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Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Broadhead Madness: Bow Hunting at Escondido Ranch Part I

With the 4th of July weekend quickly approaching; my son and I were looking forward to our annual trip to Escondido Ranch. It seems that the “Pig Bomb” has exploded over much of Texas, leaving lots of shrapnel at Escondido as well. According to witness accounts and trail game pics, the ranch was now home to a thriving feral hog population. So, our mission was to thin out the number of these critters. To make it more challenging we were going to do it all with a bow.

We arrived at Escondido on early Friday afternoon. The entire area lacked any significant rain for months and the ranch was parched. The early spring greenery has given way to leafless trees, burned out brush and dust devils. However, with nearly two mile stretch of spring fed river flowing through the property, the ranch was anything but devoid of wildlife.

Bristling with anticipation, Tony (aka Godfather) and I made preparations to hunt on a plateau near a shallow canyon which has been a hotbed of hog activity. For that evening, my son elected to stay and play Transformers with the ranch manager’s son of comparable age, while Tony and I made our way to our objective, also known as Party.

Rumbling down the road in a ranch truck, we stopped several hundred yards short of our destination. With a camera and bow in tow, we started making our way to the tree blind located within 35 yard radius of the feeder. Peering through the trees, we realized that we were lucky to have stopped the truck where we did, because we almost crashed a “party” ourselves. In spite of a cloud of dust, it was not very difficult to make out a group of hogs and Aoudad which were jostling for a position under the feeder.

With our query in site and a favorable wind, we reformulated our plan of attack and made a large loop along the edge of the brush line towards the feeder. Carefully planting our feet on protruding rocks and stepping over the dried out leaves and branches, we serpentined our way to within 50 yards of the feeder only to face another dilemma.

By the time we got to our position, the hogs began their retreat into the canyon, granting free range to the Aoudad. With only the Aoudad remaining, we anxiously awaited for the go- ahead from the ranch’s owner.

Side note: Aoudad are generally not heavily hunted on Escondido and their numbers have flourished in recent years. Although, the trophy size animals are reserved for customers, young Aoudad are occasionally taken by friends and family of the ranch owners.

By the time the approval flashed across Tony’s cell phone screen, I was already locked into a stare down with a lead ewe. Known for their keen hearing and cautious nature, the battle with the mature Aoudad was lost before it even began. Crouched 50 yards away and in full camo, I was no match for the piercing glare of the alert ewe. She jumped to the side and back and the entire herd of a dozen or so animals followed her into cover leaving behind a wall of dust.

With plenty of daylight left, Tony and I decided to proceed with Plan A and get into the tree blind. As I made my way to the truck to get a bag of corn, I heard muffled noises coming from behind. I turned to see Tony galloping towards me while gesturing to his right, and that’s when I heard him say “they are coming back, they are coming back”.

We barely had enough time to step behind the dual trunk of a nearby tree, before a group of piglets raced straight towards the feeder. With a jolt of was show time! I was hoping that the “big mama” would show up at any moment. So while the piglets were noisily rooting underneath the feeder, I inched my way forward for a better shot. A few minutes later, the piglets were still flying solo, as their adult entourage was nowhere in sight.

Since there seemed to be little to no feed left on the ground, it was just a matter of time before the feral sausages ran off in a search of a next free meal. So now, at 33 yards, I decided to take the shot. I lined up the peep-hole, and placed the third pin right at the vitals of the larger piglet and squeezed the release….STOP! REWIND!…Third pin is 40 yards…@#$%! I knew I made a mental error as soon as the arrow traced a path right OVER the back of the hog, hitting dirt and noisily skidding to a stop. Naturally, the piglets, still unaware of our presence, startled by the sudden noise and scrambled for cover.

I was kicking dirt and Tony was shaking his head in disbelief. I started to walk over to try to retrieve my arrow, when I jumped back to my original spot. The piglets, driven by their appetites, were coming back. I quickly reloaded the bow. And this time, I would make no mistake. The arrow tipped with a 100 grain, fixed, tri-cut broadhead found the target and nearly dropped the hog in its tracks.

