On a cool December evening a few years ago I shot a nice hog with my longbow near the Savannah River in South Carolina. The hit looked perfect and the arrow slipped effortlessly through her. I watched her run into the long shadows and disappear. I went back to camp and shared a fine dinner with some fellow traditional bowhunters. After dinner we grabbed our flashlights and went to inspect the arrow to see what it would tell us. As the five of us walked up to the arrow, one guy heard some splashing then some rustling in the brush. My heart sank a little, the noise had come from the exact spot where I lost sight of the hog I shot. We backed out to leave her to rest until morning.
Of course I couldn’t sleep. I’ve seen too many blood trails from hogs that just petered out to nothing to have any comfort in the situation. My peers were positive, and the temps dropped into the thirties, so some elements were good. We ate a good heavy breakfast and drank some extra coffee before bundling up to track. All the hunters wanted to help with this track, and I was appreciative for their support. From the arrow to the bedding spot fifteen yards away there were spots of blood, then there was a pool of blood in the thick mud where she had laid. It was sticky mud that still showed the texture of her hair. From where she rose up and ran we could not find a drop. We started making circles from there. As we fanned out, we started checking the better game trails. It was here that I found a tiny pinhead sized drop some 30 yards from the spot she bedded on one of those trails. At least we had a trail.
Sharing a hunt with experienced hunters is always a treat, but this track would turn out to be something extraordinary! I showed the guys how I use peroxide in a bottle designed to “mist” olive oil to get sign out of bare dirt. One guy showed me how he used is ultra-bright flashlight at eye level to look under the shadows of leaves. The other guy dropped toilet paper balls in sizes relative to the size of the blood drops they marked. We tracked her more by hoof print than the scant drops that were few and far between. In total we tracked her for nearly 300 yards over the next few hours.
Finally, while my nose and peroxide mister were buried in some leaves, I heard someone shout “There’s your hog!” Sure enough, there she was! It appeared she had died mid-stride after we spooked her out the night before. Most likely she expired before the five of us had completed our inspection of my arrow. She was jet black, and as beautiful as any hog could be!
As I always do upon recovering an animal when in the company of other hunters, I asked everyone for a moment to myself. In that moment I took a knee beside her, and took off my hat. I put one hand on her shoulder and felt her hair and cold muscles. I closed my eyes and said what I felt drawn to say. What I had to say was only loud enough for her ears and mine. I’ve been here before, and I’ve been here since. Every blessed day of my life where this has happened has been special, but this day was different.
One thing about hunting with folks you don’t often hunt with, you don’t know exactly what they are going to do. In this case a wonderful gentleman was moved to take a picture of me and that hog. This day was already special, but this photograph was the thing that made it different. Sometime later he shared the picture with me.
The very second I saw the picture I felt several things. First, I felt betrayed. My sacred ritual had been captured on film. I never wanted this to be recorded in any way. This was a moment where the deepest part of me was experiencing a divine connection. I was grieving this animals death, while experiencing infinite gratitude for all the benefit that would come from it. As the initial feelings gave way, I realized it was a great gift. Had I known he was going to take this picture I would have stopped him. Because he took it without me knowing, it let me carry on as I felt moved to do. In the end, this was the greatest gift I could have ever asked to receive.
I tucked this picture away. Many times I’d look at it after eating some of the meat I collected off her body. Other times when I had long delays between hunts, I’d look at it to remind me of what the best part of hunting is for me. This picture is so personal to me that I swore I would never share it with any of my friends. It would never go on social media. I would certainly never publish it.
So why do I share this story and picture with you now? Today the Internet is clogged with the most despicable pictures and videos with bowhunting related hashtags. The corporate interests and the hunting media have standardized on a platform that caters to the lowest common denominator, disgusting “kill porn” as it’s called. Many hunters are acting like sheep by recreating these cliché formulas for their own videos.
I’ve decided that if any anti-hunter is ever going to look at a picture of me as a hunter, I want it to be this picture. If a non-hunting friend comes across a picture of me on the Internet, I want it to be this picture.
To my hunting peers: I am not ashamed to say that I hold the utmost respect for my quarry, and I am eternally grateful for every harvest I’ve ever made. I hope you look into your hearts and represent us well when you announce your next success.
Thom Jorgensen lives in Grand Haven, Michigan and is an active participant of the Simply Traditional Field Staff team..