I love remote wilderness country – all Marines do – but as I learned years ago; a man may feel a comforting sense of oneness and primal isolation in the backcountry. But he damned-sure best be prepared for the unexpected close encounter with something unexpected and dangerous.
I experienced such an encounter this weekend while on a multi-mile conditioning hike–actually more of a hump since I was moving at a fast clip with a small assault pack–in a deep tract of the ancient Congaree bottom-land swamp-forest in central S.C.
I had a few objectives in mind as I struck out into the vast, heavily canopied forest.
First, it was swelteringly hot day, above 100 degrees with extreme humidity; perfect for conditioning the body to handle such temperatures when it is truly necessary.
Second, I think better, clearly and more creatively in the woods. I had (and have) a number of projects I’m working through, initiatives I’m developing, and ideas I’m incubating. Deep woods are conducive to deep thinking. Doesn’t work like that for everyone, but it does for me.
Lastly – though moving quickly with gear – it was something of a pleasure jaunt. I had plenty of water. My pack was relatively light. I knew exactly where I was going. Most of it was on a familiar trail. And I hoped to spot and ID some of the beautiful birds we’re blessed with here in the Palmetto State.
I did indeed see some great birds, including a beautiful white ibis.
Saw something else, too.
After about an hour of route-step humping into the Congaree, I rounded a bend in a trail which cut through some tall grass surrounded by towering pines, huge oaks, and cypress trees (as old as – or older than – this nation), which opened into a deep, cool clearing that was so dark and mystical it reminded me of a scene out of “Lord of the Rings.”
That’s when I heard the grunting and snorting.
All at once, six or seven black shapes, small Russian boars – about 75 to 100 pounds each – ran in front of me about 40-yards-away from my right to my left. Grunting, snorting, one of them squealing as they all ran past. My head turned to the left following their trek.
That’s when I saw it, the big daddy of them all, about 25-30 yards away, at least 200-250 pounds, certainly not the largest wild hog I’d ever seen (they actually get much bigger), but he was all black hair, hide, and muscle, huge shoulders, tapering down to much smaller hind quarters. His head was down and he was snorting. His red eyes, or so I think I remember them as being, were staring me down.
The smaller pigs ran behind him and disappeared into the thick vegetation beyond.
The big boar stood his ground, snorting, grunting, staring at me.
I was sure he was about to charge.
Instinctively, I reached into the right cargo pocket of my shorts for my weapon; a small, flat Taurus PT 738 automatic in .380, loaded with six hollowpoints.
My first thought was, “Why am I not packing my FNP .45 instead of this little concealed-carry wondergun?”
Clearly this .380 – about the size of James Bond’s Walther PPK – was not enough weapon to stop this animal with his adrenaline surging.
My second thought was when I withdrew the weapon from my pocket and reached for the slide to jack it back and chamber a round (I keep the weapon loaded but no round chambered because it has no safety feature).
I quickly became very conscious of two facts.
First, my hand was wet because of the extreme humidity. Second, the slide was so small that I was unable to grip the slide firmly enough with a wet hand to jack it fully back. A half-jack or a slip of the hand and I risked a round-chambering malfunction.
If I failed to chamber a round and the boar charged, I could be killed.
That was my third thought as I quickly changed my grip on the slide, grasping the pistol widely and somewhat awkwardly from the muzzle all the way back to the end of the slide, jacked it back hard, held it for a second and then let go feeling a sense of comfort as the slide slammed home. I knew a round was chambered, and I was ready to fight if the big bad boar was.
Fortunately for both of us, the boar turned a hard 180 degrees and bolted away into the forest where the smaller pigs had disappeared moments before.
It’s impossible to describe the exhilaration I felt after the danger passed and I stood there breathing in the amazing encounter. A quick survey of my surroundings and I began moving again.
Lessons learned or re-learned from years back? You bet.
First, the .380 may be a perfect little concealed-carry weapon for the coffee shop. But in big woods with big unpredictable wild animals, remember to pack a big weapon.
Second, no matter the weapon you carry, you should always practice weapons handling – not just shooting – with your particular weapon in every conceivable environment: extreme heat and cold, gloved, ungloved, sweating and not, and even with a mock injury. In other words, what if one hand is injured or wounded? How are you going to operate the weapon if you only have one hand?
Third, always be aware of your surroundings. Enjoying the hike or backpacking excursion, but always be alert, vigilant, and expect the unexpected. If you trek through the woods enough times, you will indeed encounter the unexpected.
In my hunting days, years ago, I once killed a wild boar with my K-Bar fighting knife. But that was on an organized hunt with other men, dogs, and a wild hog we cornered in a deep gully. There was a bit of risk in that, but it was a calculated risk as opposed to an unexpected encounter. The dynamics were completely different, not to mention the fact that I was 20 years younger and Marine-fit.
Regarding my little Taurus .380 – Of course it was the wrong weapon for a face-off with a wild boar. But as a concealed-carry weapon, it’s light, flat, durable and packs enough firepower for my everyday protection needs.