|The Brothers Degan, ready for a new adventure.|
As we loaded our gear into the boat, David laid out his plan for the day. Our first stop would be to check out a dry hammock on the Intracoastal Waterway where he had a corn feeder set. We would ease up to the bait site and then slowly work our way across the island to see if we couldn't rustle up some action.
After a short boat ride, we disembarked and made our way up to the feeder. The only signs of activity there seemed to be squirrel related, so we continued on our slow push through the thick oak and holly upland. We must have been close to a bald eagle nest, as an adult flushed from a giant cypress snag when we crept underneath. Instead of flying off to a more peaceful perch, the eagle flew low circles over our heads, calling agitatedly all the while as if to purposely ruin our chances of sneaking up on a wild pig.
Whether it was the eagle's fault or not, we didn't come across anything during our stalk and David made the decision to initiate Phase 2 of his master plan. Back in the boat, we headed over to the spot Mark had killed his pig the day before. Along the way, we stopped at a couple of lookout posts and scanned for pigs foraging out in the marsh, but to no avail. With the tide nearing its lowest ebb, we needed to get to the "Tall Stand" quickly or risk being stranded in the canal. Too late. Well short of our goal, we bottomed out. A quick conference was convened and it was decided Mark would trek across the marsh on foot to take up his position in the stand while Brian, David and I would attempt to push the boat through the high spots and eventually make our way to the base of his tree.
Chest waders were donned and we started the grueling slog through the muck and mire - pushing, pulling, hacking and kicking the boat forward, inch by inch, foot by foot, yard by yard.
|Keep pushing boys. I'll stay up here and take pictures.|
|Pigs eat em. Why can't we?|
Things settled down a bit as we approached the next lookout post and a steady breeze across the marsh masked our clumsy hike to the base of the stand. David climbed the rungs to scan for hogs, but came back down after a few minutes with nothing to show for it. He insisted we were in a good spot, however, and recommended we post a lookout back up in the tree and sit tight until something showed itself. I elected myself for the job of hog spotter and climbed up to the top of the ladder. I had just settled in when a dark shape out in the marsh caught my attention. It was a decent-sized pig, 400 yards away. Before I could put my binoculars down, a second, smaller pig joined it and Brian's opportunity had finally appeared. While the rest of the guys prepared to head into the marsh, I stayed put to watch the pigs and direct the hunters' approach. The wind was perfect. The only things standing in the way of Brian's success were the poor eyesight of the wild pig and its compromised hearing ability thanks to the rustling sawgrass. Oh, and of course Death Options A and B; sink holes and man-eating alligators.
|The stalk begins.|
A tall field of sawgrass stood between Brian and David and the pigs as they made their final approach. From my perch nearly four football fields away, I could still see the smaller, reddish hog, but I'd lost sight of its larger companion. It seemed to me the boys were about to stumble right into the red pig and my mind was screaming a warning, "Look right! Look right! Oh for the love of God, look to your right!" But on they trudged and the pig kept feeding, unaware. Suddenly, I saw Brian draw his bowstring back to his cheek, but he wasn't aiming at the pig I could see. A flicker of motion signaled the release of the arrow and the bigger hog suddenly appeared in an opening to the left of Brian and Dave. I watched it stop, stand for a moment and stagger a bit before it trotted out of sight into heavy cover. As it disappeared into the grass, I could see the fletching of Brian's arrow sticking out of its flank. We had a hit.
The boys regrouped at the spot where Brian had shot his arrow and I thought I could see a fist-bump exchanged between the two brothers and a wide grin creeping across Brian's face. They waited a good 15 minutes and then started moving along the path the stricken hog had taken. I wanted to get down and join in the search, but I reasoned it would be better to stay put and provide bullet back-up if the pig reappeared. As the trackers entered the thick grass, I scanned the openings out ahead of them.
It wasn't long after that, I heard something heavy sloshing through the mud and heading in my direction. It came from the same general area from where I'd last seen Brain's pig and I shouldered my rifle and peered into the grass below. The back of a hog appeared, cruising in from my left. I clicked off the safety as the pig stopped in an opening some 20 yards from the base of my tree. This was not Brian's pig. This was something on a much grander scale. A giant silver and black spotted boar, weighing 200 pounds if he weighed an ounce, with alabaster tusks sticking way out past his gums, was standing broadside to me as he decided which way to go. This was no clean-up shot. This was a trophy boar of the finest class, in the prime of his life. But it was not my business to be shooting such a pig while the rest of the party blood-trailed another. Besides, I wasn't meant to be a shooter during this trip anyway. The boar moved slowly as it seemed to pick up our scent trail at the base of the tree and then he picked up his pace and disappeared into the endless sea of grass and the inner realm of my brain, where he will live for a very, very long time.
As I shook off the encounter, I noticed Mark waving me out of my perch to come join the rest of the gang out in the marsh. It took me a solid 10 minutes to reach them, where I found Brian, Mark and David standing over a very dead sow of 75 pounds. After years of trying, Brian had finally taken his first archery pig.
Home again - perhaps in body, but not in spirit, at least, not for awhile.
Editor's note: I have put up a video (thanks to Brian's editing) of our trip at The Bumbling Bushman Facebook page. Intrepid hunters with a sense of adventure are strongly encouraged to book a trip with David Thomas, who can be reached at 803-456-3387.