What better way to begin the new year than with plenty of fresh wild pork chilling, some reserved for making smoked summer sausage and some already rubbed with sugar cure and in the process of becoming ham! For those of you that have been reading my weekly outdoors column for the almost 3 decades I’ve written it, you probably are well aware of the fact that I love hunting and.. eating wild porkers. Blame it on my roots but I cannot bring myself to consider hogs, wild or otherwise, a bad thing. I understand they do damage to farm and ranch land and their numbers must be controlled. When I see a wild hog, though, I’m thinking pork, ie. pork chops, cured and smoked ham, sausages.
There are few things in the outdoors that I personally have no interest in doing. One is pulling a spawning catfish off it’s bed with my hands and the other is shooting hogs from a helicopter. I know there are folks that enjoy these endeavors and my position is, “If it’s legal and you enjoy doing it, go for it”. Different strokes for different folks as the old adage goes!
Throughout the course of the year, I have the opportunity do enjoy a great deal of what the outdoors has to offer and I am often asked which endeavor I enjoy most. It has to be hunting wild hogs. But like any other outdoor endeavor, there are many ways to hunt hogs.
Some folks enjoy equipping their AR’s with thermal night vision and targeting multiple running hogs from a sounder in open country. Others like hunting with dogs. There is even a contingency that enjoys killing their pork with large caliber air rifles. Personally, I like to kill one hog at a time and make a shot that ruins as little meat as possible. I do hunt them for sport but the tasty wild pork is always a big consideration. Depending upon the situation, I regularly kill hogs with everything from my Darton Bow to Texan 45 caliber big bore air rifle but when the hogs are skittish and move only at night, I have a deadly little set up for night hunting that almost always gets the job done without damaging a lot of meat. A couple of nights ago I used my little .223 to put some New Year’s pork in the freezer, with the current frigid weather; the “freezer” is a table on one of my outbuildings! This wild pork will never see the freezer until I transform it into smoked summer sausage and ham in a couple days when the weather warms.
My “night hunts” usually take place on a couple hundred acres close to home. I have a ground blind in a strip of timber bordered by a slough on one side and a series of gravel pits on the other. It’s a haven for wild hogs and porkers regularly “run” the heavy cover when traveling from bedding to feeding areas. I have a spot where I distribute corn several days before I plan to increase my odds. On a very cold day last week, I decided it was time to collect the makings for some ham and sausage.
I began my preparations in the afternoon. The hunting spot I am referring to is situated about 300 yards back in some heavy cover and I am way past the stage of life when I would consider dragging a big hog out of the woods. On these solo night hunts, one has to think ahead and be prepared to get the meat out if a hog is taken! I took an old wide leather belt and attached a short piece of cord to each end. Should I kill a hog, I would put a quarter on each side of the strap, place it over my shoulder and tote the meat back to my ATV. Two trips and I would have the meat loaded and be ready to head home.
Many hunters would think the little .223 is way too light to consistently kill hogs but almost all my night hunting is done within 50 yards. In this particular spot, shots at 25 to 30 yards are common. I simply wait for the perfect shot and 7 of the past 8 hogs I have taken using this rig wound up in smoked sausage. I hit a limb and missed one early in the fall.
I have a Photon XT mounted on the little rifle which does double duty as a daytime scope. It is affordable, under $500, and perfect for my kind of hunting. I also use a hand held Digiforce Pulsar spotter to scan the night woods rather than shouldering the rifle with the digital night vision scope. My entire rig for night hunting, including the rifle can be purchased for a little over a thousand dollars. It’s common for serious night hunters using thermal scopes to spend $3,000 or better on the night vision alone.
My hunt took place just before the influx of frigid weather last week. As I settled into my little blind, the wind was just beginning to change to the north. Hoping for a shot at a whitetail buck, I began hunting about 1.5 hours before dark. All that showed was some of the brightest red birds I’ve ever seen; picking at the kernels of corn. Darkness was heralded in by the chorus of a pack of hunting coyotes not far down the slough, they knew some bad weather was coming and it was time to eat.
A Barred Owl hooted from a tree somewhere in the black night. I was dressed for the occasion with my Red Head Mountain Stalker coveralls, warm cap and gloves. And then, after setting there in the dark for about an hour, occasionally scanning the woods ahead with my digital monocular, I saw a dark form moving about 40 yards through the trees. With the rifle in place and the Photon turned on, I spotted what appeared to be a HUGE boar coming in to the corn. Hogs always look bigger to me at night for some reason. He was wary and didn’t trot right in but rather skirted the area before making the commitment to feed. When he quartered a bit to the side and gave me the shot I was looking for, the little .223 bullet did its job. I had about 150 pounds of pork on the ground. With my electric lantern on high beam and a couple of LED flashlights on, I proceeded to quarter the hog and remove the back straps and attach them, two at a time to my little homemade carrying strap. Then, taking my time, I packed the meat out of the woods in a couple of trips.
A non hunter might ask me, “Why in the world would you stay out in the freezing cold and work so hard to shoot a wild hog”? I’m not sure I could answer with a reply that someone that doesn’t share my passion would understand. “It’s what I am programmed to do, just like a bird dog points birds or a hound trees raccoons. Hunting is that much a part of my DNA.
Listen to “Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Friends” on radio stations from Nebraska to Texas weekends or anytime at www.catfishradio.com