Same Song, Second Verse

Glen

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#1
The last time I left the ranch, I was not a happy camper. I vowed I would never come back. The new owner had pissed me off on a variety of issues, and I really didn’t like the way he did business, so I vowed he would never get any more of MY business. Well, it seems that kharma has sharp teeth. He didn’t last very long, and basically got run out of town (good riddance!). Ownership of the ranch reverted back to Clark (the guy that I liked, had dealt with for over a decade, and have great respect for), and he was able to find a buyer who shared his vision and his values. At least that’s what it sounded like over the telephone, but you never know, there are smooth talkers everywhere. The only way to find out for sure is to dive in and test the waters for yourself. So we did.

John and I last hunted the ranch back in 2011, and we left unhappy with the business practices of the new owner. I had flushed all contact info from my computers, but John wasn’t willing to let go of the past that easily, and would check in and monitor happenings online every 6 months or so. After a while, it became clear that our nemesis was no longer involved and that a change in ownership had occurred. John let me know. I was skeptical, suspecting that the former owner had just folded things into a larger corporate umbrella to disguise who owned what. Eventually, it became clear that my skepticism was probably unfounded, and it looked the new owners were working hard to get back to Clark’s vision, customer service model, and how things had been done for years.

John kept pushing, a little at a time – a phone call here, an email there. He would call and ask questions, he would email and share their answers with me…..over time things started to come together. Eventually, he overcame my skepticism and I said “Let’s do it.” (I’m kinda slow sometimes….). We made the reservations, and paid our deposits, and started planning our trip. Both of us were getting excited, it had been 7 years since we had been to the ranch (which was now known as the Four Aces Ranch; http://www.fouracesranch.net/ ; https://www.facebook.com/fouracesranchandoutfitters/ ). There were guns to choose, loads to work up, knives to sharpen, all kinds of things we needed to plan to make this a first-rate trip.

While all of this was taking shape, I mentioned this trip to Paul, a friend of mine who I had talked with about handgun hunting in general, and hog hunting in particular on many occasions. I knew how badly Paul wanted to take a big hog with his Ruger Blackhawk .45 Colt. Paul was very interested, but not sure if he could make it due to some family medical issues that had popped up recently. I told him that he had an open invitation to join us if he could, and left it at that.

As John and I planned for the trip, and the departure date got closer and closer, a few weeks before the trip I got an email from Paul saying, “Can I still come?” I called the ranch (they were good with it), added him to the list, and wrote him back and told him that he had made the team. He was ecstatic.

The 4 hour drive down to the ranch was full of high spirits and story-telling. John was happy to get “his ranch” back, and Paul was excited about finally getting a chance to go hog hunting. For me, I viewed this trip as a fact-finding mission, to see what the ranch looked like and how the new owners were managing the ranch and how they did business. Even if what I learned was negative, I would get a chance to take a hog with a very special revolver built by a late friend of mine.

We got down to the ranch and got checked in. We spent about 45 minutes chatting with Caleb (the new owner) and I liked what I heard about their vision for the ranch and how they were managing it. But I’ll admit, I wasn’t fully convinced – words are one thing, harsh reality is another. We got unloaded at the new cabin and quickly saw that the guest camp had been significantly improved since our last visit – new cabins built, the bunkhouse upgraded, bathroom/shower facility expanded, better lighting, new electric winches in the skinning shed, shooting range built, etc. After a quick snack, we headed out to take a look at the ranch, and see what the animals looked like.

