In the glow of the firelight that was a mixture of pine knots, gasoline and paper trash, my eyes focused on two words — physical injury. They reminded me of a long-ago and far-away encounter I had with a wild boar.
While playing war on maneuvers in Germany in 1990, my U.S. Army unit was bivouacked in a remote stretch of woods that was absent any refined restroom facilities. Lack of facilities has never stopped the bowels from moving, so I found a good-looking tree and dropped my BDU pants.
With nothing to read and nothing else to occupy my mind, I busily scanned the ground for bugs, flowers or any other interesting facet of nature around my combat boots. A snapping twig got my attention, and I looked up right into the nostrils of the raunchiest boar hog that ever walked the woods.
His tusks curled upward, and they seemed to glisten with the remnants of a fresh kill. I froze like a temporarily out-of-action soldier staring down the snout of a boar hog. Obviously, I couldn't run or climb a tree, so I just squatted there and tried my best to look like a black, brown and green root jutting from the tree.
I guess that old boar bought it because he turned after about a five-minute face-off, and disappeared into the woods. No longer feeling constipated, I tried my best not to fall backward as I gathered myself. I had escaped physical injury by a boar hog that day, but here I was 16 years later facing physical injury at the hoofs of a hog once again.
Only this time it wasn't going to be a cautiously curious hog. This time it would be mean and looking for a fight.
"What the hell," I snorted as I signed the release.
Holland took me around the testosterone zone near the fire, and introduced me to the rest of the crew. Mike Starling, one of the guides, was occupied by trying to fit his bulldogs Cane and Able with Kevlar vests. Chris Netterville, also known as "Hog," looked like a character from a slasher movie as he butchered a pine knot with repeated blows from a sinewy axe.
Blake Tanner, Louisiana Hog Hunters' expert videographer, was testing his camera while keeping a sharp eye out for some B footage. And Jeff Janzen, the former Southeastern Louisiana University baseball player who would be wielding the knife on this hunt, struggled to start his ATV, the brand of which shall remain nameless.
I had introduced myself to Janzen a few minutes earlier, and he seemed to be wondering what he had gotten himself into. I'm not sure, but I think he might have flooded that bike on purpose in an effort to call off the hunt.
His possible deceit was all for naught, though, as Tanner offered him a seat on the back of his ATV. The nameless bike would have to wait. We were six men on four-wheelers in the middle of the woods with trailers full of curs and bulldogs. We had pistols, we had knives, and we had opposable thumbs — and we weren't afraid to use any of them. It was time to go hunting.
I rode on the back of Holland's ATV so I could learn about what was going on as it happened. Before we even let the dogs out, though, he was telling me all about how many people are at least giving hog hunting a try.
"There's a transition going on right now where people are looking for something new," he shouted over the growl of the four-wheeler. "It's not to say they're turning from deer or duck hunting; they just want to try something different. Hog hunting is one of the fastest-growing outdoor sports out there. People catch a glimpse of it on a show, or they read a clip about it, and they want to try it."
Holland stopped the bike and dismounted as the other bikes gathered around and stopped. Thinking a hog might run between my legs at any moment, I stayed perched atop the ATV, which, thankfully, was the tallest of the bunch.
After a brief discussion and a few guarantees that this was a good-looking spot to find a hog, Holland reached down and literally let loose the hounds. They vanished into the brush with sniffers to the soil, and began barking to each other so they would know what was going on.
"Aaarooowww he went this way," barked Tuff. "Ark, ark, ark you must be crazy man, I'm on him over here," Lola retorted. "Yelp, yelp, yelp let's all work together guys, so we can get this job finished," came Major's reply.
Before long, the tone of their barking changed.
"I reckon that pig's in trouble," Starling chuckled. "Sound's like old BB's on him. His days are numbered."
Holland slogged off into the brush to survey the situation while the rest of us sat and listened. Every now and then, one of the curs would run by us desperately trying to find a hot trail. I sat higher in the seat at every sound I heard. Netterville's radio buzzed to life.
"They're on one over here by this long pine point," came Holland's voice. "I think they're running him over to the other side. Y'all bring the bikes over there, and I'll meet you. And Hog don't let Jeff start the bike."
ATV apparently applies only when I'm not driving as I stuck Holland's bike on two logs I jammed in the rear axle in a low spot that was full of water. We all got out to free the four-wheeler unknowingly under the watchful eyes of a nearby hog.
"Shhhhh," Starling hissed. "There's a hog right there," he whispered while pointing to a thick spot in the brush no more than 10 yards from the stuck four-wheeler. Trying to control my suddenly relieved constipation, I froze when I saw the matted mass of hog hide tear off through the bushes. Thankfully, the dogs were driving him away from us.
