Bonus Report: Ray And The Hogs Among Us

Rut Reporter Brandon Ray is an expert on the region. Ray was born in Dallas and shot his first deer … Continued

Rut Reporter Brandon Ray is an expert on the region. Ray was born in Dallas and shot his first deer with a bow in Central Texas at the age of 15. The full-time freelance writer manages his family’s Texas Panhandle ranch, is a licensed New Mexico guide, and last year took a 184 gross P&Y non-typical trophy. States covered: TX, OK, NM.

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Like a modern day biblical plague, wild swine have spread across the nation, especially in the southern states. Not so different from a plague of locusts, a herd of feral pigs can decimate a crop field in just a few nights. In my area, they consume milo, peanuts and wheat fields. Farmers hate them. That works to the hunter’s advantage, as gaining permission to hunt hogs around crops is almost a guarantee.

They also compete for native browse that deer eat. They muddy stock ponds, root-up landscaping around country homes and destroy lush golf courses. They have reproductive capabilities that put a rabbit to shame. If deer and hogs end up around the same corn feeder, deer will always surrender to the hogs. Hogs will aggressively run deer off an easy food source. Deer hate hogs almost as much as farmers. Is there anything positive about wild hogs?

For all the destructive, negative aspects of wild pigs, they are fun to hunt. And when I kill a small one, I like hog sausage. I save the skulls from the big boars. Most states have few restrictions on hunting wild hogs. In Texas, there is no bag limit and you can hunt hogs year-round. So call them pests or call them trophies, but either way they are sporting animals to hunt.

Hogs favor thick, riparian-type habitats. Creek bottoms and river channels are good places to find wild hogs. But they are very adaptive. I’ve seen them in arid, steep red-rock canyons. Places more suitable for wild sheep. Wild pigs are mostly nocturnal.

Anywhere you hunt deer in Texas, you are likely to encounter hogs. With an estimated statewide population of more than 2 million, they are the second most plentiful big game animal in the state. Second only to the state’s 4 million deer population. Like most Texas hunters, I’ve shot a lot of hogs over the years. I’ve shot them with bows, shot them with shotguns and shot them with rifles. While I was hunting turkeys in the spring and while deer hunting in the fall. It seems any hunt can turn into a hog hunt unexpectedly.

While hogs in general are plentiful, killing a large, mature boar with big tusks is indeed a rare trophy. I found one such monster just last week. Like most big boars I’ve killed over the years, I was not specifically hunting pigs when I found him. I was perched on the rim of a steep canyon in the Texas Panhandle. The morning light just slanting across the mesas and peaks, revealing colorful rock formations and a few deer from the previously impenetrable black shadows.

Sitting behind a tripod-mounted Swarovski spotting scope, I dissected the river channel in the bottom of the canyon, scouting for deer. My HS Precision .270 topped with a Leupold scope lay across my daypack. I learned years ago, even when I’m scouting for deer, it’s wise to carry the rifle. Free-ranging aoudad sheep roam that same canyon badlands and are legal to shoot year-round. And of course, there’s always pigs. And as sure as I leave my rifle at home, I always see a big one.

About 150 yards below me, movement caught my eye. A herd of pigs were walking single file across some of the steepest, nastiest bluffs you could imagine. They were crossing from one spire of rock to the other side through a narrow sheep trail. Through the binoculars I counted 10 in all. Nine of them were average-sized black ones. Second from the back of the line was a fat, calico-colored boar. From my eagle’s eye view above him, his back looked wide enough to support a saddle.

I plopped down on the canyon ledge with my rifle over my backpack, simultaneously feeding a 130-grain Hornady round into the chamber. Just as I found the big boar in the scope, they disappeared behind a truck-sized boulder. Then they were lost from view, behind a steep ledge.

So I slung my arms into my backpack, put the rifle over my shoulder and descended down the canyon wall as quietly as possible. They had no idea they were being watched. If I could get down to the next bench, I should be able to see them walking the game trail below on the next level. Just as I peaked over the ledge, there they were. Still single file, the big boar was now the last in line. They were at a steep downhill angle. The Nikon rangefinder said hold for 116 yards at that angle.

At the blast, the big boar dropped. I worked the bolt, trying to find a second target before they disappeared. But the rest of the mob was gone through thick mesquites and cedars before I could line up a follow-up shot. It took me about 30 minutes to thread my way down through the rocks and cliffs to the dead boar below. I could smell him before I saw him. The pungent, rank smell filling the still morning air like the aroma of a road-kill skunk.

And he was huge! His feet the size of a calf, a noggin like an alligator and the girth of a dolphin. His mud-caked hide was dappled in colors of tan, white, brown and black. As ugly of a trophy boar as you’ll find. I never put him on a scale, but I’ve weighed other big boars of similar size. I’d guess his live weight at an honest 275 pounds. Maybe a bit more.

So while your deer hunting this fall, keep your eyes peeled for the unexpected bonus game that now roams almost everywhere.