Choosing not to purchase my meat from the grocery means that hunting season is my opportunity to harvest food for the rest of the year.
Last week, I went to Florida to help my mother-in-law do some maintenance on her home and decided to add 3 days onto the trip to hunt for Wild Hog. This experience turned out to be one I will never forget.
As with any solo hunt, I assessed and listed the potential risks and they are as follows:
1. More venomous snakes than I can name.
2. Venomous spiders, ticks and chiggers.
3. Getting very lost in the thick, flat "everything looks the same" terrain.
4. MOSQUITOES (not really dangerous, but can make hunting unbarable.)
5. The defensive nature of the Hogs themselves (if you can lay eyes on them).
6. The challenge of hauling a very large animal out of the tangled mess of marshland from deep within the wilderness.
Assessing dangers and challenges as a solo hunter is just practical and responsible. Knowing what I might face allows me to prepare for these potentials and handle them calmly should things go sideways.
Wild hogs (specifically, Boars and Sows with piglets) have been known to charge humans causing serious injury with their powerful tusks. Who can blame them? I'd like to think that I would try to defend myself too if I were being hunted. The intelligence, skill and courage of these wild critters doesn't stop there. They have a super hero's sense of smell that only gets sharper when it rains. Not to mention, extraordinary hearing with their big ol' ears and they can weigh more than 300lbs. Dispite their large size, they are typically very shy and difficult to locate.
It is currently Deer season in Florida so the Wildlife Management Area in which I was hunting was flooded with other Deer hunters. In reality, they were local folks in 4X4 trucks with huge "mudding" tires and multiple hound dogs sent chasing anything that moves in the forested marsh land. This made my solo still hunting on the ground very challenging because if all the ruckus caused by the dogs.
In addition, all of that hunting pressure drove the Hogs deep into the 60,000 acre Wildlife Area, forcing me to follow their sign further and further into this beautiful but unforgiving terrain.
The wetland marsh areas there looked like something straight out of Jurassic Park. Thick clusters of towering Cyprus trees draped with long beards of Spanish Moss surrounded by endless fields of palmetto plants closed in any ability to see very far. It became so easy to get turned around and very truly lost. If you ever do something like this, solo or not, bring a GPS, map and compass. With the many species of venomous snakes and spiders out there, you do not want to get lost overnight.
I had an opportunity to speak with some local Deer hunters who were kind enough to point out some good locations for me to scout for Wild Hog and let me smoke up my hunting clothes at their campfire to help cover my human scent. The advice was all the same, "Edge of the Swamp". Every time I heard someone direct me back to the swamp, I could already hear the multitude of mosquitoes trying to collectively drain me of blood and carry me away. In spite of this I thought, "If I am successful in this hunt, the Hog will be sacrificing more than I will." And so I went deep into the Cyrus groves, saw grass, marshland and palmettos.
I spent 3 solid days from pre-dawn to after dusk without a single Hog sighting. I was hearing folks say there was "fresh Hog sign over this way" or "I bet they would be in that area" or I saw a few but I'm looking for Deer."
I was hunting a ghost.
After it became too dark to shoot safely at the end of my third day, I had been bested by a formidable and mysterious animal but I did not leave empty handed.
I was again blessed by the Grace of the natural world. In my whole time there, I did not run into a single snake, spider or alligator. I was not gored or charged by a wild Hog and I learned an awful lot about safety and navigation in the Wetlands.
Now that I'm back in sweet Virginia, I have just under 2 weeks to finish filling my freezer for the year before the season ends. No matter what happens, the connection to wilderness and wildlife that I have been so fortunate to have experienced was just as much of a blessing as if I had brought home the Wild Bacon.