CHOLAME – Barley was being harvested off the golden hills of Bitterwater Valley as WON made a turn up the valley to the remodeled hunt lodge at Bitterwater Outfitters. The sun glistened off stocks of grain and you could see many fresh trails made by hungry hogs as they headed through Grant Ranch properties for their nightly feasts on freshly dropped pistachio nuts and ripe red grapes from the vineyards in the lower valley.
This WON hunting editor received a call from master guide Clayton Grant just prior to opening of the dove season.
“Jim is there anyway of getting you up here soon. The hogs have started their movement down into the pistachio groves and we are seeing up to 100 hogs a day. The wheat is all being harvested and there are some big boars running with sows and meat pigs. This is going to be one very good Russian boar hunting season in the valley and these hogs will fatten up quickly,” were the confident words of Grant.
In addition to offering up a boar hunt, Clayton also suggested that this shooter bring along some dove ammo, as the mourning dove were piling into watering holes on the property in good numbers during their evening flight.
“The days are still pretty hot up here, but the nights are cooling down a little. Plan on getting to the ranch house about 5 p.m. We’ll head out for dove and then get up early in the morning and set up for the hogs as they head back to the shade and protection of the sage, chaparral and mud wallers in the back country,” was the information passed on by a phone call just prior to departure time.
Clayton, a recently retired professional rodeo roping champion, was relaxing in the main house with the AC blasting away upon arrival. He directed me to the new bunk room where I dumped hunting gear and then he showed off a room that was outfitted with TV, DVD, phone and a huge comfortable sofa where clients can just hang out when not hunting.
It was time to go hunting and there already were good numbers of dove sitting on fence lines and on the tops of grain sheds as we headed out to a stock tank just a few hundred yards behind the century old farm house with its traditional wooden barn.
The shoot got off to a moderate start and then the dove began piling into adjoining grain fields in groups of 3 to 8 birds. It turned out to be a good (no, a very good) post-opening dove hunt with limits bagged. The sun still had not completely set over the coastal mountains when the last flight of mourning dove came to the small watering holes in groups of up 20 birds in a flock. It was a great ending to the first evening of hunting with Bitterwater Outfitters.
A wake up call at 4:30 a.m. would have us drinking OJ and eating a couple of Granola bars as the hunt party gathered in the kitchen. Joining us for the morning hunt would be ranch owner Bob Grant and local cowboy Mike Renteria, who both shared in the success of this WON hunt.
Grant’s plan was to get ahead of the hogs as they moved out of the pistachio grove, which would entail a little longer drive through the back end of the huge ranch. We hadn’t gone more than a mile when a group of 6 hogs crossed in front of the 4WD.
“That’s not a good sign! With no moon out and a cooler night the hogs should be staying in the fields longer. Seeing these hogs on the move prior to daylight means we’ll have to be alert and glass hard over a couple of different drainages when we get up on top,” stated Grant.
The sun came up with no sign of hogs on the move and Grant opted to drive down into the canyon and check for tracks, while Renteria would stay up high and continue to glass. Sure enough fresh tracks through the barley stubble indicated that in-fact the pigs had moved through under cover of darkness.
Clayton opted to head over to a traditional path used by hogs coming out of another huge pistachio grove where he felt the hogs would hang out a little longer due to the excellent cover on an adjoining vineyard.
That decision worked to perfection, as a nice boar was spotted coming through the barley and he was on the move through ranch property headed to the badlands of the north facing slopes of a mountain.
“Jim, we’ll have to get out around that hill, but we will have to let the hog cross first to catch him out in the open. There is a deep ditch he has to cross and you should be able to get on him for a clean shot of less than 125 yards, if he continues to run on that well established pig trail,” suggested Grant.
The black boar came around the hill and was moving pretty fast, knowing he was caught out in the open. Kneeling, this shooter brought my Weatherby Mark V, 7 MM Magnum to the shoulder, picked up the boar in the Leupold scope and swung with the hog until the scope was filled in black. The rifle barked loud and the Barnes Triple Shock, 140 grain copper bullet was true to its mark and the hog folded up for a very clean kill.
The hog weighed in excess of 200-pounds and had respectable tusks that measured just under 2 inches on the lowers and 1 inch on the uppers (showing). The pig was field dressed and when the stomach was opened up half of his nighttime meal consisted of red grapes and the other half pistachios, which would make this fat hog a great eater in addition to being a fine trophy.
Back at the ranch house the skinning was completed and the hog was quartered prior to taking it over to Paso Meat and Sausage Co. for processing in nearby Paso Robles.
“You won’t believe just how sweet this meat will taste. Once hogs get on pistachios they get fat real quick and for some reason the meat retains excellent taste and even some of the larger boars are quite mild,” noted Grant.
After a nap this writer toured the ranch, which showed a huge population of ground squirrels (on a future visit to the ranch this hunting editor will pack along my Ruger plinker and plenty of copper (green) ammo). There were still plenty of dove winging around the ranch and many hillsides on the property had hog trails, a good indication of just how many wild pigs there are out there this year.
“We are looking at excellent hunting all winter long. The Pistachio Hog Run will last well into the early spring. These Russian strain pigs are pretty predictable and now would be a wonderful opportunity for a father to bring out a son, daughter or wife to shoot a hog. The hunt itself is pretty basic, as we move around from spot to spot to maintain trails that don’t get a lot of hunting pressure. Most all of the shots will be less than 150 yards,” stated Grant.
There are huge boars on the Grant Ranch and hunters heading up to Bitterwater Outfitters can opt to hold out for a real trophy. During the last week of August a hunting client shot a boar that scaled over 300 pounds. In addition to excellent boar hunting, big game hunters might want to consider a combo hunt for boar and Bison. The ranch currently has a population of 35 head of Bison and in the herd there are a couple of trophy bulls, plus a mix of cows and younger bulls.
For more information on hunting this coming season with Bitterwater Outfitters call (805) 610-4521. Clayton Grant is a licensed, bonded and insured outfitter whose guiding and hunting skills are based on many years of hunting experience.