The harvest this year has been slow and laborious because of the hot, dry weather. The cool weather over the past few days had me yearning for the woods, so I set out to see how the hogs have fared this summer. I saddled the horse and ventured to the swamp along the Thronateeska, at the foot of the limestone bluffs. Some of you may know the place I speak of; it’s sometimes called Montezuma Bluffs.
The trails are narrow and steep, so the horse couldn’t make it down the bluffs. I tethered her at the top where others have done the same in the past and left her to graze. Because the day started off cool, but was to become warm, I carried very little with me beyond my gun, shooting bag, knife and axe.
It was truly beautiful. The leaves have started falling in earnest. I wandered slowly along the path, following the contours of the ridge. There is evidence of hogs along the trail, mud on the trees and some rooting on the hillsides. I saw several young deer and many squirrels. The nut crop this year is extraordinary; the oaks are burdened with nuts and the squirrels are fat because of it.
I left the path and made my way across the little limestone falls, which are completely dry this year, over the arm of the bluffs and down to a spot where a large limestone rock sits. This made a nice vantage point to look out over a large stand of black gum and tupelo, with hickories and river cane along the edges. The hogs like to feed on the gum berries and root in the mud here.
After a while enjoying the weather and the small birds flitting about, I began to hear pigs moving through the leaves across the way from me. Knowing that they had no reason to come across the slough to me, especially if they were going to water, I climbed off my perch and began a long stalk. The creek that normally runs through it was completely gone because of the drought, so it was simple to walk across to the other side. However, I had to choose my steps carefully because of the dry leaves. Occasional gusts of wind made enough cover sound for them not to hear me.
As I got to the point where the creek usually flows, I saw three of this year’s pigs feeding nearby. I crept a little closer and crouched down beside a large black gum. They came closer, to within 35 paces or so, and began rooting for black gum berries. I took aim and shot at the nearest, a solid black one. He squalled, turned and began to run. His brothers – or sisters – ran away as well. I thought nothing of this at the time.
I cleared the smoke from my gun, thought of reloading, but decided not to; I didn’t expect to take another shot, and would have to drag my gun and the pig out of the swamp. After the pig ran about 20 paces or so, he collapsed, squalled for a moment, and then got quiet and very still. I forced myself to wait a little longer, and then went to inspect my prize. He was small, but plump. My .62 round ball had gone in a little low, just behind the shoulder; it had torn up the opposite shoulder on the way out. Still, he had a lot of useable meat for such a young pig.
As I was inspecting my prize, I heard something crashing through the river cane from the direction the pig’s siblings had gone. Mother pig was coming to her young one’s defense.
A nearby tree leaned at a bit of an angle, and had a branch hanging out about six or seven feet above the ground. At that moment, it seemed the prudent thing to do was to climb. I scrambled up and hugged the tree trunk. My unloaded gun, which would have been little more than a club any way, was still leaning across the pig.
Mother scuffed around the bottom of the tree for a few minutes, inspected baby, and decided that he no longer needed her attentions. After a while, she left to find his brothers and sisters. I climbed down from the tree, reminding myself why you should reload after a shot.
I did so, then gutted the pig. I found a couple of small hickory poles, lashed them together, loaded him up and drug him back to the wagon for the trip home. Climbing the bluffs dragging even this small load reminded me of my years. I don’t run up hills like I once did.
Last night, I roasted the tenderloin over the fire. As young as he was, his meat was still pink and tender, like a penned hog. The acorns and black gum berries are making them fat and tender this year. I’ll haul the rest back home in the morning.
I must get out and look for a deer soon. My youngest boy is begging for some woods time himself; school is wearing on him, I believe.