Makin' Bacon at the Second Annual Jesse's Hunting and Outdoors Ham Slam at Tejon Ranch
Half the crowd means twice the territory!
24 JHO Hunters gathered at Tejon to make the second annual hunt quite memorable.
Another write-up of this event is available at Jesse's Hunting and Outdoors Journal.
The lone boar meandered down from the opposite ridge, heading into a steep ravine. At the bottom a couple of oak trees offered shade and feed, so I figured he'd hang up there and eat a bit. That would give me time to stalk to the edge of the ravine and set up for a fairly simple shot. As I eased toward the edge, I spotted a rock pile that would provide a great rest. Just as I reached the rocks, though, the hog's head poked up over the edge of the hill less than 20 yards away from where I stood flatfooted!
I leveled the rifle, steadying as best I could from an offhand, standing position. I put the crosshairs between the beady eyes, and started to squeeze. At that moment, the hog realized something was wrong and turned his head. I had a beautiful shot at the base of his skull, centered the sights behind his ear and squeezed off the round.
The shot was clean, and for a change my hog fell on flat ground at the top of a hill! All I needed to do was walk up, put in a finishing shot if necessary, and sled my pig 3/4 of a mile back to the truck.
But of course, it never happens that way, does it?
As I walked up to the huge boar, .44 in one hand and rifle in the other, I had no doubt he was dead. The shot took him behind the ear and dropped him like a flyswatter on a mosquito. I could see the entry wound from 20 yards away. I didn't think the revolver would be necessary, but I've learned to never take a down animal for granted.
Suddenly, the hog began to thrash, and, as if to spite me, the dead animal managed to flip himself over the edge of the steep ridge and tumble like a furry black football all the way to the bottom. Fate, not content with that simple joke, then offered another shove and the hog turned 90 degrees and tumbled further down into the ravine.
And there I was, in another Tejon Ranch "Hell Hole" with the biggest hog I've ever shot.
It figures, the biggest boar of my hog-hunting experience fell into one of Tejon's infamous Hell Holes, and had to be packed out in pieces!
It was Saturday morning of the 2 nd annual Jesse's Hunting and Outdoors (JHO) Ham Slam at the Tejon Ranch. I'd organized the first hunt in 2004 with great success, and brought over 50 JHO members and friends to this beautiful place to hunt. Many of us had hunted here before, during the "Pig-o-rama" events the ranch holds monthly through the winter and spring. This was my fourth visit, and my fourth Tejon hog.
The 2005 JHO hunt drew only about half the crowd, with 24 hunters attending. That gave us a lot of territory to cover, and the group made the best of it, starting on Friday afternoon.
Friday - 06/03/05 - Getting it in gear!
Friday afternoon found me getting everyone squared away and then setting up my own camp. By the time I'd finished making camp and having a sandwich, there was no one in the campground except myself, and my great friends Scott Plunkett and Chris Mascola. We'd decided to hunt together, using my 4wd to access the higher ridges.
Last year, at the first JHO hunt, we'd found some success by having Scott and Chris park Chris's truck at the road, where a canyon wash emptied out, then taking them to the top of the canyon and letting them work back to the truck. I'd stay on the high ridges, and glass the surrounding hillsides.
The adventure started early on, as I headed along the top of the ridge. The grass was extremely high, due to late spring rains, and the ground under it was dotted with ground squirrel burrows. I was thinking to myself that this would be an ideal place to step on a rattlesnake when the grass under my feet suddenly parted and the telltale buzzing went off. It seemed as loud as fire klaxon, and I could see the edge of a thick body just in front of my right foot. Almost simultaneous to the rattling, the snake struck. Fortunately, the strike was short… possibly as a result of the thick grass.
I jumped back and drew the .44. Normally I wouldn't bother a snake, but I'd been looking for a good-sized rattler for a hatband. I thought he was a good size to make a nice fricassee for the evening meal as well, so I slowly stalked back up to the buzzing snake. His head hovered, menacingly above his coiled body, so I lowered the pistol and took my best shot. He drew back his head, so I wasn't sure if I'd hit him. However, he stayed coiled and rattling, so I looked for his head and fired again, hitting him in the fat midsection. He whipped his head back through the grass again, and I fired once more, completely decapitating the snake.
