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Spot-And-Stalk Hogs: California Style


The three of us had driven up and into this hilly, dry land of twisted oaks, evergreens and slopes covered in thick, chest-high brush. Just before dawn we got out along the twisting dirt road and began scanning the varied landscape. Roth and Pascoe were uncanny; they were spotting hogs everywhere. And it was frustrating the heck out of me.

by ScoutLook Weather

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Combine one NFL pro with a few accurate rifles and some cagey feral hogs? Only if the goal is hill-country fun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI felt like I’d finally accomplished something when I spotted my first Central-California feral hog.

The recent hunt that unfolded near Paso Robles had only been a few hours old, but already, I’d begun feeling like the odd man out. It all began in predawn blackness, when I’d jumped in a truck holding hog guide Doug Roth, of Camp 5 Outfitters, and my hunting partner, NFL tight end Bear Pascoe.

The three of us had driven up and into this hilly, dry land of twisted oaks, evergreens and slopes covered in thick, chest-high brush. Just before dawn we got out along the twisting dirt road and began scanning the varied landscape. Roth and Pascoe were uncanny; they were spotting hogs everywhere. And it was frustrating the heck out of me.

“That far ridge on the right, just below that big rock,” Roth would say. “See it?”

“Got it,” Pascoe would answer. “Two bigs and a little, right?”

“That’s them.”

I’d put my Swarovski Model EL 8x42mm binoculars to my eyes—probably the best binoculars I have ever used—and try to decide which of the 32 or so rocks Roth might be talking about. I saw nothing. Just a whole lot of sloping brown on brown, which became green on brown as the light improved.

COUNTRY MADE FOR STALKING
Hog population aside, I knew we were hunting some amazing country. The Central Coastal Region of California is a series of low, picturesque mountains marching to the Pacific Ocean less than 100 miles away. Much of it is wide open—huge ranches and oak savannas—cut up by ravines and gullies, winding dirt roads, agricultural fields, and vineyards. Adding still more spice was our spot-and-stalk hunt strategy, one that was new to me. Most all of my previous hog hunting experience had focused on sitting stands.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA In the open country of Central California, high-quality optics will undoubtedly increase your spot-and-stalk success. The clarity and light transmission of Swarovski glass is difficult to beat.

Then, just like that, it was my turn. Over an hour later, after stops at three different locations, I saw it all on my own: a black hog-looking spot in the brush. I adjusted my Swaros and, sure enough, I could just make out the familiar outline. A black hog it was. Boar was my guess, and not a small one.

“He’s a good one,” Roth agreed, once I’d pointed out the hefty wild pig.

“How far away do you think he is?” I asked.

“All of a mile,” Roth answered. “But he’s probably going to cross that ridge and we’ll never see him again. Hello? Look below him a couple hundred yards. See them?”

A dozen dark figures were moving to our left, generally towards us, weaving in and out of the underbrush at a good pace. And even better, I could take partial credit for helping to spot them. Now, I felt like part of the hunt—not merely some blind baggage.

KEEPING UP WITH HOGS, PRO ATHLETES
We loaded back into the jeep and, as he drove, Roth explained the plan. The hogs were likely going to bed down a couple miles in the direction they were moving, in the deep ravines over the line of hills ahead of us. We were going to drive about a mile toward those hills, then get out and hike it hard to cut off the hogs.

Hike it we did, up very steep slopes that made me sweat heavily in the warming morning air. The freaky dry earth made the climbs even harder. As I tried to climb upslope the ground would instantly fall apart—and I’d slide down a foot or more. Another step, another slide. My performance was almost comical.

But Pascoe had to catch his breath a time or two himself, so I didn’t feel completely out of shape.

We made it up the final ridge and the land opened up before us into an oak savannah, the stands of the trees interspersed with dry grasses that came to my knees. Roth stopped us with an upraised hand, and listened, trying to catch sound of our quarry. Nothing but birds chirping. We walked forward a few hundred yards and stopped to listen again.

“Well, damn,” Roth said. “Did they get ahead of us? If they made those hills … ” He pointed to the slopes rising a quarter-mile to our left. ” … forget it.”

HOGS IN A HAYSTACK?
Then we heard it: a single squeal, clear and sharp, and from the exact direction Roth had hoped the hogs were still approaching. Paydirt.

We quickly moved to a stand of trees for cover, and set up next to a really large oak. In a few minutes, we glimpsed the group of hogs, heads bobbing and tails cutting the air as they moved and foraged and jostled among themselves. Roth and Pascoe stood on the right side of the expansive trunk; I hung to the left. We’d decided earlier that Pascoe would take the first shot.

Pascoe’s a member of Team Weatherby, a group of celebrity hunters and shooters that rifle maker Weatherby put together to help market its firearms, and Weatherby had invited me on this hunt. So Pascoe was using a Mark V chambered in .300 Wby. Mag. He rested the rifle along the right side of the trunk. The hogs were within 80 yards now and drifting through the trees, stopping every few yards to root for acorns. I set my scope on the hog all the way to the left, figuring Pascoe would take down a hog in front of him and to my right. Probably, I figured, the big sow bringing up the rear of the line.

CHOOSE YOUR TARGET WISELY
Roth looked right at me, eyes wide, and asked if I was ready. I nodded and went back to my scope and got my hog in the crosshairs, finger ready to squeeze off a shot as soon as Pascoe fired on his hog.

He did. Fire that is. Problem was, the hog I had in my crosshairs dropped right in its tracks. Pascoe had picked my hog as his target. Damn!

pascoe-hog-600 Pro football player and Team Weatherby member Bear Pascoe with a stout hog he dropped.

The roar of Pascoe’s Weatherby had the hogs running for their lives, literally, half of them swinging back the way they’d come, the other half churning up dry dirt as they sprinted to my left. I swung my rifle onto the nearest hog, a medium-sized black sow, and fired. Miss! I saw the soil jump up right behind the fleeing pig.

I worked the bolt on my Weatherby Hog Reaper in .308 Win., and fired again. No soil splash, and it turned out I had hit the sow in her rear leg. Which didn’t stop her or slow her, but did make her turn and give me a better broadside shot.

I jabbed the scope’s crosshairs onto her nose for a lead and pulled the trigger, but she just kept running. I worked a new round into the chamber, sure I’d whiffed completely, when she tumbled over and came to rest under an oak.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The author with his first California hog: a medium-sized sow he dropped on the run after a good spot-and-stalk hunt with Team Weatherby.

The last shot, I discovered, took her in the low shoulder area, broke bone and slammed through her lungs. I donated her to a local food bank, where she was made into many, many pounds of breakfast sausage for the needy.

DAY TWO DONS WET AND HOGGY
The next day was a rainy mess, but it was also our last opportunity—so I spent it out and about looking to fill my remaining pig tag. Which I did, during a convenient break in the deluge. I tumbled a nice reddish boar at just under 200 yards as he fed on a hillside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This big red boar tipped the scales at nearly 300 pounds. It had to be drug out of a particularly deep and brush-filled ravine.

The hike and the stalk wasn’t the hard part of the brief hunt. The hard part was helping to drag 225 pounds of dead boar through a vegetation-choked ravine for a solid quarter of a mile. In no time at all my heart was hammering nearly out of my chest, my leg muscles were straining, and sweat was flowing like the recent rainstorm.

Unfortunately for me, Pascoe had returned to his football team earlier that morning. I sure would’ve appreciated his 275 pounds of professional footballer muscle on that little hike!

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