For the overview of the weekend, here. This post is the story of how I got my first animal.
We woke up at 4:30 on Sunday morning, took a freezing cold shower in the camper, and headed out to the trail to get changed into our scent control clothes. After we were dressed and had our packs on and bows in hand, we hiked the half mile to the stand in the dark, our little headlamps guiding the way.
We got to the stand, climbed up, pulled our bows up on ropes, arranged our gear, and settled in around 6:40. Daybreak started coming on almost immediately and by the time I checked the time on my phone at 7:11, it was almost fully light out. I was anxious for the feeder to go off at 7:30, which sometimes ensures animals showing up.
Turns out I didn’t need to wait until 7:30. Before the feeder could even do its thing, I heard it: lots of movement, commotion coming from my right and behind me. In that particular double treestand, Steve is at a 180 to me, i.e., back to back against the sides of the tree, which meant he could hear/see whatever was happening to his front left. The noises got louder and louder and I realized based on what Steve had told me in the past that it must be a group of pigs. Sure enough, I heard Steve whisper back to me “sounds like pigs.” I replied “yep.”
The rustling was getting closer and louder by the second, but I still couldn’t see anything since they were coming in on Steve’s side – and I refused to turn around. I was frozen in place, heart pounding out of my chest, not wanting to make any movements that would be seen or heard. I knew I had to turn eventually, though, so slowly, carefully, I turned my head to the left so I could see the feeder. This is my perspective:
That’s when I saw them coming in from the left. It was a relatively small group, as far as pigs go, with mostly younger ones, save for the big sow and two big boars standing far to the side. This is a trail camera shot of mostly the same group earlier in September, same feeder, my big two-toned sow standing in the very front:
I peeked around the tree and saw that Steve was already standing and had his bow in hand. We had spoken before about what we would do if we saw a group of pigs and I knew he was waiting for me to take the first shot; then, if they returned, as they sometimes do, he would take a second one.
I slowly reached for my bow with my right hand, transferred it to my left, and clipped on my release. I was in full-on high adrenaline mode. My heart was thumping. The whole thing felt surreal.
I knew I had to stand up. I missed my doe while seated from this same place last year and I didn’t want that to factor into the shot again. Using only the strength of my upper legs, I pushed myself slowly and quietly to my feet. I drew my bow, pulled my right hand into position against my jaw, made sure my body was in good stance and aimed. Peep sight and pin sight were lined up flawlessly.
I had visualized this moment for weeks – months really – and it helped me stay calm. Steve told me that the pros tell you not to think about anything else during the shot other than the shot. And that’s what I did. I focused, focused, focused on that moment and nothing else. Only one extra thought floated in: “Am I really about to do this? Am I really about to kill a big animal?” Yes. I checked my sight level and pin again and that was it. I let the arrow fly.
It sounded like a branch breaking. And I could see every second of the arrow’s flight into her right side. Straight into the lungs. Perfect hit.
The pigs scattered, yelling as they went. Steve and I both listened and watched as long and far as our senses would allow. Far left. Sounded like she went down. Noted.
I finally breathed. I leaned over the side of the tree and looked at Steve as we grabbed hands and fist pumped. I did it! I did it. I was dazed and shaking but also unbelievably excited. Steve actually suggested we get down pretty quickly to blood trail her because it was unlikely the pigs would return or we’d see any deer after we’d made all that racket, and we had a lot of work ahead of us.
Me, right after the kill, climbing down the tree:
We left our bows and packs by the tree and set off to trail her. And man, it’s a good thing we decided to get down when we did because as it turned out, it was the toughest blood trail Steve said he’s done so far. The sightings were sporadic and confusing at times and it took us through constantly thorny, difficult, dense, uncharted paths.
Along the way, we found my half arrow and broadhead that broke off from the wound.
And we found a massive pig wallow (pig bedroom, basically). This is only half of it.
We always assumed this entire area of the property was a deer bedding area. Had no idea it was a major pig den. Good added knowledge.
In the end, it took us almost two hours to find her. We seriously almost gave up a couple of times. But we kept finding little bits to keep us going until, at last, when Steve forged ahead into some nasty brush, he finally spied her on the forest floor.
The relief I felt was palpable. The thought that I got my first animal but we wouldn’t find it was making me incredibly sad. I am deeply thankful that didn’t happen. Steve took some photos:
And then we began the arduous task of hauling her back. I dragged her as much as I could but Steve had to take over the more difficult work. As strong as I am, she was simply too heavy.
After about 20 minutes, we finally got her back to a recognizable trail, not too far from the feeder and stand area. At that point, we left her and ran back the half mile to the truck to change and meet up with our friend Mike. We asked him to go grab the game cart from across the property and he obliged. We drove back down, Mike in his truck behind us, and then went up to fetch her with the cart. Mike and Steve loaded her and strapped her on so we could cart her the rest of the way out.
Once we got back to the truck, we unloaded her again and took a few more photos with my bow and with Steve next to me. He was immensely proud. And god knows I could not have accomplished this without him.
Steve and Mike swung her up onto the truck bed and we were off to do the field dressing. More tough work. I am not squeamish, like at all, and yay for that, but it’s hard work to cut into a heavy animal and gut and clean them.
Steve did all the actual knife work since I have no experience. He explained it all as he went so I can maybe do it myself next time, with another pig or a deer. Next time we will also have a gambrel to hoist the animal up in a hanging position. It will make it quite a bit easier.
We heaved her back into the truck bed and drove up to camp to gather our stuff. When we got up there, we ran into some other folks who lease the property down the way from us, people we are quite friendly with, and I nearly leaped out of the truck to tell them I shot a pig. The four of them gathered around the back to look, to tell me what a great job I did, and to congratulate me. That was quite an awesome feeling, I must say, especially when one of the gentlemen said to Steve “oh, SHE shot it?” Yes. I did. Let me beam with pride over that one for a moment.
And then we were on our way, to get her packed with ice and back to our usual processor (right near our house, also our archery range) for skinning and quartering. Cue another round of congratulations from other hunters, all dropping off their own bounties at the loading dock. It was awesome.
And that is where the story ends, at least on paper, and in photos. But the mental, emotional, and spiritual aftereffects are still going strong.
First, to dig into the heart of the experience: yes, I was sad a few times. I thought about her running blind, not knowing she was already dead. I thought about the group she was with, many of whom she probably mothered earlier this year, about how they have now lost her and don’t understand why.
It’s not easy to kill an animal. Believe me when I tell you that every hunter has moments like this.
Steve has spoken with me at length about his own experiences and we are definitely not alone.
We all think about it.
But you know what? That also means we think far more than most about where our food comes from. Hunters have an intimate relationship with what goes on our dinner tables. Hunting equals food. Taking this pig down means providing my household with 50 pounds of meat that is as natural and clean as it gets. It’s a bounty, straight from nature, and it’s wonderful. That supersedes everything else, at least for me.
Furthermore, I am prouder of this accomplishment than I ever expected to be. I stood in a tree and shot a huge animal with a bow and arrow. That fact alone… I cannot get over it. It’s remarkable. It’s astonishing. It is an extreme boost to my self-esteem and self-image, to think that I am so capable and strong, physically and mentally.
And I am prepared to do it again. Next time, hopefully, a deer. It may hurt more when it’s a deer. I may even cry. But this is the way of life. And I am ready.