Grace worked very hard during the school year, and her 6th Grade report card was the proof. All A’s and a top spot on the Honor Roll. Her mother (my girlfriend) asked if there was there anything special she’d like to do to celebrate her successful school year.
“There’s one thing,” she said. “Can we go hog hunting?”
Grace has grown up around firearms, was taught safety and handling at a very young age and has also completed hunter education. Just two months earlier, she’d taken her first turkey on a Florida hunt and loved the experience. Now, though, she was ready for some bigger game.
I called my good friend, Jay, in Mississippi. Jay and his family farm several thousand acres of fertile Mississippi Delta land. They also have a definite problem with wild hogs. The hungry and destructive pigs regularly eat up acres upon acres of Jay’s newly planted crops, undermine levees, and knock over fences and gates.
“Come on down,” Jay said. “We’ll get her on a hog.”
We arrived in Mississippi on a very warm, very humid day, pretty much the weather norm for Mississippi in early June. Because of that warmth, Jay told us, daytime hogs sightings would be rare. Early mornings and just before dark were going to be our best bets, and he had just the place for us: The Peabody.
A hunter himself since childhood, Jay had built several hunting stands on family property, including the newly-finished Peabody. Large and roomy, The Peabody easily held Grace, her mother and me with much room left over. Jay had also designed and built this elevated stand with large, moveable windows on three sides. You could see forever! He’d named it after the Peabody, a top Southern hotel in Memphis known for, among other things, live ducks in the lobby fountain.
First, it was time to zero rifles and make sure Grace was ready for the hunt. She’d be using an AR-10 chambered in .308 Win. and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t too much gun for her 12-year-old frame. I didn’t have to worry. She got behind the rifle and, shooting from a bench, began drilling MOA groups at 50 and then 100 yards.
“It kicks a little,” she told me. “But I can handle it!”
Next, we talked about wild hogs and bullet placement. A common mistake I’ve found with first-time hog hunters, especially those who’ve hunted deer, is the tendency to place their shots too high. The high shoulder shot can and does work well on deer because the deer’s lungs are placed fairly high on the body. Not so with the much shorter and more-compact hogs.
“You have to shoot them lower down than deer,” Grace piped up. “That’s where the heart is.”
“That’s right,” I said. “Ah…how’d you know that?”
Turned out, Grace and her turkey hunting guide in Florida had a hog hunting discussion while sitting in their blind. And Grace, sharp young lady she is, remembered all the details. Plus, since then, Grace did what most 12-year-olds do today when prepping for a new adventure; she did internet searches on “wild hogs” and “hog hunting” and read several articles.
And right there I had a realization. It’s very common to blame our high-tech and the internet for turning our young people into couch potatoes. Yet, our digital world actually provides access to an astounding amount of knowledge. Grace had taken advantage of that knowledge base, and as we sat that first afternoon waiting for a hog to show up, we discussed the great sense of smell hogs possess, their amazing reproductive rates and what sorts of baits the wild porkers like best.
Truthfully, I had trouble relaying hog “facts” Grace didn’t already know!
The Peabody was perched between a block of now-defunct fish ponds, originally dug to raise catfish. The catfish market had gone bust a couple decades before and Jay’s family drained the ponds. Today, what’s left are a crisscrossing series of levees and the five-acre ponds overgrown with small trees and brush. The Peabody sat at the center where four ponds came together. Stands of oak stood behind the far fish pond levees many hundreds of yards away.
It got very warm that first afternoon in the stand, and we opened windows and the stand door to catch a breeze. I was worried Grace might get bored and sleepy, but she stayed alert the whole three hours from late afternoon until it got too dark to see.
“Well, darn,” I said as we hiked back to our truck. “I’m surprised we didn’t at least see a couple of pigs running around on the levees.”
“We’ll see some tomorrow,” Grace said as she walked alongside me, both hands on her rifle sling. “I’m pretty sure!”
We let Grace sleep in the next morning, but were back at the Peabody by about 4:00 p.m. This time, I first dropped some corn and liquid bait on the levee about 100 yards in front of us. The liquid bait had a sweet, fruity smell to it, and I hoped the scent would draw in some hungry hogs.
Another warm Mississippi afternoon, and we only watched and waited for an hour before out came…the cell phones! Facebook, texts and emails filled in until the sun began to set, with frequent breaks to scan the fish ponds and areas beyond. It was maybe 30 minutes before dark when I told Grace we needed to shut off the phones.
“Getting close to go-time,” I told Grace.
Not fifteen minutes later, I spotted movement way off to my right, turned and saw the fish pond brush swaying in line heading toward the levee ahead of us. I touched Grace’s arm, pointed to what I knew were approaching hogs.
“Is your safety on?” I asked. “Finger off the trigger?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“Let’s see where they go. Don’t be in a hurry.”
The three dark bodies glided through the tall grasses, and the hogs popped up on the levee near where I’d poured the bait. They halted for a moment, sniffing the air, but quickly decided this wasn’t for them. They forged on ahead and went down the levee into the next overgrown pond.
I made sure the left side window was fully opened, and then shifted Grace and her chair to that window and laid her rifle over the ledge. We caught glimpses of the hogs as they went through the brush, and a minute later they appeared on the far-left levee.
I got Grace behind her rifle, told her to wait until the hogs held still. Which they did, smack in the middle of the levee and about 150 yards away. I wished they were closer, and felt the shot might be too much. But it was now or never.
“Take the biggest one,” I whispered to Grace. “Shoot low.”
I heard the safety click off. The three hogs milled around on the levee, noses to the ground. I could hear their grunting as they jostled each other. They suddenly halted in place, seemingly finding something to eat. I was going to urge Grace to shoot when the rifle went off and one of the hogs tumbled over on his side.
Grace had bagged her first wild hog, a young boar weighing around 125 pounds. She was all smiles as I dragged the hog back to the stand, and then took photos. I’d been worried the shot was a bit too far for her, especially with the fading light. But Grace had made a near perfect shot on the boar’s vitals.
“How do you feel?” I asked her.
“Good,” she said, after taking a deep breath and letting it out. “Can you take a photo of me with my cell phone?”
“Sure,” I said. “But I have all kinds of pics on my camera.”
“So I can Facebook it right away,” Grace explained. “My friends want to know what happened.”
Today or 100 years ago, a young hunter always wants to share the experience with his or her friends. It’s just that today, they can do it almost instantly.–Brian McCombie