Note: This is part of a series. You can read part one here.
The next morning, bright and early, we fetched up at the spread where we were booked in for boar hunting. Waiting for us were two good ol’ boys: Eric, the ranch owner, and Orlando, who would be acting as our guide.
Over coffee in Eric’s den, we shot the shit about this and that as we got to know each other. We explained why we were there and gave a little bit about my background. As is always the case when I mention I was in the military to anyone in the U.S., I was touched by the warmth and respect they showed me.
It turned out that Eric and Orlando were Cuban Americans. Both of their families had fled the island when Castro had taken over. Eric had come straight to Florida, while Orlando had arrived following a spell in upstate New York.
Once I knew I was going out into the field with Orlando, I pressed him a little bit more to find out what sort of bloke he was. He had a pretty interesting story to tell. He’d left school at “around 15” and decided that the outdoors would be his life from then on. He spent most of his teenage years out in the Everglades tracking down hogs—not just killing them, but catching them and selling them on. Hog hunting is big business in Florida, and it was a good way to make some real money.
Toward the end of his teens, he had moved onto a Seminole Indian reservation. The Seminole had been a fearsome bunch of warriors and fought three wars against the U.S. in the 19th century. Even though the war parties were at most around a thousand men at any one time, they had given the cavalry boys in blue a hard time. Even when they had finally been beaten by sheer force of arms and superior firepower, they maintained their dignity. To this day, the Seminole are the only tribe not to have signed a peace treaty with the U.S. government.
It was while he was with this tribe that Orlando had really learned his trade—not only tracking animals, but also working with some of the most venomous snakes on the planet.
“But do you know the one thing they taught me real good, Phil?”
“What’s that, mate?”
“They taught me to wrestle alligators.”
Now, I’ve been around a lot, and met a few tasty geezers in my time, but when I heard about Orlando’s skill, I thought…respect! Anyway, whoever’s prepared to mix it up with those prehistoric bastards gets the thumbs-up from Phil every day of the week. In fact, I was so excited by my new mate’s skill that I wanted to jack in all the hog-hunting lark and go catch me an alligator!
“Well Phil, it just so happens we have one right here,” said Eric.
“Take me to him!” I demanded.
I was all pumped up and ready to go when that miserable bastard Toby intervened again to spoil all the fun.
“We can do all that later—if there’s time. We’re here to hunt some hogs.”
Orlando shot me a look that said, “Where did you get this bastard from?” But I just shrugged. He had a point. We had to get all the stuff that Channel 4 wanted done. After that, who knew? Maybe I would get to go head to head with the swamp-dweller after all.
“Well Phil, I’ll take you on a tour, then you can select your weapon.”
And so we set off, driving in a convoy of what looked like two specially adapted golf buggies. As we drove along the trails, eyes peeled for hogs, Orlando explained about the terrain and pointed out the different flora: cabbage palm, black mangrove, and the mighty bald cypress. I liked the look of all of them mainly because they all provided the one thing I look for in vegetation more than anything else: cover.
We came out of the trail and into some open ground. Directly ahead in the clearing was a small lake, and beyond that, the woods started again.
Orlando handed me a pair of binoculars.
“Take a look at two o’clock.”
I put the binos up and adjusted the focus. At first I couldn’t make anything out on the tree line. Then, I saw it. A hog. A big one. While I continued to sweep around the trees looking for other signs of life, Orlando provided a running commentary.
“Now Phil, I expect you’ve run up against some tough opponents in your time, but don’t underestimate today’s opponent. These feral pigs grow big—200 pounds and upward for male, a female slightly less. And they’re quick with it. Top speed is maybe…30 mph. Two things to watch for: tusks and teeth. They have very, very powerful jaws for cracking bones. Now, it’s unlikely that they’re going to bite you, but the tusks are a real killer, especially if they are travelling at top speed. Get them cornered, or come between a mama and her sows, and you can be in trouble.
“Which brings me to my next point: The chances of you getting up close and personal are, in fact, pretty small. These babies have three things that make them very, very hard to track: an excellent sense of smell, exceptional hearing, and astounding eye sight. Sneaking up ain’t easy.”
“That all sounds very interesting, Orlando. The North American wild hog sounds like a worthy opponent. And that gives me the opportunity to tell you the Campion family motto.”
“Let’s get it on.”
Back at Eric’s place, I was invited into his den to look at the vast array of weapons on offer. As well as the usual array of revolvers and pistols of all calibres, there was a range of specialised hunting rifles complete with the most advanced telescopic sights.
But my attention was inevitable drawn to the type of kit of which I was more intimately familiar—a couple of M16s and the AR-15 variant. One of these had even been modified to take a .50 calibre round–the type you’d use to take out the engine block of a large truck packed full of suicide bombers!
I selected one of the standard issue M16s and another old favourite, the 9mm Glock pistol, and took myself off to the makeshift range outside for some quick target practice.
