As the alarm was going off, I looked over at my buddies and said “We gotta find better hobbies. I mean who gets up a couple hours before daylight to go mess around in freezing temps. Hell, best case scenario we’re a long ways and downhill from the truck and have to drag dogs and a stinkin pig out….”
We’d woken up many times before in the dark ready to go, from when we first met, as enlisted men. Just a couple Jarheads and a Corpsman ready to run through whatever came in front of us…
The status of the feral hog in Tennessee is a muddy one at best. It’s not classified as a game species with good reason. This has been an attempt to disincentivize the transport and spread of this destructive, nasty critter. However, once they get “rootin” they’re almost impossible to eradicate. This is much the case across many areas of the Cumberland Plateau in Middle Tennessee. Both federal and state agencies have implemented several strategies to try to reduce the feral hog numbers. However, this is a fire that may only be contained at best. It’s hard to find a case where feral hogs have been completely removed once well established.
We had checked on some Public Wildlife Management Areas where the state allows short hunting seasons for hoggin’ and doggin to little success. We hit one last spot….
I had pulled my phone out to check some emails from real life and my buddy was saying….”I’m not sure if the dogs are going to get on anything here….”
Just down the road one of the dogs lit off and then the second one with her joined in. As we looked at each other, all of the dogs in our sight took off hard to join the chase. Diving off a steep cut made by a stream as old as time, we struggled to keep our footing. Making sure all the while to keep an ear to the dogs. My buddy stuck to the creek and mini waterfalls, I hit the slope of the ridge in case the chase turned uphill. As we cut around a finger of the ridge a pond came into view, I slid down the hill. My buddy and I got to the pond about the same time, we could see the dogs had bayed the hog in the water. I had a shot clear of the dogs and dropped the boar. Now the work begins….
The next morning as we loaded up the dogs in the dark and cold, we talked of the almost mile long run (as a crow flies) we had made the day before. Hopefully, we could get on some more pigs in a slightly different area. We checked on some known sign, the decided to head up the ridge further. As we hit a break in the timber, black shapes run in front. Pig! We cut the dogs loose while making our weapons ready. Some cut to our right, other to our left. One of my buddies and I stay on the apex of this finger as the dogs work, brush explodes around us. We find ourselves in a target rich environment, rounds crack off as we determine each running shape from hog or the trusty dogs.
Our other hunting partner yells, “I got one but can’t find it”, we head over to help cut the track. We soon pick up the blood trail and begin the process of tracking, weapons at the ready as hogs can be quite cantankerous. The dogs soon loop back to us and pick up the track…the splitting sound of a dog striking a track rings out ahead of us….the chase is on. We run down the ridge to find the dogs have caught this straggler, it’s quickly dispatched. While loading the bounty of hogs on the truck the comment is made again, “we gotta find a hobby that’s not so much work.”
The rest of the day is spent skinning and butchering the hogs. It takes us several hours as we work, cutting up the hogs together. With our coolers full of fresh pork and dark approaching we know our hunt is over. We take our time as we load the trucks and clean up, and finally say our Till next times. This is not just hobby.
While hunting is lifestyle for many, for us Veterans it often becomes more. We use our lifestyle as a way for us to come together, to share those common bonds of struggle. In service to each other and remember those who we wish could experience it with us. Public lands often become the medium for us to have these experiences. In each other, and public lands we trust.