As I begin this tale of horses, hogs, and hope; this story of dogs, men, and mud I look at the inflamed scratches on my face and hands. I rub my aching knees, and think, “Man, what a day!!”
March 12th broke clear and cool as Brian Stanton and I drove toward a plantation bordering the Santee Delta. The words “Santee Delta” hold a sort of mystical reverence for me as I think of that pristine lowcountry environment and the generations of stewardship and faithful conservation which have maintained it.
Brian and I would be joining David Grant and friends Jonathan Roberson, Ashley Jones, and Travis Anderson. We would be hunting wild hogs on land not far from the ancestral home of the legendary Archibald Rutledge. Part of my excitement in being in this place was to see the vistas and ride horseback on the land which was the subject of so much of his writing. It was a beautiful rolling mixture of highland pines and hardwoods which sloped down to bottomland laced with twisted moss draped live oak, cypress, palmettos, jackvine thickets, and finally the head high savannah grass of abandoned rice fields.
After we saddled the horses and secured our gear we bowed our heads. Brian gave thanks for the gift of this day and the rare opportunity that we had to experience the glorious splendor of God’s creative majesty, and the wonder of his works.
David had brought five Marsh Tackies and eight dogs whose names and characters I soon came to know. The plan was to ride the edges of a finger creek intrusion into the property, allowing the dogs to course from hill to bottoms and back. There was plenty of fresh hog sign especially near the swamp areas, but after an hour and a half we still had not struck any hogs.
The strange thing was that the dogs would take off, and the best ones might be gone at a distance for 10 minutes or so. David would look at the tracking collar GPS and say, “Those dogs are on a hog. They’re too far off and too long gone”. Hoss and Gator came back wet and covered in mud, and someone said, “Somethin's up cause them dogs don’ leak a drop”. You don’t hear such colorful descriptions of animal character very often so I looked around to see if the ghost of humorist Will Rogers, had joined the hunt. It was Ashley Jones, master farrier and hog hunter extraordinaire, who had made the observation. I knew immediately that he referred to the trailing integrity of the dogs mentioned. They were “sealed tight”. They were professional athletes in their field of endeavor. They had not been off running deer or engaged in some other non-productive pursuit, but had jumped hogs which ran into the boggy rice fields where their scent was lost. At least that gave some sense to the dearth of hogs amidst so much sign.
Speaking of sign, hogs are not shy about indicating where they have been or how big they are. The size of hogs in an area can be determined by their markings on trees. They intentionally rub the sides of their shaggy mud covered bodies against the rough bark much as a dog will throw itself on the ground and roll to scratch and rid itself of things that itch. The mud on some of the trees we passed was belt high. That, my friends, speaks loudly of hogs big enough to turn the chaser into one being chased. These are hogs that no doubt come fully equipped with ATTITUDE.
We dismounted to stretch our legs, where the security of long range woods vistas and firm ground gave way to acres upon acres of old rice fields left in recent generations to whatever Mother Nature might make of them. David had just commented how strange it was that the dogs hadn’t even “booger barked” when it happened…. Martha sounded off with such a growling “Booger Bark” that the five of us were “boogered” into action, sprinting down the woods edge and into an environment much better suited to amphibians and shore birds than to narrow footed men. The chase, for the dogs, was short as most are. We could hear that the hog, or hogs were bayed, and made our way toward that cacophony as best we could, looking for myrtle bushes and scrub oaks that might mark the remnants of old dikes heading in the direction we were trying to go. Otherwise the ground was relatively floating, and was quite willing to swallow each step, from the top of a boot to the bottom of a hip. We slogged to a canal with a width of about 7 feet which separated us from the action. David said, “I’m going”. He handed me his GPS tracker, backed up 3 mud sucking steps, and hurled himself at the canal with serious and impressive intent. We on our side, in fact, made comment to the same as he grabbed the marsh grass and fought to pull himself across the final 2 feet of canal and thigh deep mud. We followed with similar results, got to the hog and dispatched it.
We had found where the hogs were, and as we fought our way on foot to one bay and stuck the hog, several dogs would take off and get on another one. Every step was a challenge. To have the hunt master say, “Tug is bayed at 400 yards” ultimately began to sound like more challenge than I thought I could handle. I’m not as fit as I once was, but I came to see that as a team we were sufficiently fit to get the job done. We harvested 7 or 8 hogs several of which were in the 150 pound range.
