By Michael Spooneybarger
“They are fast, smart and dangerous – the most prized hunting animal in ancient Greece, the wild boar. Considered a test of bravery, wild pigs have thick bones and a tough hide, making anything but a death shot a potentially fatal mistake.”
That was the first message I got after agreeing to a weekend hog hunt in Alabama. I have hunted pig many times as a BBQ aficionado, but that has been scanning a menu trying to decide on pork ribs, pork sandwich or going with beef.
The next memo from writer Verna Gates: “Photography equipment should be as silent as possible without flash as pigs are very keen and will run away. We don’t want the other hunters shooting at us….”
I had many thoughts going through my head as to how I would hunt down this ferocious animal. If needed I imagined my loud camera and flash would scare the thing away and the other hunters could then shoot the boar before I would be violently attacked. I figured I would be protected by a bunch of rugged hunter types, men who could live in the woods for days and kill with their bare hands.
Along the way I stopped for a camouflage shirt and hat. In the summer the average store doesn’t have camo pants.
Far enough away from town that my GPS and cell reception had been gone for 30 minutes, I arrived at the long rock road leading into the “Great Southern Outdoors” hunting plantation just outside of Union Springs. It’s the kind of town where everyone refers to you as where you’re from rather than by name. I was Pensacola and heard about New York who came down and took at least 400 pictures one time.
I was greeted by the other hunters – Alabama along with his wife, Mrs Alabama and Kentucky with his two sons. When asked about his experience Kentucky, aka Tim Shaughnessy, said he was just along to have some bonding time with his kids. The two, just out of high school, are avid hunters and Mrs. Kentucky gave them a hunting trip for Christmas. Whether it was by chance or not, Father’s Day weekend seemed like a good time to be in the woods. We waited for one last hunter to arrive. Anxious as the sun was starting to go down, Rex the owner and guide, was worried Mr. Louisiana might have run into some trouble. As we started piling into well-worn 4×4’s a shiny pick-up pulled up and out jumped six-year-old Ryan and his father Mr. Louisiana. He was bringing his son on his first hog hunt for a Father’s Day get away.
We spent the evening in separate hunting spots. Some in tree stands, another overlooking a field, someone else along a roadside and me in a blind next to the writer Verna working away on her ipad. I thought about it as we sat silently. What would we do if a wild boar did show up? I could fend it off with my camera while she beat it with her ipad. Maybe the smell of newly purchased camo was keeping the hogs away.
An evening hunt means heading out about four hours before sunset and returning after dark. A morning hunt means heading out about 3 hours before sunrise and staying for about three hours after the sun comes up. The hogs move more often at night so a hunter must be in their spot long enough for the scent and noise not to spook the animals.
We spent two days in sweltering heat as mosquitoes feasted on our exposed skin. It is tough to swat off the pests and keep silent at the same time. The silence was often broken by the hum of a wasps wings as it hovered in front of us in a stare down.
After a day and a half we, along with Louisiana, Kentucky and Alabama, had yet to see a pig. I was worried about a story telling of the large pig population without any visual evidence the beasts were even around. The talk of the hunters changed as they neared the end of the hunt having spent $500 and going home with no trophy and no meat was disappointing to them. I talked to them about why they hunted. All enjoyed the sportsmanship and planned on feasting on the prime meat. “If you have deer in the freezer, you’ll take it out to keep the pig.” Hunter, the guide said.
I watched Hunter struggle with a sack of corn as he left a trail down a dirt road hoping to attract the hogs. It was our last chance. He sent me up a 12ft tripod overlooking a creek crossing littered with hog tracks and corn. I was sure to see a giant beast on the final few hours of the hunt. Hunter’s 360 pound trophy boar proudly displayed in the lodge was all I could imagine.
We sat quietly and watched as an eagle swooped down, chipmunks darted in and out of the clearing for the corn and the wasp kept an eye on us, buzzing through the dawn. The sun slowly crept down and our trip was done. As I lowered the cameras out of our stand a shot echoed though the tress. In the dark Kentucky, the younger of the two brothers, approached. We began trying to figure out the direction of the shot, the type of gun and hoped that it was a kill shot. Once the Jeep pulled up we piled in and headed to the last hunter – Alabama. He was still in his stand. We were told to stay put for safety even after a shot.
An injured boar could still attack and kill, or other pigs in the pack could be ready to charge. Jason Weaver had hit a hog. The evidence took a while to find. A small drop of blood on a leaf got everyone excited and scrambling. All the hunters pulled out flashlights and began the challenge of tracking the wounded beast. Despite the danger we each fanned out looking for another drop in the pitch darkness. “I found one” someone would holler. Then Ryan, 6, would stand so that the last location would not be lost. It was like finding then following dots on a coloring book. Finally Hunter yelled out from the darkness, the pig was found. It was small, about 60lbs. Not big like the beast stuffed at the lodge, but everyone was overjoyed. The hunt was a success. Everyone took photos as if the carcass was a celebrity, then helped drag the carcass to the truck.
I was thrilled to have something to photograph. But everyone else seemed just as excited. I asked Kentucky what it was like not getting anything after paying for a hunt, traveling all this way and all the planning. He smiled and said, “this is great. I got to see a bobcat close up and see an armadillo for the first time.”
When I left everyone was talking, smiling and enjoying the evening. Although Kentucky headed for bed when his sons headed off to help dress the boar, Louisiana and his son had a Father’s Day story they’ll remember forever while Alabama and his wife planned their next B.B.Q. “We’ll cook the whole side at once,” he said.