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Terror in the Wild

Her husband desperately held the wounded boar off by its ears. Could she make the shot that would save his life?
Photo by Outdoor Life Online Editor
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Hunting the refuge always held the promise of surprise. In addition to the deer and wild hogs we typically pursued, we could encounter anything from alligators to eagles, bobcats to rattlesnakes. But when we set out that morning, I had no idea we would encounter a situation far more frightening than anything I could have imagined.



My husband, Sterling, and I had been bowhunting in this 4,000-acre wilderness in southern Alabama for eight years. We shoot traditional archery tackle; Sterling even makes his own bows and arrows. When I first started hunting, the most difficult thing for me to master was remaining calm under pressure.



Instinctive shooting requires intense concentration on the exact spot you want to hit. In the early years I tended to get excited and shoot at the whole animal rather than pick a spot and concentrate. How else could I miss a 200-pound deer at 10 yards?



The fourth year I finally harvested a nice four-point buck. In the traditional Native American fashion, I used the animal's brain to tan its hide and made myself a hunting quiver. I guess that was a real turning point for me, as I made the connection with nature and became an active participant in the food chain.



On this day we had brought along a canoe to access a new area, and our excitement grew as we made the 20-minute boat ride up the Tombigbee River. We pulled the canoe out of the Boston Whaler and began to paddle across the lake. The view was spectacular. Managed primarily for waterfowl, the ponds, lakes and tributaries of the refuge are wintering grounds for tremendous numbers of ducks. Hundreds of coots, wood ducks and mallards took flight as we glided in among them. Putting our backs to it, we quickly covered the few miles to shore on the far side of the lake and then continued up the twisting creeks farther into the swamp.



After about an hour in the canoe, we arrived at a large bluff falling off rapidly to the swamp where we intended to scout.



A few steps from the canoe, we intersected a heavy game trail with tracks on top of tracks. As we traveled along, other trails paralleled and then joined it until we reached a well-worn crossing. Sterling promptly claimed the area and went to retrieve his tree stand from the canoe. I had a brief longing for the old days when Sterling had coddled me. We would have spent hours finding the perfect tree
for me, but now I had to fend for myself. Leaving him, I paddled across the creek to explore a large finger of land surrounded by swamp and marsh.



Sterling, on the other hand, was quickly into the hunt. Laying his handmade osage orange flat bow and western larch arrows close by, he prepared to put up a tree stand. Still squatted at the base of his tree, he heard a grunt. Scarcely had he grabbed his bow when a hog emerged from the thicket onto his trail. Up came the bow arm and away flew the arrow in a graceful arc. The boar saw him just as he released and whirled to run as the arrow made impact. It appeared that the arrow had hit too far back and too low for a lethal shot. Sterling had made perfect shots on the other three hogs he had harvested this year and was sorely disappointed with this one. We had spent countless hours conducting necropsies while field-dressing game, discussing arrow lethality and proper shot placement.



Experience had shown us that it was best to delay tracking an animal when poor arrow placement was suspected, so he climbed the tree and spent several hours worrying over his shot. When he finally took up the trail, his fears were confirmed by the lack of a blood trail and the sign on his recovered arrow. Easing down the trail, he could follow the large fresh tracks of the big hog, and after slowly covering about a hundred yards while making low grunting sounds, he heard the hog in thick saw grass. There wasn't much opportunity for a shot, but it was likely to be the best chance he would get. Creing within 10 yards, he slowly drew an arrow and made another shot. He could see his bright yellow fletch as it deflected off the thick grass, barely creasing the top of the hog's neck before sailing across the swamp.


The hog bolted toward him and Sterling grabbed a handy limb and swung himself up as the big boar charged past. Thinking the hog was mortally wounded from the first shot, Sterling dropped to the ground and was off in rapid pursuit. Occasionally hogs will stop, whirl around and stand their ground, offering a finishing shot, or go through a clearing large enough that another shot can be taken as they move.



At a dead run, Sterling managed to stay in sight of the big boar until it ran out a very narrow finger that was thick with scrubby trees. He could see that the finger opened into a knoll or peninsula surrounded by swamp, and as darkness was setting in he chose not to disturb the hog further.



I paddled across to pick him up just before dark and he related his hunting experience. We commented on the fact that the hog had run up the very trail where Sterling had been standing while making its escape. You hear stories of wild hogs charging a hunter, but we always believed that they were trying to flee and simply found the trail blocked.



We had supper but didn't talk much. Sterling was anxious about the hog. He wondered whether he had made a lethal shot or whether the animal was scarcely hurt and would recover. Early the following morning, we prepared for the day's hunt as we waited for daylight to depart down the river. I was about to lace on my soft deerskin moccasins when Sterling suggested I wear snake boots. I like the moccasins for stalk-hunting, but I followed his example and pulled on my knee-high, snakeproof boots.


Fog lay like a blanket over the water and it was a cold ride. Having mapped a quicker canoe route the previous day, we quietly made our way out the finger to where Sterling had last seen the hog. As I waded a deep muddy spot, one of many too wide to jump, I was glad I had worn the high-top boots.



Near the end where the finger widened out, there were several downed trees in a brier thicket with more open woods beyond and to the right. Sterling indicated that he would take a stand while I stalked around the edge of the swamp. He figured that if I jumped an animal it would likely run up this trail and offer a clear shot. It took me
10 minutes to stalk around the edge. When I was back to within about 50 yards, Sterling called to me asking if there was any place beyond me where the hog might have bedded. I said I didn't think there was, as none of the trails that I had seen leading into the thick grass looked fresh.



