Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring Break

" You got him Hoss. Hit'em again." " Keep firin!" Those were the words of my guide Mike when I shot my first trophy wild boar in the state of Florida. The memories of this hunt go back to February of 1986. I was on a long camping trip with my family throughout the state of Florida and wanted to do some wild boar hunting. I had read much about hunting these animals but never had the experience of going out for them. Now would be the opportunity to do something that most of my fellow New England hunters have not accomplished.

At one time I belonged to a group called Handgun Hunters International. The organization published a newspaper every two months with stories by fellow members who have hunted various game animals around the US and overseas. There were many stories that titillated my hunting appetite and a number of them focused on hunting feral hogs. I had read some stories about hunting these animals in Florida and contacted one of the members. I wanted some good information regarding who I should use as a guide. One of the facts of life regarding Florida is that the best hunting is on private land and unless you own the land or are related to a landowner, you have to pay to hunt. It seems that all of the farms, ranches and orchards lease their properties to clubs, individuals or outfitters. That is a fact of life. What I liked about the articles in HHI's The Sixgunner was that the members were very candid about their hunts. If a guide or outfitter was doing a poor job you would read about it. So after a short phone call to Florida I arraigned to go on a hunt with Mike Acreman of Dixie Wildlife Safaris in Lake Wales Florida.

As a young man I sort of fell in love with that part of Florida. Lets play a game. We'll do some visualization. Close your eyes. When you think of Florida, what are some of the images that come to mind? For some it will be white sandy beaches. For others it will be one of the Disney theme parks. For some it will be bikinis. Sorry. I had to throw that in. For me, my image is taken from a scene of the Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Palmettos. Long leaf pines. Hammocks with Osceola turkeys going about their daily business. To me that is the real Florida and not something that resembles a strip mall.

We arrived at the entrance to the ranch and drove down to the lodge. I met Mike and he was a very amicable person. My mother and father took off to a campground on the other side of the lake that the ranch bordered. Then I unloaded my gear and we headed out in a swamp buggy. This ride was a unique treat. In south Florida a popular means of transportation on these big ranches is with a swamp buggy. I learned that they are made from an old pick up or jeep and generally have no brakes. You use engine compression to slow down. They don't go fast but they tend to plow through most anything. I had taken a 44 magnum revolver for the hunt. I bought a blued Ruger Super Blackhawk with a 7 1/2"barrel with black rubber Pachmayer grips. I had practiced with it incessantly and was a pretty good shot. I began handloading my own ammunition at the age of 15 thus I used some loads of my own creation on this hunt. I had loaded up some Speer 240 grain jacketed soft points over a maximum charge of 2400 powder. I had good groups and I felt confident of taking game with it.

We went through some palmettos when Mike exclaimed," John. There is an armadillo there."I spotted the strange creature and had never seen one in real life. I took careful aim and let the hammer drop. The 240 grain soft point anchored the animal very quickly. From what I learned they are somewhat of a pest in south Florida digging up yards and gardens. Sort of like a woodchuck in many ways.

I retrieved my prize and then we headed back to the camp. After a meal that would scare most heart doctors we retired for the evening and the went to bed. I arose early and had another lumberjack style of breakfast with Mike. We soon headed out to the woodlands. We drove in the swamp buggy throughout the citrus orchards, pastures and woods. I was mesmerized by the natural beauty of Florida . Clear sandy streams. The palmettos and the great variety of bird life. To me this beat anything Mr.Disney could offer any day of the week. We saw deer and a wide variety of exotic game. The ranch is a working cattle and citrus ranch along with offering hunts for exotic game animals. The deer, feral hogs and turkey are very much wild. They would not sit there and let them look at you.

We then began a slow hunt through the palmettos. Soon we spotted two small wild boar. These boar are good for eating. When a wild boar gets above 100 to 150 lbs or so they mature and can become very tough. These meat hogs as they are known make fine table fare. There were two lined up and I we belly crawled within pistol range. I had cocked the hammer of my Ruger and had a clear sight picture on the chest of one black boar. I dropped the hammer and the shot went off. The boar fell in it's tracks.

I was elated at my first big game animal taken with a handgun. In the past I had taken small game such as raccoon,squirrel and opossum but never a large game animal. It was a happy feeling that is hard to put in print. I guess you have to be there , so to speak, to understand.

I was planning to take another boar when we met the ranch manager. He informed us that there was a huge wild boar that someone wounded and needed to be put down. He knew I had a large revolver that would end the suffering of this animal. This trophy sized boar had been difficult to find after being hit . One of the ranch hands spotted the animal in a small clearing and let the manager know about it. We then took off and crept as close as we could to the animal. I can see it in my mind now. The boar had been sleeping. His head facing to the left of me slightly turned with his chest exposed for a clear shot. I had cocked the hammer and had placed the sights on the vitals. I squeezed the trigger and soon the handload was on it's way to do the job.

" Youo got him Hoss.Hit'em again!" It was at that first shot that I realized when a boar gets to that size they aren't pushovers. I hit him in the shoulder and he got up , stood and then looked at me. I was flabbergasted at the scene. "Keep firing!" . I cocked the hammer and fired again. Then again. Yet again. I was amazed at the punishment this animal took to drop in it's tracks.

The boar expired and it's suffering was ended. What lay before me was a true record book wild boar and memories that still last clearly to this day.

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