Prickly Pear, Deer and Feral Hogs
Every couple of years we have an opportunity to gather up a bunch of items that we have reviewed/tested and take them on a hunt. This year was no exception. We planned a trophy whitetail and wild pig hunt in south Texas with our old friend and professional guide, Kevin Cross. Some of you may remember that Kevin was the head guide at the Double C Ranch in Crystal City, Texas. When the ranch converted to a vacation resort and shut down hunting, Kevin partnered with his friend and fellow guide, Jody Dietert to form Prickly Pear Outfitters, LLC. They leased twelve-thousand acres of prime black brush and mesquite country to be able to provide a quality hunting experience at an affordable price. More on that later.
We began preparing for the hunt well in advance, deciding which pieces of equipment to take along and, more importantly, sighting in our muzzleloaders. Yep, we decided to do the entire hunt with our muzzleloading rifles.
The equipment and supplies we settled on for the hunt included:
Jim's CVA Optima rifle was ready to go, as we had just completed our testing of it with the Hi-Lux scope. However, we needed to sight in the CVA Accura with its Nikon Monarch scope. Jim used this scope on his Ibex hunt in 2010 and had just recently mounted it on the Accura. After ten rounds with 100 grains of Blackhorn and the 260 grain Scorpion bullets, the elevation adjustments on the scope failed. The elevation knob turned, but nothing happened inside the scope. Talk about bad luck! With less than five days before leaving for Texas, we experience scope failure.
No time to ring up Toby Bridges for another Hi-Lux scope, so we had to check our other rifles for a scope that might work. Ah, my bride, who is always thinking suggested, "Why not take the new BSA tactical off your Ruger Mini-14 and put it on my Accura? After all, you wouldn't want me to take that new BSA Contender off my Ruger, would you?" If you are married, you know that you can't argue with that kind of logic, so the BSA came off my rifle and I mounted it on the Accura. Back to the range. Have to admit, folks, that little scope was easy to sight in and stood up to the recoil of the Accura like a rock. I don't believe that I will ever get it back.
With everything packed up, we headed out from Albuquerque for Crystal City in south Texas near the Mexican border. Despite the fact that a brutal ice and snow storm had just passed through southern New Mexico and north Texas, the roads were clear all the way.
Day 1: We arrived at Crystal City just before noon and met Kevin, who took us to lunch at a restaurant owned by Estella, former head cook at the Double C Ranch. I doubt there is a better cook anywhere west of the Pecos. If Kevin has a small party, like us, he takes you into town for all meals at Estella's restaurant. If he has a large party, she comes out to the ranch and cooks for everyone. Either way, you get the best food imaginable, all you can eat with deserts that are sure to pack on the pounds.
After a quick lunch, we headed to the ranch to check our rifles on the range. As usual, Mary needed only one shot with her Accura, it was dead-on. Not wanting to pass up a good thing, I had her shoot the Optima for me, which was also dead-on. Kevin smiled and remarked that his reincarnated Annie Oakley hadn't lost her touch. With the rifles ready, we headed out. It had been overcast all day with a fine mist, so hopefully the animals would be moving instead of being bedded down. Kevin put me in a blind inside the 4,000 acre high-fence area for pigs and took Mary to the low-fence open-range area several miles away to look for one of three large whitetails he had spotted weeks earlier.
The pigs started coming in to my area about 3:30 in the afternoon, dozens of them, ranging in size from 50 to 130 lbs. All within range of my rifle and good eating size, but I was holding out for a really big one, so I watched and waited. Periodically, a coyote ran in to see if he could get a quick meal, but they were too fast for him and I wasn't about to shoot him for fear of spooking any large pigs in the area. This continued right up until dark; lots of pigs, but no huge ones. Mary and Kevin never saw a single deer, not even a doe.