Walking a few yards toward me, Sterling stepped up onto one of the downed trees in the brier thicket separating us. He then broke through into a small opening perhaps
10 yards across. Glancing up he spied the hog hiding in the thick cover of a downed tree. Its beady eyes were open and focused directly on him and it made a low grunting noise. "Stop!" he called to me. "Stay where you are; I see the hog." I froze in place about 40 yards away and caught the odor of feral swine. It was obvious the hog had seen and smelled both of us and had stood its ground. Less than a second passed when I heard a startled yell followed by, "Help, he got me! Help, quick!"



I tore through the thicket toward Sterling, hanging up on briers and vines as I went. My heart was pounding hard in my chest. Hearing another frantic cry, I redoubled my efforts to reach him. I felt as though I were caught in a nightmare. The briers and vines clung and tore at my skin and clothing as I tried desperately to reach him.



When I finally arrived within sight, I could scarcely believe my eyes! Sterling lay on his back kicking at the
attacking beast. He was dwarfed by the massive hog, which outweighed him by more than 65 pounds.
Yelling and kicking, he was fighting for his very life! The hog slung its huge head, bloody tusks glistening in the morning sun, knocking chunks of leather from the soles of Sterling's heavy boots. I could see the hog was in full attack, trying to break through his guard and rush into Sterling's vulnerable rib cage. With a powerful thrust of his head, the hog suddenly knocked Sterling's leg aside and charged right
up his middle, trying to hit him in the lower abdomen. Sterling instinctively lunged up and grabbed an ear with each hand. Amazingly, the hog froze in place.



Jerking my bow loose from a clinging vine, I was finally clear enough for a shot and I reached for an arrow with trembling hands. I took a deep breath, nocked the arrow on the string and bore in on the very hair I wanted to hit. The autopsy classes were about to pay off, as I took a quick step to the right, affording myself a better angling forward shot. Noting that I would be hitting mere inches from Sterling's knee, I focused intense concentration on the exact spot I wanted to hit as I drew my bow to anchor.



The heavy, 670-grain larch-wood shaft and Zwicky Eskimo broadhead hit with a satisfying thump, and still neither
animal moved. We were in a seemingly frozen tableau, Sterling on his back, a death grip on the big black ears, the hog, poised just inches from his groin, still standing between Sterling's bent knees, my yellow fletch protruding just behind its shoulder. From the ground, Sterling could not see my arrow and said, "What happened? Quick, shoot again!"



But I couldn't shoot again. In my desperate struggle to reach him, my quiver had hung in thick vines and I had lost all but the one arrow I had just shot. As I realized my predicament, the hog pulled away from Sterling and turned toward me. It took two steps in my direction and then fell over dead. I had severed its aorta.


Suddenly my knees felt as if they might give way, but there was no time for that. I noted blood on the hog's tusk and on Sterling's leg. During the first charge, the hog had buried its tusk deep in Sterling's calf. The only thing that had prevented a long, deadly, ripping cut had been the heavy snakeproof boot.



I was anxious to depart for the hospital. Sterling, however, was loath to leave the big boar and wanted me to field-dress it and see if we could drag it to the creek. As I tied a bandage on his leg, I promised to return and complete the harvest only if he would leave for the hospital immediately.



We reached hunt camp in just under an hour, and as good fortune would have it, many of our friends were back already. One promptly volunteered to transport Sterling to the hospital, while another offered to help me to recover the hog. An autopsy revealed my fatal heart shot and the fact that Sterling's shot had indeed hit low and was not an 65 pounds.
Yelling and kicking, he was fighting for his very life! The hog slung its huge head, bloody tusks glistening in the morning sun, knocking chunks of leather from the soles of Sterling's heavy boots. I could see the hog was in full attack, trying to break through his guard and rush into Sterling's vulnerable rib cage. With a powerful thrust of his head, the hog suddenly knocked Sterling's leg aside and charged right
up his middle, trying to hit him in the lower abdomen. Sterling instinctively lunged up and grabbed an ear with each hand. Amazingly, the hog froze in place.



Jerking my bow loose from a clinging vine, I was finally clear enough for a shot and I reached for an arrow with trembling hands. I took a deep breath, nocked the arrow on the string and bore in on the very hair I wanted to hit. The autopsy classes were about to pay off, as I took a quick step to the right, affording myself a better angling forward shot. Noting that I would be hitting mere inches from Sterling's knee, I focused intense concentration on the exact spot I wanted to hit as I drew my bow to anchor.



The heavy, 670-grain larch-wood shaft and Zwicky Eskimo broadhead hit with a satisfying thump, and still neither
animal moved. We were in a seemingly frozen tableau, Sterling on his back, a death grip on the big black ears, the hog, poised just inches from his groin, still standing between Sterling's bent knees, my yellow fletch protruding just behind its shoulder. From the ground, Sterling could not see my arrow and said, "What happened? Quick, shoot again!"



But I couldn't shoot again. In my desperate struggle to reach him, my quiver had hung in thick vines and I had lost all but the one arrow I had just shot. As I realized my predicament, the hog pulled away from Sterling and turned toward me. It took two steps in my direction and then fell over dead. I had severed its aorta.


Suddenly my knees felt as if they might give way, but there was no time for that. I noted blood on the hog's tusk and on Sterling's leg. During the first charge, the hog had buried its tusk deep in Sterling's calf. The only thing that had prevented a long, deadly, ripping cut had been the heavy snakeproof boot.



I was anxious to depart for the hospital. Sterling, however, was loath to leave the big boar and wanted me to field-dress it and see if we could drag it to the creek. As I tied a bandage on his leg, I promised to return and complete the harvest only if he would leave for the hospital immediately.



We reached hunt camp in just under an hour, and as good fortune would have it, many of our friends were back already. One promptly volunteered to transport Sterling to the hospital, while another offered to help me to recover the hog. An autopsy revealed my fatal heart shot and the fact that Sterling's shot had indeed hit low and was not

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