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Hunting Sunshine State Hogs, Day & Night

Hunting Sunshine State Hogs, Day & Night

I got to my box blind as the warm Florida sun was just starting to set, unpacked my gear, took a seat and loaded my Rock River Arms .458 SOCOM Beast. Just a few days after Easter 2014 and it was all of 90 degrees. That was a welcome change from my home state of Wisconsin, which was still fighting off winter, but the heat made me that much more tired.

I’d been running on fumes since I arrived. It started with a redeye flight into Orlando that arrived more than an hour late, followed by a 1.5-hour drive south to my destination in St. Cloud, Osceola Outfitters. Then I met with and talked to the other hunters in my group, got to sleep around 3 a.m. and was up at 5 a.m.

I’d come to Florida to night-hunt hogs with a new FLIR thermal scope, so I spent my nights in box blinds and treestands waiting on hogs, my days scouting fields in search of a hog to take with a crossbow. I did take a short nap after lunch on Day Two—it made me feel worse. So I stuck with my old energy standbys for most of the hunt: caffeine and junk food.

As I sat in that box blind—on the last night of my hunt—and the sun went down, so, too, did my chin. I drifted off, and the only reason I came to was the scratching I heard just a few inches from my head, and my fear it might be a snake. The tiny bullet head of a small lizard poked out of the netting overhead. He eyeballed me for a moment, then ducked back into hiding.

That woke me up. I opened a can of diet soda and drank it down. When the shadows between the trees merged into a larger black, I flicked the switch on my FLIR RS scope and began my evening’s hog scanning.

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One goal for this hunt was my first crossbow kill. Day One, the crossbow gods frowned in my direction.

I was using a TenPoint Turbo XLT II. Weighing just 7 pounds, the XLT features a 185-pound draw weight and can launch a crossbow bolt up to 345 fps. I had practiced at home with a similar TenPoint, and stuck a few bolts into the life-size hog target at the outfitter’s practice range. I hit the field with my guide, Jimmy, feeling confident in my shooting abilities out to 4o yards.

I had two opportunities that first morning. At my first shot—a hog standing near a feeder 35 yards away—the bolt wobbled drunkenly and stuck in the ground a half foot behind the hog. Jimmy felt it was either a bad nock or maybe the mechanical broadhead had opened in midflight.

An hour later came a chance at redemption. We snuck up on another feeder and discovered seven or eight hogs milling around, grunting happily. I lined up a 25-yard shot at a plump hog, shot and they all ran. We found some blood and hair where the hog was standing, then some drops leading away and then … nothing. We found the arrow in the brush. Clean.

Jimmy’s opinion: “I think you hit dead center on the front leg. The point hit that hard bone and just glanced off. He’s probably still running.”

“I’m jinxed,” I said.

“Hey, it’s hunting.” Jimmy grinned. “Stuff happens. What do you want to do now?”

“Eat some lunch,” I said. “And come back out with a rifle.”

“We can do that.”

■■■

Rock River Arms dubbed my rifle the LAR-458 Beast, and one look at that mean-looking muzzle brake topped with spiky points told me why. Then there’s the ammunition, .458 SOCOM rounds made by SBR Ammunition pushing 300-grain JHP bullets. Imagine a .45 ACP cartridge on steroids.

Funny thing, though: This “Beast” actually weighs just 7.6 pounds, much less than many ARs chambered in .308 Win. I found it a handy and maneuverable rifle while stalking or while in a stand. Highlights include Rock River’s excellent two-stage trigger, a low-profile gas block and an extended-length free-float rail. The receiver is black while the stock, pistol grip and rail package are black or tan.

I fitted the Beast with an RS ThermoSight made by FLIR, a 1X-9X optic that picks up heat “signatures” at many hundreds of yards. To sight it in, I used several small, rectangular handwarmers taped to a target. At 100 yards, I got the Beast and the SBR ammunition grouping at about 1.5 inches, pretty good, I thought, for a first-time user of the package.