Day 2: Kevin was at our door at 05:30 in the morning. The pillow top mattress was begging me to stay awhile longer, but no, he had coffee ready in the office and it was time to plan the morning hunt. He proposed to put me in a different area to continue my search for a big pig and he and Mary would return to their spot on the open range. They dropped me at my blind and as they drove off, I realized that my flashlight was still in the truck. After climbing in, I stumbled around in the dark looking for a heater. Then I remembered, Mary had the heater and it was freezing, so I opened three heat packs, stuck one under my shirt and one in each glove. Don't laugh, at my age, I need all the help I can get to stay warm. Despite having bibs on, it was cold. I don't like being cold; why do you think I live in New Mexico?
Shortly after my eyes got adjusted to the dark I could hear pigs moving about not far from the blind, a bunch of dark masses rooting around within easy range. However, it was not light enough to shoot, let alone determine if their size. It was just not my day, as shortly before dawn they split the scene and nary another pig showed up. I had turkey, sandhill cranes and lots of 2-3 year old bucks come in and that kept me from being bored, but no pigs.
Mary and Kevin also came up short. Oh, they saw a nice 8-point whitetail that would have been a respectable deer under normal circumstances, but she had come 750 miles into south Texas for a trophy, so she passed.
In for a late breakfast at 10:00 AM and time for a short nap. Mary rested for while messing with her Kindle Fire. Unlike my bride, I need my beauty sleep. If she got any better looking, I'd have to spend all of my time fighting off the young cowboys and have no time to hunt. Back out at 2:00 PM for another round. By now, the sky was clear, it had warmed up into the 50's with not a wisp of wind and was my kind of day.
Alas, by dark no pigs had showed around me and Mary still hadn't seen hide nor hair of the big deer. Only a doe with two fawns and a couple of small bucks. Tomorrow is another day.
Day 3: Again, up at 5:30 AM for coffee and out to the blind. I'm starting to have second thoughts about getting a huge pig, so I decided that if one over 150 pounds came in range, I would take it. Late in the afternoon, a nice fat sow came within 65 yards of my blind. I eased my Optima onto the ledge of the blind, took aim and fired. As I squeezed the trigger, I could feel myself rolling the rifle up on the foreend. I missed her clean, but I sure took out that tree behind her, flat out killed it! Barney Fife strikes again! Now, I had the problem of explaining to Mary and Kevin how missing was not my fault. Therefore, over dinner, I blamed it on the curvature of the foreend of my Optima, the fact that it has a one-inch shorter barrel than Mary's Accura and finally that I was distracted by the wasps that had been hovering over me all day.
I can tell by your smirks that you aren't buying my story any more then Mary or Kevin did. They laughed, stating that they knew I was full of it, but this was the worse excuse they had ever heard. To make matters worse, Kevin informed me that the tree was not part of the hunting package and he would have to check his books to determine if there would be an additional charge. There was even some mention that a sign on his truck proclaiming that "Jim Clary, aka Barney Fife, missed a pig at 65 yards" would be appropriate. I should have been charging for the entertainment.
Now that you have stopped laughing, I can tell you how my bride did on her stand. Right at dark, Kevin saw a really big buck moving through the brush at about 100 yards. He nudged Mary and told her, "we are going to shoot this deer." To which she replied, "What deer?" It was off to her right, behind a blind corner. Then she spotted him, a really big 10-pointer with 12" tines. She lifted her Accura, waiting for him to turn broadside and fired. He jerked, ran about 35 yards and dropped dead. However, there was a problem. By the time they walked over to the area where they thought he had dropped, it was pitch dark and with three foot high grass around the brush, everything looked the same. They both knew the deer was dead, but finding him, even with Kevin's 5-cell and Mary's 500 lumen SRG light, was impossible.
They had two choices, call for dogs or wait until morning and hope the coyotes don't find him. The dogs were not available, so over dinner they teased me about my missed pig to lighten the mood. Mary has never lost an animal, dropping everything with one shot, and she knew this deer was dead, but that didn't make it any easier. Maybe it was a good thing that they could laugh and tease me about "bagging a tree," as it took their minds off the coyotes. However, if the coyotes didn't find him, the meat would still be good (except some belly and rib meat), as it was already freezing.
Day 4: We got to sleep in until 0600, since they didn't need to be on stand before dawn. Kevin and Mary dropped me at my usual blind and headed over to the low-fence country. At 0645, I got a text message: " We got him / No coyotes / He's big & beautiful." My bride scores again!
