Beating the Odds at the First Annual Jesse's Hunting and Outdoors Ham Slam at Tejon Ranch
Third time's the charm, right?
Actually, this year it looked like my third hunt at Tejon might come up empty. Here's how it played out.
This story is also available at Jesse's Hunting and Outdoors Journal.
Following the March, 2003 POR, I met with Barbara Boeck, in Tejon Ranch's Wildlife Management Department. We set a date and the parameters for the hunt. I told her we'd like to put 50 hunters on Tejon's South Side. Barbara looked a little skeptical that I could fill 50 slots, but she didn't know how much the hog hunters at JHO loved hunting at Tejon.
We scheduled the hunt for May 21-23, 2004, decided how to handle the registrations, and moved on to our summertime concerns.
In December 2003, the applications were ready, and I announced that I was accepting hunt applications. They trickled in slowly at first, but in February I hit the halfway mark. Suddenly the applications poured in, and within two weeks the final 25 slots were filled and the hunt was officially sold out.
The wait from February to May 21st was long, and as April wound down, the anticipation really kicked in. But at last, it was May!
Tejon Ranch, set just an hour from Los Angeles offers some of the most beautiful country I've ever hunted. Rugged and steep are two other adjectives that describe the place.
Friday - 05/21/04 - The Stage is Set
This year would be different from previous Pig-O-Ramas in a couple of ways. First of all, I had organized the hunt for JHO members only. While I had never met many of these guys, I had "chatted" with most of them electronically on the JHO Forums.
Second, and more important, I would be hunting with Kat on this trip. This would be her first opportunity to visit Tejon, and I really wanted to get her a hog. She'd only killed one big game animal before, under less than ideal circumstances (see the story of her first hog here). I was confident that we would get her a good opportunity at Tejon Ranch.
We drove out of the Bay Area on Thursday night, stopping for a restless sleep near Bakersfield five hours later. Friday dawned bright, and I was awake with the new day... totally unable to sleep any more. I slipped out and had a couple of cups of coffee before going back to wake Kat. We should be at Tejon headquarters at 0930 to help Barbara with the check-in.
It was 1000 when we finally rolled in.
Most of the guys were already there, and it looked like a great crowd. I had brief opportunities to put faces with names, but in the crush my mental processing functioned poorly, and most of the names got shuffled in the mix. I'd spend the rest of the weekend trying to remember who was who. But at least check-in went smoothly, and the guys headed to the campground to set up. By the time I got myself checked in and camp set, several groups were already in the field.
After some more socializing around camp, we were ready to hit the road. Despite last year's misadventure, Chris and Scott were willing to let me drive them up to the top of "Roadmisser Ridge" while they left Chris's truck at the bottom of the canyon. They would hunt downhill and collect Chris's truck after dark. Kat and I would stay up high, hopefully picking up a hog on the hillside where I'd killed mine in 2002.
The evening progressed slowly until about 1930. With about an hour of shooting time left, a huge boar wandered out onto the ridge opposite our position. I estimated the distance at around 600 yards, and there was no way to close the gap. Kat and I sat and watched as he lollygagged on the hillside, right out in the open. I couldn't believe there were no shots, since I knew there were at least four hunters in the canyon bottom, but apparently no one else spotted him.
I began to scope out alternate paths to get closer, but the steep terrain and thick brush limited any stealthy approach. With the wind at our backs, a stalk simply was not an option. We held tight, our only hope that he would move within range. He was coming in the right direction, but not in any hurry. I showed Kat a finger ridge, and told her that it would be about a 225-250 yard shot if he got there. We were in excellent position with a good rest, so I was comfortable that she could make it.
The hog moved closer, now at an estimated 300 yards. Still too far for a comfortable shot, but he was coming and time seemed to be on our side. Suddenly, the far end of the canyon came alive with gunfire! The boar looked around and trotted into a thicket where he disappeared. He didn't emerge until just before dark, heading the other way at a quick trot.
Kat and I picked up our gear and struggled back to the top of the ridge. As we neared the top, I glanced at a cattle trough in the saddle. Three little butts were outlined against the twilight. They looked like pigs, but what pig would be out in the wide open with all this activity. Nevertheless, I joked to Kat, "Look. There are your pigs, drinking from the trough."
We continued our climb, and finally hit the road just above the trough. As we stepped into the clearing, three hogs sprinted away from the trough and over the ridge. Kat and I just looked at one another. I couldn't help laughing. Less than 50 yards away, I could see the lights of an idling pickup. My own truck was even closer. Instead of busting our tails to get down the ridge, we should have hunted from the tailgate!
