FIRST BIG GAME

Midafternoon heat was at its peak when Jake White and Jared Christensen approached the waterhole, shaded by several big trees. A few heifers and calves lounged nearby and some valley quail darted in to water on the far side, but otherwise all was completely still. As we approached, only Jake had seen—he thought—a wild hog near the water.

Figuring two’s company and more a huge crowd, my friend Johan Klehs and I stayed behind while Jake and Jared slowly approached the seemingly barren depression. Well, the banks dropped steeply enough that we couldn’t actually see the water’s edge on our side. Even so, there was obviously nothing there, but for sure it was worth a look.

Johan and I were a hundred yards back, watching quietly. The other pair seemed close to the water when their body language changed completely, crouching down, binoculars slowly up. We couldn’t see what they were looking at, but for sure something. They moved back and to the left, obviously changing the angle. Jared put up sticks, low for a sitting position, but we had no idea what they were looking at.

Then a spotted hog stepped up onto the bank, between the hunters and the water. As almost any non-hunting spouse will tell you (and as Donna learned very quickly!), hunting is usually not much of a spectator sport. This was an exception. Wind in our favor and keeping quiet, Johan and I had a birds-eye view. The hog was good-sized and looked like a dry sow, a perfect “eatin’-size” pig, which was the goal. The warm afternoon suddenly got very interesting!

From apparent tenseness, and Jake’s rifle perched on the sticks, it was obvious they knew the pig was there. But, as the pig moved among dead logs and tree trunks near the bank, their angle was much different than ours. We couldn’t tell if they had a shot. Or, perhaps, were waiting for a bigger pig—that we couldn’t see—to come up from the water. I’d quietly slipped the longer lens on my camera and clicked a few images. Jake was now intent behind the rifle, and the pig was working slowly toward them.

Turns out it was all of the above; there were wet sows with piglets near the water, but the bank dropped so steeply they wanted to make sure they saw them all…and then they needed to wait for a clear shot and good presentation. I figured four more steps and I’d have both the pig and the hunters in the frame. But the pig never got that far; at less than 30 yards Jake dropped her with a perfect brain shot, straight down and not an ounce of good pork wasted.

All else aside, it would have been an exciting encounter. Especially since, as we approached the waterhole, only Jake glimpsed what he thought was a hog; the rest of us were convinced nothing was there and, initially, just going through the motions. Making it even more special: This was Jake White’s first-ever big-game animal! I’m sure we can all remember our first animal with crystal clarity, a life-altering event. We can never quite recapture that adrenalin-infused moment, but it’s a wonderful thing to share such a day.

Doesn’t matter who it is, or at what age. As hunters, we must recognize that it isn’t for everyone. But, regardless of how much (or how little) future hunting we do, that first experience will probably define us as hunters for the rest of our lives.

As Robert Ruark wrote a generation ago, “The horn of the hunter sounds early for some, later for others…” Children of hunting families often start at a young age; others are exposed as adults. Donna was in her 40s when she first hunted (she has made up for a lot of lost time!). I leave it to wise parents to decide what age is too early, but there’s no such thing as too late. Every year at the conventions I speak to people who didn’t start hunting until they were in their 60s and 70s…and once, over 80!

Jake White is 24, and fortunate to have family friend Johan Klehs as a mentor. Interest in the outdoors didn’t come out of blue sky; he’s been on canoe camping trips since he was three, soloed with both canoe and kayak and caught his first fish at five. But hunting wasn’t part of family vacations or pastimes. Jake took hunter education at 15, and Johan started taking him shooting and bird hunting when he was 16. The interest was surely there but, between sports, school, and starting a career, this was his first opportunity to take a large animal.,

Johan invited Jake to join him for a weekend pig hunt with Chad Wiebe’s Oak Stone Outfitters on the California Central Coast.  Most new hunters probably start with deer, but, out here, our wild hogs are more popular—and certainly more available. I think feral hogs offer an excellent first hunt: Long seasons, great eating and, with “any hog” legal game, high success. Let’s face it: In many parts of the country deer hunting is tough. Taking game isn’t essential to enjoy a fine outdoor experience, but it’s good for a beginner to learn what taking game is all about…fairly early in his or her experience. Both of my daughters started with wild hogs…at about 16. Given a choice and a chance, feral hogs offer an ideal first hunt…for anyone, at any age.

It’s impossible to orchestrate a perfect first encounter. I wouldn’t have objected if we’d had to look harder and longer to get Jake a shot, but it wasn’t far from perfect. We hadn’t spent much time discussing the brain shot, but he’d practiced on and off of sticks. He understood how to execute the shot, and did it perfectly. Just at dusk Johan made a fine shot on a nice boar and, under lights, we finished a fine day field dressing and skinning under shed lights. I’ll be honest, understanding this makes me a politically incorrect male chauvinist pig: My daughters weren’t required to do the post-shot chores (at least not at first)! Jake White jumped in with enthusiasm, and I think we can count him among the ranks of dedicated hunters. I hope so; I look forward to hunting with him again.–Craig Boddington

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