By Al Schultz
At the NW Sportsman’s Show in Puyallup, WA a couple years back, a group of friends and I booked a hunt for wild boar in northern California with Lockwood Hunting Services in Ukiah, owned and operated by Tim Lockwood. Tim was very accommodating and we were able to book for a hunt right away, early that spring. I would have preferred a hunt later in the year, but a couple of my friends were from Montana and were farmers and ranchers and they had spring seeding and calving to do as well as a host of other farming related business, making it impossible for them to break away between April and October. So, March it was. Tim had warned us that in March in northern California, just about anything could happen weather wise and we would do well to prepare for cooler temps and rain.
As the time approached for our departure, I grew increasingly excited for many reasons. I looked forward to spending a wonderful time with friends and was especially excited about hunting wild boar for the first time. I’ve hunted caribou, deer, bear, elk and most other big game, but never had actually pursued wild boar before.
Finally, the day arrived for our departure and the boys from Montana (a father/son duo, Jody and Justin) arrived and we loaded all our gear into the back of another friend’s, Leo’s, truck. Don, a mutual friend of ours also decided he wanted in, so the five of us piled into the Dodge Quad Cab pickup and made for California like a scalded dog.
On the way down, once in California, we purchased the required non-resident license and tags. After a 13 hour drive from home, we arrived in Ukiah, CA where we were greeted by our host, Tim Lockwood. He led us up a winding road deep into the hills on a large ranch he had leased hunting rights to and we picked out a nice spot for our wall tent. By now it was getting dark, the sun was setting beautifully over the coast and the sky was clear, as it had been “California sunny” all day during our drive.
As we established our camp and set up the tent the air took on a chill as the evening wore on and once everything was set and we had prepared a Dutch oven meal, the revelry began as we joked and celebrated on the eve of this most anticipated hunt (Lockwood Hunting Services will provide lodging if the customer wants it or they will pick up the customer daily from one of the local motels if the customer chooses to stay at a motel, but for us we wanted to use our own wall tent, camp off by ourselves and enjoy a true hunt in the spirit of the west).
Needless to say, morning came early and there was a definite chill in the air. As we exited our sleeping bags, we could see our breath as we spoke. I was one of the first up, dressed and out of the tent as I heard Tim and his guides grinding their way up the hill in their trucks. I couldn’t believe it, it was snowing! A wet, clumpy, heavy snow and there was already nearly six inches on the ground! What the heck happened to “sunny” California? This changed everything, at least regarding how I was dressing, so I quickly went in and put on my wools and grabbed my Schnee pack boots.
For this hunt, in the tradition of the old west, I had brought along my Winchester Model 94 “button mag” (half-length tubular magazine) lever rifle chambered in .38-55. I reload my own ammunition and my preferred load for that rifle starts with Starline brass, Winchester Large Rifle primers, 255gr Montana Precision Swaging Cast lead bullets pushed by 36gr of H335 powder. From my rifle and with my chronograph these hand loads average 1881fps at the muzzle and sticking with the traditional iron sights (I prefer Marble’s or Lyman buckhorn sights to the factory Winchester sights) I am able to maintain a nice 3-inch, 5-shot grouping at 100yds from a rest with that rifle. Tim Lockwood advised that southern California had passed legislation banning the use of bullets containing lead, but added that it was still legal to use lead bullets in northern CA (Before you go check the current regs to see if there are any changes).
As everyone was milling around, adjusting to the cold and the damp snow, we were all somewhat shocked that the day before had been t-shirt weather and sunny all day. I began to feel sorry for my Montana brethren who had not been able to get “Sunny CA” out of their minds when they had packed and planned for this hunt and were now standing in a very wet, sloppy, six inches of snow in un-insulated cowboy boots and denim jeans. Leo, Don and I, being from Washington where the sun rarely shines and rain is a prominent feature and wet, sloppy snow is the only kind we get, were a little better prepared and less “shocked” by the turn in our weather fortune.
