June 17, 2019
Feral exotics hold unique ecological positions in many habitats around the world, including the United States, and some species, especially wild hogs, cause countless millions of dollars of damage to crops and wildlife habitat. In Texas, native species like white-tailed deer are closely regulated, but exotic axis, fallow, and sika deer and various antelope and feral hogs are not.
Feral hogs are not considered “wildlife” in Texas. They are the personal property of the landowner, and they are regarded as major pests. Feral hogs provide unique off-season hunting opportunities in many areas. In addition, if you’ve paid to hunt some other exotic species, most outfitters and landowners will let you shoot hogs for no additional charge.
Planning a hog hunt and then preparing for it are almost as much fun as the hunt itself.
Planning & Preparation
Jack O’Connor once said the first requirement of a sheep hunter is to hunt where there are sheep. Now, that sounds totally intuitive, as it really applies to every species we hunt. However, it is not always possible to know where the game is and whether it’s accessible. It’s no secret that Texas is awash in feral hogs, but choosing a place to hunt is a major consideration.
While a lot of information can be gleaned online, it’s a good idea to follow up with references on the areas under consideration. Firsthand information from hunters who have hunted an area is a good source. This is especially true in the vast and diverse habitat in Texas, most of which is private land.
This is when it really pays off to engage the services of an outfitter in the area in which you intend to hunt. They know the land and, perhaps more importantly, the landowners. The better outfitters have leases on vast tracts of ranchland, so access is guaranteed, and they will have game cameras, blinds, and feeders set up and walk-in coolers ready for your game.
A caution: There are virtually no requirements to be an “outfitter” in Texas, so any yahoo can hang out a shingle and presto he’s an “outfitter.” You must carefully research outfitter candidates.
Methods of hog hunting in Texas vary considerably. Some outfitters promote night hunting because hogs are almost totally nocturnal in many areas. If you have night-vision equipment, this may be an option. Even if the hogs are crepuscular, the vegetation is so thick in most areas of Texas hog country you could fight your way through it for hours and never see a thing, so the opportunities for a traditional spot-and-stalk hunt are limited.
The typical method of hunting hogs in Texas is to watch a feeder from a blind. Hunting in winter is better because natural foods are scarcer and animals gravitate to the feeders.
Accommodations for a base of operations vary from a low-budget “do-it-yourself” hunt from a ranch house to a “full-service” operation. Of course, a guided hunt costs more than a do-it-yourself hunt, but the convenience and safety save a lot of shoe leather and gasoline and will improve the chances of success considerably.
I recently hunted hogs in South Texas with TC South Texas Hunts (tcsouthtexashunts.com), and it is a good example of a full-service guided hunt. Head honcho Charles Coker says his job “is to make sure folks have a great time. That means having a comfortable and clean place to sleep; great food and plenty of it; knowledgeable guides, who put hunters on game; and appropriate on-site facilities.”
Hogs can be killed with almost any caliber rifle with the proper placement of a sturdy bullet. However, some guides will tell you that you shouldn’t shoot a hog in the shoulder as the bullet won’t penetrate the “gristle plate.” In his excellent book On Wild Hogs and Javelinas, Richard B. Taylor says this “shield” is “shoulder hide that is made of a tough scar tissue that is formed through continuous fighting, and it hardens as the animal ages and survives more fights.” The shield is tough, but it’s not impenetrable.
I have killed hogs with cartridges ranging from .223 Remington to .45-70 Government, and as always, bullet placement was paramount. The .223 bullet was a Barnes 55-grain Triple-Shock X that penetrated both shoulders and exited.
Like most of us, I have plenty of rifles that are suitable for hogs. Just before my recent hunt, I was fortunate to have three new rifles on hand for testing.
First up was the new Predator AR from Rock River Arms chambered for .243 Winchester. It shot fine, and a 100-grain .243 bullet at around 3,100 fps will kill hogs. However, scoped and loaded, the rifle is a bit heavy for blind use, and I really wanted more bullet weight.