It turns out the evening wasn't over yet, though. When we reached the bottom and Chris's truck, we found that Scott hadn't come out yet. He and Chris had agreed to meet at a rendezvous spot if either of them scored, and Scott hadn't shown. We drove back in to the meeting spot and waited, honked the horn, and yelled. No reply.
I took Kat back to camp, then Chris and I drove back. Figuring maybe he'd gone back to the high road, we drove to the top of the ridge and looked there. We found a high point and glassed for lights in the darkness below. Nothing. The level of concern was increasing rapidly, and I decided that I needed to go back out to the main gate, where there was a cell signal, and call in the Tejon staff to help with a real search. Fortunately, as we rounded the bend back at the bottom of the canyon, Scott was there. He'd shot a really nice boar, and tried to drag it out himself.
At around 0230, I crawled into the sleeping bag, knowing full-well that the alarm would be going off in an hour and a half.
Scott's "Pigzilla". He had us a little worried, but it all worked out. 180lbs field dressed and on the scale, and Scott was done for the weekend. Or so he thought...
Saturday Morning - 05/22/04 - Sometimes it Doesn't Pay to Get Out of Bed
Saturday morning found Kat and myself back out on the same ridge. Chris and Scott were worn out and sleeping in. The action was particularly slow all morning. I hiked out on a trail, while Kat went back to nap in the truck. As I glassed a hillside, a nearby gunshot made me jump. The shot was instantly followed by the squealing of a pig, and I knew someone nearby had just scored.
I climbed quickly to the top of a hill and glassed the direction of the shot. I watched as one hunter topped a ridge down below. His next action chilled and enraged me. He spotted me on the hilltop, crouched down, and glassed me with his rifle scope! Of all the ignorant, blasted irresponsible things! I offered him the one fingered wave, and he quickly lowered his scope and pretended to look away.
Shortly afterward, his partner came up out of a draw. I could tell he was looking for a blood trail, and watched him work slowly along the edge of the draw. At one point he hollered back down to the other guy that he was following blood. Even as he did, though, I spotted his pig back down near the bottom of the ridge. He'd walked right by. I don't know what blood he was following, but it wasn't coming from that pig. I yelled over to him, and directed him to the downed animal.
When I glassed the pig, I saw several tiny objects moving around it. Piglets! He'd shot a wet sow. The logical part of me knows that this kind of thing happens. In theory, if the justification for liberal hunting limits and seasons is the control of the hog population, then it makes sense that killing wet and pregnant sows should not be a bad thing. And I'd almost done the same thing last year. But I couldn't help being pretty deeply moved as I watched them nudge the body of the sow, then try to hide behind her as the hunter approached.
I decided to work my way down into the canyon, and come around to the next ridge. That plan was busted though, when a Chevy Blazer appeared on the road below, and proceeded to drive up the creek bed road and right through my stalking area. Oh well. I was tired anyway, so I humped back up the hill to the truck.
We drove back to camp and after chatting with several successful JHO hunters, I made my way to my tent and a much-needed nap.
Saturday Evening - Almost Only Counts in Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
After a two hour nap, I was ready to plan the evening hunt. For this venture, I decided to take Kat down the ridge where I'd shot the big sow last year. The far end of this ridge had already produced several hogs for other hunters over the weekend, and I knew there were more where those came from. The dense canyon and draws, in combination with a swamp and spring were loaded with inaccessible hogs. With luck, we'd be able to catch them coming out to feed before dark.
We set up on the ridge in a screaming wind. On the lee side of the ridge, the temps were comfortably in the upper 60s. But on the windward side there was an eye-watering chill. After only an hour, Kat and I both found ourselves situated on the lee side, watching the same hill. Suddenly, Kat pointed across the canyon. "What's that?"
I looked and confirmed instantly. Three pigs were coming out of cover, ambling along sidehill in our general direction. I began to scan for approaches. From where we were, they might eventually cross in front of us at around 200 yards. But remembering the boar from Friday night, I didn't want to wait. I had to find a way to get us closer.
A grove of small oaks initially looked too thick, but I spotted a route across the top of the grove, then down the side using the trees for cover. I wasn't sure we could make it before the pigs disappeared, but it looked like our only chance. I laid the options out to Kat. Wait here and risk them not coming in, or move down on them. We chose to make a move.