Ten rattles and the button on top made an awful loud racket. The Ruger Super Blackhawk .44mag made a louder racket though, and when all was said and done, this was the only salvageable portion of my rattlesnake.
Turns out that I'd hit him all three times, effectively destroying both the meat and the skin. Disappointedly, I snipped off the rattle and dropped it in my pocket. At the same time, my focus widened back out and I realized that all the shooting must have drawn the attention of my partners. Sure enough, the radio crackled as they both asked me if I "got him". They thought I'd jumped a hog, but I explained what happened, and we went on with the hunt. I walked much more carefully after that.
About an hour later, Chris and Scott had dropped into the wash to begin the long stalk down. I glassed the hillsides as the sun began to slouch toward the higher mountaintops. Across a steep ravine, I spotted what looked like a very fresh trail through the lush grass. My binoculars followed the trail uphill until I spotted a lone hog moving up, making the trail has it went along. I watched until the hog reached a little draw, and bedded under a pine tree.
I'd crossed that ravine before, and knew it was pretty rugged. At the same time, the thought of tagging out on the first night tempted me, and I decided to try the stalk. I had no high hopes that the pig would still be there when I finally crossed, but two hours later as I topped the last hill, I spotted the black ears jutting out of a patch of grass, about 150 yards uphill.
I crept closer, wanting to be close enough to verify that it wasn't a wet sow. At 75 yards, she stood up and walked into an opening. I glassed carefully, and saw no youngsters around the pig's feet. I could see hanging teats, but as I watched I didn't see any sign of little ones. I slipped the rifle from my shoulder, and tried to get my sights on the pig. As I finally got the sight picture I wanted and started to squeeze the trigger, she stepped behind the pine tree. Standing and shooting offhand is the least accurate way for any hunter to shoot, but that was my only option. I decided to thread the needle, placing my shot between a fork in the tree. At my shot, pine bark exploded, and the hog ran about ten steps and looked back at me, then bolted away up the hill and out of sight.
It was pretty obviously a miss, but I wanted to double-check for blood anyway. When I arrived at the bed, a half-dozen squirming piglets huddled under an overhang. I'd never seen them! Relief flooded through me when I checked the pine tree and found the bullet entrance, but no exit. The tree might not survive, but the sow would be back to her brood soon after I disappeared. I made my exit quickly, hoping to speed the reunion.
I decided, since I was already over here, to sidehill around the end of this ridge and watch the wash for activity. There was still an hour or more of shooting light, and it looked like the hogs were just starting to move. I worked my way around the ridge, glassing constantly. There were fresh trails and scat all over the place, and I hoped all the shooting hadn't sent the hogs into hiding.
As the daylight faded toward dusk, I didn't see any more hogs, but I did find a nice elk shed. Using the shed as a walking stick on the steep ground, I began to work my way back uphill and toward the truck.
With the summer solstice still three weeks away, the days were long. It was almost 9:00pm when darkness lowered over the ridges, and it was 9:30 by the time I reached my truck. At 10:00, I rolled back into camp to find that two hunters had scored and were skinning hogs. I fixed a quick dinner, then went to check in with everyone. Most hunters had seen hogs, and the few who hadn't had found good sign. Hopes were high for Saturday.
Saturday - 06/04/05 - Oversleeping isn't always a curse
Bedtime came late, and the blue light of morning found me just waking in the camper. I sprang up, aggravated at myself for oversleeping. There was no time for coffee, so I opened a can of Red Bull, grabbed a second can and a granola bar, and ran for the truck. As I drove over to pick up Scott and Chris, I saw one of the other hunters heading up the road where we were planning to hunt.
Although they'd also slept in, Scott and Chris were ready quickly and we loaded up and headed up the ridge. Just as we topped the knoll, we saw Shawn Hicks, one of our other hunters trotting across the hill and waving us down. My heart skipped, as I was afraid someone had wrecked a truck on the steep terrain, but that wasn't the case after all. "Hey," Shawn called. "We have a big hog down, and need some help getting him in the truck!"
