Wednesday, August 15, 2018

HAMilton


            I have managed to get behind on my reporting, but these hunting reports are often offensive to some people, so get out your forks, or your pitchforks.

This year, after doing essentially no hunting or fishing, I was shamed into going boar hunting by my longtime hunting/fishing companion and Navy Seal Veteran Mark, who set the whole thing up a week prior to the planned trip over the Memorial Day Holiday weekend.  He then owned me by telling me that I did not have to go if I had a good excuse.  We would be leaving on Sunday morning to sight in our rifles on the way to a hunt in Monterey County on Memorial Day Monday.

I had eye surgery scheduled the day after Memorial Day and also offered up that WendyJo and I were seeing the final performance of Hamilton on Sunday, so I would have to decline, as my thirst for high culture had occupied that date.  “No problem, we will wait for you and go up whenever you want.  I promise I will get you back in time for your eye surgery” -was the gentle reply, delivered with Putin-like calculation.

I changed my mind.

I decided to try out my really nifty old fast firing Browning automatic .270, instead of my tried and trusted Winchester model 70 bolt gun.  The Browning has an old scope that is fixed at 4X.  It lacks the variation or range of the Nikon I have on the bolt gun, but there are advantages to simplicity and the 270 just doesn’t kick nearly as hard as it hits.  Although I had dialed in the .270 fairly recently, we took it to the range with my boys on Saturday and it produced a sub one inch three shot group at 100 yards right on the nickel. That is better than I generally shoot. Despite the fact that I was using lead bullets at the range, I superstitiously just put it away and did not even try it out with the actual copper hunting ammunition I would be using, as copper is now universally required in California.  This assumption that the copper would be consistent was a fundamental mistake that I ended up getting away with, even though I know better.

We were joined by Mark’s old USC water polo buddy Mike, who is an experienced hunter and fly-fisherman whose humorous companionship was perfect for this kind wise-cracking drive up 101.  Mike was shooting a 7mm magnum bolt gun, which is almost as mighty as the 300 Winchester magnum Mark packed, along with his more manageable .308 as back up.

Hamilton was fantastic – the best thing I have ever seen on stage. I was thoroughly prepped by reading the book, listening to the sound track and then watching a documentary on the making of the production on the morning of the performance – all of this under the supervision of WendyJo, who managed to see this production 3 times prior to our big date. I am pretty sure that I was the only one who left the show in a car full of hunting gear to chase boar while my wife went home with her girlfriend, who also attended this most fantastic and patriotic final production.

I met up with Mike and Mark in Palos Verdes and we all piled into Mike’s SUV to head up to King City in Monterey County, with plans to meet our long trusted guide, Tom Willoughby, at 4:30 am at a dirt lot near the 198 close to San Lucas. The ride up was really fun Dudes-on-a-road-trip conversation with bad jokes, recurring themes and non-stop Grateful Dead tunes. We crashed in an economy motel in King City and woke up at 3 am to coffee up and head off to our rendezvous with Tom and his son at this obscure country road intersection. We were wearing our headlamps, hunting pajamas and were giddy with anticipation. Getting on these pigs at first light is one of the imperatives of making your own luck, so we were on time.

Mark and Mike teamed up to ride in the all terrain machine captained by Tom’s son, who is a fantastic guide in his own right.  I rode with Tom in his pickup, which my many excursions with him have revealed can often turn into a ride straight out of “Rat Patrol.”

Tom is the most efficient guide I have ever hunted with and is a man of relatively few words.  As we were headed onto a cattle ranch in the darkness, he asked me what I was using.  I advised I was using my .270 instead of my trusty 30/06.  He clearly was not a disciple of that round.  He asked if I had it sighted in and I responded affirmatively.  He then asked me if I had used copper ammunition to make sure my aim would be true.  I was going to lie and say I did, but I was sufficiently intimidated to honestly offer up that I had used 130 grain lead hunting ammo instead of the 130 grain copper I would be using for the hunt.  He let me know right away that he was disappointed in this obvious party foul by suggesting that I could be as much as 4 inches off in any direction due to the ballistic variance sometimes produced by copper.  He told me that I would be allowed one shot.  If I missed, he would hand me his rifle and I was to use it without question as punishment for my negligence in preparation.  I was kind of bummed out to already assume the role of weak sister as we bumped along in the darkness, saying nothing more to embarrass myself further.

As gray light emerged, we started glassing an area across a small canyon.  Pretty soon it was light enough to see color.  Tom spotted movement on the other side of the canyon.  It was two boars running from our right to left on a trail at the base of a rise about 300 yards out.  We moved parallel to their course to achieve a point of interception where the canyon narrowed a bit.  We set up as I chambered a round.  I had lost some of the confidence I had previously built up with my zeroing of the scope on that Browning the day before, but felt pretty good about the situation.

When they were about 160 yards away, the pigs slowed down to a walk and Tom gave me the green light to fire.  I placed the fore-end of the BAR on the shooting sticks, put the cross-hairs just behind the left shoulder of the lead animal, took a breath and pulled the trigger without hesitation.  The shot took that pig right off his feet.  His companion checked him out and then hauled ass.

Tom turned to me and said “That is a big pig and you hit him real hard.”  That was as supreme a compliment as I am likely to ever get from this man, so I was stoked.  Tom told me to keep the scope on him and hit him again if he got up while he sped off in his truck to track the other animal.  I kept the scope on the proned-out form for a bit, but it was clear that he was not getting up.  I stood in that spot and waited for the sun to crest the horizon behind me as I became aware of cows in the distance and listened to the birds waking up.  While I was waiting there, I heard multiple rifle shots in the distance.  I was hoping my buddies were engaging targets.  A few minutes later, I heard another flurry of rifle fire.

