The cat had been trailing the traveling hogs and in stealthy catlike fashion. He quickly got ahead of the porkers and laid wait, using the limbs of a blow down cedar as cover. As the last trailing pig came by the cat attacked with a fury, sinking its claws into the hapless piglet and burying its teeth into the pig’s spine. The pig was dead instantly but it’s last squeal summoned 200 pounds of red fury as the sow turned back and charged toward the dead cedar. But it was too late; the cat had dragged its dinner into the thickest of cover that the big sow could not penetrate. This served as Tuskers first lesson that the winter wood was a dangerous place. Everything in the wild that depended upon tooth or claw to make its living was on the prowl looking for food. Most of the young na´ve rabbits were already eaten and other prey such as squirrels and raccoons were experienced at staying alive. Even the rats and mice were hard pressed to stay alive during the winter, being constantly attacked from the sky by hawks and owls and from the ground by coyotes and bobcats. The winter woodlands were stark naked this time of year with no foliage to conceal their movement. But move they must, they had to forage to eat and they must eat to survive. Even in what appears to be the midst of civilization, the winter woodlands is a harsh place to survive during the dead of winter.
Thanks to a very woods wise mother, Tusker and all but one of his family managed to make it through the lean months and see the buds appear on the elm and willows. His sounder had made their living feeding on soured pecans under the many native pecan trees that grew in the river bottoms. Spring was at hand and Tusker was the established leader of his siblings, a time of plenty was now at hand. Now, the stealthy bob cat was no threat to him and even the wily coyote had learned to target younger hogs when looking for an easy meal. Tusker’s mother had rejoined a sounder with piglets in tow. There is safety in numbers when you are a wild hog. The older sows are quick to defend any and all of the smaller hogs and on many instances, the sows had banded together to thwart an attack from the roving coyotes that inhabited the creek and river bottoms. With the warming days of early spring, wild onions were popping up all over, a favorite food of wild hogs this time of year and Tusker, now weaned, learned to root and feed on the bulbs. He also discovered there was nourishment in the soured pecans, acorns and hickory nuts. Tusker’s mother was now pregnant with another littler of pigs and the big red sow had little to do with her brood. They were pretty much on their own to forage for food but, instinctively they knew to stay close to the larger hogs for protection and to learn the ways of the woods.
Farmers were about to begin planting their corn on the fertile farmland adjacent the river and Tusker’s mother and the other older hogs knew that the tasty kernels were easy to sniff out and eat. During one of these nightly trips to a 300 acre newly planted cornfield, Tusker had his first encounter with man.
Tusker watched others of his sounder walking straight down the corn rows with their snouts to the ground. Every eight inches or so they sniffed out a newly planted corn seed and with one flip of their snout, unearthed and ate it. At first, this seemed like a lot of work to Tusker for little reward but he soon became adept at raiding the farmer’s newly planted corn and learned that an hour or so feeding satisfied his hunger. Like all hogs, Tusker loved corn and he was soon to learn that in one way or another, this tasty treat was one of the primary enemies of all wild hogs. Tusker learned that the tasty golden kernels and encounters with man went hand and hand. If he was to become a wise old boar, he had to learn to survive without corn or at least, devise a plan where he could eat it in safety.
On the second night rooting down the rows of the farmer’s corn crop with other members of his sounder, Tusker had no idea danger lurked downwind in the edge of the wood line adjacent the corn field. A couple of hunter were set up there with their AR style rifles equipped with thermal night vision. With their state of the art night hunting rigs, the hogs could be seen as well as if they were out in bright sunlight. When the sounder had worked their way out from the protection of the field edge and timber, the first shots from the hunter’s rifles sounded. The steady shots from the two rifles came so fast that the sound was one long continuous thunder from the edge of the field. Tusker made a mad dash for the woods and didn’t stop running until he was 200 yards into the thick cover.
The sounder of hogs had scattered and it was a couple of days before the remaining hogs regrouped. When Tusker finally found the other hogs, he noted the big red sow was not present as well as several others of the group. But this mattered little to the young boar; he was quickly becoming an independent, self sufficient wild hog. But the sound made by the hunter’s rifles and the flying bullets striking all around him as he ran from the corn field that night were firmly etched into the memory banks of his brain. Others of his sounder might be enticed into a barren field of planted corn but once was enough for Tusker; he would find something else to eat the next time the other hogs decided to raid a newly planted field.
Life that first summer was easy for Tusker and his sounder. With all the lush vegetation, there was plenty to eat. He also noticed that few men ventured into the bottomland he called home. He discovered a new food source that he dearly loved, almost as much as corn. He watched the other hogs rooting around stacks of hay where cattle were fed and learned that under all that mildewed hay were thousands of tasty, protein packed grub worms. Each night he and the other 12 or so hogs in his sounder would do venture out and find a new place to find dinner. Just about every farm along the slough had cattle and there was always a feeding area rich in nutrients where the grubs were thick.
Sounder grew quickly and by midsummer he was a good 20 pound heaver than any of his siblings. He was approaching 100 pounds and thanks to all the vigorous exercise, his muscles were hard as steel. He had also become the young “tusk hog” of the group. Tusker yielded feeding rights to only the older hogs in the group and he already established his dominance over some of them.
Deer were plentiful in the river bottom land where Tusker lived and so were deer hunters. In late summer, the woods Tusker called home were often invaded by Hunters that set up corn feeders. Tusker spent much of his daylight hours during this period of intense heat in the water. There were many secluded sand and gravel pits and Tusker and the other hogs would all but submerge themselves in the tepid water. Of course, Tusker didn’t understand that his body didn’t have sweat glands like other animals such as deer but he did know that he couldn’t take the heat of near 100 degree days. He would belly down into the water, often in areas with lily pads or other aquatic growth with only his head above the waterline. Here he would spend his days, sometimes munching on the lush vegetation growing along the damp banks of the remote gravel pits. Once during the heat of the day, he saw a man and boy walking along the top bank of the pit he was hidden in. Tusker didn’t fully understand exactly why he wished to totally avoid man but he did. The man and boy walked within 25 feet of tusker but he never moved. With only his nose and eyes above water level, Tusker was never noticed. Instinctively, he had learned that sometimes it’s best to remain perfectly still when in the presence of man. When it was time to run, Tusker could do that also. He was now approaching breeding age and thanks to good genetics and a life surviving in the wild, Tusker had achieved dominance over all the younger hogs. When the occasional roving lone boar came by to check the sounder for receptive sows, Tusker was smart enough to stay out of the way. Soon, very soon, he would achieve the size and strength necessary to challenge the toughest of boars but he still had a bit of growing to do.
Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton via his website www.catfishradio.org