In the end it was a case of so close but yet so far.
by J. Scott Rupp
Two previous hunts for Handguns TV hadn't produced a kill. During a March blizzard in Montana we tried to get coyotes inside 100 yards, but they were having none of it. In April in Texas we saw lots of wild hogs, but they never came out until it was too dark to film.
And so it was Thursday before Memorial Day that I found myself standing on a steep hillside overlooking California's San Joaquin Valley, a herd of wild boars just out of sight. I was hunting Tejon Ranch, one of my favorite places in all the world, with guide Cody Plank. Cody and I had hunted together many times over the past decade, and our track record had always been good.
Now, with the sun sliding toward the horizon, we had to figure out how to get a look at what we believed were a few good hogs below us. The problem was a group of young sows and piglets rooting in the wild oats less than 30 yards away. Wild hogs don't see very well, and they were partially hidden by the tall oats, but we were pinned down. Any attempt to move down the hill to get a look at the rest of the herd would surely spook them.
Finally they moved out of sight and we made a play. We eased out the hillside toward a small, oak-studded canyon and hadn't gotten very far before Cody spotted a pair of hogs about 75 yards away, one of which was a decent dry sow. "You can take that one," he said as I sat down and set up the shooting sticks. But before I could cock the hammer on the T/C Encore Pro Hunter in 6.5 Creedmoor, the downhill stick popped out. I quickly repositioned it but then had to reconfirm that I had the right animal—-which promptly slipped behind a tree before I could take the shot.
Then, right behind that pair, came a boar. It took Cody several seconds to identify it as a boar—-the vegetation and steep slope making it difficult to spot either tusks or testicles—and he gave me the green light. For just a second I had a shot at the rear quarter, a shot I wasn't about to take, and then that hog too disappeared into the trees. It was over.
That's the way hunting goes, especially handgun hunting. Had I been hunting with a rifle, at a distance of less than 100 yards I wouldn't have bothered with sticks. I would've just shouldered the rifle and taken the shot—-and been totally confident of a lethal hit.
For that matter, we likely could've tagged out the first evening had I been shooting the 6.5 Creedmoor in a rifle instead of a 15-inch handgun. We spotted a lone boar on a hillside at 250 yards, and with a rifle I would've simply gotten steady and shot the hog. But instead we had to get closer, and by the time we crossed the canyon to get to the pig, it had either winded us or simply wandered off into the scrub oaks.
Am I disappointed? Sure. We really wanted to put together a great show on handgun hunting, and getting a kill on film, a successful conclusion, was certainly our goal. But hunting is hunting, as they say, and getting skunked is as much a part of the sport as coming home with a cooler full of meat.
But if anything, this past season reminded me of why I enjoy handgun hunting. I'd hunted hogs with a handgun twice before—-once with a Freedom Arms .41 Magnum single-action revolver and once with a T/C Encore in .30 TC—-and been successful. And what I remember most about those hunts is the stalk.
As I mentioned, when you're hunting with a rifle, often times it's simply a matter of getting "close enough," and most times the terrain and cover are going to allow you to get within 300 yards or so. But handgun hunting is more like muzzleloader hunting: You've got to close the distance to, for me, 100 yards. And that puts a premium on woodsmanship. You've got to plan your approach carefully, being ever mindful of the wind. You've got to be quiet. You've got to have a lot of patience. It really puts the "hunt" into hunting.
You can see the Tejon hunt unfold on the season finale of Handguns, which airs on Sportsman Channel Thursdays at 9:30 p.m., Fridays at 2 p.m., Sundays at 1:30 a.m. and Mondays at 11 a.m. (all times Eastern). For more, visit Sportsman Channel.