This was not going to be a cake walk.
My friends Kelly and Lucas from Original Fare, who’d hooked up with my friend RJ Waldron from North Wind Outfitters, had hunted hard all day with only two chances at bringing home a wild pig. They’d missed a pig early in the day, and we’d all missed a group of running hogs earlier in that evening, right before sundown. While there still might be pigs on this ranch near the little Central Coast town of San Miguel, the terrible drought we’ve been having has thinned their numbers.
Almost exactly two years before, I’d hunted pigs on this ranch. Back then, the problem was not finding the hogs, it was finding a boar — or a sow that was not wet with piglets. RJ and I searched all day until we found one, and I shot Matilda the Pig at 162 yards late in the afternoon. We chalked up our success to the good karma we’d earned by passing up all those nursing mothers.
Back at the cabin, Kelly, Lucas, RJ and I discussed the day’s hunt around some beers and sandwiches. Kelly and Lucas were shooting an episode of their TV show (it airs on PBS), and they were supposed to leave that night. But they didn’t have enough to put together a show. No pig, no good footage. Finally they made the call to stay and hunt the next morning. We all went to bed early, but I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned, running through every potential shot opportunity that might present itself the next day. I’d missed earlier because my Remington 700 is sighted in at 200 yards, so a shot at 30 yards won’t go where I point the scope. In the confusion, I’d not thought to adjust. Sigh. I just knew that tomorrow would be no lay-up, like with Matilda back in 2012.
We all awoke earlier than we’d planned. There was a whiff of tension in the air. Kelly and Lucas could only stay until 10 a.m., so the first pig we saw — if we even saw one — would be theirs. I had all day to hunt. Before dawn, we drove to a spot where RJ had seen pigs a lot in the past. The hills had received a nice bout of rain in recent days, so it had begun to green. But the weather has finally warmed, and the pigs were beginning to orient to any standing water left on the ranch. The clock on the dashboard read 6:13 a.m. Shoot time. No pigs. RJ and I glassed the canyons. Nothing moving. No black dots on hillsides that might be pigs. We moved on.
RJ decided to drive down into the canyon bottom — the ranch is on a very long, very narrow canyon with a flat base where the owners grow barley and alfalfa and such for their cattle — so we could check out another spot. We were driving along, talking strategy, when something weird happened.
I was in the front passenger seat. As we drove I noticed a little deer that had caught itself in the barbed-wire fence. It was looking directly at me. Directly. And I don’t know how I did this, but I said to RJ, in a voice no different from what I would use to ask him to pass me a cup of coffee, “RJ, we should save that deer.” It was weird, like the words and voice weren’t my own. We stopped and they immediately saw the deer.
It was still looking at me. Me, not RJ, not Kelly not Lucas. At first I thought it was trying to tell me it wanted me to help it, but more likely it was thinking we were going to come eat it. I have no idea why it was fixated on me. We all spoke to the deer, a little buck, in soothing voices and RJ cut it free with a pair of wire cutters he had in the truck. The little buck was in bad shape. It’s legs did not look broken, but the buck had desperately tried to free itself from the wire, and had at the very least torn muscles, wounded tendons.
It hobbled away slowly. RJ tried to get the game warden on the phone. We debated what to do: Put this little buck down to save it the misery of being eaten alive by coyotes? Or let it live, and hope against hope it wasn’t horribly injured and could right itself? As we talked, the buck hobbled under a tree, sat down and began eating grass. I argued to let the deer live; I’ve seen many a three-legged deer in my time, and after all, the buck’s legs didn’t look broken. The argument became moot when RJ couldn’t raise the warden on the line.
We got back in the truck and drove on — and around the next corner were four pigs!
“Everyone out of the truck!” RJ shouted. I had the magazine of my .270 loaded with three shells, and I’d racked a round into the chamber by the time my feet touched the dirt. The pigs were running by now, but still within 35 yards. Just like the last time. I picked out a brown pig and touched off a shot that whizzed over the pig’s head. Fuck me! I’d done the same thing as yesterday! I worked the bolt to chamber another round, found the brown pig again — now they were really running — and aimed a little lower. BOOM! I saw the pig drop just as the foursome ran down into a ditch and out of sight.
When I saw them again, my heart sank. They were all still running away, including the brown pig. Goddamn it. I ran across the ditch separating us from the field and into the barley. Now the pigs were almost to the other side of the canyon, a solid 350 yards away. I let one more shell fly, to no avail. I was not going to shoot again, as I’d only brought 10 rounds on this trip. I heard a boom from my left; RJ had shot. A split second later, I heard an incredible thwump! and I knew RJ had hit a pig. I saw the brown pig drop. What a shot!!
It was a bittersweet moment. That was the pig I’d shot at. At least it was still early. Kelly and Lucas had their hog, and RJ and I had all day. Still, something nagged at me. I really thought I’d hit that pig. Maybe we’ll see some glancing blow when we got to it.
When we walked up to the dead pig, there was no glancing blow. Huh. I was about to help RJ gut the pig when I got an odd feeling. “I’m just going to check, OK?” I walked back down into the fields. I saw the tracks the pigs had left in the sandy soil. Something wasn’t right. How many pigs were there again? Three? Four? I stood up and saw the dew trail through an alfalfa field the pigs had left.
A pig stood up!
Holy crap! All in one motion, I chambered a round, fired, missed. The pig did not run. And it was brown. I HAD hit it. I walked up closer to the pig, chambered a final round, and killed the pig. It was a good-sized boar, too, about 130 pounds on the hoof. I gutted him while RJ went for the truck. What had happened? Where had I shot him?
As it turned out, that first shot had destroyed Mistah Brown’s — for whatever reason I always name my pigs, and since I’d been fixated on a brown pig it seemed appropriate — backbone right above the pelvis. Massive damage, yet no innards had been damaged at all. Miraculous. The final shot had in essence cut Mistah Brown’s throat: Again, a lucky shot, as it left very little meat damaged.
Visions of fromage du tete, smoked shanks, liver sausage, grilled heart and kidneys, fried criadillas, backstrap wrapped in caul fat, poached tenderloin, hams and sausage of all shapes and sizes flooded my mind. Soon there will be a feast!
Pigs in the truck, I looked at the clock: 7:28 a.m. A miracle. RJ, Kelly and Lucas were all elated; they’d worked so hard the day before. “It’s karma for working so hard yesterday,” Kelly said.
I wasn’t so sure. I looked back as we were driving away. There was the little buck, still eating grass.