I knew there were three strong guys in his group, and wondered how big that hog must be! Turns out that Dave Newman, Shawn's brother-in-law, had killed a nice boar that weighed in whole at 275 pounds. The killer (to me) was that he'd killed it right there on the hilltop, right by the road. If I'd gone out on time, that hog could have been mine!
We loaded the hog into Dave's truck, and went on to our spot. I'd killed a small hog in this area last year, and on the drag out, we found the area to be loaded with sign and bedding areas. We had agreed then that we definitely needed to hunt the area again. I parked the truck, and we split up across the ridges.
…And this is pretty much where we came in.
With the help of Scott and Chris, I skinned my hog and cut him into pieces. We backpacked him up to the truck, and after several hours of sweating and blowing, the hardest work was done. Nothing left but to have a beer and butcher my pig… then have a nap before going back out to set Chris and Scott on their hogs.
The afternoon came and went, and by the time my hog was butchered and on ice, it was time to go back out. I drove Chris and Scott back up the ridge, in hopes of setting out into a new, but promising area. Unfortunately, either due to my exhaustion or simply bad navigation, I couldn't find the road I was looking for, and we ended up back in the area where I'd just killed my hog. Since there were only a couple of hours of shoot time left, the hunters decided to head out from here. I opted to stay in the truck and have a nap.
It was nearly sunset when I woke up to see Chris walking back up the road toward the truck. He was a little aggravated, because a truckload of yahoos had driven through near his area playing loud music and doing drive-bys on ground squirrels with a .22 pistol. He was about to climb back into the truck, but after some brief discussion, decided to stroll on down the road and finish the evening.
Less than a half-hour after he walked away, I heard a single shot. A moment later, there was one more from the same area. I recognized the sequence… one shot to knock it down, and one to finish. I silently cheered, grabbed my radio and binoculars, and jumped out to walk in the direction of the shots. As I moved up the road, Chris's voice came over the air, confirming what I already knew.
Inside, I was dreading another tough drag, but as I got closer, Chris waved to me from a hilltop. "Where's the pig," I called?
"It's right here!"
It turned out to be a smallish sow, less than 150lbs, and she'd fallen just at the top of the ridge. At the bottom of the ridge, conveniently enough, was a road. In two minutes, and with a minimum of sweat, we had her dragged down and Chris started dressing her as I went to get Scott and the truck.
Saturday night, for the first time since I started coming to Tejon Ranch, I had the opportunity to socialize (read: have several drinks) around the campfire into the wee hours, without worrying about getting up early to hunt the next day. I slept in Sunday morning, and rose to prepare a fine breakfast while those who hadn't already tagged out were in the field. It felt good.
Sunday - 06/05/05 - Diehards to the end!
During the course of the day, most of the group began to drift in and break camp. Although the hunt technically went until dark on Sunday, the majority of folks had hunted their fill, and was ready to head for home. By 4:00 in the afternoon, the only folks still in camp were Scott, Russ Mantel, and a new hog hunter, Joe Ramos.
I'd promised to take Joe to one of my favorite spots, and recommended that Scott and Russ work their way down "Speckmisser Ridge". Both areas have always been very productive, and I thought that with all the other hunters out of the woods, it should be a very good evening hunt.
The prediction was proved true less than an hour after hitting the field, when I heard a rifle shot from Speckmisser Ridge. A moment later, Russ came on the radio reporting that he'd had a shot, but the pig ran off. He looked for blood or sign, but couldn't find any indication of a hit.
Meanwhile, Joe and I had worked our way down our ridge. Joe was glassing to the west, and I took a position on the east, overlooking the ravine I'd crossed on Friday night. As I scanned, I caught movement that became a nice-sized hog moving sidehill on the opposite ridge. I called Joe over as the hog disappeared into a thicket.
As we glassed for the hog to reappear, I saw something moving from the other end of the same hillside. A large group of pigs was feeding across, moving from the open into thickets, then back into the open. I estimated the range at 250 yards. It was a long shot, but after some discussion with Joe, he was pretty confident he could make the shot.
