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Creek Bends: Tales in pursuit of a wily wild boar
Chasing The Coal Boar brings lessons-learned and a surprise ending
A toast to The Coal Boar:
I named you after the outlaw Cole Younger, who managed to survive being shot and escape authorities countless times.
You lived up to that moniker.
Thanks for teaching me a few things along the way to your eventual demise
If you are in fact dead.
I raise my glass to you.
A feral hog, particularly a lone boar, can be pretty darned smart and has a crazy sharp sense of smell—and they can be lucky as all get out.
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This all started with me just wanting to help the landowners at Snake Creek get rid of a few pigs that were damaging the creek banks and digging up other parts of the property.
Sausages, pork loin, and some good brats were just a happy bonus. The beer-braised hocks were particularly delicious.
Three pigs fell to my efforts last February and March but, thanks to my presence with a thermal scope, we also learned that the few pigs showing up occasionally on the trail cameras was actually closer to 20 visiting the place frequently.
The landowners asked for help from the United States Department of Agriculture Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, and when they showed up I needed to pull my bait bucket so they could go to work with a trap.
Over the space of about 8 months, they pretty well cleaned up the joint. They pulled out prior to deer season, and my mineral block went unmolested by pigs for the first time—at least for a few weeks.
I confess I was just a little bit pleased when the ol’ Coal Boar turned up on camera. I wrote about him last year and had lots of photos. I recognized him, and he was the only true razorback I’d seen and he was always alone.
Now, a rematch.
Finally, I could put to rest the legacy he built against me. The time he scented me while my bow was drawn, the shots when the firmware in the thermal scope inexplicably was on the fritz, the night the big sounder pushed him past the bait and that 200-pound sow took his place, the time the firing pin froze at 2 a.m. on a 15-degree night, and the time the stray dogs chased him off seconds before he was in my sights.
Six times I shot at or nearly had a shot at that pig, he dodged the trappers for months, and now his time was up.
Shoot a pig over a bucket of bait. Give it a week or two—easy-peasy.
Rather than bother my good friend Jack Morris for the loan of his Bushmaster AR-15 and ATN Thor 4 thermal scope like last year, I decided to break out the old Weatherby and spend a few bucks on an inexpensive feed station light.
The green motion-activated light doesn’t bother the animals but provides enough light for a hunter to take aim. The YouTube videos are numerous.
The one I purchased noted it would shine for 30 seconds or stay on as long as there was motion under the camera. Sounded good enough.
That reality hit home one chilly early April night as an ache grew between my shoulder blades because I’d held my rifle at the ready for more than a half hour. I saw him arrive, just at the edge of the ring of light, but I couldn’t see him well enough to shoot.
It turned out one black pig eating corn in the dark just doesn’t move all that much or fast enough to make a motion light turn on while he’s having dinner. The light would be better suited for a group of pigs, up close.
I listened for a good half hour as he pushed the bucket around and chewed on corn. Oh, how I wished I’d spent the extra money on better lights, especially the ones with the remote control switches.
Eventually, the chewing stopped. There was a long pause and I heard him huff and breathe deeply. Then came the Huff! Huff!
He shot off through the brush like a 200-pound bowling ball and stayed away the next two nights.
On the next sit, with a strong wind in my favor, I moved the motion-sensor light closer and lower and chanced hanging it on a tree frequently used by raccoons. I just hoped they wouldn’t break it.
I waited for dark, tipped the bucket over for a test, and the light came on.
OK, now I was good to go.
Drenched in Dead Downwind spray and with a favorable wind my hopes were high.
He was later than normal, but just shy of 11:30 I was sure I heard him. Now, in retrospect, I know I was right.
He hung on the perimeter until almost midnight. The wind died. He took a circuitous route toward the bait, winded me, and ran again. The trail camera caught an image of his side as he trotted past.
With a thermal scope, he would have been done for. The bait was irresistible to him, and doing its job. I was falling short.
Pulling all-nighters an hour’s drive from home was becoming a problem, and I didn’t want to hunt into the hotter days of May. I called my buddy Jack Morris, who had no issues loaning out that AR-15 one more time.
Now I was ready. I had the thermal scope and, for good measure, I moved my tree stand higher up the ridge—with no small amount of difficulty. I call it Ass Buster Ridge for a reason. It’s steep and the rocks roll out from under your feet.
Thanks to Dr. William Lewis at NeuroGen Medical in Tulsa, I’ve recently regained some of the feeling in my toes, so I felt better suited for the task. Lemme tell ya, nothing is worse than an inability to feel the steps with your feet when climbing a tree stand, or anything, in the dark—much less a tree stand in the middle of a steep, rocky slope.
I was a little late getting to Snake Creek the night of the next perfect wind. I needed to top off the bait, so I used the landowner’s Kawasaki Mule to haul that 5-gallon bucket. I could bait, return to the barn and hike down the ridge to the new stand. A 300-yard hike from there would be easier than the short climb up to the stand from below.
At about 8:30 p.m. I rolled into the bottoms to see a pile of green eyes in the headlights. I killed the motor and with the thermal scope counted 13 deer in the pasture, the most I’d seen in one spot on the property to date. Maybe that habitat work is paying off!
Suddenly, that green light flicked on and off and on and off at the bait site. Raccoons sometimes messed with the bait bucket just after sundown, but mostly they’d wait for the pig to knock it around and they help clean up behind him. Could the pig be there?
I left the ATV and, thanks to rain the day prior that made for soft walking, stalked to within about 50 yards of the brush line. Any closer and the wind would betray me. The brush was thick, but if the pig was on the bait I might eventually find an opening for a shot.
