Wild Pigs with My Dad

Well, I’m back from the PRK, and the Collath is “blooded”! More importantly, a good time was had by all, and my Dad and I had a great time together. I got to thinking about it while down there, and realized that my Dad and I have never hunted together as adults. He’s 74, and there aren’t going to be too many more opportunities.

Let’s start at the beginning, and for those of you that think that Web-based hunting stories should be brief, you’re going to be disappointed.

We booked with a fellow named Kyler Hamann, whose guiding business is called Boaring Experiences, Inc. out of Parkfield, California. I would not mention his name or the name of the business here unless I could give an unqualified recommendation. He grew up in Parkfield and knows the countryside like the back of his hand. Kyler is the best-behaved and best-mannered guide I have met or hunted with. We spent two full days with him, plus lots of telephone and e-mail communications and he never once bad-mouthed a former client or complained about “stupid” or “un-skilled” or “inept” hunters. Neither did he brag about his hunting or guiding prowess. He was always professional, and at the same time was very personable. I’m kind of picky about how wild game is handled, both for the meat, and for the “trophy” whatever that may be. I have to say that I could not have field-dressed the animal better than he did, and he did a fine job of taking care of the skin, which I wanted whole. If you want to hunt guided boars in California, I doubt you could find a better guide. He also offers shooting clays, and ground squirrel shooting.

We booked the hunting for Wednesday and Thursday, the 20th and 21st of October. This was more a visit with my Dad than it was a hunting trip so I arrived in Carmel on Saturday the 16th so we could have some time before the hunt, and my Dad could familiarize himself with the rifle I had brought for him to use. The hunting was just something for us to “do”. The guns are an “issue”.

First, my Dad has recently had some rather serious and lengthy shoulder problems, and was concerned about recoil re-injuring or aggravating his shoulder. After considering the rifles I had, and discussing it with the guide, I decided the TCR-83 with the .257 bbl was the best choice. Hindsight’s 20/20, but in retrospect, a less complicated rifle would have been better.

For me, there was only one choice, the Collath.

I had loads for three bullets – 230HP, 250 SWC and 310FP – worked up, and was confident about my ability to put them where I wanted at ranges less than 150 yards. Furthermore, quail season opened the first day of our hunt, and I hoped to be able to shoot a quail on the same day, or at least the same hunt, as I shot a boar. This was what the Collath was built for. The guide’s website has several references to shots in excess of 150 yards, but he stated that most shots were between 40 and 150. Also, the Collath has rather simple open sights – just a ‘typical’ shotgun ball at the muzzle, and a tip-up rear blade with a simple, shallow “V”. I could keep things inside 4” at 100, and 6” at 150. I’d just have to restrict myself to 150 or less. The Collath wasn’t a difficult choice to make.

I loaded 20 rounds each of 87 grain Combined Technology Silvertips, and 100 grain HP Speers for the TCR. The 87 grainers were doing about 3475 f/s and the 100s were doing about 3250. For the drilling, I loaded 25 of the 230HPs, 25 of the 250 SWCs and 50 of the 300 FPs, and 50 rounds of 16 gauge with an oz. of #9 shot. The only rifle range anywhere near central Ca. that we could find, was at Laguna Seca. The good news was, Laguna Seca was only about 20 miles from my Dad’s house. The bad news was, there was a major road-race at Laguna Seca that weekend. We had only Monday to make sure the .257’s scope was still functional, and to get it set for my Dad’s sight picture. As it turned out, everything went well at the range. (On a side note, the Laguna Seca range was a truly outstanding facility – run as you would expect a range in the PRK to be run, but still an outstanding facility.)

I had told my Dad that even though I had already sighted the .257 in, the scope might have been jarred in transit, and more importantly, just because it hit where I aimed it, that didn’t necessarily mean it would hit where he aimed. The latter case turned out to be too true. I shot the first two rounds to make sure it was grouping as expected, and sure enough it was hitting just where I had set it in Alaska. However, when my Dad shot it, it shot 5 inches low and 2 inches right. At first I thought it might be ‘operator error’, but when my Dad put the next shot touching his first, I knew it was a shooter-specific sight picture matter. A quick adjustment, and he was an inch high and dead on at 100 yards. 

