Hog hunting has enjoyed Most Popular Hunt status for some time now. And of course, when people think feral hogs they tend to think Texas. It’s certainly true the Lone Star state has more than its share of the destructive pests, but they’re in far more states than just the one. In honor of the arrival of summer and the fact that you’re down to only a handful of hunt able predators and pests for a few months, I thought I’d indulge in flashback to a hog I took over Valentine’s Day a few years ago. Talk about a bloody Valentine.
Valentine’s Day was on Saturday that year. My companions — two of whom were seasoned hunters, the third was the 12-year-old son of one of the men, hoping to get his first hog — had set out the night before from Louisville, Kentucky hoping for a quick hunt before the holiday struck. The bed of the truck was piled with the assorted guns, bows, and gear required to outfit our group, In the cab, talk of past hunts dominated the conversation.
Ben rode shotgun while John drove and in the ensuing hours I discovered just how many game photos can be stored on a smart phone with extra memory (a lot more than my phone holds). I was content to assume the role of listener and heard some great stories along the way.
The discussion ranged from size of game to ammo performance to a brief discussion of snipers. The miles rolled by while the excited anticipation of a hopefully-successful hunt settled over us. It was February in the South and the weather was reasonably mild. We would, we assumed, be blessed with equally mild weather for the hunt. We were wrong.
Our hunt took place on a nice chunk of land covering some decently sharp hills and valleys. Although we expected an early start, it was after 0900 hours when we finally set out, parking at the base of a rise and tackling a steeper hike than anticipated. Slick rock coated the trail and the remnants of decaying leaves created slime beneath our feet. We had separate destinations and split up after cresting the hill.
A quick lesson in why hunting hogs is, while potentially dangerous (big, sharp tusks, anyone?) a pest problem, not a majestic game hunt. Wild hogs are an introduced species: domestic pigs, captive and feral, have been around since the days of Plymouth Rock and John Smith, but wild boar didn’t hit the North American scene until the 19th century.
It was 1890 when 13 wild boars were released on fenced property in New Hampshire; the first escapes occurred almost immediately. While those escapees were hunted down and shot, another group was brought over from Germany and transplanted to New York. By 1908 there were New York escapees populating the area, but it wasn’t over yet.
Jump to 1912, North Carolina: 13 European boars were placed in a preserve in Graham County. Ten years passed before the Great Boar Escape happened during the aftermath of a massive hunt that caused the hogs to understandably flee for their lives, taking the fence with them. The rest is wild boar-infesting-North-America history.
It was the many-generations-removed piggy offspring of those long-ago wild boars we set about hunting for our own version of a Valentine’s celebration.
Wild boars populate at an impressive rate and are tough as hell. There’s a gristly subcutaneous mantle over their shoulders, offering protection from goring during fights, and it’s the bane of uninformed hunters. Their anatomy varies from other game; taking aim at a hog with the same shot placement used on a deer is inadvisable. A hog’s heart and lungs are right above their elbows, and slightly forward.
Remember, just because they’re invasive, destructive pests – they do $400 million in damage annually in Texas alone, destroying crops, annihilating plant and less-tough animal life – doesn’t mean they should be denied a quick death. Whatever you hunt, be it deer, bear, coyote, or hog, it’s your job as a hunter to deliver an ethically sound, clean kill. That means knowing their anatomy.
As I trudged up the hillside that morning, I reminded myself with each chilly breath that these were just hills, not mountains like I was used to in my birthplace of Washington State. I carried a Remington R25 GII, the next generation model with a 20” stainless steel barrel coated in Teflon and a 1:10 twist rate. Thanks to a carbon fiber fore end and somewhat reduced size, it weighed in around seven pounds, more than a pound lighter than its predecessor.
Dragging myself up to what I hoped would be an ideal hunting area while trying to be quiet despite the higher altitude tugging at my lungs, I was quite grateful for the rifle’s lighter weight.
