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Pigs By Boat April 2021
Gerhard Schroeder  
This is what it looked like with lower flow in the Verde River, and
not quite at the deepest spot in order to make it to the other side.

The east side of the Verde River is where our tags were good for. Crossing that stream below Horseshoe Dam by truck is dicey. A few years back, in the dark, Russell almost went too far off the proper track, to the degree that his headlights were submerged. His 1996 4Runner made it through and to camp, but there he had trouble starting it again.

Since there had been recent rains before our 2021 hunt, we crossed the lake itself, in Ron’s V-bottom boat, instead of gambling on water releases. The lake was low, the journey fast and uneventful. Near the high-water mark vegetation was thick. So was javelina sign – tracks, chewed plants, and much poop.

That we were in the right place was made loud ‘n clear when Ron’s .357 Mag barked around mid-morning on that opening day. It was the second time he’d seen a pig, or two, not a whole herd. The one he fired at was on the move, and it kept on moving.

We hunted until midday Sunday. For me, this ‘find’ shown below perfectly summarized my hunt up to then.

We took two days off, then explored country near Rye. Plenty of deer there, but very little javelina sign. We did not find them, gave that up after two days. It was also the end of the hunt for Ron who had to get back to work.

The HAM hunt in Arizona not only gets you two weekends to hunt, President’s Day is a bonus. David offered to take me across Bartlett Lake that Monday, the last day of the season. I accepted gladly.

Bartlett was way down as well. Still a little shy of shooting light I headed for the hills. Sign immediately, but older. I kept heading away from the lake, slowly hiking higher. Once the sun was out, I glassed more frequently. Eventually I opted for the bottom of a fairly sizeable wash.

Plenty of times I got too late to where
they had been, never where they were.

It had tracks as well. Those triggered daydreams that around the next little bend I’d meet pigs, at fine handgun distance. Not. Neither did my binos find any on the adjacent hills. Or further out ones, for that matter.

By around 10AM the wash terminated at a saddle. The other side sloped into a large valley, met by serious-looking mountains a long way away. I did not go for those, instead followed the contour south, circling back and down towards the lake. Still periodic javelina sign.

When I paused to glass, my scans included looking ‘back’, uphill. And Bingo! Finally, pigs, three of them, feeding slowly along. They were about a half mile away, uphill from me, and of course on the other side of a deep and steep canyon between us. Hey, they are what I had come for. David would have to wait, as now I might not return to the lake way past noon.

To remain undetected and mind the wind, I would have to hike up the hill I had just been on. Best approach was to go over it, then cross the canyon, and then ascend in a shallow cut on their side, ahead of them, to reach their elevation. With always more than 300 yards between us, the first part of the ‘stalk’ was simply laboring my body weight uphill.

Before I crossed over and would lose sight of them, I glassed one more time. Now ten showed in my field of view.

Things got serious in the shallow cut. I slowed way down, purposely stepped on larger rocks since the ground was dry and loud. By the way, stepping on old dry fruit pods from saguaro cacti is like setting off firecrackers. Hiking, or better climbing uphill is hard work, makes you breathe like a pervert, me anyway.

OK, slow down more. How far would the herd have traveled while I’m trying to close in? Quit mouth breathing. Take another careful upward step.

When I figured that I was close to their level, I exited the shallow cut, headed towards them, now even steeper uphill, even more careful, using the Primos tripod as walking stick so I could set down each foot oh so slowly.

Every step let me see a few yards of new scenery, but no critter. Another step. Pause. Another step. Pause, scanning. Another step. There, movement. Could not tell what it was, where it went to. Step. Step.

Finally, somewhat below me and to my left, a javelina! 45 minutes had passed since I’d first seen them. Good, the pig appeared clueless to my presence. Not so good, it was at least fifty steps away. No others in sight. Wind still parallel to us, but how long could I trust that?

I decided to take the shot. After all, I had practiced such shot many times. Yeah, right! The ricochet howled loud and far down the valley behind him. The herd did not explode. But while out of the corner of my eye I noticed two, three pigs, none any closer, departing uphill, “stupid” froze.

Now, a Contender is one loud rig to reload. Closing the action will make a metallic clack. That made more pigs lose their nerve, wasting no time on their uphill journey. But stupid still stood frozen. The .30 Herrett hissed again, sending another 110 grain Vmax, knocked him down, but not out.

That, and my pig briefly squealing on impact, was too much, as the rest of them panicked away, all but one uphill. I reloaded again, stepped closer, finished him, thanked God for him. The first hit was a little too high, nicked the spine. My hunt was over. My work was about to begin. OK, picture first.

Then tagging, red work. Skinning big game on the ground is a compromise. But with care their own hide prevents the meat from getting all dirt-covered. While the legs, back straps and ribs (lost the neck when I finished him) were hanging in a small tree, I had lunch. The wind was still having some cooling effect.

With the lake quite a distance off, I opted to debone the ribs and shoulders. Then all meat fit into my backpack. That worked out better than expected, way better than carrying the field-dressed pig suitcase-style, as I had done in all those prior years. Hiking with both hands free and a heavy backpack really beats the suitcase method in steep country. Meaning, from now on I will do it again, unless I happen to bag one fairly close to camp.

The trip back took over an hour and a half of steady hiking. Via walkie-talkie I asked David to come pick me up again. He did. Also, he had caught his limit of bass. I call that a very good day!

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