On a narrow ridge high above Lake Sonoma, hunting guide Jayson Collard “glassed” the web of game trails in the oak woodland below.
Through the blur of dense growth and distance, his image-stabilized binoculars distilled a large 2-by-2 black-tailed deer buck resting in the shade of a stand of old oak trees. Just beyond, a coyote stood on alert, then hobbled away on a broken leg.
It was still mid-afternoon, and the wild pigs he was looking for weren’t up and moving yet. But there was plenty of other wildlife to see.
“I’m always noticing game trails and scat and food,” said Collard, 31, an expert bow hunter. “I can’t turn it off. How many people get to see mountain lions? I see them all the time.”
Collard had left his bow behind on this particular day. He was there to guide Tyler Nackord, a San Quentin guard from Penngrove who has hunted for four years, so it was Nackord who carried a bow.
But if you’re imagining a Robin Hood-style archer’s implement, don’t.
Today’s compound instruments are marvels of modern materials and design: lightweight, adjustable, with cams and stabilizers that improve aim and delivery power. Nackord, 31, also toted a range finder to supplement the bow’s precision distance and targeting system.
A neon blue light embedded in the nock at the tip of the arrow even lights up if the point should reach its target, a nocturnal beast that forages by night.
But even with all that help, the likelihood of bagging a pig is slim, despite their exploding numbers and wide range. Wily and resilient, they are highly adaptable to hunting pressure, moving easily into new territories or becoming more active at later hours.
Most hunters walk for miles, sit and watch for hours and still go home with nothing in their game bags. It’s a good day when someone actually takes a shot.
This just happened to be Nackord’s lucky day.
“For the past week, I shot about 50 arrows a day, making sure I can get the shot right,” he said.
Pig hunting is permitted at Lake Sonoma only by bow or crossbow, and only during a window when park visitorship is relatively low, this year from November to March 23.
But by special arrangement, and for a price, a limited number of hunters can arrange for a guided pig hunt in the adjacent 5,000-acre preserve called the Lake Sonoma Wildlife Area, located north of the public recreation area, the Liberty Glen Campground and the Lake Sonoma Marina. The $300 fee supports the Friends of Lake Sonoma, which helps the Army Corps of Engineers run tours and educational programs through the park Visitor Center and Fish Hatchery.
And it buys Collard’s expertise.
Nackord and Collard hired a shuttle boat to ferry them to a far corner of the preserve covering the northeast side of the lake. Upon landing, they secured camouflage backpacks over camouflage clothing and began the slow walk up a steep hillside toward the place where they would sleep.
There were no trails, except those made by animals, and it was a tough climb to the ridge-line campsite 700 feet above the lake. The view made it well worth the effort. Pritchett Peak loomed high on the east. In the other direction, one of Sonoma County’s best views unfurled — rolling, oak-studded hills, layered one behind the other, divided by fog-filled valleys.