The other day, I interviewed a couple of Arkansas ranch owners for an agricultural newspaper. During our chin wag, the owners revealed that they had a bit of a feral hog problem. Selflessly, I offered to apply my hog hunting skills to the infestation issue. To metaphorically paraphrase Henny Youngman, I was up so early this morning that the crack of dawn wasn’t safe. Before I loaded up my truck for the 50 minute drive to the ranch, I sighted-in my rifle for 100 yards on my private range. My boomstick for this hunt: an Ishapore 2A Enfield chambered in 7.62X51 (instead of .303). I’ve given it a synthetic stock, a scope mount and a Leupold scout scope. I knew she wouldn’t let me down . . .
Soon after I arrived at the ranch I found hog tracks, droppings and wallows. I spent the next hour staking out a pond that stank like pig crap. There were lots of tracks and wallows along its edge and an unoccupied hunting blind overlooking the pond. I figured it was a good spot to wait for a while.
No pork chops on the hoof appeared. But I stalked through an absolutely beautiful landscape of open, rolling meadows broken up by bands of thick hardwoods, toting my homemade scout rifle.
There is something indescribable and primal about silently and carefully ghosting through the woods with predatory intentions, carrying a rifle. All your senses are heightened. I noticed every blade of grass, every acorn on the ground, every disturbance in the soil. I heard every squirrel chattering, every leaf that fell to the forest floor within 100 feet. I felt the wind on my face as the breeze varied speed or shifted direction. Something, I’m not sure what, told me to look in a certain direction for an approaching animal that I cannot yet see or hear.
Today, I played the wind well enough that I caused a bobcat to have a panic attack. I was leaning up against a walnut tree in a fence line when he materialized from the woods on my left. He calmly walked out into the field and paused to urinate on a small bush, marking his territory. He didn’t know that I was there, watching him, until he got directly downwind from me, less than 20 yards away. I could have thrown a rock and hit him.
When he finally smelled me, I almost laughed as he crouched in panic, darting his head quickly here and there, trying to spot the human he’d scented. When his eyes at last locked onto mine, I could almost see him think “OH CRAP!” as he realized how close I was. Then he ran three or four steps, paused and looked back at me, ran three or four more steps, looked back at me, and repeated that process until he reached the treeline some 40 yards away.
Once, as his head was turned away from me, I raised my rifle, flicked off the safety, and watched him through the scope. I fingered the trigger, and said quietly, “Bobcat, you’re mine. But I’m gonna let you go this time.” I admired his spotted pelt as he slunk off through the underbrush. I was after hogs, not bobcats. Besides, If I’d busted him with a .308 at such close range, there wouldn’t have been much pelt left.
Though I let the bobcat go, I’d already resolved to whack any coyote I might encounter. Coyotes have become prolific nuisances around these parts. I’d be doing the rancher a favor. Less than 30 minutes after the bobcat encounter, I got my chance at a coyote.
As I sat near another feral hog wallow, a big song dog came loping up a fence line, ducked under the fence to his right, and trotted out across open field maybe 50 yards away.
At first, I didn’t shoot. I couldn’t find a spot where barbed wire and metal fence poles weren’t blocking my scope, and when he finally came into the clear, I would have been shooting back towards the ranch house, barns, outbuildings, as well as my own pickup truck. So I held my fire.
As I looked at him through the low-powered scope, I clearly saw the coyote look right at me. Even though he had to have seen and recognized me as a human pointing a rifle at him, he neither sped up nor slowed down, but continued to glide along in the graceful, loping stride that carries coyotes so quickly across open ground. He ducked under another fence, and slipped into in the bushes.
In the minutes after he disappeared into the undergrowth, I replayed the moment in my head. There was a brief second when the crosshairs were gliding along in between strands of barbed wire, and the bank of a distant pond behind the coyote offered a safe backstop if I missed. That was my chance. I should have dropped the hammer on that coyote right then and there.
But for some reason, I hesitated, and the briefly opened window of opportunity closed within a few steps of a trotting coyote. And then he was gone just as quickly as he’d appeared.
I stayed in that spot for several more minutes, enjoying the yellow and orange sunset that turned the entire rural landscape into a softly-glowing Spielberg movie scene. Then I walked back to my truck in twilight, with the already-set sun still burning the western sky a vivid pinkish-orange.
Even though I didn’t see a single feral hog, didn’t fire a single shot, and missed my brief chance to get a big, healthy coyote, it was still a glorious afternoon spent with a rifle. And there’s always next weekend, when muzzleloader season for whitetail deer starts. And there’s this Thompson Center synthetic .50 cal blackpowder rifle heading my way . . .