Before he could shoot, I thought it best to advise him that the recovery would be pretty tough. After confirming that he was up for the job, I selected a red hog and suggested that it would be a good one to shoot… not too large to recover, and unique enough to keep up with if a second shot was required.
At the shot, the hogs scattered. However, they all ran into an isolated thicket, which meant that we'd have another chance at them if they came out. Neither of us was sure of the effect of the shot, and I steeled myself to make the long trek over to look for blood sign. Joe would stay put and spot for me when I got across. He would also be in position to take another shot if the hogs came out.
Just as I started to head down into the ravine, the hogs came back out of the thicket. They'd calmed down, but were still bunched together. Through the binoculars, I could see that the red pig was unscathed. The shot had missed. But now Joe had a second chance.
I kept the glasses focussed on the red pig as Joe steadied himself on his shooting sticks. After a moment, his rifle cracked and I watched in horror as a black hog squealed and tumbled down the hill. It looked huge, and the smaller red hog ran off with the herd. Unbeknownst to me, Joe had shifted targets since the black pig offered a better shot. However, my biggest concern was that he'd just dropped a big hog into one of the ugliest hellholes on the ranch. There was no question we'd be in for a heck of a drag, as I listened to the hog tumbling and crashing through the trees on the way down the hill.
I left Joe to spot for me again, and set off down into the ravine. The last 100 yards or so, I basically skidded downhill on my backside. I was glad I'd brought my walking stick, especially when I started the climb up the far side. Somehow, by use of toe and finger holds, I clambered up the opposite side and reached a clearing. Joe directed me to the north, and I found the thicket where we'd last seen the pig. A deeply rutted trail went straight up the mountainside, and there, in the middle of it, lay his hog.
I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I saw that it was not as big as I'd thought, then radioed Joe that I had his pig. I then dragged it down the trail to a creek that ran through the bottom of the ravine. There was a nice, flat spot for field dressing, and running water to clean the blood off of my hands and knives. At least that part of the task was made simpler.
The climb down was a little more than Joe had anticipated, and by the time he reached the bottom I'd already field dressed and beheaded his pig to make it easier to carry out. It was getting dark fast, and I didn't want to wait for Joe to come skin his own animal. After some travail, Joe was finally able to reach the spot where I waited. I lashed the pig's feet together, and slipped my walking stick through them so we could each have a handhold. The rugged terrain made tandem carrying impossible though, since one or the other of us was letting go of the hog to keep our balance. Joe was also a little exhausted from the climb down, so I opted to make the pig into a backpack and pack it out the rest of the way on my back.
By this time the sun was long gone. The bottom of the ravine, dark even in daytime, was pitch black. Joe had forgotten his flashlight, so as we hiked up the creek bed the process consisted of taking ten steps, then turning back to shine the light for Joe. The trek was slow, and occasionally painful, but I kept reminding myself that this is hog hunting.
In the meantime, shortly after Joe shot his hog, I heard another shot from Speckmisser Ridge. Scott's voice came over the radio announcing his kill. I cheered for him, and cheered again when he said it was a small hog and close to the road. He'd get his hog to the truck, then he and Russ would drive around and try to help us out.
For a long time, we were out of radio contact. Finally, though, the radio crackled and I could receive partial messages. They weren't sure which draw we were in, so they didn't want to try to hike in and help us. We would be on our own. We bucked up, and kept on grinding. Every once in a while, I'd ask Russ to honk the horn on his truck. When we were finally close enough to hear it, that horn became a beacon, leading us to salvation.
Several hours later, my headlight fell across a welcome sight… a dirt road. I dumped the pig off of my numbed shoulders and radioed Scott and Russ to come down and get us.
The 2005 JHO/Tejon Ham Slam was effectively over, with 12 hogs taken for 24 hunters. Not a bad way to spend a weekend!
One more shot of my hog. The skinned and partially butchered pieces weighed in at 170 lbs. I'd estimate this hog's live weight between 250 and 280 lbs. He was huge, and fat as a butterball! His teeth, on the other hand, were barely two inches long. But who needs trophies? I got a freezer full of meat!
By Phillip Loughlin