Today we have a story from Trent of Hawke Optics. He recently traveled to Florida to meet up with some of the Backwoods Life crew to help a landowner get rid of some feral hogs. Congratulations Trent on taking out three big hogs and thanks for sharing the story with us!
Being from Northern Indiana, I am among the dwindling hunters who can proudly say I don’t have a feral hog problem. While another critter to chase sounds appealing when the off-season blues set in, the more we see the damage these creatures can do, the more I value the fact that I have to drive or fly to find wild hogs to take a shot at. Not that long ago I had just such an opportunity. Michael Lee, of Backwoods Life TV, and I had been talking about getting together for a hog hunt for some time. It just so happened that we had a couple week window between the end of our show season, and before he started chasing turkeys around. Davie Ferraro, Backwoods Team member and HuntStrong founder, knew of a landowner near Tampa that had a few too many hogs in his orange groves, and quickly the plan came together to meet in Tampa the first weekend of March.
I would be lying if the prospect of getting out of Northern Indiana in March, and heading to Tampa wasn’t exciting enough, but this would also be my first hog hunt. For the trip I chose to arm myself with my grandfather’s Marlin 336 lever action rifle in .30/30. Not the sexiest gun out there, but with Indiana being a shotgun state it is rare that I am able to dust the lever gun off and use it for much. I topped it with the Endurance 30 IR 1.5-6×42 Rifle Scope. We would be doing a good bit of our hunting in orange groves, with the possibility of hogs popping out at close quarters and having limited time to shoot, I opted for a tweener scope to maximize my field of view and aide in quick target acquisition.
My travel to Tampa was uneventful. I got settled into the hotel and waited to meet up with Michael, his wife Beth, and Davie to head out to the ranch on Friday evening to try to put a pig down early. We got out a bit later than we wanted, but still with a couple of hours to spare. We opted to head straight for the orange grove and start walking cut throughs, glassing the lanes, and moving on any hogs that we found. Our first pass through the grove yielded several deer, coyotes, and turkeys, but no hogs. Sign was strong, however, and I had no fear that pork was in our future. We crossed to the other side of the grove and as we rounded a cypress head we were caught off guard by a group of pigs being trailed by two large sows. My first encounter with wild hogs had caught me off guard. They picked us off and headed for Ocala without so much as a shot being taken.
We made our way out of the grove in hopes that we would catch up with them. As we got back to the truck, light was fading, and the hogs were nowhere to be seen. As we stood discussing what our plan for the morning would be, Michael looked over his shoulder and said “how about we just shoot this one?” A lone hog was crossing the road about 80 yards behind where we stood. Beth handed me the shooting sticks, and I centered the illuminated L4 dot reticle on the hog as it made its way across the lane. We had lost camera light, but Michael told me to go ahead, we were there to help the landowner with his hog problem.
I squeezed the trigger, and watched as the shot anchored the hog where he stood. He never made it off the lane. My first shot at a wild hog had been a good one. The Hawke scope had done its part. With the light fading fast, and black crosshairs washing out on a black bodied boar, the illumination of the center dot in the scope was absolutely critical in making my first hog hunt a successful one.
The next morning we returned along with Kevin Knighton, also of Backwoods Life. For early March, it was quite warm, and the winds were howling. We left for lunch without any luck that morning. We were going to get back in that evening and stalk the grove again. Saturday night didn’t treat me nearly as well as Friday night had. Kevin and I got setup on some sows, and as he finished setting up the camera the tripod, he bumped it, the hogs saw, and hustled out of there. One of the bigger sows stopped for a split second before she disappeared into the groves, I took the shot, and the video showed I shot just over her. Everyone misses, but that doesn’t make it fun. We moved to another cut through once again found hogs. I settled on the largest and took the shot, once again, shooting just over the top of the hog. I couldn’t blame Kevin this time. Though I did try. In the course of about a half hour I had missed two nice hogs by a grand total of about 3 inches. I was a bit frustrated. That same night Beth had success on a nice sow, and Michael dropped two very nice boars, the bigger pushing 300 pounds. The rest of the evening passed without me having a chance to redeem myself.
Overnight the weather made a serious about face. The storm front that caused the tornado outbreak across the country pushed through the area bringing rain, even higher winds, and sharply cooler temperatures. Kevin had departed, and Michael, Beth, Davie, and Davie’s father made our way back to the property hoping to get the miss monkey off my back. We weren’t 200 yards onto the property when I had my first chance. Michael spotted a hog feeding along the lane with his Frontier ED binoculars. We moved a little closer and I made my way to the side of the lane and got set up. The hogs were obscured and I didn’t have a shot. As Davie tried to get a closer look they spotted him, and bugged out, while they crossed the road I got a shot off, but once again, found only ground. A rushed situation, and a little bad luck were not how I had hoped to start the morning. We loaded back up and made our way to the groves.
We drove the groves for about an hour without seeing any hogs anywhere. As we nosed around the north edge of the grove we spotted some turkeys spurring and fighting about 100 yards down the end of the grove. We stopped the truck and Michael began filming as the 3 gobblers continued their show for us. While the camera was rolling, the viewfinder was suddenly filled with big black pig. Moving out of the groves the hog had crossed directly between us. It had taken us all by surprise. I dove out of the truck just as the hog crossed into the brush. Right on its heels was another hog, Davie whistled, stopped her, and I finally had my redemption. The massive sow dropped where she stood. As I was trained on the hog I had just shot, I didn’t even realize that a third hog had followed and was standing there just looking at the sow I had just dropped. Michael said from the truck, “shoot the other one, it’s still there!” I located the second pig, centered on her and pulled the trigger. She took off back into the groves.
As it was, she didn’t go far. She ran back into the orange grove about 40 yards from where I shot her and piled up. My plane was taking off in about 6 hours, so we got together, took our pictures, and took care of the hogs before I had to leave. I had waited until the last minute to get my redemption, but at the end of the weekend I had 3 hogs to show for my first outing, and learned a lot about what it means to chase hogs through the orange trees and palmettos of Florida. Of course I would prefer to tell a story that didn’t involve me missing, but anyone that has hunted knows that missing is part of the game. It doesn’t matter what gun you shoot, what optics you use, or how good you are. The old saying is, “it’s called hunting, not killing.” There are any number of things that can happen when you are out in the field, the best thing you can do is prepare, practice, and know your equipment. At the end of the day, the gun did its job and the Hawke Optics helped us spot the hogs, and put the bullets where they needed to be to make a clean kill. I won’t soon forget my first hog hunt, and neither will those 3 hogs!