February 8, 2014

Winter is a good time to pursue feral hogs

Tactical-style gear is one way to put a dent in the estimated 2.6 million feral hogs in Texas.

It was pitch black one February night a couple years ago, that is until I flipped the night-vision goggles over my face.

Suddenly, everything was visible in an odd green glow, and the night sky shimmered with what seemed like every star in the universe.

Tactical Hog Control out of Madisonville, about 40 miles northeast of College Station, was hosting me on a nighttime hunt for an article I was writing for another publication.

But we weren’t sitting in a blind, waiting for pigs to appear.

These guys had invested in pricy AR-10s that start at around $1,000. The .308-caliber rifles were fitted with thermal or night-vision scopes and sound suppressors, which, per unit, were as expensive as the guns themselves.

The night-vision goggles, mounted on military-style helmets, allowed us to drive through pastures and fields with no headlights and to see groups of hogs, called “sounders,” rooting in the distance.

We parked and sneaked right up to them, as they busily rooted for food. Standing about 20 yards away from them, we agreed that I should try for the biggest hog.

I flipped the goggles back up — it was black again — but then I peered into the night-vision scope, and the green universe reappeared.

Flicking the safety off made an audible click, and a dozen sets of hog eyes suddenly fixed in our direction.

We stared at each other for a few seconds, but they couldn’t see us and resumed feeding.

Crack, sounded the muffled AR, and down went the first of two hogs taken that night.

These “tactical” methods are but one way to put a dent in the estimated 2.6 million feral hogs in Texas.

Because the swine are blamed for about $52 million in annual agriculture losses in the state, officials continue to let hunters take them around the clock and by all sorts of methods.

Whatever your choice, winter is a great time for hunting feral hogs, according to the A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Billy Higginbotham, wildlife specialist for the service, has said that hogs like to take advantage of well-stocked deer feeders. But those sources tend to dry up after deer season, which puts hogs on the move for food and boosts chances for hunters to see them.

On the other hand, keeping that feeder full can help you stay in the pig hunt, but clearly, the feral hog of Texas has created a multifaceted niche industry.

Trapping removes a lot of them, but now hunters can pay for a seat on a helicopter and get an Apocalypse Now-style experience to use a semiautomatic rifle on multiple pigs.

You’ll pay a few hundred dollars to do that, and I’ve heard some companies charge “cleaning deposits” because a lot of clients become ill during an aerial assault.

But if you want to develop your own night-hunting kit, you don’t necessarily have to pay thousands of dollars on state-of-the art technology.

Starting at around $150, companies such as Laser Genetics and Wicked Hunting Lights sell devices that resemble slim flashlights and attach to your rifle scopes.

They illuminate hogs with special beams that the animals don’t seem to notice.

Higginbotham has also suggested inexpensive landscape lights for around $20 to post at deer feeders. These can faintly illuminate hogs without scaring them, he said.

Other methods can get downright medieval with howling chase dogs, knives and spears.

The closest I got to “primitive” hog hunting was last October on the opening day of bow season in DeWitt County.

I was leaving my deer stand at sundown when eight pigs burst on the scene from brush about 50 yards to my left. Slowly I moved up and noticed a blond hog among the dark-colored swine.

But my target was a black pig closest to me.

Light was fading, but I got within about 15 yards of the sounder. Like the group near Madisonville, they were focused on the ground, rooting and grunting, knocking each other off of whatever it was they were trying to eat.

This was the first shot I ever attempted on game with a compound bow — and I missed!

The arrow flew over the animal’s back; and the thwack sound of the bow sent the pigs scurrying for cover.

I recovered the arrow in the last bit of daylight. I had no night-vision device, so I made my way back to the truck by sheer familiarity of the ranch.

But I remember being amazed, once again, how you can “spot and stalk” hogs at close range, if you’re quiet, the wind is in your favor, and the pigs are in a feeding frenzy.

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