interrupted for a long spell by a fundraising gimmick, wasn’t so kind, and we fell short of first by quite a bit, though we were still in the upper tier of teams when the shooting ceased.

The charity tournament, The Full Moon Howl 8th Annual Clay Pigeon Invitational, benefited the Peace River Center, a local non-profit “providing Polk, Hardee and Highlands Counties in Florida with quality mental and behavioral health care services,” according to its website. The day ended with live and silent auctions, dinner and dancing, and is a grand event.

I’ve never been great on clays – or flying birds, for that matter. I probably wasn’t helped by the fact I shot my dove gun, a Winchester 1400 with a modified choke. Wish I had a stylish over-under like the winning team fielded, but I doubt it would have mattered much. I’ve always been a rifle guy. And I got to prove that point, I think, Sunday with a trip to a private ranch in Sarasota for a hog hunt with some good buddies.

Quick side note, though. On the drive from Lakeland, in a huge field on the corner of SR-64 and Myakka Road, we spied a pair of gobblers strutting by a pine tree. Got the old heart a-pumping, that’s for sure. They are still a few weeks away. Hogs were on the menu.

Typically what we do on these hunts is canvas by truck the property’s sod fields and cow pastures for feeding swine. Once a batch is spotted, we stalk within range and lay the lead to them. Sounds easy, and sometimes it is, but hogs stay mobile. You have to move quick to get into range before they feed off into the brush. Switching winds will disrupt a stalk as will any unusual noises.

The first group escaped when a wind-driven truck door slammed as our contingent of hunters crept up to them. Travis caught sight of the second herd feeding along a fenceline running between a green sod field and dog fennel-choked thickness. There were four or five of them around 350 yards away. Five of us began the stalk, following an intersecting fenceline until we could reach a cabbage palm that’d give us cover to set-up and put us within reasonable shooting distance.

Four of us reached the palm. Barney spotted a different hog, a large, reddish boar, feeding in the opposite direction and set after him.

By the way, I don’t have any pictures of this. Having a website and all, I know I should take more pictures. But I grew up fishing, and when you are on a good bite, you shouldn’t slow things down with photos. Get while the getting's good. Kinda the same philosophy here. By this time, we only had a little bit of daylight left and plenty more land to explore. I guess I could have taken pictures at the cleaning shed, but it’s Sunday, we all have to be at work in the morning. It’s time to get these things cleaned and in the cooler. Plus, I’m not a fan of back-of-the-truck pictures.

Anyway, we reached the cabbage palm and I deployed the Harris bipod on my Savage 110 .300 Win Mag. while the other guys found rests on fence posts. I’d take the farthest hog, a young sow that was, oh, let’s call it 160 yards away.

There was some confusion in our assignments. Krunk was supposed to shoot the closest hog that stood in the field, and Cole had the unenviable task of catching a bead on one that milled around in the dog fennels. At the count of three, my hog dropped as the other hogs wheeled back into cover. Krunk, through all the whispers and excitement, fired at my target. Barney’s hog took off at the report of our shots and got away despite a couple attempts on his life.

It’s entirely possible Krunk drilled the hog instead of me. My CSI kit was left at home, but I did have to clean it, so I guess I’ll claim it. We split the pork between us; it’s all teamwork anyhow.

Looking forward to the cubed ham steaks I’m getting off that 80 pound meat hog. Gonna try pan-frying it. I promise I’ll take pictures of that!

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