Zaleski State Forest & Hogpocalypse Hunt
Zaleski State Forest and Lake Hope lay northeast of Chillocothe, south of Columbus, here in southern Ohio. These ridges form the western edge as foothills of the Appalachian Mountain chain which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The trails are beautiful -- and with elevation changes of up to 500 feet commonly encountered, Zaleski is challenging enough to be useful as a training ground for more difficult hiking, while still do-able by the newbie who isn't afraid of a little work.
The purpose of our March 2019 trip was to scout and hunt for feral hog which have been sighted near Zaleski, specifically south of Lake Hope and SR 278. While we had both the required hardware and the skill set to take and process swine, we weren't kidding ourselves -- feral swine here in Ohio, thankfully, still aren't very prolific.
Nonetheless, a couple of our hard chargers mixed up a batch of hog bait to tempt the highly sensitive nostrils of any nearby ridgerunning squealers into coming down into one of the hollers we identified as good for grazing, watering, and wallowing. Just look at that master baiter mixing it up. Their mixture consisted of whole corn from Tractor Supply, and one pack of jello powder, a 1/2 teaspoon of yeast, enough water to cover the corn by 2", and two or three cups of sugar per 5 gallon bucket.
Using service roads, we drove then hiked the four 5 gallon buckets of bait into position -- there's no way we could have hiked in the bait buckets in addition to our personal loadouts. Here you can see a few more pictures of the spots which we chose as ambush points. Accessible water flowing through, moist ground perfect for wallowing, nut trees above, some cover, and then you have our foul smelling bait spread throughout. We explored these areas on foot, looking for sign and dropping bait along the way. We also explored the area from the air to see what the surrounding terrain looked like and to get a better understanding of the area. More on the hog hunting later.
In addition to seeking hogs, the weekend trip was to be used for gear testing as, well as testing ourselves as several in the group had not engaged in any significant hiking in several years and none of us are getting any younger. I've mentioned before how important it is to keep your mind/body capabilities updated, that is, you may think you can currently hike 25 miles with a 50lbs pack because you did that 20 years ago. Can you still do that? You should know. For further reading on that topic, check out my article titled The Costa Rican Deathmarch.
Finished with the bait, we drove to the Hope Schoolhouse trailhead. Upon getting unloaded and packs mounted, it quickly became apparent that this group of middle aged blokes had, like novices, overpacked. It was 11am and while the gruff nature of the group would certainly have made it happen, the six mile hike to our campsite ("I" on the map) would have left us bushed and grumbling. We looked at other options and found that the King Hollow access road came quite close to our desired campsite. A plan was made to drive to where the trail crossed the access road, hike our gear in from there, then two of the group would hike back out to park the car appropriately and hike back light and quick. The plan worked and our camp was set up by 2pm, with plenty of time for exploration and planning. A slight snow was coming down with a temperature of about 27 degrees.
The Siberian Log Fire. One member of our group follows a Youtuber called Survival Russia -- an interesting dude for sure, with some great ideas -- but when our buddy started rolling huge logs around and constructing what looked like a wooden amphitheater I have to admit I was a little skeptical, having come from a scouting background where large "white man's fires" were frowned upon.
As you can see from the pictures, the idea here is a large log forms a kind of backdrop wall which is to reflect the heat of the fire forward more effectively than a fire with nothing behind it. You start the fire on the front of the log and conduct a normal fire right up against the large log while it and it's overhang not only reflects heat, but eventually, slowly feeds more material to the fire. It was a big undertaking, a big idea, and it worked splendidly. If you have the materials, the time and the ambition to construct one of these fires, we highly recommend it -- if for no other reason than as a study.
Once the fire was going, food was had and naps were taken, waiting for the evening hours when we could take our rifles equipped with nightvision to the swine abush areas. One such night vision scope was a Pulsar N550, an older model which retailed for about $1200 (4 or 5 years ago). There are newer, less expensive night vision scopes such as those by ATN these days. You can Youtube the type of picture you get from these devices and in my opinion, for the money, these items are a necessity not only for night hunting, but for the prepper in general. Shoot 100-200 yards reliably at night in complete darkness and you'll quickly be happy to shell out the money for a night scope.
