As the calendar rolls over to a new year most of us busy ourselves planning for new hunting adventures to come that are well down the road. But comparatively few take advantage of fun and challenging, meat-cooler-filling hunting adventures that are available right now.One particular “off-season” hunt of which I speak is for wild hogs, which in some areas can be hunted year-round, making them an ideal “getaway” vacation hunt for groups of adventurous, like-minded sportsmen and women. And maybe even better news for those of us stuck in the wintry-white and frigid upper Midwest, prime off-season feral hog destinations such as Florida, South Carolina, and Texas bring a chance to experience the type of shirtsleeve temps many of us have not seen since last September or October. Up here in snowy Minnesota we call that a win-win. Add in the fact that wild pork is a tasty treat the whole family will appreciate, and you have win number three. A chance to shed a few clothing layers during the January-through-March timeframe is certainly a bonus, but for my money, a feral hog hunt is really all about the up-close-and-personal, heart-pounding excitement. And there can be plenty. My favorite hunting method, no matter the quarry, is spotting and stalking on foot with a vertical bow, and to my mind, feral hogs provide a truly ideal spot-and-stalk bowhunting challenge. The major bonus? Lots of targets, and lots of opportunities. Blow one stalk (hogs have great noses but suspect eyesight), and you can soon be into another.Even though most good feral hog habitat can be packed with what seems like impossibly thick vegetation, huge stands of palmettos and other dense greenery, the fact that hogs like to travel and feed in large groups still makes them relatively easy to spot, especially along forest two tracks, field edges, and in dry creek beds and quaint forest openings. And their snorting, squealing and other strangely loud vocalizations can be quite easy to hear as you stalk along slowly on relatively calm days. Once you catch a glimpse, or get an earful, the adrenaline kicks in and the fun begins.In several areas you can hunt feral hogs with virtually any type of weapon: pistols, shotguns, muzzleloaders, rifles, crossbows or compounds and trad bows, but most all of my hog adventures have come while toting a compound or recurve, and I have not been disappointed. During one memorable Florida hunt not too far from Orlando, one morning me and a buddy spotted a small band of multi-colored hogs sifting through a small flooded, forest clearing on their way toward a dense thicket. As the last hog was disappearing into the tangle, we followed.The thicket of tall grass included a maze of criss-crossing vines and larger trees filled with huge, gnarly looking banana spiders hanging in their industrial-strength webs, but the hogs liked the area just as much. Shortly after we entered the tangle we could hear the hogs splashing and rooting and chasing each other, and soon, it seemed like the group was moving closer. As hoofsteps closed in we froze; I looked hard for a shooting lane and found none. Feverishly I squatted as low as possible, bow arm extended, then finally glimpsed a lane and drew back. In seconds a smaller hog rushed by me at maybe 5 feet, followed by its much-larger pursuer. The shot was less than 10 feet, and that 150-pound hog never knew I was there.
Last January I was hunting with HuntStand’s Brian Murphy in similarly flooded South Carolina, where this time we were prepared with not only knee-high rubber boots but also hip waders, and both came in handy. So did the HuntStand app, which allowed us to split up and cover huge stretches of vast swampland on solo hunts, scouring for what we were told were widely-scattered groups of wary, hard-hunted hogs.Even though we had no cell service in the vast stretches of remote swampland, HuntStand offered an easy answer; we simply cached maps of the area beforehand, and once in the field used the HuntStand app to easily track our individual progress, to predetermined meeting points several miles away. Even after dark, navigating the long stretches of remote, flooded South Carolina swampland was as easy as checking our individual HuntStand Hunt Area screens for that tiny glowing blue dot—our exact locations—as we inched ever closer to our pin-dropped meeting point. It was as if we were hunting a tract we’d known intimately for years.
On that January hunt it all came together for me on the morning of Day Two, shortly after Brian and I split up to hunt separate sides of a large swamp tract. I was picking slowly along a swamp-edge ridge when I simultaneously glimpsed movement and heard a faint squeal. The squeal is what confirmed it, as I’d just recently flushed a large group of feeding South Carolina longbeards.As luck would have it I’d seen the hogs before they’d seen me, and HuntStand had earlier confirmed the slight wind would be in my favor. Another bonus was that the hogs were on the move, headed toward a large stand of palmettos just ahead. As the hogs skirted the palmetto stand’s eastern edge, I closed in from the west. As I slowly crept ahead hogs suddenly began popping up ahead of me, first on the left, then right. Knowing I was now surrounded, I froze and scanned hard for the largest target. When a large black boar inched to 15 yards I drew and released, then quickly reloaded as the double-lunged pig squealed and crashed, with the group confused but still in range. In seconds a large brown boar paused in the open at 20 yards, and another arrow was on its way. In just over 30 seconds I’d arrowed almost 300 pounds of wild hogs, and had watched both drop in sight, after covering just a few yards.Are you ready to experience the heart-pounding thrill of an “off-season” wild hog hunt? Ask buddies to offer up recommended outfitters, and you can also scour state DNR websites for public access and special hunts that might appeal. Before you go, don’t forget to cache the maps of your hunt areas in HuntStand, and be sure to tote along your hip boots, meat coolers, and sense of adventure.