Last night, Jennifer posted about our foray into hog hunting. We were originally intending to go with Daniel S, but that fell through at the last minute due to work constraints. I’m sure we’ll catch up with him at a later date. Jennifer tells about us sitting in the dark, waiting for the legal time to start shooting and waiting for the pigs to explore the bait we left out for them.
The property where we hunted is a family farm, and there is a small tree blind permanently mounted on the premises. The original assumption was that we were going to set up in this tree blind. When we scouted on Friday, I climbed the blind to inspect it. Not. Gonna. Happen. The dilapidated 2×4 construction is approximately 3.5-feet long and maybe 18-inches wide, missing several boards, and has a ‘hand rail’ consisting of a young, green branch tacked to two trees with a few nails and some twine. Although the whole thing is probably no more than nine feet in the air, it ticked my acrophobia all over the place and felt more like fifty feet. So for better or for worse, we decided to set up in the brush underneath the tree blind (I really hate irrational fears).
We arrived at our location on Saturday morning and were set up and waiting by 6:00. We had a pint-sized thermos full of espresso and a quart-sized thermos full of apple cider. We had each brought our M4geries, loaded up with high-dollar ammo in special magazines, and we each had a .22 rifle as well, in case of small game. So, there we sat in the dark with our rifles, warm drinks, and nature. We quietly whispered to each other from time to time, but mostly sat quietly listening to the stillness around us. You ever get that feeling you’re being watched? Has that feeling ever caused some level of small panic? Sometime between cups of coffee, the feeling hit us and the hair stood up on my neck. It was about 6:30 when we heard movement in the brush to our left. It had to be around fifteen yards out, moving slowly. We could hear each deliberate footstep crackling in the leaves and pushing twigs aside. It was a dark and moonless prior to sunrise, and nothing was visible through the brush in the ambient light. When we attempted to use our flashlights, the brush was thick enough that the subsequent glare completely obscured what was behind or within it. When lit, the animal would remain still and wait for us to turn the lights off. After a few seconds, we would hear it creep again. It circled around behind us, where the road is, and slowly approached us, coming down the foot trail that we had come down earlier. Again, we attempted to light it, but could not see the animal. For the record, if I had seen Bigfoot on my first hunting trip out in the woods, I wouldn’t tell anybody. Eventually, the animal’s curiosity was satiated, or it decided that we weren’t all that interesting, or it decided that we didn’t look like we were worth the effort for breakfast. One way or another, it left the way it came, and slinked into the adjacent wood.
A couple hours later, after we had discovered that our ‘blind’ was not in the least concealed or even construed by the surrounding brush, and had been staring at our unnoticed bait for some time, and finished off some ten shots of espresso and some now cool cider, nature called. I quietly whispered to Jennifer that I was going to walk up the trail a little way and shed some coffee. I slowly and quietly made my way up the foot trail, looking for tracks to attempt to identify whatever had checked us out earlier. I didn’t see anything but boot prints from the two of us on the foot trail. Then I got up to the road and found fresh tracks. They were cat tracks, and they were in excess of four inches wide! They were wider than the tread on my boot, and sunk a good 3/8-inch into the soil at least. It’s fair to say that the animal was into the 200’s-lb range, judging only by the impression in the earth. “Oh holy *expletive*!” That’s what Jennifer heard from my position. We had come out to stalk and yet had become the stalked.
I knew that there were lions on the property, as I’ve seen their tracks of various sizes. This was by far the biggest of them to date. That makes about the fourth one, assuming that there aren’t any that are identically sized. It makes me wonder if we’re seeing a mother and her maturing cubs. Rumor has it that the young will stay with the mother for a couple of years. What’s really sad about our Saturday morning encounter though – I carry a tape measure in my pocket and there’s a 5-megapixel camera built into my phone, and I still didn’t think of taking any pics. *Sigh.* As much cougar activity as we’ve seen, I’m sure this won’t be the last encounter we have with the big cats.
I’m astounded at the proliferation of wildlife on the family property in recent years. When I was younger, it used to be the standard fare of birds, with a few deer and a den of coyotes. Once we found a boar skull, but there was no additional evidence of hogs at the time. The coyote population has obviously thinned out, possibly driven out by the cougars? Recently though, we’ve seen massive amounts of hoof marks, both pig and deer. There have been the distinct prints of a few coyotes, but not nearly like they used to be, smaller canine (possibly foxes?), and bobcats in addition to the aforementioned cougars. We saw what we are pretty sure were opossum and skunk tracks as well.
There are certain supplies that I really want on hand next time around. I’m actually starting a grocery list on my phone devoted to hunting supplies. I know that we’re going to be many hunting trips in before I actually feel like we’ve got most of what we’ll need – that’s just the way it seems to work. And so, we didn’t shoot anything this time. We still had fun. What’s fun about getting stalked by lions in the freezing dark for so long that your legs go to sleep? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to do it again!