This past Friday night, my buddy Charles and I went on a night hunt for feral hogs. Charles booked it probably a month ago with a group called “Night Hogs” out of Seguin, Texas run by 2 guys, Randy and Gerald.
The basic idea is this: Randy and Gerald know a lot of private land owners in their area. Feral hogs are a nuisance creature because they reproduce like the plague and just tear things up. They destroy farmland, crops, compete with other animals such as deer (i.e. game) for food, and any animal that comes across them (e.g. your livestock) can run the risk of being maimed or killed by those wicked “cutter” teeth on the boars. Many land owners want to be rid of them because of how destructive the animals are. That’s where groups like Night Hogs come in. They have access to numerous private properties and work on keeping the hog population in control (tho it’s always a losing battle).
The interesting angle that Randy and Gerald provide is night hunting. Hogs are most active at night, especially since 1. temperatures are coolest, 2. they have poor eyesight anyways, but a keen sense of smell… so light isn’t the most critical thing for them. Of course, light is rather critical for us to hunt them, so that’s where night vision technology comes in. Randy and Gerald have night vision goggles, night vision scopes on their rifles. In fact, Gerald has a fantastic little setup. He’s got a Ruger 44 Carbine with an integral suppressor. Here’s a video I found of someone shooting one such gun:
The key thing to notice is when the man in the video fires the gun, you don’t hear this massive loud BANG-CRACK sound, just a little “pffft” sort of sound. There are many good reasons for suppressors. In this context, what makes it good is it’s not a sudden loud noise that will freak out the pigs… the other pigs around will hear something and might run off a little bit, but it’s not such a massive noise that they’ll freak and run and you won’t see them again; improves your odds of getting multiple pigs. As well, gunshots are very loud and you can risk hearing loss. With a suppressed gun, you don’t need to worry about hearing protection: you can hear all the sounds you need to (no earmuffs to block desired noises of game) and don’t hear any of the sounds you don’t want to hear (the gunshot). Furthermore, since it’s at night, if there are any other people near the property they don’t have to hear gunfire at 1 AM and wonder what’s going on (or at least wake them up). It’s really quite a nice setup for hog hunting.
So with that, Charles and I ended up at Randy’s shop after dark. We were familiarized with their guns and set up, then we set off. I went with Gerald to one set of properties, and Charles went with Randy to another set. We figured going separately would improve our chances, and that it does.
Climbed into Gerald’s truck and headed out. On the drive, Gerald recounted numerous stories of their past hunts, which were both entertaining and assuring of a good hunt. We arrived at the first property. We didn’t expect to get anything at this one, but figured it was on the way so it was worth a quick check. Gerald showed me how the night vision goggles worked, and off we went.
I actually didn’t keep the goggles on the whole time. It was too time-consuming and bothersome to worry about the head gear, so I just kept them strapped around my neck like a set of binoculars. Walking with them held up to my eyes was difficult (you bounce around, the goggles bounce), so I just walked in the dark following Gerald. There was enough ambient light that I could make him out well enough to follow him. The land was pretty flat, so not much trouble with footing. As I was walking, the thing that hit me the most was just being out in the country. It was quiet. It was dark. The sky was clear and so the stars were numerous. I found myself spending a lot of time just looking upwards to soak in all the stars and beauty of the night. At one point I realized I had a big grin on my face, just being so happy to be out there in the peace of the country night. Anyway, the first place didn’t pan out, so we headed back to the truck to go to another property.
This other property was a little more remote… less buildings around with security lighting, so it was much darker. Still, there was just enough light from the stars and sliver of a moon that I could follow Gerald so long as I kept within an arm-length or two… and let me tell you, that was difficult at times because Gerald keeps a very fast pace. I figure by the end of the night we must have walked 8-10 miles at a brisk pace. But face pace is good as you cover a lot of ground in less time. This particular property was quite large, split in half by a dirt road. We first traversed one half of the property looking for about a 285 lbs. hog that Gerald had been seeing around there. After much searching, no luck and we headed back to the truck. Yes, I was getting a little bummed by the hours in the field and immense amount of walking with no signs of any hogs, but of course hunting doesn’t always yield an animal. In some respects, that was fine. Being out on such a great night, listening to the silence that was only broken by the insects chirping, the frogs croaking, the owls hooting, some cows mooing…. the lack of cars, the lack of city lights, the lack of so many things was just wonderful. I could have just stood still in the field and gazed at the stars and listened to nature around me and been quite happy.