We had to go fast, so we were practically running and falling over the first hundred yards. The trees offered excellent cover, and when we broke out on the other side, the hogs were clueless of our approach. So far so good. We worked our way down, closing the gap. Finally, though, we were out of space. Still about 200-250 yards off, it was do or die. I found a good rest, and directed Kat to it, then coached her as she lined up her shot.
"Which one are you going to shoot?" I asked, trying to make sure she focused on one hog and not the whole bunch.
The hogs began to get nervous, sensing our presence and probably catching a whiff of us on the strong wind. Kat told me which hog she was going to shoot, and it immediately walked into the brush. She picked the next hog down, took a breath, and touched off the Browning .270. The hog jumped, it's rear feet spinning in the air as it sought traction before bolting into the bush. Kat threw one more shot in behind it.
I sat on the hill, and shouldered my .308 BAR as the hogs came boiling back out of the bushes. I was sure that first shot had hit the hog, and was hoping to spot it and finish it off. My two shots went low and ahead as the hog sprinted across my field of view. I watched as it continued to run with the other two, cutting across the ridge and heading back into the heavy cover of the canyons.
Now began the real work. While I was sure she'd hit the hog, the way it was moving with the others belied any serious injury. I still owed it to the animal to go look for sign. All I had to do was make my way down a sheer drop, battle through a thicket of chemise, oak, poison oak, and more chemise, then clamber up a near-vertical cliff to reach the other side. Nothing to it. I decided that Kat would be better off to go back up to the ridge and wait for me there.
Drenched in sweat, and heaving like a bellows, I reached the area where the hogs had been feeding. I quickly found their tracks, and saw where they had milled around under the bushes trying to decide which way to run. I moved along their trail, searching in vain for hair, blood, or any other spoor, but only saw tracks. Their trail took me to the end of the ridge where I'd last seen them, and then their tracks blended with dozens of other tracks and trails and I knew I'd lost them.
The long, and extremely arduous hike back to the truck in the deepening darkness was made tougher by my disappointment. The only bright light in my mind was the realization that, if she had killed that hog, I'd have to get it out of there by myself. At least I wasn't dragging 150lbs of hog up this ridge.
Among the many things I thought about on the hike out, I decided to switch to my trusty Savage 30-06 for the remainder of this hunt. It's been lucky so far, and I was obviously needing some luck.
Saturday night, back at camp, several more guys were skinning and dressing hogs. There was a lot of cheer, and after a little ice cold tequila, I was feeling pretty cheery myself. We gathered the group into a central area, and Jesse (JHO Owner/Founder) held a raffle for logo goodies. To show appreciation for the work I'd done organizing the hunt, many of the guys went in together and bought me a gift which was presented at the gathering. A beautiful Camillus Bowie Knife, complete with presentation case and leather sheath. I was taken aback, but not surprised at the generosity of this group of guys. After a few more drinks, a great dutch oven elk roast dinner, and some great conversation, I staggered into my tent at around 0130.
Sunday Morning - 05/23/04 - The March of the Dead
I'm not the only one who partook a little too heavily on Saturday night, and daylight streaming through the tent walls woke me. I should have been in the field hours ago, but I was exhausted. I laid around until I couldn't stand myself anymore. Kat decided she could stand herself, and chose to stay in bed. As I clambered out, I saw that several other hunters were just beginning to get underway. All of us were moving a little slow.
I rolled off to find Chris, and see if he wanted to go riding. I figured it was way too late to catch the hogs out and about, but it was a good morning to explore the ranch. We loaded up, and headed up for an area I hadn't hunted yet.
As we drove along the top of a high ridge, I saw a spot I wanted to glass. We walked over, and saw that beyond the initial drop of the ridge, finger ridges and points offered acres upon acres of prime pig habitat. If I hadn't stopped, I'd have never known the area was there. We glassed for a while, then I spotted a lone hog feeding on a distant hillside. We decided to jump in the truck and try to close the distance, then get out and stalk him.
We drove to about where we thought the hog would be, then parked the truck and grabbed the rifles. We hiked out the ridge, glassing as we went. Suddenly Chris and I spotted three hogs trotting across the bottom of a draw. I decided to try to head them off, as Chris covered their back trail. I moved around them, but they disappeared into a thicket and never emerged. I could see a deep gully below the thicket, and assumed they'd gone to ground there. I sat and glassed for a while, then proceeded to scout around.
This was the hillside where the big hog had been grazing. I found his tracks, and all kinds of scat. Some was as fresh as this morning, and others were days and even weeks old. Obviously, this was a high use area. I began to get excited about the possibility of coming back here for the evening. The only downside was that the ridge was extremely steep, dropping away probably 1500 or 2000 feet into thickets below.
