My mind was made up on swine after just a few pages into George Orwell’s Animal Farm. You know what they say about first impressions. I can’t remember the year I first read the book, which grade I was in, or the lovely teacher who required it. But I do know that I was quick to realize the deceitfulness and cunning ways of Snowball and Napoleon and paralleled those thoughts with reality. Yes, yes. I am now all too familiar with allegory. But in the mind of a young boy…
Growing up in North Alabama and southern Tennessee, I never had a run in with a wild hog until my college days at Auburn. Even then I never killed one, but I saw how destructive they were to some of the properties I had permission to hunt. Later on, when I would move to Columbia, hogs were more prevalent and the damage substantial. A few of the deer clubs I frequented were devoid of Odocoileus virginianus due to the incessant spread of feral pigs. They would eat up all the food plots and corn (here I speak of baiting, which is legal in South Carolina), cause great grief to the farmers, and baffle hunters with their keen sense of danger. My friends often complain about pigs eating up their piles of corn day in and day out in the frames of their trail cameras, but come game time the hogs refuse to show.
When it came game time for me, I had the same strange feeling like I was about to get into a fight, maybe step in the ring for an unknown outcome. But I had good people and a few dogs who knew what they were doing in my corner. Alan went in first, grabbing the hog’s hind legs, or “turning off the motor” as he called it. “You wouldn’t really think it possible,” he later said, “but a smaller pig of 60 or 70 pounds can run all day and the dogs might never see ‘em.”
Gripping the knife ever tighter in my sweaty palm, I stepped off into the bog. “Stick ‘em like you would if you were shooting. Right behind the shoulder.” Alan was holding the hog’s legs and yelling at the dogs to get back. I pushed Smutty away, careful not to poke him with the point of the knife. In hindsight, everything happened so quickly, probably no more than two minutes passing us by from the time we jumped off of the four-wheeler to the unusual sensation of stabbing an animal, its lifeblood running warm out over my hand and into the muddy water.
Petey and Jill had long taken off, looking for other hogs. Lucy came up from behind as the thrashing, squealing, and growling—all of those indelible sounds—subsided. I don’t know how long she’d been back there through the melee, maybe the entire time. She was happy for her friend, and for the first time, I caught Alan smiling.
“Wash that knife off in that clean water there,” he said, pointing toward the mud hole from which we’d just emerged. I thought about that joke for the rest of the day. The timing could not have been better.
In a moment we were going again. Petey was, by then, 800 yards away in the wrong direction (we would find him around quitting time lying in the shade of a big magnolia tree; we also suspect he was fed by the tree’s owner). The rest of the pack chased through a swamp, seemingly led on a zigzagging trail that never amounted to anything. Others rang out in the swamp behind us and Alan ushered us back onto the four-wheeler.
Lucy had said before the hunt began, “I would never buy a four-wheeler from Alan Wooten.” At the time, I barely acknowledged that statement, never imagining they were worked harder than any other ATV. Wrong. We headed off through a thicket that I wouldn’t normally walk through. Lucy and I hunkered down on the back, arms locked to keep from being dragged off by the tree limbs and thorn bushes whipping our necks and backs. Then there was the loud crack! and for a split second the lights went out.
I looked from the ground where I’d been knocked to my knees into Lucy’s bloody face. Some vines, which were apparently still attached to a dead tree, had gotten wrapped up in the axle. This was just enough energy to pull that tree down on top of us. The whole time we’d been looking ahead and side to side, but never up. And why should we have?
“I think my nose is broken,” I heard Lucy’s voice say. I still think her head hit her knee, but she’s not convinced that part of the tree didn’t get her. The four-wheeler’s engine was off and Alan was standing over us, a genuine look of concern on his face. I stood up, checked my ribs, stretched my back and declared that I was good to go. Lucy’s nose was bleeding badly, not broken. And then there was that sense of humor.
“Well if y’all aren’t dying, I’d be much obliged if you’d quit complaining and let’s get on!” Alan said, grinning from ear to ear. Lucy laughed in the way she does, hardly shaken by anything ever, it’s only a little bit of blood.
For the rest of the day we chased hogs and dogs, but only one went to the processor that evening, which was more than I could have asked for, as my general plan for blind situations is to enter with relatively low expectations. And I’ve heard the word adventure so often that I have a hard time deciphering its true meaning between an R-rated, “action-packed” movie and some untouched powder in the Colorado backcountry. But that day, that hunt, my new friends Alan and Lucy, all mixed up for perfect adventurous harmony. Now how about that pork chop?
Image by Josh Wolfe