1/15/16 The Whole Hog

I have written about feral hogs before. This is another time. It will likely not be my last.

When I was growing up in rural east Mississippi, we never had a problem with wild hogs. There simply weren’t any. But some time along the way, the interlopers crossed over the Father-of-Waters from Arkansas, or across the Sabine into Louisiana, and from thence across the Big Muddy into Mississippi. Being an Ole Miss man, I suspect College Station, Baton Rouge, and Fayetteville had something to do with this, but it is merely a suspicion, though no doubt one with more than a little veracity.

When the hogs appeared, they appeared almost out of nowhere, sort of like the great Choctaw chieftain, Pushmataha, a great-grandfather of mine, whom legend says sprang forth a fully grown armed warrior from a still-smoking lightning-split White Oak tree, though I daresay that the noble White Oaks are easier connected in my mind with wood-sprites and Choctaw warriors than lowly feral hogs. If they did appear like Pushmataha, then lightning must have struck dozens of trees one night, because the first time I saw any wild hogs with my own eyes there was an entire bait of them (a bait is a whole lot, for those of you who might be wondering).

On my first sighting, I had spotted the enemy. Now having found a worthy enemy, I would be dedicated to its destruction. Since then, it seems that the hogs are more durable than my dedication, but mentally, I am just as resolved as the hogs seem to really be in their everyday lives. It is serious business to them, as they also understand the nature of our relationship. While it is not good for me to have hogs on my property, it is particularly bad for the hogs, at least some of them, when they encounter me, for I am their only natural predator. Oh, I expect a bobcat or coyote takes a baby pig from time to time, when they can get away with one, but they likely will get pretty thin expecting a regular meal of the belligerent, bellicose wild pig. The coyotes are pretty smart, but the pigs are just as smart, and soon become very wary after a couple of incidents.

About the only thing in our woods that has a better nose than a coyote, aside from the rare, very rare, almost mythically rare black bear (though I have seen one, myself), is a pig. As far as I can tell, and in this descending order, pigs are: nose, stomach, reproductive organs, feet, brain, edible meat, ears, and lastly, eyes. Pigs make so much noise themselves that they are unable to hear anything short of a tornado as it approaches. Their eyesight is about as bad as an armadillo’s, well, not quite that bad, but it is pretty bad. If the wind is right, and the wind really needs to be right, you can sneak up on feeding hogs pretty easily if you move slowly, cause they just don’t see very well. I suppose they are extremely myopic, with everything at a distance looking blurred amongst the background as long as it doesn’t move too much, or too fast.

But that nose! Outwitting that nose is quite another trick. We humans use our noses, but bears, dogs, deer, and pigs have a whole other level of smell wherein they capture and process information that never occurs to us. Of course, we can tell when we approach the place where a skunk got agitated yesterday, so pungent is the result of its agitation, but we can never know which particular skunk it was that got agitated. A pig could likely distinguish it from a hundred other skunks it knows, and call it by name.

The same is likely true of the much more subtle cracked acorn hull left by a squirrel three weeks earlier, the pig smelling whether it was a male or female, juvenile or mature, and where it had peed and which trees it had climbed everyday in recent weeks, yesterday, and today, ultimately deciding which tree must have its nest. The pig would smell the squirrel saliva on the acorn hull and likely be angry that the squirrel had beaten it to the acorn, and in an old pile of squirrel excrement, recognize the particular acorn that had emptied that particular hull. That is why you want the wind right.

I have seen hogs wind me.

“Did you get a hog?” my brother asked me on my return from the woods.

“No, but I saw a whole herd,” I replied.

“Did you get a shot?” he asked.

Shaking my head, looking down in disgust, I said, “No. I got winded.”

He looked down, too, remembering the times he had been winded, perhaps in his mind seeing himself as he was seeing me, creeping up on the hogs, slowly, stealthily, but too steeply in to the angle of the wind.

I had crossed the event horizon and all at once the whole herd of hogs had looked up and straight at me, the wind having carried my scent right to their very sensitive noses, immediately alerting them to extreme danger.

“Grunt, grunt,” the senior mama sow shouted, though she needn’t have. Having looked up and straight at me as a bunch, they then turned as a bunch and put their four cloven hooves into good use, moving too fast and too far away for me to get in a shot before they reached the cover of thick brush.

