How many times had I been here? How many times had I stared out through the branches under the stars? Sitting in the tree stand, I checked my phone: 9:47. How much longer would I wait for that phantom, that big boar I had hunted for seemingly months on end?
Luckily, I stumbled across the landowner while out riding my horse a while back.
“You see what those hogs have done to my field?” he asked with indignation. “I know someone who can take care of that,” I replied with a wink.
I am starting to fidget. I lean my head back against the pine tree and close my eyes. In that instant, clear as an oncoming train, I hear an animal laying tracks through the grass to my left. Less than three seconds – I switch off my safety, point the gun into the sky and turn on the red light. Leveling the stock to my cheek, I look through my scope and there he is: a big black boar trotting on a diagonal toward me. Pull the trigger. No hesitation. I was not going to miss this moment again – a moment of judgment, precision and exhilaration all embodied by the squeeze of a trigger.
After the recoil knocks my gaze from my scope, I am again peering through the red haze created by my accomplice, my .308 Savage. Had I even breathed? Had my patient fortitude paid off? There lay my prey, my prize boar who terrified my dreams and taunted me relentlessly on foot or horseback. Always seeing his signs – teasing tracks and obnoxious rooting. There were times I would catch a glimpse of a shadow moving through the field or between the trees, then he would vanish without a trace. Now I have him!
I make my way down from the tree stand across the 60 yards to stand guard over my game. Tribal dancing to celebrate shooting my first boar, I think now of my next adventure, that of cleaning the carcass. It dawns on me I have never field dressed a boar before. What is a girl like me going to do with a 205-pound pig?
Going back through my memories of the previous months, I think of the deer I had gutted and cleaned. The very first one, shot by my hunting partner in this same field after we had camped out all night to find a beautiful eight-point buck. He shot and I found the body. Together we cleaned and packed it with ice.
This is my first year as a hunter, and I hungered to learn every bit of information. Recalling what I could from dressing the deer, I go to work on the pig. Starting at the groin and sliding the knife through to the chest, I begin the grueling task of cleaning my prize.
Once you look on the inside, the body is like a treasure map, each organ having its own texture and place. I savor using my hands to explore this uncharted territory, secrets for me to discover. Fifty-five minutes and a couple jagged edges later, I have removed all the vitals. Inspecting Phantom – the name stuck and will forever be a character in my memory – I wonder where my bullet pierced his hide. I check the chest cavity inside and out. No holes. I check the shoulders and the back. Not until I look at the pictures on my phone do I realize that I shot him square between the eyes! Secretly I give myself 007 status.
It registers in my brain I had been cleaning him in the beam of my dying headlights. I had not left my jeep running and the battery was calling it a night. Peace out hunter – you wanted to do this on your own. In the dark, with still a formidable animal in front of me, I realize it’s time to call in reinforcements.
Finally, clean and crawling into bed about 2 a.m., I smile and drift off to sleep. Phantom is tucked in as well, in a bed of ice in a 155-quart cooler, ready to be taken to the processor. I hope this to be just the start of my hunting adventures.
Having hunted for only two years, I am still eating up every opportunity I get.
“When are you coming to North Carolina to visit?” mom would ask.
“After January 1,” I would reply. I could not stand to miss a minute.
I have hunted in wind and rain, all night and all day, sometimes back-to-back. I have not eaten because I was in the woods all day or fell asleep against a tree on the ground. I have dragged deer and pig, checked traps and run with dogs with nothing but a knife in hand to end the struggle of a hog fighting for its life. I have had more setbacks than success, but I believe that every experience in the woods is valuable, and you make gains for the next outing. I crave the wild outdoors, scouting out the tracks and reading the signs of a buck scrape or the fresh dung of a wild boar. Every moment is filled with anticipation of the unscripted battle that could take place at any moment. I love all animals and hunting is the vehicle that allows me to have an up-close-and-personal experience with a wild being.
They become mine, a part of me. My story. My life sustenance.
By Sarah Carmical