Gary Hodges, 56, had been awake for several hours by the time the sun first hinted at its presence by casting a faint glow in the eastern sky, revealing the soft colors just beginning to show in the leaves as they began to take on autumn shades. It was an October ritual Hodges had repeated every season for more than 40 years, except for the time he spent as a Marine in the 1960s.
The day began with his usual opening-day routine of rising at 3:30 a.m. after being unable to sleep because of child-like excitement and anticipation.
"If I ain't excited about it, there ain't no point in huntin' anymore." he said in reply to teasing about his habit.
After loading the hounds in the truck by flashlight, Hodges was on the mountain well before daylight.
Next to him in the truck cab was one of his life-long hunting partners and friends, Raymond Smith, and in the back seat were two of Hodges' teenage grandsons, Wayne and Marcus. In the back of the truck, atop the dog box, was his old trail dog Nash, a long-eared treeing Walker hound.
Modest by nature, Hodges rarely bragged about the old dog, preferring to answer questions by instead saying humbly that Nash "had some good days now and then." But occasionally, in the presence of just a few of his closest friends, he let the truth slip - Nash was a "once-in-a-lifetime dog."
Nash's job that morning was to let his master know if a bear had crossed an old logging road the previous night by barking when he smelled the bear's scent wafting up from the ground. And sure enough, true to form, Nash did his job that morning, as he had been doing for years.
Not one to doubt the opinion of a trustworthy dog, Hodges didn't even bother looking for a bear track in the soft dirt. He simply released the old dog and let him follow his nose. Nash's still sensitive nostrils led him up the side of the ridge, along the side of a small, clear creek.
Another of Hodges' peculiar habits was his famous lack of restraint in turning loose the younger and less experienced hounds to help the old dog. As a proclamation of this, the tag on the front of his truck, and a similar one bolted to his dog box, gleefully was inscribed with "Happiness is an empty dog box."
After moving the truck down the road closer to the creek so he could better hear Nash working his way up and around the mountain, he decided Nash seemed to have the track well in hand. As was his habit, unbeknownst to his human entourage, Hodges slipped around to the back of the truck, opened the dog-box doors and released his remaining four canine passengers. According to their training, they scrambled into the woods, headed toward old Nash's bawling, mournful cry.
Meanwhile, Hodges had climbed back in the truck and moved down the road a little farther. Even with the engine running, the windows up, and the CB radio squawking, Hodges and company immediately heard the eruption of barks coming from the four young dogs as they "bayed" something (meaning they had surrounded something on the ground and were barking at it feverishly with every breath), presumably a bear, not more than 30 yards up the creek from where the road had crossed the stream.
But Hodges was instantly sure something had gone wrong. He knew there was no way that Nash had passed right by a bear and these young dogs had run headlong into the bruin and bayed the animal.
To prove himself correct, Hodges worked his way up the side of the creek in an attempt to see the object of the dogs' bellowing hatred.
Just as the dogs came into view in a pool of water below him, Hodges realized they had bayed a wild hog, a big, hairy, Russian variety, with large, razor-sharp tusks protruding menacingly from its muzzle.
Not one to be intimidated, and according to some, not one to be encumbered by an over abundance of brains, Hodges decided he needed to get these dogs off of the hog so he could send them to Nash as originally intended.
Just as he stepped down to the edge of the creek, the hog realized the dogs weren't the only occupants of the rather small hole of water.
With surprising speed for such a large animal, the movement of whose legs was seemingly uninfluenced by the resistance of the water, the hog charged directly at Hodges and knocked him down.
Luckily, Mr. Pig decided not to follow his normal habit of thrashing his head about, using his tusks as weapons. Many a good dog has been killed by the sword slashes of a big hog such as this one. Instead, this time the porker settled for merely biting his victim, who was, in this case, a screaming, wet maniac, who was currently beating him in the top of the head with the chain portion of a dog leash.
The boar's crude choice of targets to chew on was the area of Hodges' anatomy which, due to the fragile and sensitive nature of the body parts located there, every man most fears being attacked.
The combination of the dogs biting his hind parts and a screaming man attempting to pierce his ear drums with a shrill vocal performance proved to be intolerable, even for an inconsiderate pig lacking in most social graces. He took his leave in the same quick and, to say the least, not-so-polite manner in which he had arrived -between Hodges' kicking legs, with the dogs following along behind him like the tail of a comet, and left his pain-stricken victim bleeding in the mud.
Marcus, one of the grandsons, had followed along behind his "Paw" and was the closest eyewitness to what, in our circle of hunters, has since come to be known as "The Incident." The other grandson, Raymond, had been standing farther downstream and was another unfortunate victim.
Raymond's shock at witnessing a nasty-tempered wild hog chew on his grandfather's nether region caused him to swallow his ever-present wad of tobacco. His shock and nausea further was induced by being among the first to hear Hodges exclaiming: "It bit me; it bit me!"
More shockingly, Raymond's general feeling of well-being was sabotaged by observing his grandpa hobbling down toward the road, pants around his ankles, his private parts in his hands, surveying the extent of the damage inflicted by the piqued pig, no doubt wondering about the future of his relationship with his wife.
Luckily and after all, Hodges had not been disemboweled. Instead, he had suffered two puncture wounds.
One tooth had cut a hole in Hodges' inner thigh, while a second laceration was punched through a part of his anatomy which will remain, at least in print, unspecified. His pants and underdrawers also received puncture wounds and were ruined.
Despite the blood, mud and tooth holes, those who witnessed the event and aftermath maintain Hodges' garments probably were ruined by other means, attributing their demise to a certain pungent aroma which followed the old man around until he changed into clean clothes.
After realizing he probably would survive injuries that only Hodges considered to extremely serious, it took a surprisingly short 15 minutes for Smith, Marcus and Wayne to recover from their fits of unsympathetic laughter and rolling around on the ground, tears streaming from their eyes.
"It ain't funny!" was the only reply Hodges could manage at that point.
Ultimately, his injuries didn't require professional medical attention. However, amateur medical care was categorically not offered by his companions, much to Hodges' private relief.
The younger dogs stayed with the hog for the rest of the day, finally giving up and quitting about dark. Nash eventually treed the bear that afternoon, and Hodges limped to the tree.
Frequently, truth really is stranger than fiction. Hunting stories also often outgrow their humble beginnings to become full-fledged "whoppers." And in the Information Age, word travels fast- all of which happened with this story.
In the days that followed, Hodges received several calls from concerned friends who had heard reports that he'd been "hospitalized and nearly crippled" by a wild hog.
In fact, strangers who met him for the first time months later made such comments as: "Yeah, I heard about you at the sporting goods store. You're the Hog Man, right?"
Later that year at our December hunting camp in the swamps of eastern North Carolina, our group decided it was time to settle once and for all the nickname that should come from "The Incident" to replace the rather plain and simple "Hodge" we'd always used when calling for Gary Hodges on the CB radio or referring to him in conversation.
The collection of possible names grew quickly and was surprisingly imaginative, given the relatively limited brainpower of the members of our group.
Nominations for such uninspired ideas as "Pork Chop" and "Pig Man" were quickly discarded. Others dealt with the anatomical feature that was wounded and aren't fit to repeat verbally, much less see print in a family magazine.
Following a lengthy, rather spirited debate and a difficult weeding-out process, it was finally decided from now on that "Hodge," our fearless, perforated leader, henceforth always would be known as "Boss Hog."