I'm not sure what I expected Hogs to sound like. Honestly, I expected them to be pretty quiet. What little experience I have in the woods has taught me that wild animals are usually far more quiet than people typically think. I mean, a loud animal in the wild probably isn't going to live very long. I guess hogs don't have very many predators to worry about (other than hunters, obviously), these hogs made plenty of noise.
It was still so dark that I couldn't see any of them, but I could hear plenty of grunting, snuffling, and squeals.
The sky slowly lightened. First. I could just make out shadows moving in the shadows. Then, slowly I could make out individual hogs. There were four or five of them in a small clearing under the tree with the feeder. They rooted around the base of the tree and the clearing, looking for food. They were all black, or at least appeared black in the early dawn's light. A couple were slightly larger but they were all pretty close to the same size, not that that helped me much. Between the distance and the dim light I had no idea how big they actually were. That might sound funny, but the last thing I wanted was to take Piglet on my first real hunt.
Finally, it got light enough that I thought I could make a good shot. I put up the rifle, took off the safety... and with my next breath I fogged up the scope. It went from a clear picture to trying to see through milk. Well, crap.
I quickly realized that the wind was coming from exactly the wrong direction, every time I exhaled with the rifle at my shoulder the scope would fog up. Then, it would take five minutes or so for it to clear enough to get a good site picture again. The lenses were far enough inside the scope that I couldn't just wipe them off. Eventually, I pulled the neck of my jacket up over my mouth and exhaled into my coat. It was awkward but it worked.
Finally, I got myself situated enough that I felt I could make the shot.
I sighted in on a hog. That's when I had a sudden thought. Say I shoot and kill the hog, what then?
Was I supposed to do something with it? Was I supposed to call the guides to come and pick it up? I checked my phone, no service of course. What if I got to my kill and it turned out to be some 20lb piglet? When were the guides coming back? Was I supposed to just sit there with my dead hog for two hours until they came back?
I had gotten into this thinking that Grandpa would be there to tell me what I was supposed to do. The last thing I wanted to do was shoot a hog and then do something stupid and ruin the meat. Or do something stupid and look like an idiot.
I seemed to remember somewhere that you were supposed to hang it by it's hind legs, cut it's throat, and let it bleed out. There was something about the blood needing to be out to keep the meat from being ruined. I really wished I had someone with me that knew what they were doing. Do I shoot or not? If I shoot then I didn't know what to do with it, if I don't than I won't learn anything from this experience.
All these thoughts raced through my head, with the cross hairs still on the hog, 70 yards away and oblivious to it's predicament.
I pulled the trigger. The hog dropped to the ground, the others bolted for the woods and were gone in a fraction of a second.
I had just shot a living creature. I sat there for a minute, looking down at the hog I'd shot. I saw it kick it's legs a couple times then it stopped. I wanted to go down and make sure it was dead and not suffering, but I waited for a while, knowing that there were other hogs in the brush.
I waited about 5 minutes, thinking that was long enough for the other hogs to leave, I came down and started walking down the dirt track toward the feeder. The palmettos were chest high and incredibly thick, severely limiting my visibility. There could have been dozens of huge hogs hiding in the brush a few feet away and I would never have seen them.
As I approached the clearing I could hear the distinct, and now familiar sound, of at least two hogs in the brush around the clearing. They didn't like me approaching, they started grunting and thrashing the brush. I got close enough to see my Hog was a decent size and wasn't breathing, then retreated back to the tree stand.
Yeah, I retreated. That moment was a definite challenge to my conception of my manhood. I tucked tail and went back up my tree. At least two hogs, unknown size, in their element, definitely creeped me out.
So, I sat in my stand and looked down at my hog.
I'm not sure how long it was, or exactly what thoughts were running through my head. I sat there and looked at my kill. Every few minutes I would look through the scope to make sure it wasn't moving. I kept wondering what I should do. It seemed wrong to leave it there in the dirt and I still had no idea when the guides would be back. I would check my watch, then wonder what i should be doing.
Imagine that, a pacifist, staring at his kill for twenty minutes. It's almost funny. Of course, there were other things to look at, but my eyes were inexorably drawn back to the black carcass. It was like a magnet, always drawing the eyes back to it.
Eventually, I decided that I needed to do something, I couldn't just sit there staring at the hog any longer. I went back down, intent on hanging and bleeding the pig. I needed to justify the kill to ease my conscience, if the meat was ruined than it would have been for nothing.
So, I get to my hog and get my first real look at it. He's probably a hundred pounds and covered in scars, an old warrior. One of things that surprised me was the smell. I'm not sure what I expected but he smelled intensely like sweet cranberries, like someone opened a can of thanksgiving cranberry sauce and held it under my nose. I'll never forget it.
The other surprise? The bullet hit him in the neck. It was obviously a good shot, he dropped like someone flipped a switch, but that hadn't been where I was aiming. I'll never know if he stepped back when I shot, or if I had pulled it (I have a history of that), but I had been aiming for a heart/lung shot, behind the shoulder, not for the neck. If he had stepped forward, or I had pulled the other direction, then it would have been a gut shot and much, much worse for the both of us.
I heard a hog in the brush. Only one this time, but it was definitely pissed off by my presence. It made me nervous but I was determined to do something with my hog.
I pulled some 550 cord out of my pack to string my hog up. I looked around for a reasonable branch but the only ones nearby were in the same tree as the feeder, which didn't seem like a good idea. To hang it up I would need to drag it at least 100 yards. I looped the cord around the hind legs and tugged a little, this was going to be awkward.
That's when I realized that my borrowed rifle didn't have a sling. To pull my hog to a decent branch to hang it up I would need to set down my rifle and use both hands to drag the Hog. I probably could have thrown the hog over my shoulder but he was an awkward size and quite literally dead weight. There was at least one other hog in the brush, I didn't want to set my rifle down, but I had no other choice if I wanted to move it to somewhere I could put it up.
Whatever. WTF. I put the rifle against a berm, I figured I would take the trip in steps. Move the hog, move the rifle, repeat, so that the rifle was never too far away from reach.
I set the rifle down and dragged the hog about five feet when the swamp buggy came around the corner.
They looped a cable around the hog's neck and lifted it. I reached around the hog and got a quick pic. It bled on my hand, which seemed strangely appropriate. I hadn't gotten any blood on my hands up until that point.
I grabbed my rifle, brushed off the dirt, and loaded up.