New cabin 50%.jpg

Caleb told us that he had about 140 sheep and goats on the ranch at that point, and probably 50-60 hogs (he wasn’t counting the piglets, the hogs were breeding on the ranch there were several sows that had recently given birth and a few more that were ready to). There were 30 or so 2-year old bison, and a couple of yaks. He took us on a tour of the ranch, and we saw many of the animals he had told us about, so we were able to verify his inventory. The sheep and goats were skittish, and were keeping their distance, and were hiding in the woods back near the rocky canyons. The hogs came in all sizes and weren’t quite as nervous as the rams. The hogs were grouping near the meadows and their favored rooting areas. It made me happy to see this since the previous owner had run this as a “put-n-take” operation – if he was going to sell a dozen hogs in the next week, he would buy a dozen hogs and release them shortly before the customers arrived. As a result, those animals were barnyard tame, and had to be fed daily. They would hear the 4-wheeler and come running for chowtime. Now, the way that Caleb was managing the ranch, the hogs were foraging on their own, living in the wild, and no longer associated the 4-wheeler with food. In the early spring, Caleb would truck in some apple pulp waste for the breeding sows since they needed the extra nutrition to nurse all those piglets. Other than that, these hogs lived off of what they could root up. It was a management plan that was obviously working, and from the different sized hogs I was seeing, it was clear that there were several generations on the ranch.

Caleb has broken down the hogs into 3 groups – meat hogs up to 200#, bacon hogs over 200# (mainly breeding sows), and trophy boar (the really big boys, up to 600-850 lbs, with tusks)

Being the “new guy”, we gave Paul the first shot. He had been dreaming of a big hog for quite some time, so it was little surprise when he said he was going to go for one of the larger sows. We looked several over, and eventually he chose a very nice 2-toned brown sow that was napping under a cluster of junipers. As Paul and Caleb worked their way in closer to her, she woke up, jumped to her feet, and got agitated. She grunted a few times, and was testing the wind, but we were all downwind of her. Paul and Caleb worked in pretty close, and then Paul raised his .45 Colt Bisley Blackhawk, loaded with the Buffalo Bore ammunition, and put a 325 grain cast bullet into the center of her right shoulder. The brown sow dropped in her tracks with a loud grunt. She struggled a bit to get to her feet, so Paul ran uphill and put a finisher into the left side of her neck. Congratulations and handshakes were shared all around, Paul was very pleased with his first hog. Later at the skinning shed, we would find that she weighed 540 lbs, and had back-fat that ran 3-4” thick.

Paul and 45 Bisley BH and 540 lb sow 50%.jpg

We went back to camp and cooked up a hearty dinner (a sweet/hot sausage and potatoes dish that is a tradition in my hunting camps), then built ourselves a campfire and sat around the firepit reliving the day and telling hunting stories till well past midnight. Sleep came easy that night.

The next morning I got up and started the coffee pot, then I started cooking the sausage and eggs for breakfast. I have never found a better alarm clock in hunting camp than a gurgling coffee pot and sizzling sausage to wake up sleeping hunters. We polished off breakfast and got our gear ready to go. Caleb showed up at the appointed time and we headed out. John had decided that he also wanted to take a “bacon hog”, something similar to the big sow Paul had taken. It was a beautiful, cool, crisp morning, with bright sunshine and blue skies. We found a group of hogs fairly quickly. Most of them were pretty small (50-100 lbs), but farther back into the woods there were a couple of big sows that looked to be the right size for what John was looking for. Paul and I hung back and let John work his stalk with Caleb. These hogs were a little more skittish, and didn’t seem to like the idea of somebody sneaking through the woods with dubious intent. A couple times, John almost got a shot, but they scooted off through the junipers to keep some cover between them and the hunter. Eventually, the group walked out into an opening, and gave John a clear shot at a big striped sow, at a little over 50 yards. He quickly dropped to one knee and sent a 180 grain Partition into the point of her shoulder. At the shot, the rest of the group scattered, and started to drift off through the junipers. The big sow was hit hard, but she was still on her feet, so John hit her again, right behind the left shoulder, through the ribs. This second shot knocked her down instantly, and that was that. Classic Partition performance. John was elated! It turned out that John’s sow was within a couple of pounds of Paul’s – both were right at 540 lbs.

