FLORIDA BOAR HUNT
FLORIDA BOAR HUNT
By: Bill Simpson
I always find driving exhilarating in the USA. There's something about those huge green road signs and names of famous places. Daytona Beach, Cape Canaveral, Key West and all the rest of it. The distances are so vast. In eighty-five miles, said the Garmin satnav, turn right. At this point we were north bound on Interstate twenty seven, just outside Clewiston, known as 'America's Sweetest Town' on account of its vast sugar plantations, now being converted to reservoirs as part of the Everglades restoration project. Clewiston originated as a fishing camp for Seminole Indians, and is still a base for anglers pursuing the largemouth bass of Lake Okeechobee.
This incredible lake is huge, seven hundred and thirty square miles, shallow, the depth averages only nine feet, and sadly due to the ten foot flood barrier surrounding it, invisible from route seventy-eight which runs up its western edge.
Ron's instructions, delivered in a pure Bronx accent, had been clear. 'You wanna get off seventy eight just outside Okeechobee, and I'll meet you in Beck's. This emporium sells everything from coffee to hunting equipment, and I asked for a five round box of Remington Slugger. This is the recommended ammunition for hogs as it penetrates undergrowth with less deflection than a rifle bullet. It comes in two and three quarter inch shells, and the one ounce projectile carries a muzzle velocity of 1760 feet per second, ideal for an animal that can charge at forty miles per hour and weigh over three hundred pounds.
The ammunition was bought with no difficulty, and I also purchased a polystyrene box and five kilos of ice. I was early and passed the time in friendly conversation with a steady stream of visiting anglers, each driving a four wheeler with a bass boat on a trailer. These boats are works of art. Americans do not believe in suffering for their sport. The swivel seat enables one to fish while maneuvering the boat with a minimum of difficulty. There are two motors, the outboard for getting places, and a small one for trolling. There is also a built in well for keeping one's catch alive and fresh.
Ron, when he arrived, looked just like I imagined from the voice on the phone. He was a large tough bear of a man, who had quit the smog and hard sidewalks of New York back in 'eighty-five to go fishing. After receiving directions to a farm, I arranged with him for a day's bass fishing.
At the farm I met Scooter who would be my guide. He was also a tough no-nonsense character, “Two thousand dollars if you kill one of my dogs”, and a mine of information about hogs and alligators, which are raised on the farm along with water buffalo and beef cattle. He handed me the artillery, a Remington 870 Wingmaster. We were joined by Nana, a Redbone 'walker' hound. They are trained to find and then 'bay' the hog to give the hunter a clear shot. There are also 'catch dogs', Pit Bull cross-breeds and Leopard Curs, which will hold a hog long enough for it to be thrown over and 'hog-tied'. This is done if an animal is required alive for breeding or research purposes.
Up on the vehicle, a Florida Swamp Buggy, we were in a different world. It was reminiscent of riding the swaying back of an elephant, and soon became hard work, ducking passing tree branches and holding on as Scooter negotiated terrain which would have challenged a conventional four wheeler. He explained that the Swamp Buggy is vital in summer, when much of the land is under four feet of water.
Nana quartered the ground ahead, encouraged by Scooter.
“Find a pig, girl, hunt a pig.”
It didn't take long. She froze on point, before turning sharp left and investigating a piece of thick jungle.
“She's onto something” said Scooter. Nana gave tongue, a higher pitched yodel than an English fox hound.
“Hot scent”, said Scooter, adding: “I'll tell you when to fire”.
We tracked the dog for maybe ten minutes before we had our first sight of the quarry, a low black darting shape crossing a small clearing.
“Razorback”, commented Scooter. Smaller than their European ancestors and mostly tuskless, razorbacks are feral pigs, and there are over a million in Florida alone. A sow will breed two litters per year, with around ten young each time.
I now saw the need for the swamp buggy. The razorback was fast. Over this terrain and on foot a man would never catch up with a quarry such as this. The walking shoots here are all driven, beaters moving in to the guns with all the attendant dangers. The chase went on for some twenty minutes, and several times we thought Nana had the pig out in the open, only to have it slip around her and head into the bush. Scooter used the buggy the way a boat skipper assists a fisherman to play a big one, always trying to head the boar off if it looked like getting away. Twice the redbone had her target clear of the bush and shootable. With the dog in such close proximity, and mindful of the two thousand dollar penalty, I wasn't going to try anything fast and clever. Eventually Nana managed to halt it in a clear space and Scooter said fire.. The range was longer than I would have liked, a good forty meters away but the Wingmaster felt fast and compact and the target was stationary. Aiming just behind its left elbow I squeezed off and saw the hog stagger and fall over, before springing up apparently full of fight.
“Good shot” called Scooter, although I wasn't so enthusiastic. The hog head down and pawing the ground, was still full of defiance as Nana harried it. And then it went down again, barely visible in thick cover.
“Nice shooting. He's finished.” Scooter's confidence in my shooting wasn't followed by any bravura acting. He killed the buggy's three hundred horse power engine, and motioned for me to follow him down to the ground. Scooter drew an automatic pistol from his belt holster, handing it to me.
“It's a Glock nine mill. Keep it pointed up and your finger outside the trigger guard. If he's still alive one shot in the side of the head should do it. Come on down, we'll take a look see.” I followed him into the bush but there was no need for any pistol. The hog was dead.
I handed the pistol back and set up the camera. Scooter reckoned the hog as about average weight, around one hundred and fifty pounds. When I asked him how dangerous it was he rolled back the jowls to reveal the lower canine.
“It'll run up you and flay you like a knife.”
I checked the bullet entry, and despite the beast's rapid death was displeased to see the wound around three inches above where I'd aimed. I said so to Scooter, whose reply was interesting.
“You ain't never shot a pump before. Everybody goes high their first time out with a pump, on account their barrel hand's getting ready to pump the next round in.” We went on in the buggy to view alligators sunning on mud banks, and my skepticism at Hooter's explanation was rapidly dispelled by using my last four rounds to practice on a plastic bottle set up forty paces away. I made a conscious effort not to anticipate the reload by gripping the fore end too tightly, and the last three shots were all on target.
Part of the service is you get your pig flayed and butchered, and an hour later I was en-route back to Miami, with around sixty pounds of pork on ice in the boot of my hire car.
It's a very different deal from stalking in the borders, where I recently spent two fruitless mornings, and about one hundred and eighty quid, on beasts that did not cooperate. Here, although you still have to hold the gun straight, you are assured of a kill. You get to keep the meat, and also have the pleasure of seeing working dogs in action. I was the only hunter that day, but if, like me, you enjoy shooting with a camera, imagine the bonanza of having a dozen other boar hunts to film at close quarters. The hunt is short, the kill is quick, and the hides and remains of carcasses after butchering go in the deep freeze for the alligators. I feel that's about as sporting and ecologically sound as it gets, and I'll be going back to Okeechobee.
Hunting services at Okeechobee, Florida were provided by Ron's Guide Service, which you can find on the front page of Google.
The author, Bill Simpson, comes from Scotland and is a freelance writer and airline pilot.
He is married with two children, resident in the UK and a keen hunter and fisherman.