We headed back to the truck. Once we got there, Gerald climbed up atop the truck and looked out the rifle scope (it had the best night vision capabilities, both in terms of the fidelity of the picture and being a 5x scope). He saw what he wanted. About 600 yards down was a little black dot moving around. We found us a hog. We walked up to it, probably getting 25 yards from it. It just continued eating, without any knowledge of us. Gerald set me up on some shooting sticks (the scoped, suppressed gun is very heavy). I got the hog in my sights, waited…. shot. I hit it (we hear the thump of the bullet impact, another side-effect of using a suppressed rifle; also the pig squealed), and it ran off towards the tree line. Gerald marked our location with a tissue on a barbed wire fence and making some markings in the dirt on the ground, triangulated it with the stars against where we saw him hit the trees, and decided to come back for him later. I think I hit him a little low in the neck. More shot analysis later.
We kept up our walk. We encountered more pigs as we went along. At one point stopping because we hear grunts and squeals to our left, then looking straight ahead and seeing a couple on a dirt road eating. We tried to get a bead on one, but they were all moving off, likely had finished eating and were on their way out anyway. We kept on. Eventually we happened upon two hogs eating in a small open area. Set up the shooting sticks. I got a bead on one and watched it through the shouldered rifle scope for a little bit, waiting for it. That’s one thing about night hunting for the hogs… they have no idea you’re there (even at 25 yards out) so while they never stop moving, there isn’t a need to rush a shot because they’re unlikely to run off. So I took my time, adjusted the scope to fix the focus, pig was sharp and clear, waiting for the right moment, and shot it in the neck (see the last picture here for a basic idea of the location). Kept watching the pig through the scope (good form because that’s follow-through, but also required because there’s no way I’d see the pig without the night vision), DRT — dead right there. Walked up on her; it was a sow, about 150#. More on her later.
We kept walking around for a while longer looking for more, but none were to be found. We were getting tired from all the walking so we opted to head back to look for the first pig. Long story short, we searched and searched but could not find it. We get the feeling it did not die or at least did not come to rest in the trees where we saw it enter. I’m not happy about this, but the way we see it, the pig may not have been recovered but at least it will likely die and still be good for the landowner to be rid of the pest.
We got back to the truck, retrieved the one pig, then headed back to town to Randy’s shop to clean the pig. He’s got a shop in town and has an area there where he can clean the pigs. Nice little setup. We arrived back there about 3:10 AM. Charles and Randy had been back about an hour already, Charles having shot a 200 lbs. boar. They had it cleaned and were sitting back enjoying a beer when we drove up. Randy and Gerald hoisted the pig up to clean it, Charles and I watched. Charles later told me that he liked how they did the cleaning, using some techniques he hadn’t seen before but that it was a very efficient and good way to do things. I’d almost want to go back for another hunt just to get a cleaning technique lesson from them! While we were cleaning there was an incident that I’ll speak about in another blog posting because it warrants its own attention.
An Odd Feeling
Charles shot one pig and got one pig. I shot two pigs and retrieved one pig. Both good sized pigs, bigger than things we’ve shot before. In fact, the one pig I shot filled the cooler: 2 good shoulders, 2 big hams, the backstraps were quite large, skirts, ribs, some random chunks. I swear there was more pig than ice in my cooler! It was filled to the rim with more meat than I had brought home on the prior 2 hunts shooting small 50#-ish pigs. Right now the meat is in the cooler in the garage soaking in ice water. I’ll continue to do water and ice changes for a couple more days, taking it to Johnny G’s for processing. Charles gave me a portion of his meat as well to drop off there since his wife tasted both the breakfast and link sausage we had made there and she liked it. I’m sure I’m going to keep a fair lot of my meat (at least the backstraps and ribs), but the rest is all going to make breakfast sausage since that’s what Wife wants due to the versatility. Mmm.
But backing up a bit, there was the cleaning of my hog. You see, I shot a sow. Of course in the field I had no idea, I could only tell it was some large pig. After shooting and getting up on her, the first thing I noticed was how full her teets looked. Gerald commented that her belly looked full and she was probably pregnant. The first wave of odd feeling came over me. We got her back to the shop for cleaning, and once she was hoisted up Randy agreed she probably was. When it came time to gut her, sure enough, she was pregnant with 5 piglets. The first thing that struck me was that each piglet was in their own separate “sack”. Then Randy, who was doing the gutting, asked me if I wanted to see one. At this point I’m very scientifically curious and said yes. I was a little reserved because it felt weird, but again I’m in a massive educational zone with regards to hunting. Randy cut one sack open and held in his hand a pig fetus. From the looks of it, it was maybe a week away from being born.