The TCR-83 is one of my favorite rifles. It’s a sleek and elegant single shot with a set trigger. A set trigger is not always the best trigger for hunting, and particularly when the rifle is unfamiliar to the hunter. Furthermore, the TCR trigger was particularly finicky. I had had to fiddle with it quite a bit in order to have it NOT be a hair-trigger. As such I could not get it to shoot in the unset mode. In other words, you HAD to set the rear trigger before the front (true) trigger would release the sear. We went over it several times to make sure Dad had it down. He assured me he did. I offered to let him shoot the Collath, as it’s recoil was no worse than the TCR, but he didn’t think his eyes were good enough for the Collath’s open sights. I shot one each of the .44-40 bullets, and we were off to hunt pigs…. We thought.

My eldest daughter was born in 1990. In 1991, my wife and I went to California to show the grandparents the new grandchild. As a break for us, we took one of those “golf packages” where you fly down on a certain airlines and spend three nights and four days at a golf resort. At the time, southern California was gasping for breath after suffering a 10-year drought. Every reservoir was way below critical levels and water rationing was the order of the day in most southern counties. It started raining when we left my folk’s house in Carmel. It stopped four days later. That single storm not only undid a 10-yer-long drought, it brought so much water that many were genuinely concerned that several of the reservoirs might burst their dams. Monday, October 18th, 2004, a storm hit central California. Several counties north, south and east of the San Francisco Bay area were heavily flooded. It rained 3” in 8 hours in Monterey County. It was the worst storm in 35 years. We got an e-mail from Kyler saying that all the fields and roads around Parkfield were flooded or nearly so. It was “our call’, but he thought we should try to wait a day at least before we came down. This really kinked our plans, but we decided that we really had no choice. The storm was till rampaging, but it was supposed to let up by Wednesday. We decided to wait a day.

As things went, it worked out just fine. The rain did indeed stop by Wednesday, and the storm kept the pigs from being hunted an extra few days. By the time we were after them they hadn’t been hunted for about 10 days. The roads were still wet and muddy, and the clay-filled soil stuck to our boots something fierce. But the weather was in fact gorgeous, and so were Parkfield and its surroundings.

We left Carmel midday on Wednesday, and arrived in Parkfield mid afternoon. Parkfield is really quite an interesting place, but since this IS supposed to be a hunting story, I’ll spare you the history lesson. We stayed at the Parkfield Inn, a nice log construction with six rooms. We would have eaten at the Parkfield Café across the street, but it’s closed on Wednesdays. Instead, we drove back to San Miguel for a good Mexican dinner. On our way out, we saw three coyotes and a flock of about a dozen turkeys. We were to meet Kyler at 0615 Thursday morning.

We were up and at ‘em at 0530, and ready and waiting for Kyler when he arrived promptly at 0615. We had a little paperwork to fill out, but we were soon on our way in his Suburban. We had driven less than a mile from the Inn when turned into a ranch and Kyler opened a gate. It was still very dark, but you could tell the sun was in the east. We drove a couple a hundred yards towards the hills, and Kyler shut off the Suburban and we watched. He told us that he had information from the rancher that pigs were coming down from the hills every night and raiding his haystacks and barn. In order to get there (and back), they would have to cross within our sight. However, they apparently didn’t know that, and after a few minutes, Kyler decided to move on into the hills.

The plan was that I would get out and walk a circuitous path roughly along a ranch road, keeping my eyes peeled for pigs leaving the fields after a night’s foraging. Kyler and my Dad would drive over to a place Kyler felt was a likely spot where other pigs would be returning to their daytime chaparral refuge. When I left the Suburban, it was still too dark to see the sights on the drilling.

