A sudden beam of light from my headlamp indicated it was time to call it a night. I had been sitting in the ladder stand since 9pm and it was now going on 2am. A large boar had been captured on trail camera many nights around midnight. I had hoped he might come in but the night had been very quiet. As I looked down my wool pants shimmered in the light of my headlamp. It seemed the temperature had really dropped and the moisture from my breathing had settled and then frozen on my legs. I lowered my gear and began the walk back to my truck. By the time I rolled back into camp I was really looking forward to the warmth of the bunkhouse and the sleep it would bring. I glanced at my phone one last time before dozing off, almost 4am. The rest of the hunters would be rolling out for coffee in less than 3 hours. My final thought was “I hope they leave quietly”.
I was awakened by the opening and closing of the bunk house doors. I threw off the covers and shivered as my feet touched the cool cement floor. My only intentions were to relieve myself from the water I consumed in the stand a few hours ago and then go right back to sleep. I anticipated everyone else would be headed out to still hunt through the morning. The peace and quiet would be relished. Just seconds from crawling back under the warmth of my blanket the back door opened and my buddy Thom stepped inside. “Oh, you’re awake!” he exclaimed. His exuberance was very obvious and I knew what to expect from my friend next. “If you are up for it, I have a plan for both of us this morning”. Inside my head there was a sarcastic little voice that mentally quipped “you must be mad if you think I am going to slog through a swamp in sub-freezing temperatures after a couple hours sleep!”. The voice that I heard respond to Thom was my hunter’s voice, this one replied without hesitation, “Sure Thom, I am up for anything!!!”
Thom quickly outlined his plan, his excitement soon had me eager to get started even though the sarcastic voice in my head was not convinced and continued to protest as I gathered my gear. I quickly threw on just enough clothing to survive the brisk ride to the other side of the property via the “Gator” (ATV) and off we went.
We ditched the Gator and began walking an intended mile or so. To use the current wind to our advantage we needed to walk to the far end of the area we planned to hunt and then still hunt our way back to where we had parked. We quickly decided we would stop and glass along the way and if any hogs were spotted we could then decide if we wanted to alter our plans. About midway to our intended destination I spotted movement. Through my binos I spotted a pig, then another, and another. Within a few minutes a total of eight hogs were picked out of the thick foliage of the swamp. Thom and I surveyed the area and despite our desire to pursue those hogs there was just not a viable plan of attack to be had. The water that separated us and our quarry was just too deep and spanned too great a distance. There really was no way to get to them. At least not one that had any chance of success. After glassing them for 5 minutes or so we decided to continue forward with our original plans and perhaps we would intercept them on our way back through the swamp.
We were just about to leave the road and head into the swamp when the rustle of leaves on the opposite side of the road captured our attention. Both of us stared into the woods looking for the source of the noise. Instead of finding the hogs, or deer we were looking for we instead found one Derek Sheehan making his way through the thick tangle of palmettos and switch cane. We both chuckled at ourselves and waved Derek over to see how his morning had been. “Nothing so far”, Derek explained. “The wind in this place is impossible to keep in your face.” He continued, “I feel like I am walking in circles and still can’t keep it from my back.” I replied, “that is the way it usually goes. One of the reasons I actually prefer a little stronger wind while still hunting. Calm winds are less predictable and tend to swirl more, at least that has been my experience.” We both wished Derek well and he disappeared back into the palmettos.
Thom and I headed the opposite direction and were soon standing on the bank of a small creek. Most of the time this area is completely flooded by this creek but this year the water was much lower. This provided the perfect conditions for us to execute Thom’s plan. It is about this time I realize I have made a mistake. In my morning stupor I had chosen my hiking boots instead of my rubber boots. Without hesitation Thom offers to hunt the other side of the creek. His generosity was greatly appreciated because it saved me from the nasty experience of walking through 12” of mud in 8” boots.
I formulated my own plan as Thom began working the other side of the creek. Thinking about G. Fred Asbell’s tactic of “peeking over a ridge” I calculated the same tactic should work on hogs. I worked my way along the creek channel and every 10 – 20 yards I would peek out over the top of the creek bank and out into the flats. I figured any hogs in the area might be feeding on the water oak acorns that were abundant this time of year. I reasoned the creek would reduce my profile, muffle any noisy movements and the cold water would help pull my scent away from any hogs that might be out on the oak flats.
I had only gone about one hundred yards when I spotted movement as I was peeking out over the flats. It was a medium size hog, jet black in color and appeared to be dining solo. I eased up out of the creek channel and began my stalk but within minutes the wind shifted and I felt it against my neck. As quick as I could I retreated back into the creek. In what I am sure looked like I was trying to avoid the rotors of a helicopter, I stooped over and trotted up the creek bed. I wanted to get past where the hog was feeding as quickly as possible without being seen. After about forty yards I eased back up to the creek bank and peered over. It took a few minutes but I located the hog again, still feeding on acorns. Again, I climbed out of the creek and began my stalk. When I had closed the distance to about 12 yards I had to wait for a few seconds for the hog to turn, when it did I was already drawing my longbow. The arrow found its mark and I saw the leaf litter rustle on the back side of the hog as the arrow continued its flight. The hog was on the move instantly but only ran about 10 yards before spinning on a dime. Now the hog was looking menacingly in my direction trying to figure out what had startled it. I fumbled for another arrow sure at any moment the pig was going to charge at me. About the time I heard the snap of the nock on my bow string the hog spun around and took off again. It only managed to cover fifteen yards before faltering and coming to rest under the canopy of a downed water oak. I watched for another minute before retreating back to the creek to try and locate Thom.
After a quick impromptu photo shoot in the middle of the swamp, Thom went to retrieve the Gator while I started the drag to move the hog to an accessible location. A short time later we loaded up the hog and headed for camp. While riding back I remembered that negative voice the one that wanted me to just crawl back into bed. I was glad the hunter’s voice has replied to Thom instead. My friend and I had shared an amazing hunt, one we will remember for a long time. Still, I had to admit I sure was looking forward to getting back to camp, and taking a nap!
This story was published in the Winter edition of “A Walk in the Woods”, the official magazine of Compton Traditional Bowhunters. You can find other stories like it in the pages of A Walk in the Woods, which can be delivered to your door four times per year for a mere $35 joining fee. Plus there is the Compton Rendezvous held each year in Berrien Springs Michigan and the Big Game Classic as well. Plus you will be a member the only national organization for the Traditional Bowhunter: Compton Traditional Bowhunters, is an amazing organization.