Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hunting hogs in the Florida "Hammocks"

Jason and I have talked about hog hunting for several years.  Hunting hogs with a bow has been something I’ve wanted to try since I first picked up a bow.  When Jason called and offered me a chance to go on a 3 day hog hunt with him and friend, Mike Switzer, I jumped at the chance.

Before I knew it, we were off to Florida Cracker Outfitters for our late January Hog hunt.  After getting off the plane, we made the short drive to “camp”.  When the trip particulars were described to me, I was under the impression we would be “roughing it” for the week.  I envisioned a run down camp with the bare necessities.  Upon meeting Courtnay (one of the outfitters), we made the 4.5 mile trip off road back to camp.  As we drove back the grass road, I was surprised and excited we would be staying so far back in the Florida woods.  As we turned into the driveway of “camp”, I was in shock.  Before us was a beautiful house/camp where we would be staying for our hunt.  This place was butted right against a lake which, as I was told, was chalk full of crappies and bass.  It was quite apparent we wouldn’t be “roughing it” this week.
Our "cabin" for the week

View from the back porch

Upon arrival, we were met by a young fellow named Jake who was going to be one of our guides for the week, and Julie our camp cook.  Courtnay gave us the rundown on how the week was going to go:  The hunt was going to be out of blinds in the morning/evening.  In the afternoons, we would try to spot and stalk on any pigs we might see on our travels.  We were hunting on private property but these hogs were unfenced and 100% wild with absolutely no human contact.  We learned from the outfitters, that Florida hadn’t received much rain and the hogs were hanging in the un-huntable “meadows”.  Meadows, by their definition, were practically impenetrable scrub marsh, with saw grass mixed in.  After seeing one of these meadows, I quickly understood why we wouldn’t be archery hunting in those areas.  Even after receiving this information, I was still thinking this is a slam dunk… we’re hunting hogs after all.  Minus my first opportunity, I was proven about as wrong as any individual could be.  My perceptions of hog hunting before the trip couldn’t have been more off base.  Honestly, I figured they were blind dumb animals, and the hunt would be an easy relaxing adventure with the guys.  If I would have handled my first encounter with hogs correctly, I might still believe that.  As I quickly found out, I didn’t give these animals nearly enough credit.
After our brief orientation, we quickly shot our bows to make sure they were on and got showers for our first evening hunt.  Jason and I were going to hunt together for the week, while Mike Switzer and Courtnay (the outfitter) were going to pair up for the week.   On the first evening, Jason decided he would run the camera and I would be the shooter.  Jake and Courtnay set us in a Palmetto blind over looking a small wet field next to a swamp.  After getting settled in, I was trying to figure out how to get a shot out of our set up.  I figured there was a spot in the blind that, if I sat straight up, I could clear the palmetto branches.  After about an hour in the blind, Jason whispered “pigs coming from behind us”.  I turned and saw 3 hogs coming right to the front of our set up.  I readied for the shot and realized the first unexpected problem in trying to take a hog with a bow.  These dog gone things just won’t stay still!  As I was trying to communicate to Jason on which one I was going to “take”, they would move.  The boars were all about the same size with the color variations being orange/black, blonde/black, and all black.  I figured I would shoot the first one that gave me an opportunity.  As one would present a shot by the time both Jason and I were on him, the hog would move.  Before the hogs moved off, I had committed to “taking” each of the three hogs, but we couldn’t get both the camera and the bow on them before they moved.  As the last one moved out of the wet field into the swamp, I was becoming disappointed at our misfortune, but that was short lived.  The orange/black boar came back out and stood at a perfect slight quarter away at 18 yards.  With both the camera and bow settled on him, I released my arrow.  To my disbelief, I saw my Lumenok sail about 1 foot high and 2 feet to the left of its mark.  I couldn’t believe I missed that shot, let alone missing that bad.  I was thinking how did I pull the shot that badly, but after examination from where I was shooting, it was clear I didn’t get over the palmetto.  In other words, I completely blew my first ever “slam dunk” shot at a hog, and in front of the camera at that.  As we made it back to camp we met with the other outfitter Jeremy and his father Glen.  They had already arranged to take us out to some of the blind sites to check trail cams and make a plan for the next morning.  After checking 6 different cams, there was no doubt there were plenty of hogs at this place, but 2 sites looked to be much more active than others.  We had our plan set for the morning hunt.
Our palmetto blind for the evening