Prior to the hunt I’d run the R25 GII at Gunsite which only served to make me want to hunt with it. It has a Hogue pistol grip and free-float hand guard. Despite the dreary rain testing first took place, it kept on going with no failures. I was hunting with a model chambered in .308 Win, but the rifle comes in other calibers including .243 Win and 7mm-08. Other features include a SuperCell recoil pad, Mossy Oak Infinity finish, and an Elastomer extractor spring and dual ejectors. Mine was topped with a Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 1.75-5X 32mm scope.
Though my gun was Remington, my ammo was Hornady. Full Boar, of course. Full Boar comes in a wide range of popular hunting calibers including, but not limited to, .243 Win, 6.8 SPC, .30-06, and, of course, .308 Win. The rounds use Hornady’s ballistic-tipped GMX bullets and boast 95% or better weight retention, uniform expansion, and hard-core terminal performance. Basically, all the ingredients necessary to take down tough animals like a feral hogs.
The first hours passed slowly and the air grew cooler with each passing moment despite the clock’s climb towards noon. When I paused to use my cell phone to snap a quick picture of the view, I discovered I was standing in just the right spot to confuse my so-called smart phone’s time zone sensor. This discovery resulted in a few minutes spent pacing a small area watching my phone’s clock flicker one hour ahead, then behind, and ahead again. It was right about then that I heard the distant grunting of a sow’s contact call.
The sow and her piglets were entirely oblivious of my existence, and I eyed them through my scope as I considered my next move. They were rooting in the leaves for food, and as I admired the surprisingly pretty oranges and blacks of one piglet’s coat, a rust-colored boar edged into the clearing. Right about now is when you’d expect me to take my shot, but you’d be wrong, because right about now is when a small herd of deer came dashing through, scattering the hogs as they went.
And then it started to snow. So much for mild weather.
Snow wasn’t in the forecast but it quickly became evident this was the real deal as the tiny white flecks became full-fledged flakes and began to stick. It coated the ground quickly giving the world a soft-focus appearance while simultaneously freezing the bejeezus out of my face and hands.
Although I was wearing gloves they weren’t my warmest and my thin camo balaclava didn’t offer much help, either. I pulled my knit skull cap down tighter over my head and began praying to the gods of hunting for a boar to cross my path and spare me the agony of freezing to death.
I saw him coming and knew he was oblivious enough for me to take a “before” picture. Then came the final image through the Multi-X reticle of my scope. His coat was thick and blue, the hair bristling at his snout, nostrils twitching as he shuffled along, looking for food.
The leaves were quite thick in places and he stood belly-deep more than once. We proceeded to join in a hunting dance, his body hidden in the trees, mine slowing edging around for a clear shot. Finally he stepped out just enough, blissfully unaware of my presence. He stood on the hill’s crest, vitals exposed for a moment. The still-falling snow blurred my line of sight and cast a haze over the blue of his hide. I squeezed the trigger.
For a moment he stood there, utterly still, and I paused. I’d been confident of my placement, and yet…then he moved. He did a 180, revealing a through-and-through courtesy of the Hornady Full Boar, complete with the hose-like gush of heart’s blood.
Then he went down, hard. The entire process took only a matter of seconds and he was careening down the hill, hooves twitching in death, plowing snout-first through the leaves and snow. He came to rest thanks to a downed tree, slamming against its frozen bark. In a matter of seconds snow laced his coat and I stood, trying to feel my fingers. FYI, never go out without hand warmers.
My boar weighed in around 200 pounds. He was moving when I shot him at a distance of perhaps only 60 yards. Score one for being hidden in the trees. It was a good hunt, despite the cold.
The snow melted almost as quickly as it came; by the time I got back and stood by an outdoor fire pit wishing for a mug of coffee, it was gone. I’d gotten my heart for Valentine’s Day – of a sort. A heart shot counts. All four of us had success. So much success, in fact, the big truck was weighed down for the drive home. My blue boar made fantastic sausage and good ribs, and my rifle did exactly what it was meant to do: bring home the bacon.
Years later I still remember that hunt fondly. Man did I freeze – but it was worth it. Now it’s summer and the hogs are getting sluggish with the heat. Hunting them in the cooler hours, especially at night, is your best bet. And don’t be complaining about the heat. At least you aren’t being snowed on while wearing thin gloves and a worthless mask. After all, any day spent hog hunting is a good day, right?