All that remained on this last day of the hunt was for Mary to get a doe for the freezer and a pig, if one came within range. I was still looking for my pig, but saw nothing in the morning. Bummer, it's looking like I won't live down my nickname on this trip. However, there is still one more opportunity in the coming evening. At least Mary got her doe in the morning, another single shot at 100 yards through the shoulders.
Over lunch, Jody suggested that he take me to a spot on the far side of the ranch, as he had seen a large sow and a big boar while scouting for deer. Off we went, Mary and Kevin to look for a pig at my old blind and me with Jody to make a final try for a big hog.
As I waited in my blind, I knew that I couldn't complain. Mary had taken her trophy whitetail and I had a lot of fun and some laughs. Once again herds of small pigs, turkeys and some pretty decent whitetails came around my position, but no big pig. Then, when it was almost too dark to shoot, I watched what looked like a small tank coming down the road. Holy smokes, I had never seen a feral hog that big in west Texas. This critter was huge, even by Texas standards. It was the big sow that Jody had talked about and staying just out of range was a large boar. His enormous cutters were clearly visible even at 120 yards. However, I was not about to take a shot at him at that range. Pigs can carry a lot of lead if you don't drop them with the first shot and it is dangerous to search through dense brush for a wounded boar in daylight, let alone in the dark. They will charge and rip you a new one before you can even get your gun up. As such, I decided to try for the sow.
At about 75 yards, she stopped and turned broadside. I put the crosshairs on her shoulder and gently squeezed the trigger (no rolling the gun this time). She dropped in her tracks, like a sledge hammer had hit her. As I was reloading, to my amazement, she attempted to get up, staggered 10 feet and dropped for good. No Barney Fife this time. I called Jody and he rolled up with his truck 15 minutes later. We tried lifting the sow into his truck and could not do it. We couldn't even get her off the ground. We gave Mary and Kevin a call and half an hour later they showed up. It took three of us to hoist that pig onto the game basket on the back of Kevin's truck. Although we had no scale to weigh her, they estimated that she was over 250 pounds. She was a very big pig.
Back at the ranch, they used a hoist to lift her out of the truck, whereas Jody and Kevin were able to lift Mary's deer onto the meat hooks without the hoist, if that tells you anything. Mary and I normally cape, dress and quarter our own animals, but we wanted the guys to try our Ken Onion skinner. Kevin was first up with the buck. He easily caped, dressed and quartered it (without sharpening), only using a saw to cut the joints. He handed the knife to Jody who tackled the pig. As tough as that critter's hide was, the knife went through it like butter. Even with an inch and a half of fat covering the pig, the knife remained sharp throughout. Jody hit the knife with four swipes on a sharpening steel and it was sharper than when we started. I asked them how they would rate the knife. Both gave the Ken Onion Skinner a thumbs-up "A" and Jody wanted to buy it right there.
Our hunting trip to south Texas was a complete success. All of our equipment functioned perfectly, further confirming the validity of our previous tests. Our CVA rifles equipped with the BSA and Hi-Lux scopes were flawless. The Blackhorn 209 powder drove the 260 grain Scorpion PT Gold bullets home with deadly accuracy. Mary decided to keep the Ken Onion skinner and Stone River 500 lumen flashlight for our next trip.
Last, but not least, the G.P.S. Blackpowder Bag was indispensible. We loaded it with all of our accessories, including extra powder tubes. It found a permanent spot on the back seat of Kevin's truck. Each evening we dropped our B.P. stuff into the bag, which insured that all essentials were in one place for the next morning. It should be called a "field bag," as we found out that it was just what we needed to prevent our accessories from being misplaced.
Kevin and Jody will have their website up by the time you read this. If you want to hunt the way hunting is supposed to be, with a couple of really great guys, we recommend booking with them. You will have the time of your life. They are online at: www.pricklypearoutfitters.com or you can write them at: Prickly Pear Outfitters, P.O. 748, Crystal City, TX 78839. We are going back in the spring to look for that big boar, unless you find him first.
Copyright 2014 by Dr. Jim Clary. All rights reserved.