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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Friends

   Good friends are really hard to find. I believe that's a statement that just about anyone in the whole wide world will agree with. A friend is someone you can depend on no matter what. They are the people you can call at tree o'clock in the morning when your car breaks down and you know they will be there to help. They're the ones who "have your back" no matter what the circumstances. They're the ones you can talk to about anything without worrying about them passing judgment or making fun of the strange off the wall thoughts that pop into your mind. Of course finding that friend is a two way street you have to be more than willing to do all the above things yourself. Looking back over the years I've had a hell of a lot of acquaintances but very few friends and to be truthful, that's just the way I like it. Now I can get down off my sop box and tell you what brought this line of thought about.
   When Stanley and I were kids one of our dreams was to be able to go "Big" game hunting. We didn't really know exactly what that meant or what it would take we just knew we wanted to hunt something bigger than the squirrels or white tail deer around home. We did some serious bear hunting down in Coalton Bottoms but we never found one. Of course that may have been caused by the fact there was only one bear even seen in all of Okmulgee County when we were growing up. But, just because they weren't there didn't take the fun out of hunting for them. By the time we were fifteen we had to face the reality that it was going to be years before we would be able to go somewhere and hunt lions or tigers or bears but there was one thing we could hunt.
   Wild hogs live down in Coalton Bottoms. We had seen them several times when we were out squirrel hunting but we never messed with them. For one thing the only guns we had we 22's and if you were dumb enough to take a shot at them all you were going to do was really piss them off! Those hogs were really aggressive and we always gave them a wide berth when we ran across them. Most of them were a dirty grey color and the boars had tusks that could be over four inches long. It wasn't that we didn't want to hunt them we just didn't have any guns that we could feel semi safe using. I know a couple of guys that hunted them using shotguns with slugs. That is the normal way of hunting deer in Okmulgee County but I never thought they were all that good when it came to a moving target and the thought of having a couple of hundred pounds of pissed off hog charging you made me trust them even less.
   Of course no one ever accused either of us of being overly intelligent and the summer I was fifteen I managed to trade for a thirty-thirty rifle which I thought would be just the thing to finally put some wild pork on the table. I wanted to go hunting right away but Stanley wasn't going to able to go for at least a week. I just couldn't wait and decided to go without him and there was my first mistake. I had some other "friends, who will remain nameless" that were willing to go along. I figured that since they were all able to get rifles from their dads and they had all ready bragged to me about the fact that they had been hog hunting and knew all about it that they would be a good group to go along with.
   One of them had a pickup and they came by the house to pick me up early one Saturday morning. There were three of them and they spent the entire trip from my house to Coalton Bottoms telling all about hog hunting. I think they were trying more to scare me about how dangerous hogs were than to impart any real knowledge. I did glean one thing from all their talk, for guys that were "experts" in the hunting of wild hogs, they sure didn't know much about Coalton Bottoms. I would have thought anyone that had done much hog hunting would have been in those bottoms at least a few times. If I hadn't been so excited about going hunting I might have picked up on that a little better. We parked the truck at Thunder Bridge and headed up the river to see if we could find any sign. I ended up out in front but I didn't really think anything about it because I was the most familiar with the area. We were a couple of miles up from the bridge when I spotted the first hog sign. I should have caught on about the other guys then. I had found a wallow and was trying to point it out to them while being quite and trying to peer through the brush to see if any hogs were still around. I hadn't been real happy with the way the guys moved through the woods to start with. They sounded kind of like a herd of crippled elephants constantly tripping over stuff and talking way to loud. Now I turned around to find all three of them staring at the wallow and asking me at the top of their voices why I was excited about a mud hole. They were not only standing right by the wallow but they were also walking all over hog tracks but not a one of them even saw the tracks. Right then is when it finally dawned on me that these boys might have been stretching the truth just a little about how much hog hunting they had done.
   I should have called the whole thing off right then and waited until Stanley was able to go with me. I know I would have felt safer with just the two of us than I was feeling with this whole group. But, I really wanted to get a hog and all I really needed was for these guys to back me up. Even if they weren't the experts they made out to be I figured that since they were friends they would at least help out if I needed it. We went another mile up the river when I spotted a small hog coming up from the river and heading into the brush. I finally got everyone's attention using hand signs got them to at least catch a glimpse of the back side of the hog as it disappeared into the brush. Of course as soon as they saw it every one of them wanted to shoot it. I finally convinced them that it was only one of a herd and if we were quite and careful we might be able to see a bigger one. We were all standing around arguing about what and how we were going to keep going when we heard a lot of rustling in the brush. We looked around to see what looked like a sow and some piglets running deeper into the woods. That got us excited again and we took off after them.
   We were getting close to a swampy place in the bottoms that was known as Horseshoe Lake. It wasn't really a lake, just a low place that got flooded a couple of times a year which meant that not only were there lots of trees through the area but there was also lots of blackberry thickets. It was getting really hard to see very far ahead of us and almost impossible to see anything to either side. The trail narrowed down to the point where we had to walk single file. I was out in front again, trying hard to see where the hogs had gone. The last thing I wanted to do was to surprise a big boar. We came to a clearing right at the edge of the swampy area that, even though it was small it was big enough for the other guys to spread out a little and be able to look around. The ground was torn up all though the clearing for where the hogs had been routing and there were several wallows, some dry and some half full of water. It looked like we had found a main nesting area for a good size group of hogs. I had turned back to talk to the guys when one of the yelled "Look out" and pointed behind me.
   Stanley and I had seen several hogs when we were out hunting but we had never really paid a whole lot of attention to them other than trying to keep out of their way, but when I spun around to see what the guys was pointing at I realized that we had never really seen a big boar hog before! This thing had to be the biggest hog I had ever seen and I could instantly tell that he was really pissed off and he was coming straight at me. I threw my rifle to my shoulder and fired. I was sure I hit him but as far as I could see it didn't even seem to bother him. I was concentrating on nothing other than the hog but in the back of my mind I wasn't worried because I figured between the four of us we had more than enough fire power to bring him down. I was working the level on that rifle, firing as fast as I could but he just kept on coming. I lost track of how many times I had fired before he finally went down. His front legs collapsed and down he went but he still had enough forward momentum that he slide in the mud and when he finally came to a stop I could reach out with my leg and put my foot on his head.
   I couldn't believe it but we had done it! We had got a hog on our first hunt! I just stood there for a minute admiring him and feeling the adrenalin drain out of me. I felt like I really needed to sit down and turned to see how the rest of the guys were doing.
   Imagine my surprise when the only evidence of my "friends" was one rifle laying in the mud behind me. As I stood there trying to figure what was going on I realized that I couldn't hear any sounds of them anywhere. I didn't know what to do at first, go hunt for them or take care of the hog. It didn't take long for me to figure that one out, they were gone but the hog was dead. I field stripped him and managed to get him up in the fork of a tree so the rest of the hogs couldn't get at him then went hunting for the friends. Not only were they gone but when I made it back to the bridge their pickup was also gone! I ended up having to walk all the way to Bill Longs house and get him to come and help me finish cleaning the hog and then had to beg a ride home with him.
   I found out later that my great hog hunting friends had taken one look at that boar charging at us and had taken off running. So much for watching your back! I did end up giving the one kid his rifle back although I though real seriously about keeping it for running off and leaving me. I have always believed that hog hunt was the point in my life where I really started thinking about the difference between friends and acquaintances and realized the difference between them.