Stalking South Georgia Hogs
February 28, 2011
You might think hunting hogs would be easy, but you could be hard pressed to bring home the bacon.
Each time I cautiously settled my boot into the rain-soaked leaves it felt like I was stepping on an accelerator pedal wired to the right and left ventricles of my heart. The feeling was curious, certainly welcome, but not surprising.
Mike Carney and field producer Sean Hagen stalk ever closer to a hog snuffling in the leaves among the palmettos. He looks close, but the hog never presented a good, open shot for Mike's recurve and eventually walked away.
Curious, because I wasn't stalking a grizzly or a Cape buffalo. Welcome, because a rapid pulse is my motivation for bowhunting. And not surprising, because it never matters what I'm stalking. Be it dangerous game or the feral hogs dozing in the leaves before me, it's exhilarating!
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Three pork-chop-laden pigs, their bellies full of acorns, were snuggled together, oblivious to the danger lurking quietly in the trees. The menacing threat slipping ever closer was the apex predator -- a human. The hogs were relaxed, uncaring. I was wired, nerved up, electrified! Surely a lion, tensed for the final pounce, knows the same thrill.
The morning was as quiet as death, but I sensed an occasional soft, swirling breath of air.
I couldn't linger, but haste wasn't an option either. The careless snap of the tiniest twig would trigger an explosion of swine.
Purposeful caution was my only chance.
A hog trail, trampled clear of leaves, helped me close the gap, but putting an arrow in a horizontal hog would require a pinpoint shot. I had to be greedy about yardage, so I pressed on as quickly and quietly as possible. When my rangefinder read 21 yards I set my feet, touched the tip of my nose to the bowstring, and settled my top pin on the black hide. My pulse was faster now, but there was no time to savor it. It was time to pounce.
Despite the minor quivering of my body, the white-fletched arrow instantly appeared in the hog's vitals just as the animal vaulted out of its bed. The end came in seconds -- much quicker and far less terrifying than death by lion.
It was early February, and hunting partner Mike Carney and I were in southern Georgia hunting with Wright Harrell of Arrowhead Outfitters. Our goal was to record a segment for Bowhunter TV, and I was thankful to escape North Dakota's winter and spend some time stalking wild hogs in the sun.
Two days earlier, on the first evening of our hunt, Mike had stalked into recurve bow range of a big, dry sow and made a great shot as the hog rooted in the palmettos for acorns. The sun went down just as we got the hog loaded, so we stowed our gear in our cabin and enjoyed a fantastic supper called "low country boil" prepared by Wright's wife, Janet.
With just one field producer/cameraman along, Sean Hagen, we took turns hunting. I spent the entire second morning getting schooled by the hogs. We had a difficult time locating a good boar, but I made some practice stalks on lesser hogs and found stalking them to be challenging and flat-out fun! We broke for a lunch of fried chicken, turnip greens, and corn bread at the Bread and Butter Café in Rhine before heading back to the woods. The hogs continued their lessons, and we ended the day hogless.
Bowhunter TV co-host Mike Carney arrowed this fine 140-pound dry sow on the first evening of our South Georgia hog hunt.
That brings us to the third morning and my opening story. Wright estimated the weight of my boar to be around 200 pounds. He knew of a local family who could use the pork, so I elected to donate my hog. After another great lunch we headed back to the 600-acre patch of hog hunting ground.
Mike got the first stalk of the day, and then we took turns making stalks -- and failing to connect -- all afternoon. Either the wind swirled or the hogs heard us stalking in the dry, crunchy leaves. On a couple of occasions, hogs saw us, even as we stood still, which just wasn't right, since hogs are supposed to have poor eyesight. It was quite humbling to get picked off by a scruffy 20-pound porker!
An overnight rain once again made for an ultra-quiet morning of stalking. Wright spotted a large group of hogs bedded under a huge slash pine. They seemed to prefer bedding in the fallen pine needles, making the base of pine trees likely hotspots.
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ke and Sean started the stalk but ran out of cover at the 32-yard mark, a bit far for Mike's Hoyt recurve, so he motioned for me to come forward. I slipped into position, drew, and settled my 30-yard pin high on the largest hog. Evidently I dropped my bow arm or did something stupid, because my arrow found nothing but pine needles as a swarm of swine scrambled for parts unknown.
We'd hiked only a short way farther when Wright spotted a large boar snuggled into a leafy bed at the base of a pine. The hog was sleeping on his stomach and facing the opposite direction. Mike used extra caution as he stole toward the beast, navigating carefully through crunchy leaves.
