The first time I ever fired a gun was one week prior to this hunting trip. I grew up in a strictly anti-gun, anti-hunting household, and my parents didn’t allow weapons in the house. I was raised to believe guns were “bad” and hunting was “cruel.” Needless to say, I was nervous the first time I held and fired a gun. But with the patient instruction from my coworkers, I proved to be a decent shot — and I had a blast. I was hooked, instantly, from the second the bullet left the barrel and pierced the bull’s-eye.

Months before, Kim Cahalan of Media Direct Creative invited me on a feral hog hunt at Osceola Outfitters in Melbourne, Florida. It was actually dubbed a “ladies hunt,” and the goal was to get women from the industry out in the Florida brush to experience their first hog hunt. Having just joined Grand View Outdoors, publisher of Predator Xtreme, two months prior with no experience in hunting or shooting culture, I was itching to get out in the field and see what it was all about. So, I graciously (and excitedly) accepted Kim’s invitation.

Perhaps more than the hunt itself, I was looking forward to harvesting my own protein. My husband and I try to eat free-range, hormone-free meat, and it’s important that we know where it comes from and how the animal was treated before it was killed. So, the idea of shooting a pig in Florida on a Thursday and bringing it home to Alabama on a Friday was very appealing. You can’t get store-bought pork any fresher than that. However, I was conflicted over the idea of killing a living creature. Would I feel guilty? Would the animal suffer? How would I feel about myself afterward? I surmised that I would have to take my time, and my shot would have to be deadly accurate. I wanted the pigs to die as fast and painlessly as possible.

Related: Just how deadly is a wild boar?

In the weeks leading up to the hunt, I read as much as I could on hunting wild boar and lever-action rifles, more specifically the Rossi Rio Grande .30-30 lever-action rifle I’d use on my hunt. I took the hunter safety course online and purchased my hunting license, and I watched every legitimate video I could find on hunting hogs with a rifle. I talked to everyone I knew who hunted and picked their brains for advice. After receiving an entirely new hunting wardrobe and boots, I thought I was as prepared as I would ever be — I did my homework, practiced as much as I could and, now, looked the part.

Hoppy Kempfer, owner of Osceola Outfitters, talks the author through sighting her rifle before hitting the palmettos in search of hogs.

The hunt

The truth is, while all of that preparation was helpful, pure instincts kicked in when it came time for me to take the shot. Those concerns I had still resonated with me, but they were quickly squashed once my target sauntered into range. I knew I would hit that pig in the shoulder and he would fall. Seeing that hog through my sight and zeroing in on an animal that would end up on my dinner table was an incredible feeling that I never truly understood up until that point — to know that I was harvesting wild protein for my family and that I would kill something that day. Anything less than that would be a failure, and that just wouldn’t do.

Sage Kempfer, oldest son Osceola Outfitters’ owner and patriarch Hoppy Kempfer, guided me on my first hunt. We slowly walked up to a feeder with the rifle and tripod in tow, taking each step with extreme caution as to not spook the pigs. We got within 50 yards, and I zeroed in on a gorgeous, big, yellow-spotted boar — the biggest one in the bunch. With Sage talking me through it, I aimed the .30-30 at the hog’s shoulder and took my first kill shot, hitting the pig right in the vitals. The critter didn’t run more than a few yards, which felt like miles in the thick Florida palmettos, before we found him. Aside from taking out the boar with one shot, following the blood trail may have been my favorite part of the hunt. Successfully locating the pig brought about a huge sense of accomplishment, especially since he was dead on arrival. Sage helped drag it out of the thick cover into the open. It was a surreal feeling. Did I really just drop that hog with one shot? Me? I was so excited, all I could do was hug Sage and gaze upon my fresh kill.

There are few sights more pleasing than a fresh kill in the back of a well-used truck bed that you know will end up on your dinner table.

Hoppy talked me through my second shot the next day and helped me bag my limit for the trip. This time, we creeped up to a feeder where a huge sow was bedded. But something didn’t feel right. “The feeder should have gone off by now,” Hoppy whispered. Apart from that sow, there were no corn kernels or pigs to be seen. We quietly approached her and got the rifle rested on the tripod. But, she made us and went running into the brush. We waited a few more minutes to see if the feeder would go off. Maybe it was delayed, and that’s why the sow was just lying there, waiting for her scheduled meal. But it never did. Instead of moving on to a new feeder, Hoppy decided to set this one off manually. He walked up to the feeder and released the kernels, somehow doing it without making a sound. As soon as the corn started flying, so did Hoppy right back to our setup. At the same time, hog after hog after hog came out of the tree line after that corn. There had to be more than a dozen of them. They had all been patiently waiting for the timed feeder to go off, as I’m sure they do every day. This time, I had plenty to choose from.

