The Hunting Trip
The sun rose over the still, mist covered meadow. Sounds filled the air, as day started in the forest. Leaves crackling from branches falling from trees overhead, along with acorn husk being dropped by squirrels from the umbrella scrub oaks. Sounds of doves cooing and the call of the bobwhite softly added their contribution to the peaceful tranquility of the woods. Far off in the distance the chortle of a wild turkey resounded; making its call to any females nearby.
In the tall grass stood a reddish bronze white tail dear; ears up watching the edges of the forest guardedly, while her two fauns nibbled at her feet at the tender new growth closer to the ground. Occasionally she lowered her head to take a nibble herself then back to her watchful task searching and listening for any signs of danger.
Suddenly their mother’s ears shot up as she focused her attention on movement and sound across the meadow along the tree line. She quickly signaled to her two offspring and the three of them darted into the woods and disappeared.
Bayler was a tall man six foot two inches with broad shoulders, well seasoned by hard work in the Glades’ and carried himself well. His hands were hard, calloused, and brown with darker brown patches from hard work in the sun, and well-tanned neck above his shirt line, with a dark tanned “V” down the front of his chest and around his neck and face. Bayler kept himself clean shaven; with the exception of his moustache that he had since his momma let him grow one.
With him was his son Jonah; for the first time brandishing his own bow on a hunting trip with his father, his mind filled with anticipation and excitement. Hunting hogs could be a dangerous sport, his father had told him of harrowing situations that he had been in, and Jonah respected his father and listened closely to him. The thoughts of the danger that may lie ahead, entered his mind often; but mostly it was the excitement he felt with being out in the woods accompanying his father as they carefully ventured along the forest edge.
Bayler glanced down on the game trail before him and paused “Jonah,” he whispered, “Look here.” He pointed out a set of hoof tracks in the black sand. “Them there are fresh tracks and judging by the size of em, they're male.”
“You think so Dad?” Jonah replied louder than Bayler had hoped.
“Spect so, and do you see these over here?” he pointed to a second set. Looks like the sow was with him; and based on the depth of the tracks, she’s due to litter.” He glanced at his son who watched intently as his father explained, “You remember what I done taught you?”
“Yes sir,” Jonah replied, Jonah studied the ground in front of him, looking for anything that would help him and impress his father. Then he looked along the edge of the trail, “Dad!” He said in a loud whisper, “Dad…Look at these!”
Bayler looked back at what his son had found, “I see em, now can you tell me what the are?” he whispered, “And quietly this time?”
“Sorry Dad, but They look like panther tracks, and they’re pretty big.”
“That’s right Son, they’re right big ones, and fresh too. Look at the wet grass embedded in them, he’s close. Reckon he’s after the same thing we are; best you keep a sharp eye out, don’t want to get between him and them hogs.”
“Yes Sir,” Jonah said sheepishly and began glancing all around looking for any sign that the big cat may be close.
Bayler stood and looked ahead at the trail before them, he pause and listened for any sign of life that might be close, then cautiously moved forward. Jonah followed close at hand, his bow knocked with a fresh arrow as he looked around from side to side front to back alert for any sign of hogs, or more pressing in his thoughts….the panther that left those tracks.
Jonah had been hunting with his father before, but that was with guns, this was different, with a bow he knew you had to be very close, and very quiet. With a bow, you usually only had one shot, and it was only good for about thirty yards. He had seen his father put two arrows in a charging hog, but that was his father. His mind bounced between what he knew and what might lie ahead. His biggest fear, letting his father down. He thought back on his father teachings, move slowly and deliberate. Have the bow on the ready, take your time, wait for the clean shot or don’t take it, and never shoot what you don’t intend to eat.
The woods had a clean open smell with the scent of tree sap and pine needles, the subtle decay of leaves on the ground, and wild flowers growing sparsely among the Spanish Bayonet’s and the palmettos. Jonah paid special attention to the game trails that cut in and out of the palmettos and tall grass overrunning the field. The bow felt good in his hand and fit him well. His father had it custom made to fit his arm and well balanced for his use only. He pulled up on the arm guard that protected him for the bowstring recoil. Jonah had practiced many hours at home but now it was the moment of truth, all his efforts were to be tested. So much to remember, all his father had taught him and all his training and practice, his mind pondered back and forth, trying to keep focused, doing all he could so when the time came, his father would be proud of him.
Bayler looked back at his son, and noticed his expression. "Now son, don’t you worry none bout this, "Them's a plenty, hours you spent practicin' you'll do just fine. An don’t give that cat no never-mind, ‘spect it ain’t gonna be settin' for us 'less'n we pester it."
Jonah smiled sheepishly, "I know dad, I just don’t want to come up on one sudden like and surprise him."
