By Larry Kirk
There is a strange irony in being filled with a sense of elation at what you have achieved and yet at the same time a deep resolve to do better next time. That's how I felt when I found my hog.
Two weeks before I had started hunting a promising area. It was an interesting edge where the north side of a pond met a small swampy acre or so of cypress and longleaf. Along the west edge of the pond and swamp ran a ridge with an old shell road, a few big oaks and a scraggly palmetto scrub with scattered slash pine. I had found rubs, rooting and tracks scattered throughout. I had been putting corn out and the trail cam showed hogs showing up every evening. There were a few brindles and some black hogs of various sizes. One big black had those distended lips that imply good cutters. I felt ready but a little worried - could I really do this?
I'm fifty-nine years old and I only started hunting at fifty-four. I had been reading Teddy Roosevelt's hunting adventures and decided this was something I wanted to do before it was too late. So I bought a 30-30 and got some younger friends to mentor me. Trevor was the only traditional bow hunter I knew. He would go hunting with me; him with the recurve and me with the rifle, and later the compound bow. There was something about the whole idea of hunting with a traditional bow that was quietly but persistently seductive.
When a young man at church going into the Marine Corps offered me a bargain on a bow I jumped at it. It was a Martin Howatt Hunter with a fifty pound draw. It came with a handful of arrows and so I immediately began practicing in my back yard. The bow was great but it was poorly set up and the arrows were not spined correctly for the bow. They came off the rest like bottle rockets fishtailing toward the target and giving me fifteen-inch groups at twelve yards. It was frustrating but addicting. Trevor kept telling me I needed to go to the Traditional Bow Hunters of Florida Championship Shoot in the spring. That sounded crazy to me because I was under the impression that it was strictly a competition. I wasn't ready for that. He explained that it would be the best place to get set up, buy arrows and whatever else I needed as well as meet other traditional hunters. So I went and it worked.
I didn't do the competitive shoot because I felt so little confidence in my ability at that point but I hung out with helpful new friends, shot a few 3-D targets and most of all got set up properly by Big Jim, one of the venders. Armed with renewed confidence, lots of tips and a proper set up I began to practice in earnest. My groups got tighter and tighter and the fun factor soared through the summer and into the fall. When it all came together I loved whole experience of looking at what you want to hit, releasing well and watching the arrow fly home. When I began to hunt with the recurve I felt ready for it but there was still that unique excitement of attempting something challenging I had never done before.
My first time slipping into the woods with the lightness of the recurve in my hand was exciting. On my first hunt, I spotted two hogs about fifty yards away. They were in the open but partially obscured by tall grass and shrubs. I nocked an arrow and began slowly creeping closer, moving only when their heads were down. At forty yards, I had to pause and calm myself. My heart was pounding. I was breathing so hard I thought even if they didn't see or smell me they would hear the breathing. I settled down, caught my breath and started in again but they busted me.
Their noses came up slowly and then almost like dancers they spun in unison into the brambles on the edge of the swamp and disappeared. That happened again - almost the exact same scenario a week later. On the third week the wind seemed better, less variable, so I set up a hang-on stand in an oak tree about twenty yards from the hog trail that exited the swamp through a trio of well-rubbed trees.
As I sat in the oak waiting for that magical last hour of light I rehearsed all the things I wanted to remember: pick a spot, aim small - miss small, come to anchor, relax on the release and don't drop your bow arm. The squirrels showed up. Then some doves and cardinals came. Then the hogs came - suddenly - two of them, a black and a brindle. Almost ghost-like they were just there. I slowly stood and focused on the closest hog as it fed along the path. It turned broadside at about fifteen yards and stepped forward. I came to full draw and let go! The hit looked high and too far back but even from the stand I thought I saw good blood immediately.
The hog seemed stunned but hard to read. It did a 180 then just walked off to my left at an almost casual pace. I could see my arrow was all the way through. It was sticking out of the far side but still in the hog with about six inches of shaft and the fletching visible on the impact side. The hog turned circles about three times and then just trotted off into the denser brambles and palmettos that led to the pond. It was almost dark and my heart sank. I was afraid the hit was so bad that I had blown it but when I came down and looked for blood where I had last seen the hog there was a lot of it. I had never seen a blood trail like this. It was almost a continual line of splatters. I went in on hands and knees down a tight, vine covered hog trail.
Once before in a similar situation, hunting with a compound, I was charged four times. But this time it was dark and I was by myself. I had a side arm but didn't want to use it. Twenty yards in I found my arrow. It was soaked in blood. The white fletching was crimson. The path opened up and I was able to walk comfortably for another sixty yards where the trail seemed to end. There was a little pool of blood and the pine needles were all stirred up. But the trail just seemed to end. I searched for blood with my mag light but couldn't find where this hog had gone.
Out of desperation I started slowly searching in a circle, on my hands and knees. Pushing through some dense vines that pulled at my hat and dislodged my glasses I almost jumped out of my skin when I found myself face to face with my hog. She was still. She must have fallen, struggled back up and then thrown herself in another direction with her last lunge. They are tough. I sat back and looked at her - my first success with the recurve. The shot was not perfect but the bow and broad-head was scary deadly. I called Trevor to share the excitement. After we got off the phone he sent a text; “Awesome! I'm very proud; it will never be the same.”
I was elated but resolved to do better. In the excitement of the moment, I didn't pick a spot. I just picked a pig. I think I dropped my bow arm also. In the moment of truth my practice kicked in and kept me from messing up completely but my excitement level threw me off my game and the shot, while absolutely deadly, wasn't what I know I can do. Before my first hog, for whatever reasons, I was unduly apprehensive about how effective I could be with the recurve bow on larger game like deer and hogs. Of course I should have known better. Now I do. With my first success I saw for myself the deadly efficiency of the traditional bow. I also experienced first-hand and in the field the addictive freedom of instinctive shooting.
I'm in the backyard again, practicing daily and fired up for the next hunt. I'm thankful for all the help and encouragement I've been given along the way and looking forward to my next hunt and my next chance to get together with the Traditional Bow Hunters of Florida.