September 23, 2010
A tiny dog with a big heart shows no fear against dangerous game.
The author and Moose with a spectacular trophy boar.
I know, you're used to seeing gorgeously feathered setters, straight-tailed pointers and glossy Labs scattered throughout the pages of this magazine, often accompanied by happy hunters with bundles of colorful birds in their hands and pretty shotguns broken over their shoulders. And that's just what you'd expect in a magazine such as this. But while Gun Dog most assuredly covers all those classic sporting dogs, it also occasionally includes a few others. Please allow me to introduce Moose.
Moose is Doug Roth's Jack Russell terrier. Now, Doug does occasionally take a quail or two from the rolling hills of his Central California home, and Moose is usually along for the ride. But quail aren't Doug's business. Doug's business is pigs, wild pigs.
Feral pigs are California's leading big-game animal, and Doug's Camp 5 Outfitters specializes in keeping his region's portion of these fast-reproducing oinkers in check--all to the glee of more than a few hunters who like to throw some sausage into their freezer alongside the venison and ducks. Even happier about Doug's line of work is Moose.
Wild pig hunting in California isn't usually terribly difficult. Most of Doug's hunts are two days long, three max, because it just doesn't take longer than that most times. A great deal of the hunt is conducted from Doug's pickup, with Moose firmly standing on the divider bridge between the two front seats (when he's not snoozing in Doug's lap), as there are thousands of acres that Doug owns or has access to--oh, you'll do some walking eventually, but you have to find the hogs before you can stalk them, and there's simply too much ground to cover by foot.
Wild pigs are fairly transient; they are also nocturnal, foraging in the cool of the night, then moving to shady cover soon after sunrise to nap away the day and getting back on their feet to feed again when the sun casts shadows in the opposite direction. Prime time for hunting, then, is first thing in the morning and the last hours of evening.
Good glass is essential in this game'¦though Moose doesn't seem to need them at all. Moose knows pig, and he's just waiting for the author and Doug to get finished with their part of the work so he can get to his.
Nevertheless, Doug will ride the hills all day, glassing scrub with you and hoping to find sleeping piggies in shady spots. But trust me, while you wouldn't think a 300-pound boar with big black and white spots could hide himself easily, the spotting portion of the hunt is much easier to do when the pigs are on the move.
I've actually had success both ways. I killed a large, long-tusked behemoth of an old boar minutes before legal light disappeared one evening. ("A 'vampire' pig," Doug said, explaining, "Cagey old boys like that don't often make an appearance in the open before dark.") I also took my last boar late one morning, after Doug glassed a group of 10 sacked out underneath a small grove of scrub oaks. Both times, it was Moose that saved the hunt.
Yeah, it's dead, but Moose still has some frustrations left to take out.
That vampire boar almost didn't happen at all. Doug and Moose and I were actually just a couple miles from returning to the lodge one evening. We'd spotted several herds through the evening, but most were sows with young, and the few boars we'd stalked just weren't what I was looking for. The light was giving out, so we departed the side of the ranch we'd been on and headed for home, with Moose curled up in my lap and my thoughts centering on a tri-tip steak and a glass of Central Coast cabernet.
The herd we spotted in the winter wheat field postponed dinner.
The three of us, Moose included, headed for the field, keeping to a dry creek wash and a few scrubby trees until we got to the barbed wire fence. Pigs have terrible eyesight, which often allows hunters to stalk within close distances, but they can recognize the upright human figure. Wind, of course, is a far worse enemy, because human scent will send pigs galloping for the hills--and boy, can they run.
But Doug, Moose and I got lucky, the light breeze staying in our face as we got to the fence to better glass the herd. Doug and I finally decided on a big blond boar that had turned enough so we could see his lower tusks. They were good, meaning he'd make a fair taxidermy mount.
I braced my rifle on the shooting sticks, the muzzle between the fence strands, and was actually squeezing the trigger when Doug hissed to me, "Wait! Shoot that big red one that just came to the field edge!" I swung on the sticks, got my bearings through the scope and pulled the trigger--just as the boar wheeled away to retreat.