Our hunting party -- left to right, yours truly, field producer Sean Hagen, Wright Harrell, and Mike Carney -- is plenty happy with my last day boar.
The stalk took a long time, and Mike paused frequently to ponder approach angles, shot angles, undulating winds, and the passage of time. Few game animals lie still for hours.
They get restless, stand to change positions, move with the shade, or grab a bite to eat.
Sometimes other animals come along and roust them out of bed. Reading the situation and knowing when to slow down or move quickly are skills required on any stalk, regardless of the species being hunted.
Alas, even when a bowhunter does everything right, things can go awry, and that's what happened as Mike closed in. For reasons unknown, the boar simply stood. Mike and Sean froze in place. The hog ambled slowly to the right, presenting what would be a short-lived 22-yard broadside shot.
The string of Mike's recurve touched his lips and the arrow was gone. The hog did not oblige with the ducking motion Mike anticipated. Instead, he stood still as the spinning arrow zipped under his chest. The look of discontent on Mike's face said volumes. So close!
I pose with my first Georgia hog. I'm the one in back...
Our next thought was -- we were hungry for catfish!
"Well, I know just the place," Wright said. "It's Thursday, so let's head for the Rhine Rotary Fish Fry."
We expected to end up in a city park or something. Instead we pulled into a farmyard to discover a bunch of good ol' boys busy deep-frying catfish fillets, French fries, and hushpuppies in a shed lined with picnic tables. Others were anxiously waiting for the signal to eat -- and pondering the strangers. Still wearing our facepaint and standing in front of a video camera, we looked a bit out of place.
Stalking through the cypress trees and palmettos of southern Georgia was a blast. To top off the experience, in February we didn't have to worry about bugs, snakes, or gators.
I can tell you the Bowhunter TV crew was happy to take part in that enjoyable slice of Americana. With satisfied smiles and full bellies, we headed back to the woods for more hog hunting. Even though it was the last afternoon of our hunting vacation, life was good!
A crucial skill in bowhunting is learning the idiosyncrasies of each species. Here are some things I've learned about hogs.
- Hogs don't get much credit for their eyesight because they tend to ignore things as they're busy rooting up food. However, if they stop to pay attention, they'll pick you off, even if you're still.
- Hogs can't turn their heads much, and their peripheral vision isn't great. Take advantage of these traits by making up ground when they're pointed away from you. Be cautious of piglets; they seem to spot hunters quicker than their elders do.
- Hogs make up for their inability to turn their heads by constantly moving and spinning around as they feed. This can make for difficult shots.
- Hogs tend to be heavy sleepers, especially in larger groups, so don't be afraid to stalk a group of bedded hogs.
- Boars have a "plate" of gristle over the shoulder area to protect them from the tusks of rival hogs. Don't crowd the shoulder unless you aim low. Or wait for a slight quartering-away shot.
- Finally, do not underestimate their noses. If the wind shifts, you're toast!
It got even better when we spotted a group of about 10 hogs snuffling through the palmettos. These hogs were busy and comfortable with their surroundings, and no one had guard duty -- perfect stalking conditions!
With a deliberate pace, I used the cover of a huge deadfall to help me gain yardage. Sean was my shadow.
A gnarly, hackle-backed boar stood out from the group and became my target. I kept one eye on the other porkers, especially the little ones diving in and out of the leaves. My other eye stayed locked on the boar.
At one point I drew my bow but, like most pigs, the boar was pirouetting around as his stiff body followed his nose. I let down and shadowed the group as they filtered deeper into the trees. I drew again, but this time another hog threw himself in front of the boar like a bodyguard.
Finally the boar stopped to rub the side of his face against a sapling, and I ranged him at 32 yards. Before the hog could resume his haphazard zigzag feeding dance, I drew for a third time and released. The arrow sailed through the pig's vitals and the 225-pounder was down and still in seconds.
Pausing, I noticed that my own vitals were churning from the excitement of the stalk. I know, I know, it was "just a hog." I shouldn't be that excited. But don't tell my throbbing heart, trembling hands, and shaky knees. They need only know -- a stalk is a stalk.
Author's Notes: I was shooting a Mathews Drenalin at 68 lbs. draw weight, C
arbon Express Maxima Hunter arrows, and Rocky Mountain Blitz broadheads. Nikon optics helped us locate and range our hogs. Mike used a 65-lb. Hoyt GameMaster recurve, Carbon Express shafts, Rocky Mountain broadheads, Skookum Mega-Tuff Glove, and Jones Face Camo.
Wright and Janet Harrell are excellent hosts. For more information, contact them at (229) 385-8322, www.arrowheadoutfittersllc.com.