We followed the curs for almost two hours as they chased the hog back and forth through the thick underbrush. Several times the hog was close enough for us to see as it tried to elude the dogs. The sound of the dogs soon faded away.
Starling pulled out a contraption that he said would help him find the dogs. It looked like a TV antenna, and Janzen asked if he was trying to locate them on the Internet.
"The dogs have tracking collars on them," Starling said. "This picks up the signals from the collars so we can locate the dogs. When you're running dogs, knowing where they are is a matter of life and death for them because a bad boar will kill them if we don't get there fast enough."
Starling eventually picked up the signal, and we headed the general direction that the tracking collars indicated. Holland eventually stopped his bike, and everybody else did the same. We heard the dogs in the distance, and Holland said they had a hog bayed.
We closed the gap on the bikes, and soon stopped on a little trail. The sound of the bay dogs was ringing through the woods as Holland, Starling and Netterville took their catch dogs, pit bulls and American bulldogs, out of their cages. They lined up Cane, Able and Redman side by side and counted to three.
One of the things I learned during this hunt is where several clichés originated. The first one that became clear was where the phrase, "all hell broke loose," came from because that's precisely what happened when those dogs tore through the woods and found that pig. That cliché was soon followed by "pig sticker" and "bleeding like a stuck pig."
All I could do was trust the other guys knew what they were doing as I followed them toward one of the damnedest sounds I have ever heard, half expecting a wild boar to rip into me at any moment. It sounded like the last few seconds of screeching train breaks as it approached a stalled car driven by the hounds of hell, and that was just the beginning. Then came the collision.
As I arrived, I saw in no particular order a mass of hog, hound dogs, bull dogs, Holland, Starling and Netterville. The three guides had jumped into the fray and were trying to wrestle the dogs off the hog while wrestling the hog to the ground. It was bedlam.
They quickly got the hog on its side, and Holland hollered at Janzen to come on in with the knife. Janzen hesitated a split second, but Holland snapped him out of it by telling him to, "STICK HIM NOW!" It was all over surprisingly fast.
It's not surprising, though, why so many Louisiana hunters are getting hooked on hogs. Holland did some research recently and discovered that there are approximately 11 million hogs in Louisiana, and that there are approximately 171 million in the United States.
"Hogs produce twice as fast as deer," Holland explained. "There's a deer hunting club in Mississippi that started seeing some rooting about three years ago, but they didn't see the hogs. I told them they needed to start managing for them, but they insisted that the hogs were just passing through. They began to see more sign last year.
"This season they turned the deer dogs loose on the first day of dog season, and every hunter on a stand saw a hog."
Holland also attributes the population explosion to the fact that hogs quickly go nocturnal, and they become almost impossible to hunt without dogs to drive them out of their hiding places. Since there aren't as many hunters who fool with dogs anymore as there used to be, killing a hog is more a matter of happenstance rather than an intentional effort.
While some states regulate hog hunting almost as intensely as they do deer hunting, Louisiana has no such laws. Hunters can hog hunt all year long in the Bayou State as there is no hog season on free-range land. However, there are seasons in effect on the wildlife management areas.
"The only thing you need is a basic hunting license," Holland explained. "Hunters interested in learning more about hog hunting can do a quick search on the Internet. There are some good informational sites out there. Louisiana Hog Hunters is also working on an instructional video that we're shooting on location here in Natalbany."
There's no better way to learn about hog hunting, though, than by booking an outfitter like Holland. It's a lot cheaper than buying a bunch of dogs and taking care of them, and you'll come away from the hunt with a freezer full of pork that will beat anything in the meat section of the supermarket.
Louisiana Hog Hunters adds a little lagniappe by filming all hunts and inserting that footage into a professionally edited DVD that already includes five or six catches by Holland, Starling and Netterville.
"It's just a way that each hunter can relive his experience whenever he wants to by popping the DVD in the player," Holland said.
With all the Louisiana seasons coming to a close in February, hog hunting offers hunters a chance to keep on hunting while everybody else is storing their gear until September.
Louisiana Hog Hunters offers knife hunts, pistol hunts, rifle hunts and bow hunts, so everybody's tastes are taken into account.
I couldn't stop talking about the hunt I experienced, and I showed off the pictures to anybody who would look. If you find that kind of excitement appealing, you need to go hog hunting. Just don't tell you're momma where you're going. I can promise that if you do, she won't even let you near the door.
Contact Scottie Holland and Louisiana Hog Hunters at 985-517-5597, or visit www.louisianahoghunters.com for more information.