If you’re looking for a good way to prepare for deer season, an archery hog hunt might the perfect substitute. Hog hunting in the South has really gained momentum in recent years, as states like Florida and Texas grapple with ways to deal with invasive feral swine. Archery hog hunting is open year-round, and it makes for some really good live-game practice, especially in the off months of spring and early summer.
I just returned from an archery hog hunt in central Florida, where I enjoyed a quick hunt at my friend Hoppy Kempfer’s Osceola Outfitters near Melbourne (about an hour from Orlando). It is a small, family-run business, but one of the best archery-hog hunting operations in North America. The land is comprised of about 25,000 acres of real Florida cypress swamps, meadows and free-range cattle ground. It’s as real as a hunt as you will find — mostly spot-and-stalk hunting for free-ranging porkers with some of the best hunting guides in the business (including Hoppy himself).
These are not the plump porkers you see at your local county fair. It’s more “Lord of the Flies” fair, with truly wild hogs literally overrunning the landscape. They are believed to be long-lost relatives of the 13 hogs brought over to the mainland (Tampa, to be exact) by Hernando de Soto in 1539. They are lean, keen and extraordinary tough to kill.
I experienced my first hog hunt in Florida in 1995 and have notched about a dozen bow-kills over the years. That hunt and those that followed have taught me and reaffirmed the unbelievable sense of smell that wild hogs possess. Stalking these forest phantoms has not only made me a better deer hunter, it has made me a much better blood trailer and student of wild game anatomy.
Admittedly, hog hunting is NOT deer hunting in that you can approach the hunt in a much more relaxed fashion. Although hogs are not blind (as some folks claim), camouflage clothing is not necessary, as the animals have very poor long-distance sight. They can see movement quite well, but that’s only a concern when you are closing in for a bow shot.
The No. 1 key to stalking hogs is paying utmost attention to the wind. Wind direction is everything, and it takes barely one molecule of human scent to send an entire group of hogs curly-tailing it for the thickest nearby swamp cover.
Tracking and trailing game is a skill that’s only honed with real-life experience. Hog hunting provides that in spades. During our one-day hunt last week we took up three different trails, and all three were not easy. Hogs are built with layers of fat, thick cartilage and even a bony shoulder plate. Imagine how little blood is spilled on the ground even when you make a decent shot. Trails can dry up quickly. This is where your woodsmanship skills are put to the test.
On on of the track jobs, we enlisted the help of Hoppy’s best cur dogs, Jip. Her keen nose and relentless drive to find wounded hogs led to many happy recoveries, including one for my friend and fellow editor J. Scott Olmstead of the National Rifle Association. Scott used a TenPoint crossbow to shoot his hog.
“These hogs are the toughest critters you’ll find,” Kempfer admits. “But if you have blood on the ground, you’ll eventually find them. You might need the help of one of these dogs, but you will find them.”
Success in the Swamp
My hunt ended soon after it started. D+DH TV producer Terry Boeder and I followed Kempfer along the swamp edges for less than an hour when we came upon some hogs rooting around in a fallow field and splashing in one of the few puddles that remained from a recent rain. The hogs were not aware of our presence — until we tried to close in for a shot.
It all happened very quickly when the group of pigs walked single file back toward a palmetto thicket as the sun crested the horizon. I picked out a large black boar and brought my Mathews Halon 32 to full draw while trying to keep my TRUGLO sight steady on the pig’s meaty left forearm. You don’t “aim for the crease” like you do when deer hunting. To put them down quickly, you need to hug the front leg tight, far forward and low. When the pin finally settled, I touched the release and sent an Easton shaft on its way. The Titanium broadhead hit with a “THWACK!”
The pig humped up and sprinted wildly for the swamp. Crashing sounds soon followed, and we knew immediately that my shot was true. Talk about an adrenaline rush.
That unmistakable feeling you get from a well-placed arrow will not be lost on me. I will remember soon, I hope, as summer turns to fall and I’m out there once again in my favorite tree stand awaiting the year’s first whitetail.
For more information on off-season hog hunts in central Florida, contact Hoppy Kempfer at Osceola Outfitters.