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New hunting adventure proved to be hog wild

COMMENTARY

Submitted photo
A successful hunt ends with father and son showing their wild hogs.

Over the years I have been fortunate to experience some wonderful outdoor adventures throughout North America.

From spending a week on horseback in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana fly fishing for cutthroat trout to fishing for salmon in Alaska and hunting black bears in Canada to gunning for eiders in Cape Cod, I consider myself fortunate to have seen first-hand some of the most beautiful country earth has to offer while enjoying my favorite outdoor activities.

Something that had always been on my to-do list was a simple, relatively inexpensive adventure that I could not find the time to try. That hunting trip finally was removed from my bucket list in February.

While some dream of an Alaskan moose adventure or trout fishing in New Zealand, one trip I always wanted to experience was a wild hog hunt. To this day I have no idea why that was something that called to me, but I apparently mentioned it enough that my wife finally told me to either do it or quit speaking of it.

Over the years, I would talk to different outfitters and guides at the outdoor show in Harrisburg about hog hunting options. I collected info, but never felt comfortable booking one without references from those I trust.

My last trip to the show my son River loved seeing the mounted hogs at the stands and was stating he wanted to try a hog hunt as well. The guides stated my sons, who was seven at time, could easily join me on a hog hunt. I eventually told him when I finally went, he’d be beside me trying to bag one of his own.

Many fellow hunters mentioned to me that plenty of local game farms have hogs to hunt. However, I wanted to chase free-range hogs that were born in the wild, not one from a barn that was released into a pen.

The options for wild boar were basically Texas or Florida. Other states have populations, but those two appealed to me as the top destinations. The hunts are not expensive, but both require either a very long drive or a plane ticket.

Every year, we go to Disney. The past few years, that annual trip was in mid-February so my daughter could run the Princess 5K at Epcot. It would seem that during this trip would be a great time to sneak away on a hog hunt.

I researched until I found an outfitter that I felt confident was the best fit for my needs. Their property was within a two-hour drive from our resort, offered a swamp buggy hunt and had no problem with my son also trying to bag a hog.

Before I go any further, I will explain the concept of a swamp buggy hunt. These outings are conducted with the use of a custom-built 4×4 truck to help the guide and hunters navigate the Florida swamps. The open-top machines remind you of a monster truck with the top of the chassis wrapping around the vehicle like a railing.

The first reason I wanted to try this version was it is easily the most effective. By covering ground quickly, you increase your chances of a successful hunt when time is limited. Also, there was no way I was taking my 8-year-old son on a hunting trip where he would be walking through palmetto covered ground where gators and venomous snakes are common — River loves monster trucks and I thought he would love to take a ride in a swamp buggy.

The morning of our hunt we awoke early, jumped in the car and headed south toward Venus. The little guy slept the entire trip as I drove mile after mile with orange orchards on both sides of the road. Once we were off the highway, my phone started to direct me on some small dirt roads for 20 minutes until I arrived at our agreed upon location.

Our guide John from Outwest Farms was waiting with his dogs Newt and Annie. After some introductions, he quickly went over what to expect during our hunt. We also had River shoot his .243 before jumping on the buggy and starting our adventure.

As we left his camp, we needed to drive down a dirt road to get back onto his property. At this time, I saw my first wild boar. It was a big one that quickly disappeared into the thick vegetation. Despite being permitted to shoot off a buggy at a hog in Florida, he stated it was illegal to do so while on a road.

John informed me that we would see plenty of hogs that morning, but they likely would not be as big as this particular specimen.

Once we entered his property through a cattle gate, he allowed the dogs to run and we waited to hear their barks that indicated hogs were nearby.

I was expecting the hunt to be similar to a rabbit hunt with beagles. Growing up in a rabbit hunting family, I knew different barks meant the rabbits were close to my dogs or if they had just picked up a scent. However, it was explained to us before we left that if one of his dogs barked, that meant they already have a hog stopped in front of them and it was likely we would get a shot opportunity.

It only took a minute or two and I could hear the dogs barking to our left. Eventually we moved into position and saw the dogs barking and walking in circles around a collection of palmettos. We could not see the hogs, just movement in the bushes with faint sound of snorting in between barks.

Soon a hog emerged from the vegetation and ran to my left. It would have been an easy shot, but John had instructed me before the hunt to only shoot on his command. As someone who has hunted with dogs for waterfowl and upland game birds a lot, I understood this request.

A few more hogs ran out as he instructed the dogs to chase them.

“You didn’t want to shoot one that quickly,” he laughed. Before he could start another sentence, a few more hogs ran out before disappearing.

At that point I was fairly confident about bagging a hog. If chances were few and far between, he would have had us locked and loaded. Instead, he was relaxed and ready to show us more animals.

We talked about the differences in hunting Florida and Pennsylvania as we left that location to try and catch up with the dogs. His knowledge of the terrain quickly was proven when he drove to a spot where he thought the dogs would eventually catch up to the hogs that we just had seen. He was right as the dogs soon were heard in that area once again, barking loudly and enthusiastically.

The dogs only barked when a hog was standing still. Once the hogs knew they could not out-run the dogs, they would turn and face them. That was the chance for us to move in and try to get a shot. John had also told us that his dogs were trained to stay pointed at the hogs until he told them to back-up. Upon that command, they would slowly back away and allow the hunter a clean shot. That opportunity only lasted a few seconds before the hog would realize it had a chance to escape and took off.

When we approached the dogs barking for the second time, I noticed one standing 30 yards to our left. John took River and put him in position for a good shot. Once he was ready, the veteran Florida guide gave the dogs the command to step back. The dog slowly moved away, which gave River an idea broadside shot.

The second-grader made the best of his opportunity and harvested a beautiful Sunshine State hog. He gave us a calm, yet proud smile as the adults both started to high-five and cheer.

At that point, the hunt was a success regardless if I shot my long-awaited hog. However, I would make it 2-for-2 quickly as the dogs had another hog stuck in some bushes.

We surveyed the openings and tried to find a hog. Eventually I could see a snout pointed in my direction in an opening the size of a baseball. After some moving around and help from one of the dogs, I was able to finish out our hunting goal.

When I harvested that hog, it was the end of a fast, yet very memorable hunt that I had been looking forward to for many years. Having my son with me made it even better than I could have imagined.

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Zach Knepp writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.

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