From the backseat, it felt like one of those nightmares you have after eating pickled jalapenos right before bedtime.
It was darker than the inside of my credit rating as strange trees whizzed by the windows like a bad dream. We bounced along on one faceless road after another and I had no idea where I was, where I was going or what would happen when I finally got there. Two near-strangers were chatting in the front seat and several military-grade weapons were strapped right behind my head as I futilely looked around, trying to make sense of the surroundings.
I wasn’t being taken to a lonely spot by rebel soldiers to be tortured and shot as a Yankee spy. In spite of obvious similarities to an over-wrought secret-agent drama, my current situation didn’t involve any national secrets. I was going hunting.
This latest adventure was our trip last week to Florida where I got to experience the excitement of nighttime feral hog hunting. In that regard, it was somewhere just behind defusing nuclear weapons and right ahead of alligator wrestling in terms of sporty adventure: a fine mix of exhilaration, fear and hearing loss.
Our volunteer guide for the night was Heath Porter, the president of Night Ops, Inc., a manufacturer of custom Modern Sporting Rifles (MSR) built specifically for predator hunting and feral pig control. He also loads some really hotshot ammunition for same.
Heath used to professionally guide hunters on pig control hunts but realized that leading strangers armed with semi-automatic rifles around in the dark wasn’t the best way to maximize your lifetime memberships. “The money was good,” Heath noted dryly, “but I want to live.”
Our other companion was Joe Baya, President of Great Days Outdoor Media, a firm that purveys fine outdoor journalism focused primarily on the deep south. This trip was a work assignment for Your Humble Servant to assist Joe in evaluating thermal imaging scopes for a story. Its tough work but for some reason I always volunteer.
The hunt started well after sunset north of Choctawhatchee Bay in the Florida panhandle. After sighting in our rifles near what appeared to be a dangerous hobo camp, we headed out.
Heath has a large selection of fields where farmers want him to cull destructive feral pigs and livestock-killing coyotes. The operation is a simple spot and stalk but as with most things, ‘simple’ isn’t the same thing as ‘easy.’
We began driving around in the dark on lightly-traveled rural roads, scouting fields with thermal imaging scopes. We soon spotted a “sounder” of pigs, then parked and shambled semi-quietly through pitch-dark fields until within 80 or so yards of the grunting porkers. The pigs were clueless on the inky moonless night as they went about their business destroying the field and driving the farmer to bankruptcy.
We set up in a line, resting our rifles on shooting sticks. After making sure everyone was ready, Heath explained that he would count down and on “zero” we would all fire. After verifying in hushed whispers that the plan was understood, he began:
Nothing. “You guys are supposed to fire on zero,” Heath said in a gruff whisper. We all nodded in agreement.
Again: “Three-Two-One……..(deafening silence).”
“Are you guys messing with me?” the increasingly aggravated Porter asked. He then paused; “OK, OK, I get it. I’ll say ‘zero’ this time”
When “Zero” was finally uttered, Joe and I fired simultaneously and the biggest pig instantly dropped. Pandemonium then kicked into high gear.
Pigs ran everywhere, like ants after you kick over the anthill. Of course, ants don’t weigh north of 200 pounds nor occasionally sport fighting tusks. It was a highly exciting moment; a mixture of gunfire, snorts, squeals, the distinct “THWOCK!” of bullet meeting bacon and generalized mayhem. Some pigs dropped instantly, others took five or more shots to connect as you figured out the lead and angle. I was surprised to learn that from a standing start pigs are much faster than thoroughbred race horses, or so it seemed.
When it was over, a grinning Heath asked, “What did you think of that?”
Through chattering teeth, all I could manage to say was a strangled “Ungummph,” which translates to “Wow!”
I was shaking like a hypothermia victim, my ears tinkled from the permanent damage done by 60 rounds of rifle fire and my chest heaved like I had just run a marathon. I also knew that deer or even turkey hunting had just gone down several notches in my book. I now understand why misguided people release hogs into the wild: hunting them is an addictive pastime.
Regardless- we still don’t want them in Indiana!
Our crew stayed out until a bleary-eyed 4 a.m. and wrought significant damage on the equally damaging pig population while seven coyotes also fell to our efforts. It was truly one of the most memorable hunts in my 40 years of blood sport.
All in all, that’s a pretty exciting use of zero.
Night Ops LLC – https://www.nightops.com/
Great Days Outdoors – https://greatdaysoutdoors.com