Without a doubt the hunters worked harder on this day than did the horses although they too were challenged, in a few cases, as we crossed belly deep mud to get through shallow sloughs. In one case, I turned around in the saddle to take a picture of David and DP making the last crossing. I got a great shot of the rider grabbing a small tree to help himself dismount as DP came to “full stop” and bogged, momentarily. Impressive to see was the “matter of fact demeanor” of both horse and rider in a situation with the potential for high drama. Later on in the afternoon as we were headed back toward our starting point, the Marsh Tacky, Gator, and rider Travis Anderson gave us some entertainment as the horse repeatedly reared in an effort to assert himself. As I watched from behind, Gator reared, and Travis pulled his head around so that his nose almost touched Travis’ knee. That’s simply what you do to control a horse who is misbehaving. Horses do not like going in tight circles and most of the time they will straighten up after a few turns. He let Gator have his head and up he went again. I could see Travis’ face as all this was going on, and his expression was similar to what you might expect had you observed him been strolling down Main St. to mail a letter…total calm. As the horse reared and he again pulled Gator’s head around, the horse lost its balance and began to fall backwards. It was like watching an equestrian ballet, in slow motion. As Gator came back on his right flank Travis bent his right knee and eased his leg and body out of the way. They rolled onto the ground, and as horse and rider recovered Travis remounted almost before Gator regained his feet. What could I say except, “Well done”?
The reader at this point may be asking, “What is it that draws these men to exert themselves so; to pursue a creature of such relatively little redeeming value; to expose themselves to what some might consider unacceptable risk? The socio-economic characteristics of men who ride horses after wild hogs run the full spectrum of education, profession, and income. None of that or the lack thereof, has any bearing on the acceptance of the man to the game. Acceptance to the game has everything to do with what one brings to the table in ability, in willingness to learn what you don’t know, and in devotion to the task at hand. Men have something in them, at some level that thrills to the chase, and to the camaraderie of successful conquest. This passion and the endeavor of the hunt have a significant visceral element. There is a connection between body, beast, environment, and spirit that touches more than the 5 senses. How can one explain the satisfaction of standing by the harvested prey, out of breath, covered in mud, spent yet laughing with, congratulating and slapping the backs of friends, without whom you would not have succeeded? Like it or not, Ladies, it is in our DNA.
As Brian and I headed back toward Mt. Pleasant, and I reflected on the day, and the ground we had covered, I thought about the fact that people often will take on the characteristics of those beings with whom they most closely associate. I rubbed my swollen knees, and knew that at least psychologically we were becoming Marsh Tacky.
Submitted in Grateful Appreciation, to Carolina Marshtacky Outdoors,
Carolina Marsh Tacky Outdoors
Of Mud, Hogs, Men and Marsh Tackies
March 2011, by John Sosnowski
About Hunting with Team Marsh Tacky
June 2012, by David Grant
A Watery Hunt Produces Trophy-Sized Pork
We use our Tackies for hog and deer hunting and their qualities are essential when navigating the black water swamps and river bottoms of South Carolina. It is nothing for us to sling 200-pound whitetail buck over the saddle pommel or dally up a 300-pound boar to these little horses to drag it out of the woods. The terrain is often boggy and riddled with old stump holes and deadfall. A horse can quickly become tangled in vines and must not panic as he waits to be cut free. He must be agile enough to climb up a near vertical incline, just to slide down the other side. He must be able to thread his way through a tight stand of pines and feel his feet sinking deep in the soft, sucking mud without losing his footing, or his mind. We often tell folks who join us for a hunt, "Don't get in the way of your horse. He'll do the job for you."
Our Marsh Tackies exhibit strength and athleticism comparable to a well-bred Quarter Horse. But unlike the Quarter Horse, the thick, hairy hide of the Tacky protects it from the briars and the biting yellow flies that are prolific in the hot, humid summer months South Carolina is known for. You can be sure a boar hog is going to nestle down in the thickest stand of undergrowth or the muddiest muck hole, and there is only one way to get them: on the back of a Marsh Tacky.
Hog hunting is a rough game for for rough folks. The horses have to be tough and the dogs tougher. All involved must have grit - true grit. Small, wiry horses with narrow chests and sloping croups, Marsh Tackies aren't much to look at, but they have the stamina to go all day and the courage to go wherever we point them. Often times the only way to get to a hog is through one long thick bed of briars. Our Tackies will hop like a rabbit on top of the briars or bulldoze their way through it. When the dogs bay, you'd better be hanging on because the horses will take you at break-neck speed right into a fight. We bring the fight to the hogs in their backyard, which gives the hogs the advantage. However, riders, horses and dogs execute a well-orchestrated plan of attack, and Team Marsh Tacky gets the job done more often than not.
Feral hogs in many parts of our country have become a problem of epidemic proportion, according to reports made with the Department of Natural Resources. These aggressive animals vigorously compete for the natural food sources that would otherwise be available to deer, turkeys and other small game. Hogs also root up a lot of vegetation and consume everything they can access. Ecological damage can come from the spread of disease, destruction of vernal pools and soil erosion. They can carry zoonotic diseases such as foot-and-mouth and swine brucellosis. They also damage the state's timber industry by depleting soil nutrients and consuming seeds, sprouts and seedlings, which prevents reforestation.