In her grunts, the inflections of which you’d most likely need to be a pig to understand, she likely said, “Run for your lives!! It’s Chris, and he’s got his 338 Winchester Magnum (338WM) rifle loaded with the Winchester 225 grain ballistic white-tip bullets (which is what the rifle was loaded with at that time). He’s got a baloney sandwich on white bread and a half-empty can of snuff in his pocket, and about ten extra bullets. He had garlic last night and farted as recently as 30 seconds ago, and petted three of his four dogs within the last hour. His wife is wearing Oscar delaRenta perfume or else he has some issues he’d rather not talk about. If we don’t flee right now, he will try to kill us all and eat us for dinner. Though he is still out of range for a good, clean shot, a bullet is a ballistic object and maims what it strikes, not caring how well it was aimed. We can laugh at him as we run!”

Now, I don’t know if the senior mama hog actually said this, but it is indeed likely, as the world revealed by their noses is a mystery to us. Having seen them raise their heads from complacent feeding all at once and look straight at me is not a mystery, though. It was simple. I was winded; the bane of many hunters.

That’s why they call it hunting.

Sometimes, though, it’s not hunting at all. It’s just ballistics.

I have written about ballistics here, before. I never get tired of ballistics, which is a predictable, exact science, though the variables are many and several. The very same .338WM referred to above is a very powerful rifle, capable of taking any game in North America, reliably, with a well placed shot, including the largest Grizzly and Brown bears. It is the favorite back-country Alaska rifle; someone in the hunting party should have one, and have it nearby, as it is impractical to ask the charging bear if it doesn’t mind waiting until a larger, more devastating energy delivering calibre than a 30-06 can be obtained. Nope….in the event that happens, a bear can cover 50 yards nearly as fast as you can swing an already loaded and ready 338WM in to position to fire, and you’d better fire and place your first shot well and instantly be ready with a follow-up shot at point blank range.

In Mississippi, I don’t need a 338WM. No one in Mississippi needs a 338WM. That fact, however, does not stop one from wanting nor using one. I have several rifles that will work for hogs, and have used them all, but the 338WM is my go to gun, for a hog drops like a sack of potatoes thrown off the back of a pickup truck when you shoot him, and that is the way I prefer it….just walking up to the hog that lays dead where I shot it rather than searching for a bled-out pig in thick briers and brambles, though I never search too hard, or too long, for a pig, unlike a deer. Pigs are destructive vermin and not natural to the habitat here. The pig shot with a 338 may not be any deader than a pig shot with a 22, but it may be dead sooner. There are no guarantees, only ballistics.

One cool June morning, about five or six years ago now, though it does not seem so, my cousin Al and I were sitting on my front porch enjoying a cup of coffee. It was about 8:30 in the morning. We had no plans, no program, no hurries, just enjoying conversation and the coolness of the early summer morning, knowing that it was a respite, that the heat of summer would be upon us any day, and the front porch would be much less inviting, much less a place to retreat to, rather, a place to retreat from. My front porch is like that. It faces Northwest and an Alberta Clipper in January will drive you much quicker than the setting summer sun, which will still drive you, but slowly, lethargically, but just as surely. The sound of the air-conditioner compressor, a welcome sound here, invites you inside where it’s cool, and far less humid.

Cousin Al and I did not have that problem that June morning. The front porch was fabulous, as it mostly is. As we sat there enjoying our coffee, making small talk that ranged from the weather to how we would shape and form the world were we provided the chance, I had made mention of hogs as we looked across the pond towards the corn feeder we keep there, which had caught our attention because it is timed to distribute some corn at 8:30 every morning. The whirring of the feeder motor made us turn our heads towards it. Seeing the fresh corn on the ground, I told Cousin Al that I wished a hog would show up at that feeder, which would give us a little excitement.

One particular pig had apparently gotten used to eating a little breakfast at the feeder shortly after 8:30 every morning. It apparently had gotten used to the idea of shelled corn and thrown caution to the wind after having eaten there several days, unmolested. At 8:30 on any other morning, there was likely no one there to molest it. This Saturday morning did not lend itself to a molestation-free breakfast, as there was Cousin Al and I, sitting, sipping coffee, talking, and looking straight at the feeder and its freshly distributed corn on the ground. We turned from looking at the feeder and continued our conversation, whatever it was, though I am sure it included the sure-fire solutions to world problems we neither understood nor were likely to understand any better were we closer to them.

A few minutes passed, and for some reason, my eyes were drawn again to the feeder. There was a shadow there that I did not recall having seen, which is a sign to the eyes of a hunter….something had changed in the landscape though I could not quite make it out. Interested, though, I kept looking. Then, almost imperceptibly, the shadow moved.

Instantly, upon seeing the slight movement, what had been a curious shadow against the background of trees and brush, the pig revealed itself. My heart leaped and skipped a beat, though I did not move too fast. I leaned forward in the rocking chair.

“Cousin Al, I declare, after just having wished so, I do believe a pig has presented himself for our amusement,” I said.