Relief was quickly followed by chest pounding and manly grunts. With one hog down and plenty of daylight, Tony and I decided to make a couple of more stops. We loaded the pork chops into the back of the truck and moved onto our next destination. Rounding the corner, Tony brought the truck to a quiet stop. He grabbed his binoculars and eased out in front, glassing to the right.

A moment later he gestured to me to grab my bow and the stalk was on again!

We quickly followed a well etched game trail to a tree line, hugging it all the way to within about 60 yards away from the tree feeder. In the lead and squatting behind the brush, I could see a Sika buck with several Sika does and Fallow does near the feeder. A number of feral hogs of various sizes were just beyond the deer.

Unfortunately, the favorable wind and brush cover were not enough to hide us from the acute sense of smell and sight of the mature Sika buck. The buck walked forward and looked directly at us. We towered down until finally the Sika buck tired of our foolery, let out a district bark. All the animals fled into different directions.

Well, almost all…. Two small piglets separate from the larger group of feral hogs, hid behind a large bush. I could barely make out their snouts and tails. But they were there, just 50 yards away. To get into a shooting position I had to walk right into an open area. With nothing to loose, I slowly slid my way in for a closer shot. At 20 yards, I stopped and looked for an opening in the brush. The hogs shuffled nervously beneath their precarious shelter, ready to run at any moment. I had to make a shot quickly! With only the backend of one of the hogs visible through a grapefruit size opening, I decided to go for it. I pulled back on the string and squeezed off the release. And then, I heard a cracking sound as the arrow hit some “invisible” twig and the “freaked-out” piglets fled for the distant cover. I recovered the end piece of my arrow and we made our way back to the truck discussing the pros and cons of the stalk. In conclusion, it was a difficult shot and if it was any other animal, but a hog, I would have passed.

But wait …it was not quite over yet…

On our way to the cleaning station, Tony decides to make one more stop at an area known as Gravity. And as the advertised, there were five large boars stacking out the area. We eased out of the truck and onto the round-about trail which zigzagged through the under growth and brought us to within 70 yards of the feeding, fighting hogs…and then we came to a screeching halt. We had nowhere else to go to get to within a reasonable shooting distance.

A line of trees in a form of a small cove with a wide opening on one side, separated us from our query. Sneaking closer through thick brush proved to be counterproductive and we were left with but a single option…full frontal stalk… With the sun quickly setting over my shoulder, and Tony perched at a see-through opening in the brush, I slowly, but deliberately made my way along the tree line trying to stay in the shadows.

Two of the larger boars were rearing up and pushing at each other with their front hoofs. The other three were facing away and noisily munching on the fallen corn around the feeder. I continued to inch my way to a point along the tree line. I was ready to make the next couple of steps to close up the distance, when the dueling hogs separated and the winner-apparent promptly planted himself under a protein feeder, while the looser trotted along my right flank at a distance of mere 40 yards. I froze and nearly held my breath. Had the hog tuned towards me it would have seen that a tree like object suddenly appeared in the middle of a field. Fortunately, the disgruntled hog kept its snout to the ground.

I took three more steps and was within 33 yards when the hog under the feeder suddenly turned towards and stared directly at me. With the bow already raised, I held my position as steady as I could. Luckily, it seems that the boar could not make me out in the failing light. So when it lowered its head for another mouthful, the arrow cut the air and solidly planted itself right above the front shoulder. The boar jumped up and let out a shrilling squeal. Then heavily leaning to one side, it trotted across the field accompanied by the other three hogs and leaving behind a solid trail of blood.

It was Tony’s intimate knowledge of the terrain and animals at Escondido Ranch that made these stalks possible, exciting and memorable. So, with the daylight growing dim, exhausted, but thoroughly satisfied with our evening’s hunt, Tony and I packed up our gear and headed down to the cleaning station to drop off the hog and head to the main house for a late supper.

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