It was a bit of an adventure for me at first. Here I was in strange country, in the dark, given general directions to follow and a plan to meet up in an hour and a half or so after I have walked “a mile or two”. I don’t worry too much about getting lost, so I concentrated on trying to find pigs. This was another ‘adventure’ in that I had never even seen a pig in the wild before. I had no idea what to concentrate my attention on. I didn’t know whether to look “under the trees” or “in the clearings”. After a bit, I thought I might have gotten “a little too far right” (I’d been told to keep a fence on my left ‘sort of’), so I decided to go left a bit. Unfortunately, that meant dropping about 100 feet of elevation into a ravine and climbing out to the other side. In itself, this wouldn’t have been too big a deal, but with all of the rain, I had about 10 pounds of mud on each boot. To add to the fun, the ravine was ‘wall-to-wall’ chamise Adenostoma fasciculatum. Anyway, after about 45 minutes of that fun, I had crossed the ravine twice and was back on my original path. From there, the walking got easier. There was mostly grass, which reduced the mud to a minimum, and live oak (Quercus agrifolia or chrysolepsis). Once I topped the big hill, I was overlooking a large – 50 acres or so -, generally flat area with a bit of manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.), amidst the chamise and live oak.

By now the sun was breaking the horizon, and the view was spectacular. The countryside was absolutely beautiful. All the birds had started their morning calls and the air was still and quiet. Among those birds calling were California Valley quail (Callipepla californica). There must have been a jillion of them, and man were they spooky! They busted at least 40 yards out, and always kept a manzanita or chamise between us. Not that it mattered too much, as 1) I had no shotgun ammo on me, and 2) had no intention of shooting a quail and risk spooking any pigs. After about another 45 minutes, I started hearing voices, and in a few more minutes could see the Suburban. I had walked about 2 miles, and cut only a single fresh pig track. It was a great walk, but a pretty unproductive hunt.

Dad and Kyler, on the other hand, had gotten within about 40 yards of herd of eight pigs. My Dad had shouldered the TCR, put the crosshairs on the pig of choice and pulled the trigger. Unfortunately, there was only the click of the firing pin falling but not firing the cartridge. He had failed to pull the set trigger first, and the front trigger “snapped”, but did not release the sear. The pigs were alerted at the snap, but it was the movement of breaking the rifle to reset the trigger that sent them packing. Dang! We saw nothing else that morning but coyotes, as we drove around ‘till about 0900.

Kyler took us back to the Inn, and we lounged around the rest of the day. It was a gorgeous day and great for just relaxing. At 1630, Kyler showed up as planned. We returned to the same ranch, but this time, we put Dad at an ambush point, and Kyler and I returned to where he and Dad had seen the pigs that morning. We hadn‘t walked too far when we jumped a coyote. Too far off for the Collath, and besides, we were after pigs, not dogs. What! There’s another one! AND ANOTHER ONE! None seemed too concerned about us. (I’ll come back to that later.) We had walked about half a mile when Kyler spotted a nice boar under some oak trees about 500 yards off. According to Kyler, he was “a good one”. We headed straight for him.

Pigs and caribou have some things in common when it comes to hunting them. The main similarity is that they both are always on the move. As such, when you see them, you need to either go get ‘em, or cut ‘em off and ambush them. We had to go get him. Unfortunately, he was too far away when we started, and we lost him before we got within shooting range. However, as we approached where he once was, I spotted another herd of seven, heading downhill toward the farmhouses about a mile away. Trouble was, they were on the wrong side of a property line Kyler did not have permission to hunt. We couldn’t chase them, so we headed back the way we had come. As we did, Kyler spotted another herd of six, sky-lined on a hill above us, but once again on the “wrong” side of a property line.