That…. that was all… weird.
I had this sad and remorseful feeling, but I wouldn’t even say it was that… but those are the only words I can come up with. To me, it’s a pig. It’s not a human. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but have those thoughts… of killing an unborn baby. That I didn’t just take the life of some pig, but of 5 unborn babies. Yeah, someone’s probably going to read this and call me a baby killer, but folks, this is a pig (yeah, meat = murder, go back and eat your bean sprouts and keep teaching your lion to eat tofu). Point is, it reinforced some feelings in me, such as abortion just being wrong. That just because it’s not outside the womb doesn’t mean it’s not still a baby and that you have any reason for killing that child. An unexpected lesson.
That said, I ultimately view this in terms of what it is: pest control and population control. The pigs are problem critters, and I took out 6 with 1 shot (talk about a good brag story). For the land owner, that meant not only 1 less pig tearing up their property, but now there’s 5 more that aren’t there. Furthermore, those 5 would have produced how many more? So from a control situation, this was actually a very productive situation.
Still, the two ways of viewing it are an interesting dichotomy for me. Something I’m sure I’ll continue to mull over in the days to come.
What I Learned
The above was certainly the deepest learning experience from the night. Again, there was another matter that occurred that I’ll cover in another entry, and that too was a learning experience.
In looking back at my shots, here’s my educated guess as to what happened. First, not using my own gear and not being familiar with the setup certainly played a role. The scope is about 3″ above the bore and I believe my aim was either dead on or perhaps just a hair low, thus at the close range we were at the point of impact was a bit lower and thus I think that compounded into being too low a shot for it to be perfectly in the kill zone. The second shot on the second hog was better placed. I did aim slightly higher and looking back on it now I think it was a hair too high on the aim but that perfectly compensated for close range trajectory and thus the pig was DRT. I should say that all 5 pigs I had previously shot had run off, and I was quite upset about the 1st one of the night running off because 1. it wasn’t a clean kill, 2. I knew chances of recovery were slim, 3. I was tired of pigs running off and really wanted to finally have a DRT pig. So finally getting it was satisfying.
The other part of it was the neck shot. I had learned that shooting them through the shoulder is a guaranteed kill, but obviously it doesn’t always lead to DRT. Plus you end up losing a shoulder and maybe more. The while my rifle was a .44 magnum, it was handloaded to subsonic speeds and thus didn’t really have the oomph for a shoulder shot: it had to be a neck shot. So, this was the first time I had to do a neck shot. So again, the first shot was learning. Furthermore, I probably could have taken my time a bit more on the first shot. In the daylight you may only have a few seconds of opportunity to get off the shot. But here at night, they have no idea what’s going on and I could have taken my sweet time (I did on the second). I was told I could take my time, but still had a little voice in my head saying “gotta shoot now, he might run off”. I don’t think it was truly a rushed shot, but certainly I could have waited a bit more.
Shooting aside, I also learned a bit more about tracking hogs and hog behaviors. Heck one little thing I learned was to listen to the frogs. As we came up to one stock tank, the frogs were very talkative. Gerland leaned back to me and told me how hearing all those frogs generally means nothing’s at the tank. If something comes up to the tank, the frogs will stop. So, lack of frogs going could be a sign of something at the tank. Just little things to listen for that could be clues (can’t do that with earplugs, again a good reason for the suppressed rifle).
So, I learned a good deal on the hunt.
In the end we had a productive night. Charles and I both got a good sized hog and put a lot of meat in our freezers that will nourish our families. While I certainly enjoyed my 2 hunts at DB Hunting Ranch (and remain unopposed to hunting there again), when it came to “bang for your buck” (no pun intended), I think I got more out of this hung with Night Hogs, only because costs were comparable but I got more meat out of the deal here (and could have gotten a lot more had the first hog been recovered). Plus the experience of the night hunt was cool. Being out in the country at night, the peace, the stars, just wonderful. Of course, all the night vision technology, using the suppressed rifle, all very cool stuff too.
Randy and Gerald were a couple of good guys running a good show. Liked them a lot, they know their stuff and they work hard. I’d certainly recommend anyone that could come out for a hunt with them to give them a call. You’ll be in for a good time.
We finally got to sleep arouund 5 AM, dead tired, but having to get ready for another day of hunting-related matters. More on that soon.