Next up was a beautiful replica of the iconic Winchester Model 1873 from Uberti. It was chambered for .45 Colt. A 255-grain slug from this gun would drop a hog, but with a velocity of 800 fps, a muzzle energy of 362 ft-lbs, and a rainbow trajectory, I’d want to be pretty close, and that could not be guaranteed. The period-correct open sights, coupled with my senior eyes, would not make the ideal combination for a possible long shot and low-light conditions.
The third candidate was the Mossberg Patriot Revere, a modern push-feed bolt-action sporter chambered in .270 Winchester that is a fancy version of the model introduced in 2016. The combination of a classic big-game cartridge and the Patriot Revere’s blued metal and nice walnut stock captured me. So after some contemplation, I selected it as this year’s “hog gun.”
With the selection of the rifle completed, it was time to see how it shot. I gathered a bunch of .270 Win. factory ammo, made up a few handloads that have shot well in other rifles, and headed to the range.
The overall average of the nine factory loads was 1.28 inches. Like most rifles, the Patriot Revere was a bit picky and shot some loads a lot better than others. For the hog hunt, I selected the new Hornady Precision Hunter ammo loaded with the 145-grain ELD-X bullet. With a velocity of 2,937 fps, it produced 2,778 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, and the flat trajectory would enable a long shot if necessary.
Good optics are a must, so I used a Burris Fullfield II 3-9X 40mm scope that I “borrowed” from my .308 Winchester rifle, where it has never failed to perform for me. In my opinion, the Fullfield II is one of the better buys in scopes. Feral hogs are in almost constant motion, so a scope with a wide field of view is a big asset, and I kept the Burris cranked down to 3X.
I used two binoculars on this hunt. A Leupold Mojave 12X50 binocular was the primary, and it was about perfect to scan for hogs over large tracts of Texas terrain. Just before dawn and right after sundown, I used a Bushnell Equinox Digital Night Vision unit. While the learning curve for the Equinox was a bit of a challenge, once I got it properly dialed in, I could distinguish a hog from a deer or coyote with ease in total darkness.
I also used a Leupold RX-1200i TBR rangefinder. It has a multitude of advanced features, but it is so simple and easy to use that I just point it, press the “go” button, and instantly read the range.
In addition to appropriate clothing for the season, in warm weather consider taking along a pair of snake leggings. Rattlesnakes are not numerous, but they are occasionally encountered.
All that’s required to hunt exotics in Texas is a five-day trip license that costs $48 and can be purchased after arrival. Blaze orange is not required to hunt these critters in Texas.
Putting It All Together
With gear selected, tested, and packed, it was showtime. Every morning and evening, Charles ferried us from area to area, and we never got a killing shot. The last day of the hunt, we were desperate, but Charles had an idea. That evening we visited a ranch only a few miles from the bunkhouse. The friendly rancher escorted us to the blind and feeder he maintained and reported that hogs were using the area, but he didn’t know when. Encouraged, the next morning found us in the blind, as quiet as the little bats roosting on the blind’s roof above us.
At the crack of dawn, I was sure we’d see a hog. Nothing. Time dragged on, and I became more discouraged by the minute. Suddenly, at about 8:00 a.m., a huge black blob of fur appeared near the feeder. In fact, it looked so big I was sure it was a calf, not a hog. I examined the animal with my binocular, but all I could see was black. I was sure it was a bovine. Finally, a large, black head was raised and looked straight at me. A hog! A very large hog!
I had the Patriot Revere solid as a rock on a sandbag and lined up on what I thought was the shoulder of said porker. At the shot, the hog simply folded, hit the ground, and never moved. The ELD-X bullet went through the left shoulder, destroyed lung tissue, penetrated to and shattered the spine, and came to rest there.
Shortly thereafter, Charles drove up, and said, “Gee, Steve, why didn’t you shoot a big one?” By then it was raining hard. Have you ever tried to load a 200-plus-pound hog into a pickup in the mud?
Preparation paid off, and my Texas hog hunt was a success. With plenty of meat in my freezer, I will be reliving the adventure over and over—every time I take a bite of delicious barbeque.