View from inside the blind
Jason and I would be hunting a stand called the eagles nest; while Mike and Courtnay would be hunting the same blind I had my miss out of the previous night.  The next morning came, and I made the decision to be behind the camera.  We arrived at our location and Jason offered to install the tree arm (holds the camera) for me.  We only had one light between the two of us, so Jason took it up the tree to install the arm which left me on the ground with no light.  There was a stream about 20 yards on the opposite side of the tree we were about to set up in. I heard splashing and “growling” in the stream.  Without a light, I couldn’t see a thing.  I figured about that time, I would take the opportunity to run up the ladder to see if Jason needed any help with the tree arm.  Jason got a good chuckle out of my availability to help and we finally got settled in our setup just as light was breaking.     This morning was a perfect example of how our hunts went for the next day and a half.  We heard hogs chasing each other and growling around us, but we never saw a hog.  They knew something was up in our area and wouldn’t commit to coming through.  As we were finishing up our hunt, we received a text from Mike.  He had the same 3 hogs I saw the evening before in front of him, and put a good shot on the blond/black one.  We met up shortly after to trail, and hopefully recover this hog.  I was filming the recovery and couldn’t believe the blood trail this hog left.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  After 30 yards Mike recovered his first wild hog, with a perfect shot behind the shoulder.
Mike Switzer with his 1st wild hog
The next 3 hunts were all the same.  We had hogs around us but they just wouldn’t commit to our stand locations.  After our morning hunt on the last day, Jeremy came to get us and we could see how excited he was for our last evening hunt.  The wind finally settled down and the hogs were on their feet.  He was scouting while we were on stand and found a couple areas that were “torn up”.  He saw several hogs and suggested we go back for a quick lunch while he made a blind and hung stands in the two new locations he found.  Since Mike had already had taken a hog, he was on camera duty while I was the shooter for our final evening.  As we were getting into our stand, I received a text from Jason saying they had seen 1 big boar and 4 smaller pigs as they were going in to their blind.  We also had an encounter with a nice hog within a half hour of our sit but I couldn’t get a shot at him before he moved off.  They were definitely up and moving and I was excited to see what the rest of the evening would bring.  About 45 minutes before dark, Mike spotted 4 hogs on the hillside directly across from us heading our way.  The 2 big boars came into the right of us with the 2 decent hogs standing about 15yards in front of us.  I told Mike I wasn’t waiting and I was going to take the boar in front of us.  Mike gave me the go ahead so I drew, settled the pin behind his shoulder, and this time my arrow found the vitals.  The hog moved off slowly to our left and disappeared into a thick patch about 50 yards from us.  The bigger boars circled us and apparently came across my hog because they stopped roughly where we last saw the hit hog and started growling.   Now it was time to wait for our guides and Jason to make it over to our stand, but I felt good about the shot and the hog’s reaction after the hit.  After about 45 minutes the guys came and we made a straightforward recovery.  The blood sign was solid and we found my hog about 70 yards from our stand.  It felt great to finally get my first wild hog on the ground!
Jason and I with my 1st wild hog
Our trip ended that night as we were flying out of Jacksonville early the next morning.  This hog hunt had so much more than I had expected.  The guides and outfitters were some of the best I’ve ever hunted with, and the accommodations were second to none.  Just by being around Courtnay and Jeremy for the week, I feel I’ve become a better hunter.  On many of my experiences, the outfitters and guides job was to put us on our game we were hunting.   When hunting with Florida Cracker Outfitters, the guys taught me everything from how they hunt Florida Hogs, turkeys, deer, and gators, to their heritage and the history of hog hunting in their area. They have great pride in what they do, and will share with you all they have learned through the years.  In general this is just a great group of people to hunt with.  As you can tell, my first wild hog hunt was everything I hoped it would be and more.

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