"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

High Water Hogs



The fall and winter of 1997-98 was a banner time in my life. It was my senior year of high school, and I’d be departing for the University of Florida the following autumn to study...something. That August I took a velvet buck in South Carolina and followed him up in November with a fine trophy Florida whitetail, two mounts I still gaze upon fondly. In October I flew out West for the first time on a successful week-long mule deer and elk hunt in the mountains of the Roosevelt National Forest in North-Central Colorado, an adventure that will never be forgotten.

And I way-laid a ton of hogs that winter.

Florida experienced an exceptional amount of rainfall during November and December of that year. We were trapped in the effects of an El Nino cycle that deluged the state. All of the creek bottoms on the properties we hunted flooded. Trails and roads were impassable with anything shy of a canoe. There was a chop of whitecaps across cow pastures. Normally this extra water would've receded in a matter of days, but the rain just kept on coming.

As a result, the game was pushed up on high. The sounders of sows and shoats were particularly susceptible while the bigger boars that were once inviolable were forced onto the dry land. I don’t recall the accurate number of swine we popped…let’s just say it was quite a bounty to this young hunter. We’ve had wet years since, but this one will always stick out in stories.

With two tropical storms and our usual buffet of evening thunderstorms, Florida has had a pretty wet summer. If this continues – which is a big “if” because we typically experience dry autumns and winters – we could realize another hog year like that one. Already on our lease - which is as dry as a box of matches – after months of no hog sign, a few showed up on trail cameras after Tropical Storm Issac passed, no doubt the result of the stormwater pushing these fellows out of their comfort zone. And I’m noticing hogs and hog sign everywhere recently, just driving through the state.

There's no question wild hogs like the water, and it's why they're regarded as cagey swamp dwellers, but pigs aren't aquatic mammals. They don’t possess sweat glands which render them sensitive to high temperatures. If you've ever held a hog hide, you've probably considered how awful it'd be to wear that in the warm months. That and being covered with ticks would be pretty horrible. So to regulate their body temperature they wallow and take to swamps with that wonderful combination of cover, shade and moisture that lends to a life of leisure for a pig. 

Even still, while hogs prefer this habitat, don’t mind traveling through water, and are powerful swimmers, too much is too much. When their bedding and feeding areas flood, hogs behave about like those little sandpipers and plovers you’d see at the beach - they don’t care if their feet get wet, but they’re not going to nest there either. Hogs will be pushed to the peripheries when it's too wet for comfort, and it’s a boon to hunters when this happens.

And I typically witness this during the summer and note on dry years how we don’t see the numbers of hogs we're accustomed to. Travis, Krunk and I were hog hunting in Sarasota County a couple weeks ago. It was blazing hot, and the property was, in its driest areas, a marsh. We saw hogs the majority of the day, atypical for a place where your best afternoon opportunities occur an hour before dark but the hogs had spilled their banks. We should have rung up high numbers with the rifles, but we were spotting and stalking from the truck. The ground was so soggy that the splashing tires alerted the hogs before we could shut off the engine. Our spy-to-kill ratio was remarkably low. With the number of hogs were were seeing, though, a chance or two had to ultimately prevail. 

Around 5:30, Krunk shot a nice sow that hesitated a bit too long before retreating in the palmettos. Soon after, Travis and I bailed out on a sounder feeding in a dry patch of tall grass, probably sharing that patch with fireants, ground-nesting birds, and any other critter seeking the Ark. Travis split left for a direct approach while I moved to the nearest woodline to cut off their retreat. Unfortunately they spooked before T got a shot, but I was ready. 40-pounders burst from the grass as I armed my AR-15. I sorted through the runts until a large sow erupted from cover and into a hail of .223’s.

But that’s summer-time hunting. With deer season starting soon, most of us will be in treestands. Anyone with stands on the water’s edge is likely to have run-in’s. It’s not like you’ll need to keep a watchful eye; you’ll hear them come, a-splishing and a-splashing and a-grunting. 

If the heavy rains do cease like during most FL winters, the hogs will retreat into their swamps, popping out to feed on acorns, palmetto berries, crops, and return to whatever semblance of a normal life a hog has.

But if you have a wild hog on your wish list this year - for a BBQ or for a shoulder mount - I’d continue to pray for rain and swollen rivers and swamps.

It’s about as good as hog hunting gets.

2 comments:

Trey Luckie said...

Good luck this year Bud! May it continue to rain!!

Ian Nance said...

Thanks, Trey. Hope all is well!