“Where?!?,” asked Cousin Al. I pointed towards the feeder. He strained his eyes, also a hunter, and likely unfocused them as all hunters do so the movement can be spotted and your eye naturally drawn towards it. The pig moved. Cousin Al instantly saw it. “Well, I’ll be……..!”

I had purchased the 338WM just a week before. It was used. I had bought it at Gary’s Gun and Pawn in West Point, Mississippi, the home of the legendary Chester Burnette, known to you most likely as Howlin’ Wolf. It was a Ruger M77 Stainless Steel with a nice Leupold 3-9Xx50 scope. I had looked at it for several weeks on my regular visits to Gary’s as I pass through West Point on my way to other places and then back home. It was tempting each time I picked it up, but each time I put it back in the rack. Eventually I had looked at it enough, and it had been there long enough, that I figured the store and me were both willing to make a deal. We were.

I left with the rifle and two boxes of cartridges, both Remington Core-Lokt 225 grain Pointed Soft Points. While the particular bullet manufacturer and type may seem an irrelevance, I will get around to explaining it. It is most definitely not. It is all ballistics, which is inviolable, excepting human variables.

I called my brother to go with me to scope the rifle in, or zero it, to confirm that the optics were indeed matched to the rifle. We went out to our rifle range and I set up the sled to hold the rifle immovable while we prepared to shoot at the target set up a hundred yards away. I was at the trigger and Newt was looking through his binoculars. I squeezed the trigger. BOOM!!!

I looked. I saw no evidence of having hit the target at all, and it was just a hundred yards away, and rather large. Not a spot on the paper. “Did you see where it hit?” I anxiously asked my brother.

“Yep!,” he said to my relief. At least the bullet went where he could see it. He didn’t say anything else, but reached over to the scope and started turning the elevation knob on the top, counting the number of clicks until he was satisfied. “Shoot again. Aim dead center of the bullseye.”

BOOM! The bullet hit dead center of the X axis and about an inch to the right on the Y axis.

“Just what I thought,” said Newt. “Whoever had that rifle was hunting those big bean fields up around West Point. They had it zeroed in at 400 yards.” It was not likely that I was going to make many 400 yards shots around here, but if I did, I would have to rely on the ballistic information of the bullet I was shooting to know how to aim. We adjusted the scope again, two clicks to the left, and four clicks up. This is simply more ballistics.

Remington publishes ballistic information on all their ammo. So does everyone else. The link to Remington’s ballistic info in a PDF chart is right here: www.remington.com/~/media/Files/Catalogs/2010/2010_Ballistics.ashx  This information covers every center-fire rifle cartridge they manufacture.

Based on this chart, the 338WM Core-Lokt 225 Grain Pointed Soft Point bullet has a ballistic coefficient of .456, which is not particularly good, but suitable for a large rifle. The ballistic coefficient is based on the bullet’s sectional density, which is a ration of its width and length, used to determine the drag on the bullet and how it flies through the air. The lower the number, the less drag, the less drag the less velocity it loses at distance, therefore the quicker it arrives downrange, thus the less drop it has downrange. Since gravity affects bullets just like it does anything else, high coefficients means it retains more energy to deliver to its target. None of this may be interesting to you, but it is intensely so to me, as I want every bullet to arrive at the appointed place at the appointed time to accomplish its appointed purpose.

When I refer to the bullet, I am referring to the projectile that leaves the rifle, not to the cartridge, though the words are sometimes used interchangeably. The cartridge is the assembly of the components, the brass case, the bullet, the powder charge, and the igniting primer. The bullet is the ballistic object whose path is predetermined once it leaves the barrel, with the only variable being the wind at that point. My how the wind can get in the way of a hunter!

The Remington bullet leaves my 338WM barrel at a velocity of 2,760 feet per second (fps). At 100 yards, it has slowed to 2,572fps, but has risen 1.9 inches above the bore axis of the barrel. At 200 yards, the bullet has slowed to 2,374fps, but is at point blank aim with the barrel’s bore axis. This is why my brother clicked the rifle scope upwards when we sighted it in at 100 yards. We want the bullet to hit about 2 inches above the bullseye at 100 yards, the distance of our range target, so that the bullet will be at point-blank aim at 200 yards.