Both weapons were reliable as ever, but one thing kept going through my mind as I blasted my way through Eric’s stock of ammunition.
“I’m not taking on a pig armed with these.”
Normally, I’ll take anything that gives me the odds over the enemy, but when all was said and done, I was taking on a good old-fashioned porker, not an ISIS squad in Fallujah. Although it may seem hard for some of you to believe, there is a sense of good old-fashioned British fair play ingrained deep within the Campion psyche.
I headed back to Eric’s armoury and handed back the weapons.
“I want a fair fight, Orlando. What else have you got?”
Orlando disappeared for a couple of minutes and returned with what the Americans call a recurve bow—what I would refer to as a good old-fashioned long bow. This one wasn’t made of English oak, though—it was made out of the latest carbon fibre technology, with a walnut grip. I took it off my new mate. It felt light—and lethal.
So I traipsed off back to the firing range with the bow and a quiver full of arrows. Orlando had managed to rustle up an old archery target dartboard that he set up about 25 metres away.
I selected an arrow and drew back the string on the bow. Taking careful aim, I let fly.
“Beginner’s luck, Phil!” yelled Orlando.
I repeated the action.
And so it went on. I started to feel like one of the English archers of old, whose lethal accuracy had helped slaughter the French cavalry at the battles of Crecy and Agincourt in the 14th and 15th centuries.
But there was a problem.
Like the firearms, it felt all too easy.
So I went back to my hosts and explained what I was thinking.
Both Orlando and Eric starting laughing.
“You think this is going to be plain sailing, boy?’ said Eric. “Wait ’till you’re out there for real.”
“I’ll take my chances. What else have you got?”
Eric disappeared into the house and, after a few moments, emerged with something that was much more to my liking.
The hunting spear was about six feet long, with a razor-sharp steel head and rock-solid ash shaft. I liked the look and the feel of it and headed back down toward the range. This time I was aiming at a life-size boar replica made of what looked like cinder block. From about six metres out, I let fly.
Well, you can guess the result.
“I’ll take this one!”
Under normal circumstances, what followed next would be simple. Orlando and I would disappear into the woods for as long as it took to hunt and kill a hog, which we could then bring back to cook and eat. But this wasn’t the normal world, this was television land—and that meant a whole host of problems.
The most immediate was this: I had a cameraman with me, and instead of just having to concentrate on looking after myself, I had to think of Jake’s safety. While it was fine for someone with my training and Orlando’s background to go rampaging through the undergrowth, it wasn’t so easy for Jake, particularly as he had to carry all his equipment with me. In the background, I could hear Toby muttering away to himself about health and safety and hazard assessment forms and all the other paperwork associated with filming.
So after the inevitable meeting that accompanied such ventures, it was agreed that it was too dangerous for Jake to come out on the hunt. It was decided that, if it was not possible for Phil to be filmed pursuing a hog, then the hog would have to be filmed coming to Phil.
This meant building hides above ground level—one for me and one for Jake so he could line up a shot. This turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. The problem was the wood: Almost every discarded branch we gathered was rotten due to the heat of the Florida sun and the moist conditions. But after a couple of hours—with Orlando’s bush skills (and mine, of course!)—we managed to rustle up a couple of serviceable hiding places and were good to go.
Now it was just a matter of waiting.
And so it was that Phil’s Great Hog Hunt kicked off at around 11 a.m.
And six hours later, I was still there.
Now, I’m used to spending days on end holed up in observation posts, but this was a lot different. For a start, I was standing up and—to be honest—I’m not quite as young as I used to be. Nonetheless, there was no way I was shifting from that bloody hide, no matter how long it took.
It was toward late afternoon when I caught my first sight of hogs. Or to be more precise, I heard them rustling through the undergrowth. There was a group of seven or so, including what looked like two fully mature adults (complete with a lethal set of tusks each) and what I took to be their family of smaller hoglets.
I shifted my weight slightly and—of course—the sound of movement in the hide caused all of them to look up from where they had their snouts in the dirt. I could see them all clearly now, fully alert with ears pricked and their hog snouts twitching overtime to catch any scent of danger. Their sharp little eyes darted back and forth, scanning the tree line. Fortunately, none of them looked up, otherwise they would have seen an 18 stone British ex-SF soldier with a large wooden spear staring down at them.
All I needed was for them to come a little closer; then, I could let fly with my spear.
I was prepared to stay there as long as it took—no worries on that front. What was worrying everyone was the fact that the light was fading fast and the camera equipment we had couldn’t cope with that.
Unless the little bastards moved within range in the next few minutes, there was a chance that the whole day would be wasted and we would have to come back in the morning.
And then the smaller of the two adults began to move closer to my hiding place.
The hog moved to what I judged was just the very edge of my range with the spear. Added to my problems was the fact it was proving hard to get my balance right while standing on my makeshift platform. It was so creaky that if I moved an inch too early, the target would be off quicker than Usain Bolt breaking the 100 metres.
