Tag: woods

Go Take a Hike, Gladly

The old expression “go take a hike” is intended to be a rude way to tell someone to leave or get lost. To that notion, I say, gladly I will take a hike, which is exactly what we did this weekend.

We hoofed around for about two hours along three miles of trail in a national wildlife management area scouting ahead of time for a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department drawn hunt for deer. I saw one deer. Well, I saw its backside romping away into the thick forest. We also saw seven wild hogs, which are an invasive species.

Upon our arrival, a blue heron greeted us. We ducked under the banner-like webs of banana spiders. Later, we saw a roseate spoonbill in flight over a lake laden with lily pads. We met a leopard frog. We inhaled fresh air and admired the Spanish moss. We saw bright green algae laid out like a carpet in a swamp filled with bald cypress trees.

We walked slowly and quietly and stopped often, sometimes to wait to see if we’d notice something, other times to watch hogs grazing on the forest floor. We brought and used plenty of bug spray, sunscreen and water. The forest enveloped us, providing a sense of cover and protection from the chaos of the human world.

In other words, we took a hike and loved it. Such walks take you on a mental journey too. The imagery of the flora and fauna stay in your head and you can draw on that sylvan landscape whenever you want. It stays in your mind’s eye like a retreat you can return to over and over.

The other helpful aspect of this hike was the location is about an hour-and-a-half drive from our home, which felt like a veritable road trip for people housebound by the pandemic. We’d had not been there before, so our eyes, hearts and minds were open. Bonus: we didn’t see other people, so we weren’t concerned about Covid-19 transmission.

It was a wonderful respite. The next morning, I woke up and started making something I have never made before: carnitas. I seared chunks of pork butt in lard in a big cast-iron skillet and placed the meat in the slow cooker along with Mexican Coke, water, condensed milk, cinnamon sticks, cumin, chili powder, coriander, cardamom, ground black pepper, minced garlic cloves, and orange slices. After several hours, I scooped out the meat and placed it back in the hot skillet. It shredded beautifully. I served this with homemade tortillas, sliced avocado drenched in lime juice, diced jalapeno, sliced green bell pepper, chopped cilantro, Mexican crema (sour cream), and homemade pickled red pepper slices.

While the hiking and cooking were recreational activities, I felt as if I had accomplished new things and had refreshed my mind. 2020 has been a tough year and yet it has also encouraged people to try new hobbies and other endeavors to stretch themselves. Keep stretching, keep trying, keep going.

Take a hike.

The Sage Leopard, thesageleopard@gmail.com

Why is Hog Hunting Hard? The Reality in Thick Woods

When I first heard of people hunting hogs by helicopter, I grimaced. It seems rather unseemly, right? After all, it’s not very sporting.

The problem with hogs are they are not simply game, like deer or duck. Wild hogs are an invasive species that damage the environment and well, hog the resources that actual game eat. Living in Texas, we have seen first-hand the extensive damage hogs beat into the landscape, along roads, in fields and on other land.

Sadly, we are now seeing their handiwork on land owned by my boyfriend’s Dad in North Georgia. These are deep, mountainous woods. Hardwoods stretching high to the sky, gripping steep glens and protecting creeks. The trees are full of squirrels and birds and shed carpets of acorns, which we tend to think are intended for deer, not the ravenous hogs.

At Thanksgiving, we returned to these woods to deer hunt. Our first outing, we quietly entered a clearing with a high perch and heard movement. We stood still and surprisingly, two hogs walked toward us, oblivious. Byron raised his rifle. As he was between me and the hogs, I kept my muzzle skyward.View from deep woods while hog hunting.

The two hogs were in a tall grass and amazingly did not see us, even at about 15 yards. At that point, Byron had a shot and dispatched one. The other took off down the mountain. We went to the large sow on the ground.

What can one sow mean to an area? A friend with a family ranch in Texas has noted that the gestation period is three months, three weeks and three days. That’s one way of thinking about it, though I have read a wild sow typically has one to two litters a year. Now, in a given area, there will be more than one sow and the population can really take off.

The first time I saw a herd in action was at Peach Point, a wildlife preserve near Freeport, Texas. The wildlife managers were hosting a public hog hunt and due to high demand, held a lottery for the hunters. Once selected, we were assigned blinds. Each parcel was small enough that they did not want people walking around with rifles shooting into the wild.

We sat in our blind within an electric transmission right of way and watched hogs from a distance of more than 300 yards. In short, we didn’t have a shot. We did get in some wonderful bird watching, in particular. a male Cardinal and two females who seemed to be vying for his attention.

Then, on the way back from lunch while driving in the truck, we saw a huge herd running across an expanse of Gulf Prairie. There were scores of them, including many piglets running alongside big mama sows and scary looking boars. My jaw was swinging in the wind. Without a legal shot under the management practices at hand for that hunt, we were left to gaze in wonderment and horror.

Flash forward back to North Georgia. Our deer hunt was now a hog hunt, for all intents and purposes. The next afternoon, I sat in a dell between a mountainside and a creek, waiting. This was directly below the clearing at the mountaintop where we saw the first two.

The woods are full of beauty.

Suddenly, I heard something that sounded like a swift, heavy rain. The sky was gray, not wet. There was no wind, although it sounded like wind. It was the sound of multitudes of hog hooves schussing through the dry leaves covering the ground.

The train of hogs was coming my way. I had been sitting in wait for a deer. Now, I stood and drew my rifle upon a shooting stick. I aimed for a space the hogs would pass en route to the creek. There was some grass between me and the space. Suddenly, my line of vision through the scope was engulfed with hogs. They rushed past in a grouping.

Rather than blast away, I vainly attempted to focus on one hog to get a clean shot. But it was gone and then another. And another.

I tried to retrain my rifle, to no avail. In short, I whiffed. I resolved I had the wrong gun for the job. Granted, blaming your equipment is the lamest excuse in the book. If I had the chance to do it again, I might not go for that perfect shot.

But, why do hunters go for the optimal shot? For starters, it is humane to cleanly take the animal. Also, if you are planning to eat the meat, you want a clean shot. Of equal importance, is safety. You don’t want to get into the habit of wantonly shooting. You want to aim and take out that particular hog, deer, bird, whichever.

I was simply overwhelmed. I had stayed true to the moral that you must be 100% certain you have a clean kill shot before pulling the trigger. I had that with my first buck. I most certainly did not have that as a dozen large, medium and small hogs raced through tall grass.

Could I have succeeded in hitting one or two? Yes, but they would not have likely dropped liked stones. The ethic being do not kill if the animal would extensively linger or run off with an injury. Have I taken another buck and a doe on other occasions where they ran? Yes, but they only moved briefly and then dropped. One buck took a lung shot and an apparent adrenaline rush. A doe bolted about 20 feet and went down.A perfect habitat.

When it came to these hogs, I was stunned by their speed. It also reminded me of duck hunting when you wait and wait and suddenly a couple dozen scream overhead. I had trouble focusing on one to take in the moment as milliseconds elapse and then the moment was gone.

I admit I was jealous of Byron’s hog in the clearing. When they came upon us, they were lumbering. One was so big, for a moment, we thought it was a bear. Once they got close, they were obviously hog. I had hoped to stalk the one that ran, but he disappeared into the thick woods. That next day, I missed my chance.

So what to do? We are planning to return in April. If I see another train of hogs, I will plan to shoot one at a time.