This gives me an effective point-blank aim of anything within 250 yards. Beyond that, I will need to make my own aiming adjustments, as at 300 yards, the bullet will drop 8.9 inches, 26.5 inches at 400 yards, and 52.7 inches at 500 yards. With all that dropping, consider this: at 200 yards, the 338WM delivers 2,383 ft/lbs of energy to whatever it strikes. Your typical 9mm handgun round delivers 420 ft/lbs of energy at 1,300fps at the muzzle. That’s why they call them high-powered rifles. At 200 yards, the 338WM is delivering almost 6 times the energy to the target. You can see why a 9mm might merely make a charging bear angrier that it already is, though I’d much rather have it than a stick. The 9mm may indeed kill the bear, but it will likely only die long after it has mauled you to death, whereas the 338WM has a much greater chance of stopping the bear in its tracks, though there are no guarantees of either doing what you want it to, the only guarantee being that neither one will do anything at all if you miss the bear entirely, unless the noise scares it off, and neither will do much other than delay the bear for a split-second if you hit it in a non-vital area, though the vital area is much larger with the 338WM than the 9mm, which may merely ricochet off the angry bear’s skull. Still, the stick is the worst option of all, and bear spray right behind it. Having only seen a single bear in Mississippi in all of my life, it is doubtful that a bear will attack me here. I’d more likely win the Powerball lottery without ever having purchased a ticket than be mauled by a bear in Mississippi. Still, I like that 338WM.

Back to the Front Porch

Cousin Al and me still not quite believing what we saw before us, we watched the pig greedily root around trying to eat all the corn on the ground. I got up and slipped back into the house to my gun safe and got my newly acquired and sighted-in rifle. I came back outside quietly, the pig never looking up from the ground. I laid a cushion from a piece of porch furniture across the barbecue grill. I pulled up a chair. I laid the forearm of the rifle across the cushion and adjusted the chair.

According to my Nikon laser rangefinder, I had long since determined that it is exactly 206 yards from my front porch to the corn feeder. I have quite a bit of drop in elevation, probably about 70 feet. My rangefinder has this as a feature, so I had changed function, and it had told me at that range what I should prepare for based on the elevation change. At that distance, it was negligible, though that much elevation change at a closer distance would make me likely to overshoot my target it I did not account for it somehow.

Meanwhile the pig still ate.

206 yards. The rifle is zeroed at 200. 18 feet further is not enough to make a difference. The wind is still. I set dead aim at the left ear-canal of the pig. I chambered a round. I aimed again and released the safety. I took a deep breath and began to exhale. About halfway through the exhale, I squeezed the trigger. BOOM!!

206 yards away, about 25/100 of a second after the BOOM, the pig collapsed just like that sack of potatoes I described earlier, all in one heap….kerwhoomp!!! It never kicked a foot, never heard the supersonic bullet coming, never knew anything other than free corn on the ground in a molestation-free environment. It never had the chance to learn that molestation could occur here at this corn, that free corn always comes with a catch, that the politics of free corn could be fatal. I’m sure its siblings learned something, perhaps inexpressible in the way I have expressed it, but perfectly sensible in pig thinking.

“Got him!” said Cousin Al.

We hopped in my truck to drive across the pond dam to the feeder. My first shot at a real target with my new rifle….got it!! I walked up to the pig. There was no need to approach it cautiously, as the evidence of an instant death was spread on the ground behind it. I could describe it for you, but I don’t think I have to. I had aimed for the left ear-hole on the pig. The bullet had struck the pig, as near as I could measure, about 1/4” below the ear-hole. 1/4” from your point-of-aim does not divert the bullet from delivering a fatal blow. 4 inches might likely do so, but not a quarter-inch, not a half-inch, not even an inch. An inch out would have still killed the hog. Two inches low would have killed the hog. Two inches high, however……it may have fled pall-mall with a blistering headache.

Cousin Al looked at the pig. He observed the entrance wound. I told him I had aimed for the ear-hole. “That was a remarkable shot,” he said.

I thought about this as we loaded the pig up in the back of the truck so we could carry it to a neighbor who would have it dressed and skinned and ready to cook in just a few minutes, since it was a very desirable 70 pound sow, just right for eating. The meat would not go to waste, but would feed a whole extended family for a week.

“Remarkable?” I asked myself. I thought about ballistics. I thought about the rifle and its scope. I thought about the exact distance being known. I thought about the wind not blowing. I thought about the hog not moving. I thought about the bench rest I had rigged for myself. I thought about the exhaled breath and the squeeze of the trigger. There were so many variables that were put to rest that the outcome was certain unless the rifle failed to operate at all, which was extremely unlikely. The certainty was the pig’s fate once I put the scope’s cross-hairs on its ear canal.

“Remarkable?” I asked Cousin Al. “The remarkable thing would have been if I had missed.”

With that, he gave me a big grin.

Kismet and the fate of feral pigs in my cross-hairs is a topic for another day, but I promise you it is a promising one.

©2016 Mississippi Chris Sharp

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