By Krissie Mason
Up at 5:00am. Feeling excited and eager as I make my way through the dark cabin pulling on the Prois camo clothing I laid out the night before. My excitement has been building very slowly, but now there’s a crescendoing. Mari, Randy and I head over to the mess hall for a cup of coffee before heading out. Breakfast comes later. I discover I’ll be hunting for boar in much the same way that I hunted for whitetails so many years ago; at daybreak and dusk. Mari is not hunting, but with me to shoot a few photos. We climb up in Anthony’s dualie because getting around on such a huge property in an expeditious manner requires more than foot, horses, or ATVs.
Various chunks of land on the property, comprising several thousand acres each, have been given names for reference. East Braves, Bird Creek, North River, 7 Sections, Hunt Trap, Oh-Yoke, North Dikes, the Meadows, Cedar Mountain, Bull Pasture, South Flat, to name a few. And then within each of those thousands-of-acres parcels there are way-points that the hunting-side guides and cattle-side cowboys have designated for geo-location. One of those is Honey Pens in Hunt Trap where there have been signs of recent boar activity. That’s where we are headed.
Below: Some photos from recon the day before.
It’s about a 25minute drive at 30-40mph through the backcountry, with several cattle-on-the-road traffic jams, before we reach Honey Pens. When we get there I understand the name is derived quite literally from cow pens where the Cowboys will occasionally corral the cattle. Directly across is something called a syrup tub, though with Anthony’s accent it sounds like “Serp Tuhb”. It’s a big rectangular tub about 4’x5 ‘ with a lid and four rotating iron wheels. One in each corner. They contain a nutritional molasses cattle lick. The cows enjoy it in their leisure, but most often seek out the sweet treat in the morning and evening after grazing on back-country grasses. The tubs also happen to draw in greedy, sweet-toothed pigs which cannot reach the lick from ground level, but will try hopping on top to get at the lick. Fresh tracks and trails have been noted in the last couple days, so we set up here.
Funny as it sounds, a gator board cut-out of a cow, referred to as “Betsy” will be our cover. We snug into a pocket of sagebrush, Anthony drives the pick-up out of sight, rejoins Betsy, our camo cow, Mari, and I, and the game is on. It is dark. It is silent, except for the yawns of a teenage daughter, and the air is cool.
In our stillness, and as day breaks in a pink sliver on the Eastern Texas sky at our backs, my thoughts wander. Gratitude is what I’m feeling at this moment. I am not nervous, not anxious. I am thankful; for a loving and supportive family that has instilled a reverence and appreciation for the outdoors, for a mother whose spirit of adventure, along with her gun, was passed to me, for the opportunity to share this moment with my daughter, for being in the midst of such incredible rugged beauty. And then…SNAP!
Brush breaks to our left, and my heartbeat quickens. I am alert and fully present. Nothing spotted yet, but whatever is moving in the mesquite, keeps moving. It has not smelled our scent, not heard us, and not seen us.
Anthony leans over and whispers, “Hold, but be ready to pull back yer hammer”.
He pauses and adds, “Sounds like more thun one, so we’re gonna wait for ’em to get out here in the clearin’, and then pick your target. Shoot like you did at the firin’ range and you’ll drop ‘im like a sack-o-taters.”
A small bird in the sage behind us startles Mari and I, as he beats his wings loudly in a haste to skedaddle. Might it really all be over within in minutes of my first hour of hunting? All 40 years of waiting and wondering if I could pull the trigger? Done.Poof! Just like that?
We can still hear something moving. It is oblivious to our presence, oblivious to Betsy the cardboard cow, oblivious to what this moment could mean for me.
“Moo!”, bellers the black angus cow, as she appears through the mesquite and sage. She is followed by others, and calves, too, that romp and kick, and play as they get into the clearing. She turns towards us and stares intently. If a cow could laugh I think it would have as she sees us hiding behind Betsy. And soon the others stare, too. Dang! Busted! Not by wild pigs, but domestic cows.
We gather the chairs, and Betsy, and head back to camp for breakfast.
Having been busted by the cattle early, we decided to try a different tactic that afternoon. We were going “Ninja Style” as Anthony called it. Things were about to get up close and personal! The sun was out, the weather warm, so we would try to flush one from an area called the Y-Tank. (The equivalent in Minnesota would be the Y-Pond) We would be walking an area of thick cedars, mesquite brush, and tall grasses hoping to hear and catch site of a wild boar lying in a wallow escaping the heat of the day, sneak up on it, and get positioned for the shot. Anthony carried a pistol and was always at the ready in case we were charged. Two hours later we had trekked the whole thing but with no luck. Again, many signs they had been there, but non were present now.
Cedar Mountain Bottom. The temperature Tuesday had hit 84 degrees. When it gets warm like that in Texas, the hogs tend to stay pinned down under shady cedars, and in wallows preferring to move and feed on the abundant winter wheat in the coolness of the dark wee hours…which was not good for me, as I do not own thermal imaging spotting equipment, nor a night vision scope. Anthony’s dad, Denny, the area’s retired game warden and now employed by the ranch in a wildlife management capacity, indicated he had been over in Cedar Mountain and saw many signs of recent hog activity. So despite the less than ideal conditions we set up on a beautiful little ridge overlooking a well worn boar trail. The breeze was in our favor and was pushing scent away, so they shouldn’t be able to smell us. Just like domesticated pigs, wild boar have a highly developed sense of smell. Add to that keen hearing and intelligence and you have a formidable foe for the kind of hunt I sought.
We were set up by 5:00 pm and would hunt until darkness made it too hard to see. About an hour in, we heard a couple brief but perceptible grunts behind us and to our left. It was off the trail where they should have been, and put the breeze with our scent directly in their snouts. Despite that, we remained perched on the ridge to see if any might still traffic the pig highway. Meanwhile the coyotes called in another beautiful sunset and darkness eventually filled the small canyon.
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