The barking and growling and squealing grew louder the closer we got as we slogged across the wet, furrowed field. I carried an old Remington Gamemaster in .30-06 to service the hog and give the dogs and us some relief. Exit the field and into a deep, swampy marsh, maybe a bog, if you will. We were yards away and the screams were deafening. The saw grass trembled ahead as we neared the inevitable.

On a calm, pleasant evening in southern Tennessee, when all I had to do was watch the sunset in the cool evening light after a long day of planting, my phone buzzed with a text message from a number I didn’t recognize. It read something like, “Hey Josh. How are you? Heard you’re going to be in the Columbia [South Carolina] area in a few weeks. What do you think about a hog hunt with the wildman Alan Wooten?”

My response: “I would love to go! And if you don’t mind telling me who this is, I’d be much obliged.”

Lucy Mahon grew up around Columbia, finished her education as the University of South Carolina, and then hit the road in her RV Fran to work and live where and how she pleased as a physical therapist. I’d hung out with Lucy a few times through mutual friends and had heard stories to the point that made her seem quite illustrious. And despite her minimal presence in my life up to that point, I honestly felt like we were old friends. She’s just that kind of person.

Then enter Alan Wooten. Raised in the Boykin, South Carolina area, Alan never needed to stray far from home to find what he needed in life. With an endless supply of accessible land and hogs to hunt, he became the man local farmers called on to help eradicate the feral swine destroying their fields.

“For me, it’s all about watching the dogs work,” he would tell me later that day in his deep South Carolinian drawl. At first I couldn’t tell whether he enjoyed my presence or just tolerated it, but by day’s end, I was sad to leave his side. “You wouldn’t think that a dog that spends most of his life chasing such nasty animals would have a good disposition, but these are friendly as can be.”

The oldest of the bunch, Smutty, was nearly 13 years old, but still had the endurance to keep up with the younger ones all day. Petey could find ‘em like you never seen. Sox always hung close to the four-wheeler, but could catch with the best of the pack. Randle, who looked more like a bonafide pointer, and Jill, a big yellow dog, were strictly business along with the last two, both brindles, one named McAlister and the other honestly didn’t have a name, but boy lemme tell you, that dog could hunt. Hell, they could all hunt and loved doing it!

As the terrifying sounds grew closer, my heart beating harder than ever, I looked down at the rifle for a quick overview. Magazine in, bullet in chamber, safety on. Then I drew it to my shoulder to have one quick look through the riflescope so that when it counted, it wouldn’t be my first time. And Lord if I didn’t trip at that very moment, falling flat into the mud. Luckily, I retained the presence of mind to hold the gun up and let my body take the brunt of the blow. I hurriedly regained my footing and stalked on after Alan, still unsure what would happen in the ensuing seconds.

Intensity is something many of us don’t rightly comprehend. We go about our daily lives in a routine of near silence and placidity whereas in the woods, among the lives of the wild animals, a ferocious will to survive is only the natural law. Between the woods and the water, from the whitetail deer to the average pond bass, there is an innate ability stemming from eons and eons of anything it takes to live that I am slowly trying to study and learn. Sure, we’ve all been in one or two predicaments where sheer willpower saw us safely to the other side. But it’s not an everyday occurrence.

Through a muddy creek and into the marshy bog we went. Alan a few steps ahead of me, the sawgrass alive even though there was killing to be done. Lucy hung back, covering the field just in case. I checked the safety one more time as we emerged to a large mud hole where Smutty, McAlister, the one without a name, Sox, and Randle had caught the pig, sharp teeth holding its ears and jaw. The next two seconds still feel like eternity as Alan, never looking back at me, drew a long knife from its scabbard and stuck it in my hand. The cold reality that I was going to have to take a life in close quarters with a knife is a feeling I’ll never forget.

Click here to read part two.

Image by Josh Wolfe

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