While sipping our breakfast coffee, Amber announced, “I have an idea for a column. I’ve even got a headline for it: ‘My best hunt ever’.”
Amber’s come up with a lot of good suggestions for columns and magazine articles over the years, but I wasn’t so sure about this one. If you start with the time my dad carried me on his shoulders on a raccoon hunt, I’ve been hunting for somewhere in the neighborhood of 67 years. How could I possibly say that one hunt was the best ever?
Actually, it was easy. In 2002, feral hogs were near the top of my hunter’s bucket list, and the Mark Twain National Forest was purported to be the most likely place in Missouri to find them. This was a good thing, because my daughter Susan, who, at that time, was a US Forest Service firefighter, was stationed in Potosi.
Deciding we wanted to hunt hogs together was easy; finding a date when our schedules matched was not. But we were nothing if not determined, so over the Thanksgiving holiday, we committed to a long weekend in mid January.
When I left Sedalia on the pre-appointed Thursday morning, it was snowing. Let me take that back. To imply it was merely snowing would be an insult to the actual weather conditions. By the time I turned south on US 63 at Jefferson City, several inches of slush covered the highway. Or at least the slush covered the highway when it wasn’t being thrown at the windshields of every passing or following vehicle.
Oh well, I thought, I’m heading south and east, so I’ll either drive out of the storm or get ahead of it. Silly me. There was a foot of snow on the ground in Potosi, when I finally pulled into the parking lot beside the US Forest Service’s office.
But at least I was there. After the requisite introductions, Susan, a biologist and I studied detailed maps of the part of the forest we’d be hunting. The biologist marked several drainages where hog activity had been reported several weeks earlier, which was all I needed to ratchet up my optimism.
Susan wasn’t able to get off work Friday like we’d hoped, so I hunted by myself. There was a fairly extensive network of logging trails following the ridge lines, but the coves, hollows and other deceptively benign terms for the abysses that fell away on both sides of the ridges were barely passable on foot.
Nevertheless, I spent the entire day clamoring into and back out of several of the areas the biologist had marked. I saw several deer, a couple of turkeys and a red fox, but the closest I came to a hog was a single set of impressively large tracks, the maker of which obviously intended to get from point A to point B in the straightest line possible.
Even so, I had an absolute ball pitting myself against the steepest terrain I’d ever hunted east of Montana. I enjoyed the day so much, in fact, that I almost convinced myself that the single-digit temperatures were a good thing, since I had no trouble keeping from getting overheated.
Saturday morning it was time to get serious. Susan and I fortified ourselves with a generous hot breakfast, dressed for success in the now sub zero cold and headed for the hollow we’d decided to hunt in a two-vehicle convoy. She followed me as I drove my SUV as far as possible down the ridge on one side of the hollow, and then we drove hers back to the head of the hollow. Now we were finally ready to hunt.
We stepped off the ridge into a winter wonderland drawn in black and white. And not only was the place starkly beautiful, the hollow was also so narrow and so steep-sided that one or both of us would almost surely have a good shot at anything that moved on either slope. We quickly adopted an unrehearsed but very effective system of sign language and worked our way slowly and silently through the trackless snow.
We didn’t find anything that indicated there were hogs in the area, but we did discover a number of interesting natural phenomena, including a frozen waterfall. It was about four feet high and nearly as wide. Both of us thought it must have frozen fairly quickly from the bottom up. In any event, it made a good excuse to pause long enough to eat a snack.
Several hours later, we came to a place where the terrain seemed to match what our map had shown to be immediately downslope from where we’d left my SUV. We briefly talked about going on and then retracing our steps but opted for making the inevitable climb back up to the ridge instead. We topped out less than 10 yards from the SUV and called it a day.
If you can’t understand how those two days could have been the best out of 67 years spent pursuing fur and feather, you should have been there.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]