As 8pm came around, we were gearing up to head out. While discussing our plans, gunfire was heard to our southeast. It was consistent gunfire like you'd hear at a shooting range. Unfortunately, before we knew it, it was 11pm before the gunfire stopped. It's possible that the animals there are used to this sound, but we assumed any wildlife that was in the area would have bolted and likely not returned -- hence it was pointless to go out for a night hunt at this point.
The gunfire, ruining our chances, by 9pm we started preparing a community dinner which several in our party were generous enough to have prepared and packed in for the group. This community dinner was one of the reasons we were so overloaded. One guy brought a full size wok -- that's dedication. Another brought pounds of potatoes and onions. Yet another brought an 8 pound, bacon wrapped sirloin filet. To prepare the sirloin we ended up suspending it over the fire with a field fashioned spit, not horizontally, but vertically. Although the suspension of the steak was by necessity and happenstance rather than by premeditated design, it yielded two interesting facts: 1. -- The bacon not only imparted flavor to the meat, it provided a cocoon of protection to the skin of the steak allowing it to be over heat which was probably too hot, for a longer period of time to allow for full, proper cooking. And 2. -- By hanging the meat vertically, it allowed for strata of cooking levels....well done at the bottom, medium in the middle, up to medium rare at the top. In this way, we found that every person at the camp had their desired type of meat!
One other note on campside cooking. One of our favorite items at Omega is a stainless steel one gallon jug. The Amish use these jugs for their milk, but we find it is great for boiling water or even making stews or dumplings right over an open flame. It's plenty durable.
A plan was made for an early morning hunt. We rose at 5am and headed along a ridgeline toward the places we had baited the previous day. We quietly approached with a three man team. Two shooters and a spotter. Something large crashed through the brush, but was not spotted. We assumed it was a deer we had spooked. We sat and stalked and listened and sat some more for about an hour, but it was clear nothing had disturbed our bait, nor had we observed any new sign, so we headed back to camp.
It was the general consensus that WW3 (the gunfire from the night before) had ruined our chances in hunting. "Such is life" was the conclusion and after a brief breakfast of Millenium bars and Black Rifle Coffee, we broke camp to hike out, but not before we signed the Comments box at campsite "I" and left a can of pre-cooked canned bacon (WOW) for the next lucky camper who checks the Comments box (Werling's canned bacon IS available at Omega Survival, of course).
Once we had the vehicles packed with our gear, before heading back to Dayton, we decided to explore some rock out croppings off trail. We found a great sheltered overhang with a sandy floor. It'd be a good place to camp and very safe for fires -- if it were allowed, which it is not. Most certainly the aboriginal peoples had used it in the past for just such a purpose, as have a bob cat or two, for whom we found paw prints. Clean water was also available at the cave and we found a cool skull of a snapping turtle.
After this side hike, the last stop was the infamous Moonville Tunnel. I was under the impression from previous hikes in Zaleski that it was only accessible from the south loop, park side, but upon driving the back roads found that there was a convenient foot bridge that leads right to the tunnel for sightseers. The Moonville Tunnel was built in the mid 1800s and the surrounding area was considered by engineers to be a very desolate and dangerous section of track. It was an isolated route to Cincinnati and many obstacles had to be watched for by the engineers, such as livestock, high water, and fallen trees. Numerous horrific train accidents had occurred, one where two trains collided, and many more where someone was killed on the tracks. Naturally, ghost sightings are part of the local lore. It's a brick lined tunnel worth stopping to see. The blasting bore holes are still visible, along with a plethora of graffiti, both old AND new.
Zaleski is an unsung part of the state forest system. It's highly recommended hiking. ANY hiking, ANY gear testing....testing YOURSELF is what we recommend at Omega. You MUST get into the woods, you MUST use your gear. Find a spot, make a trip with friends and get into the woods to learn -- AND to enjoy life.
Thanks to God for a safe trip and a beautiful world to explore.