Tim lined out his guides and we all discussed the plan for the day. Leo and Don are each in their late 70’s and Tim wanted to personally cater to them and leave the canyons and rougher country to those of us who were younger. As it turned out, Jody and I would hunt together with one guide and the rest of the guys would go their separate ways with their own individual guides. We piled into the Polaris Ranger, with me riding in the back and Jody and our guide up front, and set off down one of the many dirt tracks across the expansive ridgeline. The plan was to get over away from the other guys to give them as much space as possible and hunt along a distant ridgeline and down into a winding canyon where hogs were known to frequent. According to our guide, there were lots of hogs on this ranch and judging from all of the rub damage low down on the scrub oak trunks, that was an understatement.
We arrived at a secluded ridge well away from the others and anyone else and our guide parked the Ranger. We set off in the snow and right away began following a fresh set of tracks. Hogs are split hoofed similar to deer, but the hooves on hogs are boxier, more square in shape as opposed to the pointed, upside-down heart shaped hoof prints of the local black-tailed deer, which Lockwood Hunting Services also guides for. I could hardly believe it – here it was just breaking daylight on day one of our two day guided hog hunt, and I was already on the fresh track of some hogs.
The snow was still softly falling, the air was still and the woods were quiet. By midday, we were well down the canyon and below the snowline. The snowfall had changed to a soft rain. Fortunately I was wearing my old Filson Packer coat and oilskin cowboy hat and the rain just beaded up and rolled off, “like water off a duck’s back” I mused.
Over the course of the morning we had stalked close to a wide variety of game to include several blacktail deer, a large coyote, jackrabbits and we even watched as a male grouse drummed and courted, performing and serenading us with his spring ballad.
As we stalked through the scrub oak I observed a grassy slope bare of any snow that appeared to be rooted up quite a bit, obviously by wild hogs. I continued glassing with my Leica Geovid 10x42s and spotted a group of about a dozen or so pigs rooting through the sod. The pigs were just over 120 yards out and feeding, quartering away from us. I showed Jody and our guide the hogs and we devised a plan to stalk a little closer. I knew my rifle and loads were dead on at 100 yards and wanted to get myself at least that close before I attempted the shot. Jody had a scoped Winchester Model 70 in .270 and is a crack shot, so he was up for whatever I wished to do.
I spotted a nice bank that overlooked the grassy slope and would put me right at the 100 yard mark, so we slithered through the damp leaves over to it. Once I reached the spot, I took a solid sitting rest position and found the nice big black boar I wanted feeding at exactly 100 yards out in front of me. I nestled the stock into my shoulder and placed the front bead just behind the near shoulder on the boar. Meanwhile, Jody had found a nice brindle sow that he wanted.
We whispered among ourselves, both wanting to make sure the other was ready and then fired. My cast bullet found its mark and the boar literally collapsed in its tracks. Jody’s sow ran off a few yards and died immediately as well. To say that we were ecstatic would be an understatement. It had been a terrific day. We had seen lots of wildlife, had tracked in the snow and having spotted and stalked our quarry, each of our bullets had found its mark.
It was exhilarating having shared the experience with a great friend. Our guide was more than willing to dress out our pigs, but both Jody and I are accomplished hunters and convinced him to go ahead up and grab the Polaris Ranger while we processed the pork. I noted that my cast bullet had completely passed through the pig, exiting out the far side. With the dressing-out all done, we just reclined beneath the oaks and waited for our ride, admiring the view out towards the coast from our hillside. Despite the rain, the view was beautiful, and as the sun shone through the clouds, there was a rainbow on the horizon. It had been a spectacular experience and it was only day one!
We drove up out of the canyon and hung our pigs in the skinning shed. My boar was everything I had envisioned it would be, black with Russian characteristics and 2-inch tusks. I determined then and there I would make a head and shoulder mount of the boar to preserve the animal and the wonderful experience shared with friends. Don had also gotten a sow himself and that night he prepared us wild pork tenderloin with sliced apples and caramelized onions in the Dutch oven in our wall tent. The meal was exquisite as was the camaraderie. Over the course of the trip everyone would have an opportunity to harvest a hog. Lockwood Hunting Services had provided us a tremendous opportunity. There may no longer be gold in them thar California hills, but there certainly is a gold mine when it comes to hog hunting!
If you want to go, contact Lockwood Hunting Services at (707) 888-2859 and ask for Tim Lockwood, or write to: Lockwood Hunting Services, 2250 McClure Rd., Ukiah, CA 95482.