But time was running out. The sun was on the way down and if we lost any more light, that was it—a wasted trip.
So I inhaled deeply through my nose, steadied my balance, brought the spear back, and then, crash!
The moment I let fly, the shifting of all my weight onto my front foot proved too much for the ramshackle hideaway that had been my home for the last six and a half hours. Even though I was only about six feet up, the force of the throw carried me arse over tip and I landed more or less on my nose—and right into a pile of recently deposited hog shit!
What was worse, even though I was sure that I had a pretty good bead on the pig, the fall had momentarily distracted me. I had no idea if I had actually hit the target.
As I pushed myself onto all fours, I was aware of two things: one was the whooping noise Orlando was making, and the other was that of the hogs as they crashed though the undergrowth.
“Did I get it?” I yelled over to Orlando.
“Sure did, buddy.”
I turned toward Jake.
“Did YOU get it?”
Jake beamed and gave me the thumbs-up.
Looked like mission accomplished. Except there was no sign of the hog.
“Where did it go?”
“Took off this way. Don’t worry, he won’t get far. Looks like you got her right behind the neck.”
I scraped the pig shit off my nose and set off behind Orlando as he set off into the trees.
It didn’t take long to track her down. The trail of blood on the green foliage was easy to spot, even though it was nearly dark now. Farther along, we found the spear that she had managed to dislodge while crashing through the undergrowth, and then finally the hog herself, lying on her side.
No hunter wants to see an animal suffer unnecessarily. Orlando knelt down and produced his big bone-handled Bowie knife, finishing her off humanely. We then trussed her up front and back, tied her to the spear, and carried her back in the old-school style.
“Reckon she weighs about 260 to 280 pounds” said Orlando from the front.
We hoisted her onto the back of one of the buggies and drove back toward Eric’s farm spread. A big fire had been built out of brushwood, and Eric and some of the farm workers were standing around drinking beer and waiting to cook up the evening meal.
When we offloaded the hog, one of the farm workers stepped forward and tied it up with head down. Then he produced a variety of some of the sharpest knives I’d ever seen, and got to work.
The man skinning the hog was called Bobby, and we had all met him earlier in the day when we had first arrived at the farm. He was very tall and very thin and talked in a long, slow drawl. He carried a knife with him at all times, and the other striking thing about his appearance was his necklace of hog’s teeth.
Jake in particular was fascinated with Bobby and couldn’t stop asking him questions. He learned that Bobby’s main topic of conversation was skinning hogs. In fact, his only other topic of conversation was skinning animals that weren’t hogs—a skill he had picked up when he had started to collect roadkill when “I was round ’bout 10 years old.”
“I think there’s something wrong with that boy,” said Toby nervously after listening in on the conversation.
“Man up,” I told him. “He’s just someone who’s good at his job.”
And so he was. As we gathered around the campfire, we watched Bobby skin the entire animal expertly, cut off her head and hooves, and then carve up the rest of the beast into big “P is for Plenty”-sized portions for that evening’s dinner.
As the programme we were making was as much about cooking as hunting, it was down to me to perform. So I diced up some choice pork cuts, took a couple of long steel skewers, threaded them on,and roasted them in the red-hot coals of the fire.
It was the best pork I’d ever tasted.
After dinner, we got down to some serious drinking. Before we had fetched up at the farm, we’d stopped off and made sure we had plenty to offer our hosts. We’d carried in two cases of beer and a litre and a half of Jack Daniels. Everyone seemed to be quite happy with just the half litre, which left Phil with no choice but to finish off the rest of it.
The rest of the evening was a little blurry. I do remember Orlando and I having an arm-wrestling match. Now I pride myself on my ability to beat all comers, and I reckon I could have easily seen off Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator instead of having my wrist broken like that bloke in the film. But I’d be the first to admit that Orlando was a formidable opponent. All that alligator wrestling had put hairs on his chest and given him huge biceps and forearms.
So anyway, he put up a good fight, but I’m afraid when you go up against me, there’s only ever one winner. The hog will tell you that.
After that, we raided Eric’s armoury and spent the rest of the night at my favourite American pastime: blasting away like there’s no tomorrow. Every weapon and every calibre was tried and tested, including a go at the .50 caliber AR15 conversion. I used that one on a fire extinguisher. It disappeared.
Finally, with dawn breaking, we said our goodbyes and headed for Miami Airport. It had been a brilliant trip and the film we put together looked fantastic. It had all the ingredients Channel 4 had asked for—the hunting, the killing, and the cooking—all told in that inimitable Phil style that has mass appeal. Where could we go wrong?
And so we waited. And waited. And waited.
Eventually, the reply came back.
“Really like it, but not quite what we are looking for.” Or some such mealy-mouthed bollocks.
It was back to square one.
There was only one thing for it.
Set up the only game in town.
It was time for Big Phil to get down and dirty with the Islamic State.
Featured image courtesy of epictimes.com
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