Before I could actually begin the hunt for which I had so long prepared, one final decision was necessary: where to go. This was not quite as easy as I thought it might be, for while my home state of California is overrun with wild hogs and feral pigs, much of the land they’re on is inaccessible to hunters, and the land that is available is heavily impacted (a term meaning too many hunters for too little land). After a few months of considering the options, I decided that for my first hunt, I should get a guide. My reasoning was that my first hunt should probably be as easy as possible. Once I had a success under my belt, I could take on more challenging opportunities.
Hunting guides are not difficult to find. An Internet search turned up dozens of them. The one I chose, though, was referred to me by someone I met at the rifle range. I called the guide, who lives and works in Ukiah, CA, and talked to him at length about what the hunt would be like. It turns out that he owns about 40 acres adjoining a larger tract of public land, and has herds of pigs constantly on his property. We scheduled a hunt for the next month, which was January. By this time, I had acquired another hunting rifle, a Ruger .44 carbine. This is an excellent gun for short ranges, and based on the guide’s description of his land, seemed like the better choice to take.
Mike (the guide) asked me to be at his place at 6:30 AM. Since Ukiah is about a three-hour drive from my home, I decided to go up the night before. When I got to Mike’s place, the temperature was a crisp 22°, and I was starting to wonder whether I should have waited a few months. Mike and I completed some paperwork (a process in which he verified my hunting license and pig tag), and we headed up the hill.
The first leg of our short trip was by ATV, where we got to sort of a base camp that Mike had set up. This is where we would field dress any animal that we got. From here, we began hiking up the hill, and though the temperature was still pretty low, my out-of-shape body began warming up quickly.
We followed some trails that Mike maintains through his property. Mike was looking for fresh tracks, and changing our course accordingly. We spotted a small herd once, but it was too far away, and under too much cover to shoot at, so we kept walking.
Eventually, we got to an area where Mike said the herds frequently go through, so we decided to sit and wait awhile. This was fine with me, as I was already a bit tired from the hiking we’d done. We hadn’t walked all that much, but it was mostly on hilly terrain, and the soil was very loose, so I was getting worn out quickly. The area we were now in was under a pretty heavy canopy of trees, so the lighting was less than ideal. It was also heavily-enough wooded that the chance for a follow-up shot would be slim.
After about 15 minutes, Mike heard a few pigs heading out way. Indeed, they soon came into view from downhill, moving slowly as they grazed on the acorns and nuts on the ground. When they got to about 40 yards away, one moved into view through a narrow lane that I’d chosen to try to shoot through, if the opportunity existed. From a sitting position, I put the sights on a pig, and fired. The pig squealed for a second, and then the herd, including the pig I shot at, began running. Mike urged me to shoot again, but I just didn’t have a clear shot.
I was really surprised that my pig ran off so easily. I was almost positive that I had hit it: from that distance, it would be hard to miss, plus the pig’s squeal was evidence that it had taken a shot. When we went to the spot where the pig had been, Mike started looking for a blood trail. Here I learned that pigs really don’t bleed much, so tracking them this way is difficult. We probably went about half a mile with no real success, and Mike continued to speculate on whether I had actually hit the pig. I was becoming somewhat less confident myself. Finally, Mike’s well-trained eyes found her lying in a small ditch. Had I been alone, I *never* would have seen her unless I happened to walk practically on top of her. As it was, I really didn’t see her, even with Mike pointing her out, until I was about 10 yards away.
She was definitely hit, and was lying pretty still, but I kept the gun ready to fire again. Since my first shot hadn’t resulted in a quick kill, I wanted to get absolutely as close as possible before firing again. When I finally got close enough for her to hear, she raised her head. I shot again, and after a few kicks, she was done. I had harvested my first animal.
After we dragged her down to Mike’s “base camp,” we began skinning and cleaning her. Mike offered to do it for me, but I wanted the learning experience, so I had him guide me through the process of opening and peeling back the skin. Here I learned that animals are much more slippery inside than I’d realized. Several times I stopped just to dry my hands and the knife. Mike had a gambrel and hoist available, so this made the operation considerably easier.
Once the skin was off, we removed the head and feet, and began gutting it. He took a couple pictures, and that was that. I put the carcass in my truck bed, shook Mike’s hand, and headed for home and the butcher.