John Hunter and 308 and 540 lb sow50%.jpg

Due to freezer space limitations, I was looking for something smaller, more along the lines of 150-200 lb meat hog. I was hunting with a revolver that is very special to me — a 5” full-lug stainless S&W N-frame .45 Colt that was built by my late friend Dave Ewer. About a month before he died, Dave and I had been discussing me building that exact same gun, and then after he died we found this gun (that he built in 1992, starting with a 657 .41 Magnum), unfired, in the box, buried in the back of his gun safe. Dave had never said a word to me about it. When we found it, I took it as a sign, and bought it from his wife. On this trip, it would be loaded with the Keith HP (Lyman 454424 HP), cast fairly soft (BHN of about 9), and loaded over 13.0 grains of HS-6 for a little over 1000 fps. They were sized .452” to match the carefully reamed throats in Dave’s revolver, and lubed with 50/50 beeswax/moly grease. This combination of gun and ammunition is very accurate.

Ewer 625.jpg

452424 HP in 45 Colt.jpg

After we got John’s sow loaded up on the cart, we headed back down to the big meadow where we had seen a number of smaller hogs rooting around earlier. Sure enough, they were still in the area, and still feeding (it seems like pigs are always eating). Most of them were smaller than what I was looking for (in the 50-125 lb range). There were a couple of big sows (400 lbs+) on the far side of the meadow, but there were a couple of black sows in the middle of the group that were in the 150 lb class, just what I was looking for. As I worked my way slowly towards them Caleb was just to my left, and about a step behind me. I stopped because they were getting nervous and milling around. The hogs were still clumped together, and while I had clear view of the black meat hog I’d picked out, I did not have a clear shot because there were one or more hogs immediately behind her. I waited. After a little bit, those other hogs had moved off enough that I had a clear 25 yard shot. It was a bright sunny morning, and that bright orange front sight blade lit up like a neon sign on the black hair of the hog’s shoulder. Dave’s revolver sent that 454424 HP exactly where I told it to go. It hit her hard, and knocked her down momentarily, but she was back on her feet quickly. At the shot, the other hogs started milling around, getting ready to head for the hills. The wounded black meat hog back-tracked a few feet to my left, then turned back around started trotting uphill, to my right. As she crossed in front of me, I took a running shot, but rushed it and pulled it low. Caleb was quietly telling me that my second shot had missed, that he had seen grass fly, when I put my third shot into the center of her ribs, putting her down for good. No bullets were recovered as both of my shots exited. Based on what I saw during the gutting process, it looked like the Keith HP through the ribs had expanded and done a good job, even at this moderate velocity.

Glen and Ewer 625 and 150 lb sow50%.jpg

We got the hogs down to the skinning shed, where Caleb got them skinned and got the meat hung in the cooler. The wind started kicking up that evening, so we had no campfire, and cooked our steaks inside the cabin, along with barbeque beans and cole slaw. We sat around and told more stories and toasted a successful hunt with a little single malt Scotch (Dave would have enjoyed that).

Without knowing it, or intending to, all three of us had inadvertently done exactly the same thing – placed our first shot a little too far forward in the shoulder, thereby requiring a finishing shot – Paul used a neck shot for his finisher, while John and I both went for the center of the ribs, all three finishers worked as intended. Note to self (again): put your first shot BEHIND the shoulder on hogs….

The next morning we had breakfast, then I went down to the skinning shed and butchered my meat hog. We drank a toast to “friends not here”, and then we got started on cutting up John’s big sow, and getting the meat into ice chests. Paul decided to have his done by a butcher, so he helped John and me cut up our hogs. John’s sow was big enough that at times we had to put my hunting knives aside (3.5” to 4” blades), and break out my 7 ½” KaBar for some of the cutting operations. After we got John’s finished, we got everything loaded up for the 4 hour drive home. We were some tired boys when we got home that night, but it was a very satisfying kind of tired!

I like hunting pigs with a revolver. I like the challenge of hunting with a handgun (especially with cast bullets), but I also appreciate the fact that when hunting with a weapon that operates at moderate velocity, there tends to be very little bloodshot meat, and meat after all is what hog hunting is all about. Bon apetit!