By now, it was getting dark enough that I was checking to see how well I could see my sights. I told Kyler that every minute would count now, because for every little bit it got darker, the more difficult it would be for me to see those Collath sights. Shortly thereafter, I spotted another herd with several pigs in it, and they were very close, AND on the ‘good’ side of the fence. They were working their way toward us for the most part, and while the wind was in our favor, they were also working towards an area that would be downwind of us. They were weaving back and forth between trees and rocks, and were cresting a little knob about 20 feet in elevation above us, and about 40 yards off. The large group had broken into two groups now, and the group we couldn’t see at all was making its way directly toward our wind. Kyler was concerned that they would bust us any moment, and told me to shoot the only pig visible at the time. While it was broadside, it wasn’t a great shot. From my vantage point I could only see the pig’s body above its legs. At this range, the 230 would hit about 5” high of the point of aim. That meant that I had to aim almost at the ground if I wanted to hit in the center of the chest behind the shoulder. I leveled the Collath, took the best offhand aim I could, and let fly. At the shot, “the hills came alive with the sound of pig music”! The one I shot hit the ground like a ton ‘o bricks, and the rest were squealing and high-tailin’ it for the high ground. Unfortunately, mine wasn’t dead. I had hit it high, and it was still moving around quite a bit. Kyler was concerned that it would get up and take off, and really wanted me to shoot it again, so I did. However, because it was on the ground now, and above me, and I could only see from about its backbone up, the second shot was an “air ball”. I chambered another round and put the third shot right in the spine about 3” behind the first. That put a stop to the pig movement. However, when we got to the pig, it was not yet dead, and I gave it a coup de grace. It was a three-year-old sow that weighted about 110 pounds.

The first shot had struck the pig high, broke the on-side shoulder blade, traveled just under the spine, and exited on the far side above teh shoulder blade. The third shot had hit the pig in the spine about 3” behind the first, and exited just aft of the breastbone right on the midline. The fourth one of course went through the skull. No recovered bullets, even though I used the HPs and they all hit bone. A 230-grain .44-40 doing about 1450 was hardly deterred by pork… or pork bone for that matter. We drug the pig to the road, went and got the Suburban and came back for the pig. Dad had seen nothing, but had heard several pigs in the bushes on the hill behind him. They were snorting and grunting, but just wouldn’t come out.

We returned to the Inn, took some pictures, and Kyler took the pig to field dress it and skin it. We ate dinner in the Parkfield Café, and wandered back to our room. Of course we spent quite a while going over every minute of the day. I think I was more disappointed at the missed opportunity than my Dad was, as I felt responsible. It was a good evening spent with my Dad.

Kyler was at the Inn, again promptly, at 0630. We decided that since we had seen more than 24 pigs in the vicinity of where I shot mine, we would return there to see what the morning would bring. Again it was a beautiful morning, but the pgs were nowhere to be found. At about 0800, we traveled way back on the ranch to see if I could get a quail. We did come across a covey of about a dozen birds, but as I said before, they were very spooky. Also, Valley quail have a behavior I was unfamiliar with but learned about the hard way. They will get in a low tree or bush, and burst from there as opposed to jumping from the ground. I’ve never seen a bobwhite do that, and by the time I was “on to ‘em” it was too late. I did have two shots at birds within range, but when I shouldered the gun at the first, the bird was directlyin front of the Sun and I couldn’t see a thing. When I swung over to the other bird, I was pointing right above Kyler and my Dad. I certainly wasn’t going to take that shot. When we failed to jump any more quail in a while, we headed back to the Inn. We were going to hunt that evening, but we had to be out of the Inn by noon. Once again, we lounged around Parkfield, visiting the USGS site and just generally holdin’ the ground down.

Kyler picked us up at 1630, and we headed off to a new ranch. It had little cultivated fields, and was generally quite a bit higher than the first place. We had to clear the road of several trees that had been blown down in the storm, but the country was beautiful, and the views from higher elevation were spectacular.