After a while, Tom’s truck reappeared and he picked me up to go across the canyon at a favorable location to recover our quarry.  upon inspection of the deceased, my shot was right where I aimed and the pig was a real good specimen – very Eurasian in its bristles and long head, with a nice set of teeth. It was prime.

We loaded it into the truck bed.  Tom advised that the others had contacted him with their walkie-talkie and had pigs up another canyon on a different part of the ranch.

When we got to the spot, we met up with the other three.  Mike  explained that they had been pursuing hogs they had sighted when the machine hit a bump, causing the top of his head to impact the roof rather severely and driving the headlamp he was wearing into his scalp.  Mark had opened fire on a couple of pigs that evaded his warning shots while Mike was busy being dizzy in their vehicle.  Both Mark and Mike are medically trained (Mike was a 25 year lifeguard and Mark has all of that military training).  They decided that he would live and resumed their pursuit.  They found another set of pigs coming down the side of a canyon.  They stopped their vehicle and Mark climbed out to start shooting again.  Mike did not want to be left out, so he cleared the cobwebs and staggered out of the machine to provide supporting fire.  They hit two boar several times.  The boar went up a canyon into some steep brush.  We all went up the canyon to locate the pigs, which we were not sure were dead.  In fact they were and we dragged them back down to where the vehicles were parked.  It was then that I noticed that Mike’s hair was matted with blood and it was trickling down his face.  I initially thought it was from the pig, but then I got the full story I have reiterated above.

After a brief photo op,  we rode to a large oak tree, where our guides threw a rope over a limb and used the truck to hoist the pigs, in succession, up to where Tom and his son could skin-out and field dress them. 

They performed this task with such efficiency that the pigs were dressed out in the amount of time it would take us to make a bed, though I am confident that most of my readers make their beds or field dress pigs with roughly the same frequency.


By 8 am we were back at the hotel, where Mike could shower up and become more presentable.  Tom gave us the phone number of a wild game butcher he knew in Creston, which was a slight detour on our general path toward San Luis Obispo. He said it was close enough that we would not even have to ice down our victims, which would make the meat that much better, as they would hang it up in a refrigerated environment before processing. It seemed from Tom's description to be a rather obscure place, but he assured us that they would let us in and be ready to process our animals based on his relationship with them.

We arrived at Creston meats after taking a series of diminishing roads and ending up on a mysterious dirt path which miraculously took us to our destination.  

We made contact with the proprietors and brought our pigs into their remarkable agrarian facility. Inside the large building, which smelled like concentrated meat, was a fabulously industrial stainless steel interior with all kinds of overhead tracking, dangling meat hooks and high powered hoses.


 We were assisted by butchers in lab coats and rubber gloves. They told us they would bring the processed meat to a convenient location off the freeway in Los Angeles, which was a weekly part of their meat delivery route, you know, just like the Meat Man used to do when we were little kids.  We chose a variety of sausage mixes and left them with our haul at about 10 am.

We rode along a very picturesque 229 highway west toward San Luis Obispo, with the intention of having a late breakfast at the Custom House restaurant in Avila Beach (one of my favorite places), which I discovered was a spot neither of them had ever experienced.  We continued our road trip conversation, full of hysterical stories, accompanied by the Dead and now buoyed by the success of our hunt.

 All of us had been to Avila Beach in the old days, which for me was little earlier than for Mark or Mike. I started giving them the history of how the entire town of Avila was completely excavated and rebuilt to look like it had always been there after an historic petroleum cleanup project many years ago.  It was then that Mike revealed that he was one of the project managers for this incredible clean-up site, but had left before they were done and had never been back.  This made our destination all the more important.  I learned a great deal more from Mike about the details of that project, how this beautiful place was rescued from toxicity and was recreated as a vibrant destination.

When we got to the beach, it was brisk and very crowded with Memorial Day tourists.  We had a great meal.

 View from our table on the patio.

We took in the seaside scenery and continued on our way back south.  Once we got to Santa Barbara the weekend traffic really set in.  We crawled along the coast all the way to Palos Verdes, since every freeway was clogged and the slow ride on PCH rekindled memories and stories of Mike’s days as a Baywatch lifeguard.

I got home in time to watch the NBA playoffs with my family and headed off to the eye surgeon the next day, just like Mark promised.  The carving was successful and my vision for distance is remarkably good, especially for someone who has had six eye surgeries and could never see all that well to begin with.

The sausage was delivered later in the week.  It was an expensive process, but it was beautifully packed and prepared.  There was plenty to give away and we are still consuming it, as sausage is a favored entrée for breakfast, lunch or dinner- at least for those in my family and among our friends who are willing to be accessories to the murder of God's creatures to achieve the peculiar celebration of flavor that wild boar can bring to the table.  It was Ham at both ends of my journey.

The wild boar hunting experience is one of the best deals there is in the world of high powered rifle hunting.  Hanging out with these guys for little more than 24 hours while having this kind of fellowship and hunting success in such a small span of time is something that is a truly remarkable adventure that we can still enjoy in California after attending a first rate theatrical production.  I am grateful that I was goaded into it. 

These events are a fierce reminder that Time and Fellowship are our most precious forms of currency,..... and of course, that

These are the Days.















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