The body glowing white in the thermal scope lifted its head. It was a deer, and then a second one looked up. Time was wasting and I was going to be busting a huge group of deer that would stir up the entire property when I motored up to the bait site. I needed to hustle back to the Mule and rip off that bandage.
As I filled the bait bucket my trail cam phone app buzzed. Reception is weak at the bottoms, so the signal is delayed. I wanted to see what those deer had been up to. Typically, they ignore the soured corn.
There were no deer on the cam. Instead, it showed that five minutes earlier the pig was standing right where I was standing now. My heart sank. I scanned the woods with my headlamp and, sure enough, I spied two narrow-set gold eyes up the ridge. The heavy brush made it appear he was winking with one eye, then the other.
He had me.
“You wanna see me? Here I am,” I said calmly. “I’m just here bringing you yet another dinner.”
I whistled as I walked back to the Mule and let the empty bucket thump along against the brush. I wanted to send a message, “Noise and me mean food.”
I made a production of my departure, drove an extra loop, and made sure he knew the sound of that Mule and that it was gone. The trail camera showed he returned to the bait 15 minutes later and nosed the bucket around for two hours. He returned two hours after that and stayed for three more hours. The bucket was nearly empty again.
Even with the help of a few raccoons, I never understood how can one pig could devour almost four gallons of corn in one night.
The very next night I topped off the bucket early and crept through the woods and down the ridge to my tree stand. I was seated by 7:30 p.m. and enjoyed the raccoons and their antics, their barking and growling and mewing and scrambling all over the woods.
The flowering dogwoods seemed to glow past sunset, turned ghostly gray, and eventually blended with all the other ghosts of leaves and black trunks. The first fireflies of the season made their happy appearance. They always come with memories of childhood and warm summer nights.
At 1 a.m. I had a hard decision to make.
As forecast, my north-northwest wind died and a light breeze appeared to be rolling slowly to the north and north-northeast. By 3 a.m. it was supposed to be a true east wind, and that would put everything important downwind of me.
But the pig hadn’t missed an entire night for days, and now I had the thermal scope.
I contemplated guzzling down the rest of my water bottle so I could answer nature’s call while remaining at the stand. After six hours on the stand things were growing dire in that department, but I would wait until it was truly unbearable.
Finally, I heard heavy steps in the wet leaves, a branch broke, and a rock rolled. He was behind me, on the ridge, somewhere. Again came that long silence. Just like before.
I chanced a peek at my phone, down inside my jacket, to check the time: 1:30 a.m. on the dot.
“Now what?” I thought.
Slowly, I lifted my stocking cap and dropped my hood.
“Huff,” I heard him. Had he scented me? “Huff-huff-huff,’ what was doing?
Quietly but quickly I grabbed the rifle and put the scope to my eye to scan the woods.
Often as I sit in the stand I play and game in the dark, and with my eyes closed. When I hear a sound I lift the scope and try to point at the sound. Then I open my eyes to see how close I got.
It helps pass the time, and I did get better at it with practice.
But this “huff’ was not in a handy spot. I had to turn in my trees stand, careful not to make a sound, and swing my left leg over the side, lean out, and pin the rifle against the tree to look directly behind me.
Two words: Bladder pressure.
But there he was. At first, it looked like he was standing behind a log or a small rise or something. I couldn’t figure out the terrain or exactly where he was. In the dark and with that scope, depth perception is lost and things can look odd.
I zoomed in with the scope to 9-power and thought I might have a clear shot at the side of his neck at one point, but couldn’t quite make it out. Shooting a tree or shooting him in the jawbone would not be good.
He periodically lifted his snout and I could see him working the air currents. “Huff, huff, huff.”
I’d found him by ear, maybe he had me by nose.
And then he stood up.
Now things made sense.
He had come to within about 75 yards of the bait station and was lying on the ground, sniffing the air, directly east of my former stand location.
Don’t tell me pigs aren’t smart.
As he walked away, into the brush, I was sure it was the end of Opportunity No.10.
“Crap. Again,” I thought.
But as he walked away he turned to his right and then I knew exactly where he was. Three major game trails intersect at the base of the ridge, and as his turn became more of a curl back in my direction I knew he was on the main trail toward the bait bucket.
I watched him walk in, waited for the perfect angle, and put 55 grains of lead behind his ear at 3,200 feet per second. At 2:02 a.m. April 28, 2023, he dropped, motionless.
After I rolled his six-foot-long 200-pound body into my utility sled and hooked it to the mule I took the lid off the bait bucket and left it on the chain. I had promised the raccoons they could have all the leftovers when I was done.
Until dawn I worked on skinning and cutting up that big razorback and getting his parts on ice and still, I had a full afternoon of work ahead of me.
I slept hard Friday night and had a marathon workday Saturday, but that night, at about 1:30 a.m., my phone vibrated on my nightstand and it woke me.
I pulled it under the covers and looked to see what the raccoons were up to and couldn’t believe my eyes.
There HE was.
I whispered under the sheets. “So, did I shoot him, or his twin?”
The next hour I scrolled through photos in bed, trying not to wake my wife as I cycled from cussing to laughing. For the life of me, I could not tell if there were two different black boars coming to that bait. I couldn’t pick out any differences between frames or times that different pigs might have shown up.
It sure made sense, now, though, how four gallons of bait was devoured in a single night.
Here I was, having another restless night, thanks to the Coal Boar, who may just still be out there. Or was “he” always a pair?
The legend continues.
Cheers to you, Mr. Boar.