It came down to a big golden boar or an even bigger black and white one. I went for the latter. I just had to be patient. I waited for him to turn broadside, making sure there weren’t any other pigs behind him in case of a pass-through shot. Hoppy talked me through the whole thing, and when the moment came and I had my sight set on its vitals, Hoppy whispered, “Right there. Right in his shoulder.” I took the shot.

Like it was with my first hog, this shot was spot on. We waited for all of the hogs to scatter before approaching the feeder and locating the blood trail. This brute was more of a challenge to find. He whipped and weaved through the palmettos before finding his final resting place only a few yards away. But he was way back in the thickest part of the brush with thorns that seemed to wrap around your ankles with every step you’d take. We eventually found him, and I was relieved to see that he, too, died quickly. With Hoppy’s help, we dragged the big boar out from the thicket to the road where we loaded him in the truck and carried him over to the Kempfers’ processing facility to make some sausage.

Related: The art of brining wild game

The gun

Prior to this trip, I didn’t have much knowledge on lever-action rifles and had never fired one. I was nervous to try it for the first time in the field. But the Rio Grande proved to be a smooth, deadly accurate firearm, and it didn’t take long to learn how to operate it properly. This rifle allowed me to drop two big Florida boar hogs using the authentic buckhorn sights set on each pig’s shoulder. Neither of them stood a chance. It was easy to carry, and totaling only 7 pounds and an overall barrel length of 20 inches was ideal to tote through the jungle that is southeastern Florida. Between all of us on the hunt, a total of six pigs — three boars and three sows — were taken down with a Rio Grande, sending each of us home with roughly 30 pounds of fresh pork. The hardwood finish gives this model a classic look while performing as a state-of-the-art rifle. It provides 6+1 rounds and comes fully loaded with the latest features for safety and reliability.

The Federal Fusion 150-grain flat-nose bullets were equally outstanding in the thick Florida brush. The bullet leaves the barrel at 2,390 fps, which is a whopping 1,900 ft./lbs., making it ideal for taking down hogs quick at close range.

Here’s the Rossi Rio Grande .30-30 lever-action rifle I used on my hunt.

Am I a killer now?

Between the exhilaration of shooting the rifle and killing two boars, I could hear my mother’s voice saying something she said to me before I left for this hunt: “But you’re not a killer.” So, am I a killer now? What does that even mean? In the days and weeks leading up to this hunt, this was something I kept hearing in my head surrounded by doubt, anxiety and excitement. I had no idea how to feel. My mind and body were thrown for a loop. If you asked a younger version of myself where I thought I’d be at 24 years old, I would have never said that I’d be in east-central Florida hunting wild hogs.

“But you’re not a killer …”

My background is in magazine editing and publishing, but unlike many of my knowledgeable colleagues here at Grand View Outdoors, I had no experience in hunting wild game or shooting firearms prior to this trip. My upbringing was quite the contrary. While my uncles and cousins would go deer and duck hunting on the weekends, the closest I got to harvesting my own protein was fishing and crabbing in the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay. My parents volunteered for a local wildlife rescue, and anytime it had more critters than they had places to put them (or anytime a neighbor or a friend of a friend found an injured animal), we were called in to foster everything from baby squirrels and birds to raccoons, opossums and even an iguana. As you can imagine, my house was a zoo, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. At a young age, I gained a profound respect for animals and wildlife, as well as a knowledge of how to care for them.

This attitude toward wildlife prepared me for my hunt, and when the time came to squeeze the trigger and take a life, those memories of caring for injured animals and minimizing their pain and suffering as much as I could came rushing back.

My excitement could barely be contained when I set eyes on my first hog! It’s a moment I’ll cherish forever.

So, that’s exactly what I did. After each kill, I silently thanked each pig for its sacrifice and for putting meat on my table. But I won’t lie to you. I expected to feel … exposed. I expected to come face to face with a primal side of myself that had never seen the light of day, and I didn’t expect to like her. In fact, I was a little scared of her. I also expected to feel squeamish at the sight of the gunshot wound. But, the truth is, when it came down to it, I felt flooded with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Not only did I harvest my own pork, but I helped eradicate two boars off of the Kempfer’s property, which is full of wild hogs ripe for the shooting. That night, I slept like a rock with dreams of how I would prepare that delicious hot pork sausage dancing through my head.

The feeling of shooting a firearm and hunting wild game was one that I can’t compare to anything else. It was invigorating and inspiring, and it’s a sensation I’ll pursue as opportunities arise. I’m thankful for this opportunity to have learned such an honored skill, and I’m looking forward to many more hunts to come. For now, my husband and I are enjoying all of the free-range pork packed in our freezer.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on September 14, 2016.