Dogs have been used to hunt boar since ancient times. Boar hunting dogs are loosely divided into two categories, bay dogs and catch dogs. Bay dogs are very vocal and harass the hog, working to keep it cornered until the catch dogs arrive.
Catch dogs physically take hold of the boar. Once the catch dogs have physical control over the boar, they will hold it indefinitely until the hunter arrives.
From his many years of hunting wild boar in the swamps of South Carolina, David has developed his own type of hog hunting dog, which he calls a "Pee Dee game dog." These dogs are able to withstand the harsh conditions of hunting wild boar, especially in the summer time, which is when we get the most calls that someone has a hog problem. Most people don't venture out to hunt in 90-degree-plus weather. The Pee Dee game dog and the Marsh Tacky horse have become an efficient combination for hunting wild hogs.
Saddle up and take a wild ride with us as we and others share our many hunting adventures - good and bad - on this page. Some will make you laugh, some will make you cry, and some will leave you completely amazed. Because "Life's a Journey, not a Destination."
Here's what it's like to ride along with Team Marsh Tacky as we race toward another hog....
On to the hunt! When we crossed the river today, I could see the water level was just starting to drop, old big muddy had just experienced a spring freshet, the first in a long time, which meant some wet riding or “swimming” during the upcoming hunt.
Our hunting party included Mark Hausman, horseman extraordinaire from North Carolina; his daughter, Coti “Boss Lady” Hausman; and her green but game boyfriend, Zack, at whose expense we had many a laugh; and last but not least Ashley “Wrangler” Jones, the man of the day!
After tacking (pun intended) up our Marsh Tacky horses and collaring up our Pee Dee game dogs with Garmin GPS collars, we had our traditional prayer of thanksgiving and we were off!
We immediately started encountering water from the recent freshet. We were working alongside an old black water ox bow lake with a menacing four-year-old cutdown for its northern boundary. I mumbled a silent prayer for the game dogs not to swim to the other side after a porker. So much for unanswered prayers. Take a sip of java. That story comes a little bit later!
After ducking and jumping a few South Carolina state plants (the Southern green briar), we arrived on a ridge between two sloughs. The dogs got gamey and were gone. The GPS showed them 300 yards, then 500 yards and gone!!! Decisions were at hand. You don’t go where the dogs went. You go where they are going, which isn’t easy in this area that has more black water sloughs per capita than any other place this cowboy has hunted. Did I mention they are deep, wide and boggy? With a quick glance at the map section of the Garmin GPS, we made a decision: out and around and around and around. We literally went north to go south.
After a breathtaking run on our Tackies, we arrived a little late for a pig sticking. Indy and T-bone was just finishing up a small porker when we came sliding into the flooded plot. All we needed was an apple and some sauce and we could have had lunch.
After checking the GPS, Hoss, one of my better dogs, never made it on this run. From experience we knew he was not on his own lunch break! So off we rode again in search of our elusive prey. When we finally found Hoss, he was like T-bone and Indy munching on a small pig in a very menacing clump of our state plant. We just let him munch a bit before we regrouped. There had been a lot of action, but no runs. Kind of like Clemson when they play them ol’ Gamecocks!!
Our party decided to hunt toward a feeder that was in the far west corner of our swamp paradise. Before we even made it over the next ridge, the dogs were gone again in every direction. The hunting party was ready to ride, but the ol’ Pee Dee Cowboy told the party to hold their horses. As the Swamp Fox would have said, “Don’t shoot until you can see the whites of their eyes.” Sure enough! A whole lot of barking but no action. Those pigs must have been visiting from across the river because they proceeded to break camp and made a beeline back to the big muddy. The game dogs were showing back up one at a time with smurking scowls on their faces that said, “Hey, ol’ Pee Dee Cowboy, we ain’t Labradors. We’re hogs dogs!”
Dejected but determined, on we rode! We checked out the feeder, but there was nothing but old signs of hogs. We rode out of the swamp bottom and toward the hill. According to the GPS, we had already ridden eight rough miles and only had two little piggies for the effort. The Pee Dee Cowboy broke up the long ride with a little history about the old logging road we were on. It had to be same road Marion himself used to elude British General Banastre Tarleton. My crowd wasn’t buying in on the history lesson. They wanted pigs!
I finally said the magic words Ashley Jones loves to hear: “Let’s hunt back to the truck.” Folks, the Pee Dee Cowboy has been accused of taking the long, hard way around to get to the pigs just to see how game some guests are. (Those who have made those hideous accusations have been removed from the guest list.)
