It makes me imagine Florida, or perhaps even southeast Asia---this southeastern North Carolina landscape. This low land, sometimes sandy, oftentimes thick with mud, formerly clear-cut for some long-forgotten "folly" of a development.
What could've been homes for retirees and golf courses and retention ponds, now thick with bayberry and some errant pines.
Back in September one afternoon, back before rifle season for deer, back before duck season. It was bow season, and my brother, David, hoped to stick a doe, or at least practice on a hog. I wanted to get some practice with my iron-sights lever gun. Down at his hunting lease, near Bolivia, not far from Oak Island, "hog tracks were everywhere," he had said.
We mucked through the soggy ground. Down four-wheeler tracks, through tall grass and bayberry, wary of any unusual crawling sensation on our skin. I've never seen more ticks.
A few minutes later, we sat in the "pallet-blind," built with some side-of-the-road pallets, and raised off the muddy ground a foot or so. We were quiet. But not that quiet, with the excited whispers, or more-than-whispers that you have at the start of a hunt, especially at the start of the season, when you haven't been in the field for some time, and all that innate hunter instinct is finally able to be used. We chatted about hunting, about life.
All of the sudden---a snort.
And a few more snorts. A single big ol' sow came down the narrow lane through the bayberry. Then a few more smaller hogs followed. There was corn out there, in the muddy lane, and they were hungry. There they were, only maybe 15 or 20 yards away.
But we moved, or they smelled us, or something wasn't right, and before we knew it they bolted, back into the bayberry, brush so thick you lost sight of their dark and low bodies within inches of entry.
That was our chance. I'd never even seen a feral hog before. That was my chance to shoot one with iron-sights, and for David, his chance to take one with the bow. Those animals that escaped European settlers so long ago, rooting and wallowing in the wild, that today wreak havoc on agriculture across the South.
And more silence. Yet in a few minutes, a single hog silently came down the lane, into sight. Right to the corn. We both saw her, and without talking, we somehow had it planned out. David drew back. I raised the short barrel of the lever gun. David would release first. I'd follow up with the rifle if needed.
Then the quick sound of fletching pushing through air. The hog jumped, the arrow going through. In my excitement, not knowing if the arrow found its mark, I sent some lead downrange just to be sure. Off the pig ran, into the sea of bayberry.
We must've hit it. How could we have missed? It was so damn close.
So, a few minutes later, after grabbing a light, into the brush we went, lever gun and .45 in hand. The arrow had hit, there was blood, but not too much. It had rained the days before, we weren't long after a recent storm. Tracking would be tough, with drops of water and drops of blood not looking much different in the shine of the light.
We worked through the brush, following bit of blood after bit of blood. Losing the trail. Backtracking. Finding it again. It was hot and frustrating work. Crouching down to get low under the tall brush.
Finally, in the dark and some time later, David found her. We got our exercise for the day dragging her out.
Success---a first for the bow, and the lever gun. It turned out we both shot her. Tough critters, those hogs.