Prior to getting to the “high country” Kyler spotted a coyote trotting across a fallow field. Folks in this part of the country have pretty much the same attitude toward coyotes as those in Montana do – namely “the only good coyote is a dead coyote”. However, in contrast to Montana, they absolutely do not shoot at the coyotes unless a kill is a certainty. Their attitude is: “If you shoot at them and miss, they get educated”. This particular attitude seems to have some merit, as every coyote we saw on this trip, was practically nonchalant it its behavior towards us. However, since this coyote was a mere 100 yards off, it was definitely “killable”. Kyler wasn’t absolutely sure though, and asked me if I thought I could hit it. I avoided giving him a “look” and just said, “Yes, I’m sure.” I grabbed the TCR, stepped out of the Suburban, chambered an 87-grain round, and set the trigger. The coyote stood broadside and watched as I shot. At the shot, the coyote dropped. Smiles all around, and we started to walk out to take pictures. Unfortunately, I had packed my digital camera when we checked out of the Inn, and I had not grabbed it when Kyler picked us up. Dad had his film-based camera though, and we got a few pictures. It was an very healthy bitch, with an excellent coat… on one side. I had forgotten about the adjustment to the scope I had made for my Dad. As a result, while I had aimed at the coyote’s heart, the bullet had struck the spine in a line directly above the foreleg. There was a hole about 5” in diameter on the far side, and quite a bit of the coyote’s far shoulder was missing. Regardless, Kyler was very pleased, and said he would get “points” with the rancher for getting a coyote, and “extra” points because it was a bitch. We moved on for pigs.

After considerable climbing (in the Suburban) and considerable horizontal movement too, we topped a high knoll. Kyler got out to glass ahead and below, and Dad and I got out and chambered rounds. Kyler saw a pig immediately. It was a large sow feeding beneath some live oaks about 200 yards away and about 100 feet below us. Kyler and Dad moved behind a small oak and set up. Try as he might, Dad couldn’t see the pig in the shadows beneath the trees. We sat there for about 20 minutes while he and Kyler tried several ‘things’ to try to get the pig in sight. No soap. My Dad simply couldn’t make it out except for very brief and fuzzy glimpses. There was absolutely no cover between the sow and us but we could go sideways and downhill and gain some ground. We got about 50 yards closer, but the pig started to move. Dad still couldn’t see it in the shadows. When it broke out of the trees, it was behind a small rise. As we rose to try to see it, it winded us, and beat a hasty retreat to the brush. It did stop at the edge of the brush – about 250 yards – but it was just too far for my Dad to lock on from off-hand. We walked back up the hill to the Suburban and drove to another spot.

Light was fading fast, but we still had about half an hour. Once again we stopped on a hilltop and glassed below. Didn’t see anything for about 10 minutes, but then I spotted a herd of seven quite a ways off. They were our last hope, and we took off as fast as we could.

When we got to where we had seen them, about 15 minutes later, they were of course not around. But we hunted quietly toward where they had gone. Sure enough, Kyler spotted them just maybe 25 yards in front of us, below a small ridge and in some oaks. They were snorting and grunting, but out of sight to Dad and I. (Kyler’s about 6’2” and could just see over the edge.) As we moved forward, they winded us and beat feet into the brush just a few feet away. That was it.

By then it was too dark for my Dad to acquire a proper scope picture. Kyler started back toward the Suburban, but I wanted to just ‘look around a bit’. Sure enough, coming around the same brush pile the group had run into, was a huge boar. He was trotting up the hill right toward us, grunting and snorting and prancing right along. He was within about 30 feet of us when he realized who and what we were. He beat a very hasty retreat. Dad never saw him. I was ‘locked on’ with the Collath, but I didn’t have another tag. Kyler said he thought he would have gone 250.

It really wasn’t nearly as disappointing as it might sound. The whole affair had been very fun, and the boar’s behavior was absolutely hilarious. Neither Dad nor I were particularly ‘bummed’ by not getting him. We got most of the experience of him as it was. Through all of this Kyler was an excellent guide. He never lost his temper with my Dad, nor got frustrated and gave up. Right to the last shred of light, he was working to get my Dad a shot. Things simply didn’t work out that way. Later there were no recriminations or whining or inappropriate comments. Truly, of all the guides I know and have hunted around, none would have behaved as professionally as Kyler. His behavior allowed what could have become a bad memory to instead be a bright spot, and cause to return and seek “the big boar”.