I'd hit him, but he ran hard, up between two hill clefts and a dry drainage gully. Legal light was dwindling fast. We sent in Moose.
Before Doug and I had made it halfway across the field, we heard the tiny terrier baying the old boar. When we finally got to the pair, Moose was still at it and the boar, close to death, was still intimidated by the package of fury sparring with him. I put a finishing shot into the boar, letting Moose pounce on him to satisfy himself it was dead.
A view of the lodge high on the hill from the valley floor below.
It was dark, then, and I realized just how easy it would have been to lose that boar in the fading light--and how dangerous it might have been to have found him without Moose.
My last boar made it to sausage thanks to Moose, too. We just hadn't found anything worthwhile during the morning glass session, but as we ambled around the hills in late morning, Doug spotted an entire group sleeping under a cluster of scrub oak at the edge of a crop field. We walked to within 50 yards--when pigs are asleep, they are out--
occasionally calling Moose back to us as he trotted ahead in anticipation.
This dog is one of the least hyper Jack Russels I've ever seen, usually having the demeanor of a serious old man. But show him pigs, and the game is on!
The inside of the hilltop lodge at Camp 5 Outfitters. The lodge can fully stock the kitchen for you or you can bring your own supplies. Either way, the lodge is a comfortable place to stay with a grand view of the valley below.
We set up on the hill opposite the snoozing hogs, trying to decide if any were worth shooting. I had a trophy on the wall, but still wanted a boar adequate for 30 or 40 pounds of sausage from the local custom butcher in town. (The really big boars are pretty rank eaters, medium-sized ones are good for sausage and chops, and most sows and younger pigs are good for just about all the cuts). Doug finally picked one for me because I couldn't decide, but the oinker didn't give me much of a target, showing me just the top of his back and head as he lay sandwiched between two other pigs.
Make that four. When I fired, more hogs than we'd counted got up and left the scene--all except mine. Mine was perfectly still.
We held our breath for a few seconds, Doug and I, with Moose trembling between us. When it seemed the deed was done, Doug reached to clap me on the back and sent Moose to the kill.
Or the almost kill. Doug got out "Congrat-" when the pig leapt to his cloven feet. He faced us, shaking off the shot as he turned to face the growling terrier barreling toward him. And then he ran.
Down the hill he came, with Moose hot behind him until he cornered the boar between a large tree and some fencing. Twice the hog wheeled to escape, returning to the bay only when cut off by the dog. Twice I fired--badly--trying not to hit the challenging dog as he parried back and forth with the by now angry boar.
But Moose knows his job, and this was it, the fencing maneuvers it takes to keep a wounded boar in front of the gun. We finally finished the boar off, five minutes after that first "fatal" shot, and let Moose work out his frustrations as he growled and pulled at a hairy boar ear. "We don't lose many with him around," Doug said to me. I nodded in agreement, thankful for the little gun dog with a heart as big as his quarry.
For more information on Camp 5 Outfitters, contact Doug Roth (and Moose!) at 805-238-3634; www.camp5outfitters.com.
If You Want To Go'¦
Doug's Camp 5 Outfitters is nestled in the hills of Central California. You can stay in the nearby town of Paso Robles, or full accommodations are available in the comfortably appointed hilltop lodge. You can bring your own food and cook in the kitchen or in the massive outdoor fire pit grill, or Doug can stock the kitchen for you.
While Camp 5's hog hunts are only a couple days long (Doug also offers some limited deer hunting, as well as turkey hunting in the spring for Rios), you should plan on spending a couple extra days in the area. This is part of California's stupendous Central Coast wine region, and well worth the tasting and touring of the dozens and dozens of local vineyards.
Nearby Paso Robles offers accommodations, good shopping and several fun restaurants, as does the college town of San Luis Obispo (where you'll likely fly in), a bit farther south. Even if vino isn't your thing, the scenery is beautiful enough to justify a pleasant day's drive sightseeing.