BY TIM E. HOVEY
The seventy-yard shot at the resting pig was a clean miss. The group instantly scattered in different directions in the thick brush precluding a follow up. The brief chaos was unnerving but within seconds it was quiet. Jessica rested her forehead on her rifle scope with her eyes closed and I could tell she was about to cry. Stubborn, tenacious and hates to lose; she is just like me.
Twenty minutes earlier I had been in the canyon alone, Jessica perched on the ridge above. I had planned to hike through the steep drainage and hopefully kick bedded pigs towards my waiting daughter. That all changed when I was able to sneak within a dozen yards of a group of resting pigs. I quietly hiked back out and decided to guide my 13-year old daughter down into the steep canyon for a chance to take her first big game animal.
Jessica cried quietly at the miss. I put my arm around her and shifted from guide to dad. I told her that weeks ago I was in the same canyon and I had also missed an easy shot. I told her I sat in the creek staring at the ground for five minutes, frustrated and angry. I don’t know if illustrating our similarities made her feel any better, but she did stop crying. I ended the lesson by telling her to never give up and the hunt is not over until the sun goes down.
We walked over and made absolutely sure her shot was a miss. No blood or hair, and I even found the scar in the dirt where her bullet had hit. The easy chance was gone and now we had to hike over half a mile out of the canyon, all up hill. I reached over to grab Jessica’s rifle and shooting sticks to carry them out because that’s what dads do. She pulled away and looked me square in the eye, “I carried them into this canyon and I’ll carry them out!”
The hike was steep and quiet. I led the way, trying to pick the easiest path back up, but that didn’t help. The excited optimism we had hiked into the canyon with had been replaced with the heavy bulk of failure and it added weight to our every step. Every ten feet, I’d turn to check on Jessica. She was red-faced, upset and struggling with her gear. However, I knew not to ask again to help. The burden was hers, all of it, and she’d eventually make it back to the top on her own.
I stopped a few hundred yards from the top to rest. Jessica was making her way to the rest spot, struggling with every step. It was getting hot and her red face showed her exertion. I was just about to demand that she hand over her gear, when I caught movement on the ridge to our left. A lone boar was rooting around under the trees and headed towards the top of the ridge. We were already spent, but if we hurried, Jessica might get a shot at the solo pig.
I quietly moved down towards Jessica and pointed out the pig. Since he was on the ridge with no back drop, we had no shot from our position. I told Jessica if we hurried, we could get to the top of the ridge for a shot. She took a deep breath and nodded her head.
Close to ten minutes after we spotted the boar, I was cresting the ridge where we had last seen him. He had dropped out of sight shortly after I located him, but I knew he wasn’t in any hurry and he had no idea we were there. Binoculars in hand, I found him in the shade of an oak, slowly feeding away. Eight more steps and he’d once again be out of sight. I ranged him at 180 yards.
Seconds later Jessica appeared at the ridge, out of breath and frustrated. I pointed across the small valley to the pig. She quickly set up her shooting sticks, positioned the rifle on them and sat down behind the set up. I watched her adjust the scope setting and find the pig. I told her to relax as she took a deep breath. The pig was quartering away but gave us a perfect shot at his vitals. “Put it just behind the last rib on the right.”
The shot surprised me. Through the binoculars I saw a puff of dust come off the pig, but I couldn’t really tell where she had hit him. The pig turned abruptly and then headed over the next hill quickly. Jessica thought she had missed again. I confirmed that she had hit him and that we needed to get over there quickly to start tracking him. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure we’d ever find this animal.
I grabbed my rifle from the truck and a meat pack just in case. We got over to where the pig had been standing and instantly found blood. It wasn’t a lot but it was bright red and foamy; lung blood.
We continued to track consistent blood along a well traveled trail. Not a lot of blood, but he was leaking. About 200 yards from the first drop, I found blood on both sides of the trail. I explained to Jessica that the bullet had gone completely through the pig and he was now leaking from both sides. Despite the sign, I was still skeptical. Wild pigs are tough animals and I’ve tracked more pronounced blood trails before where we never found the pig.
Then the blood trail just stopped. My heart sank. I circle the last blood drop and found nothing. It was like something just picked him up off the steep trail. I was just about to start another concentric search when Jessica spotted a dark shape under a tree directly below us.
The pig had collapsed on the trail and rolled down hill 60 yards coming to rest under an oak tree. Jessica’s first big game animal was on the ground. Another far happier hug occurred on the side of that mountain above Jessica’s pig.
This hunt occurred about five years ago and I think it was a pivotal event for Jessica. I believe character is built through how we push through adversity, and this pig hunt was about as adverse as you can get. When we talk about this hunt, we don’t discuss the amazing shot she made or how upset she was in the canyon. I always emphasize her tenacity during that day and despite her earlier sour mood, she pushed through and didn’t give up. That day boosted her self esteem and strengthened her character. And as a dad, I feel that’s the greatest gift I can give her.