The 300-grain SBRs pack a major wallop, and though the Beast is no long-range sniper rifle, I believe any hog or deer you smack with this rifle/bullet combo at 150 to 175 yards is going down. Hard.

■■■

It took me until the second evening to connect with my first hog using the rig. At mid-afternoon, I climbed up in a roomy treestand near a feeder, inside a regular jungle of palm trees, palmettos and tangled brush. A while later, the Three Little Pigs drifted in: two dark hogs and a brown-striped one, each about 15 pounds, little bacon seeds, too small to shoot.

The light under the palm-and-cypress canopy switched off as soon as the sun dropped behind the tree line. I sat back in my stand and listened to the excited chatter of invisible birds and a chorus of insects chiming, “peep-cheap, cheap-peep.” Far off, a coyote howled. And then I heard a rustling of hard hooves moving through the brown palm fronds littering the forest floor.

I slid my hand over the top of the FLIR and pressed the start button, waited several seconds for the optic to come on then eased the rifle to my shoulder, my right eye pressed into the rear of the optic. It was a hog, maybe 60 yards away; nothing huge but his stubby pig-body was outlined perfectly in white by the FLIR. I eased off the safety, and slid the crosshair down for a low shoulder shot. The blast out of the muzzle obscured everything for a moment, and while I was sure I’d hit the hog I couldn’t see it for a minute.

I stood up in my stand and swung the FLIR in an arc over the black forest, and picked out a white bump on the forest floor, not 20 feet from where I had shot the hog.

It was my first “FLIR hog,” hammered down with the LAR-458 Beast.

Back in the box blind, I turned on the FLIR every 10 minutes or so—more often when I thought I heard something—and checked for signs of hogs. The blind was set up along a gas-line corridor, with a sandy two-track running down the middle. For an hour, I saw nothing except a couple of raccoons. There were no sounds except for my lizard friend scrabbling above me, probably in search of an insect dinner.

I had the FLIR on and was searching the trees ahead and to my left when I caught sight of the white blob angling in from the right. It was a hog, and it trotted to the middle of the sandy two-track and paused, seemingly sniffing the night air.

I fired. The hog spun around and ran back the way it had come so fast I wondered if I’d missed. I waited 10 minutes then made my way to where I thought the hog had stood. The FLIR spotted a white lump in the trees 100 yards away. Relieved, I crept close enough to use my flashlight to confirm the hog was dead.

I headed back to my blind. My guide wasn’t coming to get me until 11 p.m., and I wanted to try to get another hog. The chance came a half hour later.

I never heard the hogs. But on one of my FLIR scans, I saw five white bodies tumble out of the trees a good 150 yards away. They waded through the tall grass and got to the sandy trail, where the hogs began to nose around in search of food.

I could’ve shot from there, but I wanted to try out some night stalking. I made sure the Beast was on “safe,” and that my cell phone was on “vibrate,” eased out of the box blind and onto the sandy two-track. The wind came at me from the front and right, so I had no worries about getting busted by the sharp noses. Through the FLIR, I saw the hogs had moved away from me, grazing. Their outlines were clear and sharp like cutouts of white construction paper on a black background.

I stayed on the sand to keep my footsteps muffled, moved another 30 yards or so, paused and scanned, and repeated the procedure a couple times. Now the hogs were within 50 yards of me, and I felt my heart beating harder from the excitement. I didn’t want to test my luck any further. I knelt down for a steady shot, and placed the FLIR’s crosshairs on the shoulder of a hog. I fired once; the pig hit the sand and flopped a few times. The others scattered.

For a moment, I felt like I owned the night … well, me, and the Beast and the FLIR. Then I looked up at the bright scattershot of stars that stretched for thousands of miles beyond my limited imagination, and I realized I was just one small hunter in a much larger world. I was blessed to be chasing hogs, but in no way was I the owner of this beautiful night. I was just a lucky visitor.

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