Even the best hunters get a little turned around when the water is flowing backwards. Backwards? Yes, backwards, but that’s another story for another day. Back to this one.
We had just crossed a very boggy bottom that required us to almost swim our horses. It was a tough crossing, but we all made it. Well, not quite all of us. Ol’ Zack didn’t – but his horse Spirit did! To capture the moment for Zack, the Pee Dee Cowboy pulled out his trusty Kodak camera and snap, snap. Zack will go down forever immortalized doing the tackiest backstroke you ever did see!
After some more very impressive marsh work by our Tacky horses, we swam, jammed and jumped back onto higher ground. Now it was time to hunt, as Mr. Lloyd Richardson would say, where the hogs were. Did I mention I was moving way out in front of the tired, wet, muddy hunting party and keeping a respectful distance from any “harsh” comments?
2:00 p.m. Not much to show for a lot of riding. Hog hunting is a lot like what the Allstate Insurance commercial says about life: It’s comes at you fast! Just when we think the action is over, here we go!! Top off your java because here it comes.
“Hey Ashley, why don’t you crawl down that muddy looking pig path right there,” says the ol’ Pee Dee Cowboy. I sure felt like Marion when some of his militia was getting ready to break camp for home. Did I mention in the beginning Ashley was the man of the hour? Folks, he sure didn’t look that way when he grimly began the briar patch shuffle down on all fours like our quarry. It was but a brief moment before we heard the dogs hit the pigs. A few more seconds passed and we knew the squeal was real!
Coti and Zack were off their horses and scrambling through some pretty rough flora and fauna. Zack was given the honor of dispatching our first good pig of the day. Before we could get back to the horses, however, we had another!
At this point, we were a group of very tired, dogs, horses and riders. Before we could call it a day, I noticed all the dogs weren’t attending our little pork fest. T-bone had trailed a pig across a large beaver pond and was heading back toward the river bottom. The decision was made to go around to head them off at the pass!
While working our way back around to T-bone, we could tell the dogs were following the scent from where some elusive and smart pigs had left the pork fest early. T-bone was making his way back to us so we decided to finally call it a day. WRONG!! IT AIN’T HOW YOU START. IT’S HOW YOU FINISH!
Hoss once again had his game face on, and with the help of Lacy, an up and coming part of our Pee Dee cur pack, he wasn’t having anything to do with calling it a day! With more luck than skill, I led the party out ahead of where Hoss and Lacy were heading. Lord have mercy what did we see when we came around the corner of the sand pit!? A very large porker sneaking across an open field with Lacy and Hoss dogging him! (I later found out that I didn’t see another good porker that was to cap off the day!) Back to the action.
“Let them catch! Let them catch!” the PDC was screaming. “Catch hell!” screamed our party. “Let’s ride!” And so we did. Man, I have ridden hard before, but this run was the most thrilling I have done in a long time. Pig, dogs, horses and riders stretched out at break-neck speed across the field to the edge of a cutdown, around a corner and bam! A large tree lay across the path. Our Tackies sprouted wings, and we flew over that tree, each rider on his own Pegasus.
It wasn’t over, however. That big old boar was heading home. But he never made it. The game dogs piled him up 300 yards into the pin oak cut-down. We were off the horses in a flash, and we made our way to the bay. Ashley quickly secured the ol’ boar, and Mark scored a trophy boar.
“Let’s drag him out for some good pictures,” everyone shouted, and so we did after Mark showed us how a real cowboy would handle the situation. With humble pie on our face, we proceeded to drag that 300-plus poker out to the truck. Or we thought. Lacy was gone!
To the bottom we rode. We stopped to water the dogs, and I glanced down at the GPS. Lacy was bayed at 200 yards. Oh man. We were headed back into that hell hole cut-down. (Hold on, folks, we’re almost done.) Lacy had the boar bayed, but by the time we got to her, he broke. The game dogs were soon baying him in what I thought was the cutdown. Wrong! I hollered, “Water bay!! Water bay!!” Huh? “He’s in the lake. Let’s ride!”
Sure enough. There he was in the middle of the lake. Dogs, boar and lots of deep water! After swimming a few laps with the game dogs on his head, that ol boar decided he needed to change zip codes, and he headed into the cut-down mentioned at the beginning of this tall tale. Old Ashley was shucking down to his tighty whities until it dawned on him Coti was looking at him, so just his boots came off. In he went with a sploosh. It was not exactly in Mark Spitz fashion, but he did ease into that black water and swam across to relieve a very tired pack of dogs.
Another nice boar, but not as good as the first. But still a good ’un! “Good job, Ashley,” was voiced by all.
What a day in the river bottoms of the Great Pee Dee! It was a privilege for this old cowboy to have witnessed such grit displayed by horses, dogs and humans.