However, as I glassed around, I saw that the steep hill and draws all drained into a single drainage which then exited onto a good road. What a perfect setup! As I hiked back to the truck, I was already planning the evening hunt.
Sunday Evening - 05/23/04 - Finale
Over the course of the day, the majority of the JHO group filtered out for home. By 1430, only myself, Kat, Jesse, and Scott were still around. Scott was done, and could have packed it in for home, but he stayed on. I'm glad he did.
Scott, Kat, and I went back out to my new "hot spot". Jesse said his knees were hurting too much to hike the ridges, so he opted to drive the ridge and glass from the road. He'd meet us at the bottom, to make sure everyone got out.
We set up on a point, overlooking the draw where the three pigs had disappeared, as well as the meadow where the boar was feeding. My confidence was high that we'd spot hogs moving out of the draws as I set Kat up behind a log, then moved myself to an angle where I could cover a spot she couldn't see.
About an hour before sunset, Kat spotted the first two coming up from the thick stuff. I was situated about 15 yards uphill from her, and couldn't see what she was looking at, so Scott and I watched her actions as she scoped, then backed off, then scoped again. Finally, as I was glassing the hillside, Scott said "She's taken the safety off!"
A moment later.. BANG... she missed.Then the action really starts.
I spot a black pig take off up the mountain, so I send a round his way. Scott says I was in front of him. I adjust the lead as he dives into a bush, but he changes directions as I shoot and I whiff him again. Meanwhile, Kat's shooting at another hog. She empties her rifle, and I've got two rounds left in the magazine.
I look up, and a huge boar is trucking across the ridge where we saw the big pig in the morning. No shot there, but then another pig comes darting out of the bushes just below us. A couple more are running downhill, already out of range. Then another big pig comes out and is beaming across the hillside about 250 or so away. It slows to an easy trot, so I lay the crosshairs just at its nose and miss. I lay another one on there as Scott's saying "that's too far", and wham! The hog starts cartwheeling backwards down the hill, squealing like crazy.
We watch as it comes down about 100 yards of hill and slides into the ravine. A second or two later, a hog comes charging out of the ravine, snorting and grunting like crazy. It runs off across the hill and disappears. I can't believe that hog was still running after the shot and fall, but Scott swears it's not the same pig.
I finally get up and work my way to the ravine... fully expecting to find a dead hog down there. No go. I work the hillside up, down, and sideways looking for sign. No blood, no hair, and not even any good indication of where the hog slid down. Scott comes over to help, and he can't find any sign either. The grass is only about shin high, but we still work back and forth, hoping to find the animal laying there. Finally, we decide to follow the drainage down, to see if the hog maybe went further down under its own power.
At this point, we're way down on the hillside, so I radio Kat to go back up, and bring the truck down to the road below and meet us. I don't let anybody drive "the tactical vehicle", so Kat is tickled... but a little nervous at having to use the 4-wheel drive.
Finally, we reach the point where the drainage is blocked up with trees and such, and realize that the hog couldn't have slid through this far. Somehow or other, it got up and ran away. It had to be the one we saw running off. I wonder if I really hit it, or if I just came close enough to make it fall.
We're talking and working our way down the trail when I look up and see a pig about 60 yards or so up the hill. I can't believe it! "Look at that!" I whisper! "A damned pig!"
We stand there for a moment of indecision, wondering if it would be right to shoot this one after losing the other one. I ask Scott, "should I?"
His answer, "I would," is enough.
I ease the rifle up, fully expecting the hog to bolt. Instead, it puts its head back down and starts eating. I hold for the shoulder, but I'm huffing from the climb and the scope is dancing all over. I try to settle, put the crosshairs on the point of his shoulder (he's angling toward me), and touch it off. He drops like a sack, and slides/rolls down the hill. No question about this one running off. The 180 grain Nosler Partition enters just ahead of the shoulder, breaking his neck, then passes back through the heart and lungs.
The drag isn't as easy as it had looked earlier, but it's simplified somewhat by the fact that my hog isn't that big. Later, he hits the scales with a dressed weight of 76 lbs. We reach the road at last to find Jesse, Kat, and Tom (Tejon's Wildlife Ranger) waiting.
And that pretty much does it.
My last minute hog. I'd been talking all weekend about wanting to shoot one with spots, too! That's three for three at Tejon... and counting. I hope to make it four for four next year.
By Phillip Loughlin