Bayler grinned, "Reckon with all your loud talkin’, we ain’t got to worry none on that."
Jonah Grimaced at his father's words and tried harder to whisper if he had to say anything, or better yet he would try not to speak at all.
They walked on down the game trail slowly watching the tracks and listening to the forest. Bayler stopped and motioned downward with his hand. Jonah froze, and looked at him. Bayler looked off in the distance listening attentively. He turned and whispered softly, “You hear that son? That’s hogs rootin’, and close.” He took an arrow out of his quiver and nocked it. “Best we be real quiet now and move deliberately so’s not to spook ‘em.” Jonah nodded and checked his arrow position.
As they moved closer, Bayler could see a group of hogs about a hundred yards away working the ground around a stand of Palmettos. He turned to Jonah and pointed to them. “Stay low, we’ll work our way around slowly along the scrub line, so they can’t see us.” He continued to whisper. “That’ll make us down wind.” Jonah nodded his head and ducked lower to the ground.
They quietly worked their way through the scrub along a deer trail that le behind the hogs, untill they came to a stand of wild holly around the base of a scrub oak. The hogs were within range, so Bayler crouched down low, and held his finger to his lips. He lifted his bow and brought the sight to his eye, targeting a boar. He released the arrow and it traveled into the animal in its chest by the left front leg, and passed through the heart. The animal squealed, and started to run. Bayler stood up nocking another arrow and drawing the bow back. The animal turned and charged towards them.
Bayler released he second arrow and it hit the animals shoulder, glancing off without slowing the beast. Jonah stood up and took aim at the hog, his arrow hit the animal in the throat and disappeared inside. The hog took three more steps and fell. Bayler slowly relaxed his bowstring and the third arrow from the ready. He turned to Jonah. “You done real good son, that was a fine shot.” He smiled and pated Jonah on the back.
The remaining hogs ran off into the palmettos and disappeared. Bayler and Jonah walked over to the downed boar and looked at the large lifeless animal. “Spect now we best field dress him and head on back to the truck.”
“Yes sir,” replied Jonah. “I never dressed a hog before dad, can I try?”
He smiled and shook his head, “You brought him down, its only right you dress him and drag him out”
Jonah grinned, set down his bow and took out his knife. He pushed the knife in the neck behind the jaw and ran it down the stomach to the tail. Then he began cutting and scraping the insides from the cavity, leaving the hog with all the meat ready to go. Bayler took out some rope and tied the feet together. Then he took a fallen tree branch and ran it between the animals legs and tied it to the branch. “Sheath your bow son and grab an end; you downed him and cleaned him, so you get to help carry him out.”
Jonah grinned excitedly, as he shouldered his bow. He stuck the knife into the dirt to clean it then wiped it on his pants, and placed it in its sheath. “Are we going to be able to lift it Dad?”
“I ‘spect were gonna half to son, ‘less’n you think we should have let him chase us back to the truck and shoot him there?”
“Not sure that would have happened”, Jonah laughed. “Let me see if I can lift this.” He stepped to one end of the boar and tried to pick up the branch; but, he could only get it up a couple of inches off the ground.
Bayler grabbed the end and lifted it up, “Ok son, take that hand towel from your belt and fold it up three or four times. Then lay it on your shoulder then turn your back to me, and I’ll set this end on it.”
“Yes sir,” he said and placed the towel over his shoulder. Bayler lifted the branch over him and set the end down on the cloth. Then he walked to the other end of the branch and made loops with the rope, and tied the loop to the end. He placed the loop over his shoulder and stood up, making the branch level, between him and Jonah, picking the hog up off the ground. Jonah winced at the weight that now rested on him but just took a deep breath, and grabbed the branch to steady it. “Ok dad lets go.”
Bayler smiled, knowing how heavy the hog was and how hard it would be for Jonah to carry it. “Alright son, now if you need to rest you just holler, we ain’t gonna carry it all the way to the truck from here.”
“I can do it I think dad,” Jonah replied. “But we need to get goin’.”
OK son,” and they stated back to the truck. It was a lot further than Jonah remembered and they had to stop many times to rest. The hog was heavy and Jonah had to switch shoulders a few times. When they finally made it, Jonah let out a heavy sigh of relief and collapsed against the back of the truck.
Bayler opened the cab, took out two waters and handed one to Jonah. “You done me real proud son, that hog weighed nigh on 200 lbs. It were a tall order for grown men to haul out but you made it right well.”
Jonah smiled, “Really Dad, it weighs that much?” he shook his head, “I didn’t think I could carry that much.”
Bayler laughed, “If’n I told you how much it weighed, you might not have.” He slapped his son on the back and walked him to the back of the truck. “Now let’s get him in the bed and head back to the house, so’s you can show your momma.”