I remember the first time I set my gaze upon feral hogs like it was yesterday. Dense morning fog had just lifted to reveal an unruly sounder rooting under an oak tree on the edge of a steep finger well off the beaten path in California’s La Panza range. It was my first hog hunt and while I did not kill that weekend, the hunt stayed with me, gnawing at me like a tick to get back out there. Seriously—and not from experience mind you—I liken hog hunting to crack or some other stranglehold drug—you absolutely can get addicted your first time out. I didn’t kill on my second, third or fourth time out either. Even my fifth, sixth and seventh time were exercises in futility; however, my addiction stayed. Every hog I saw fanned the fire.
To be honest, I don’t recall how many hunts it took to drop my first hog, but I do remember the experience well. It was an early morning rifle hunt and I was walking to the corner of a wheat field when I heard the grunts. I had seen pigs from afar but this was the first time I heard them. I froze and scanned to my right to see a half-dozen rooting up a soft patch of dirt at a tree line some 50 yards from my position. I shot a large sow and learned quickly how little they sometimes bleed. With virtually no blood trail to go on, I conducted a methodical sweep of the area. After a solid two hours of combing, I had to laugh silently to myself. While I thought she had made good distance before she expired, I found her less than 15 yards from where she was shot; she had bolted out of sight then circled back.
I also remember my first night hunts—first with a bow, then with night vision and thermal. What is spooky to some, simply added excitement to my nighttime experience. New sounds shattered the silence in every direction—locusts, the intensified volume of lulling cattle, even the shrill scream of a cougar rose the hair on the back of my neck on that first dusk ‘til dawn hunt. And, of course, the screeches, barks and grunts from agitated hogs crashing into a freshly rooted area had my heart beating out of my chest. Admittedly, I bow hunted hogs for years before stumbling upon the thrill of night hunting with digital night vision with a Sightmark Photon.
While my firsts have been many and decades of chasing critters and filling freezers in the making, nowadays, my favorite pursuits are those spent with new hunters and reveling in their firsts, especially those late-night experiences where an entirely different outdoor world is busy playing out. Not long ago, I had the pleasure of witnessing a first hunt. The hunter was equipped with an AR-platform rifle and Photon RT Digital Night Vision Scope as we scouted on freshly planted crop fields just south of Waxahachie, Texas. With amazing folks at Three Curl Outfitters at the reigns, we rolled down a handful of farm roads, scanning with thermal monoculars. As the night rolled on, we continued glassing fields and adding to the collection of empty energy drink cans on the truck floor. The time was right, the weather was right… but our timing had not been right at all. I laughed to myself several times as I imagined large sounders of hogs dropping down into the fields we scouted just seconds after we passed—who knows? They may have. Just as we began to tucker out it happened. “Pigs!” Our guide stopped the truck and glassed with his thermal monocular to confirm. Yes, finally, they were there, a half-dozen or so near a tree line on the opposite side of a field nearly 1,000 yards out. We parked the truck, slid out onto the road, then quickly and quietly filed out onto the field.
With the wind in our favor, we closed the distance pretty quickly—especially given the trek across uneven terrain was over a half-mile—the last few hundred yards in stalk-mode. When the guide finally stopped us, we were no more than 75 yards away from the few remaining pigs—half had ventured back into the trees during our stalk. We quietly fanned out side-by-side, lowered the handguard of the rifle down into the cradle of the monopod and settled in.
I stood close by. Instead of a rifle this time, I had my smartphone. Amazingly enough, the Photon RT, Sightmark’s latest model, includes built-in video and Wi-Fi. Most importantly at this moment of truth, the Wi-Fi had allowed me to connect to the scope and to watch the first-time hunter’s display remotely on my device. The beauty of it was obvious—I was better able to coach him quietly while maintaining a shooter’s perspective of his reticle, overall field of view and the small sounder of pigs completely unaware of our presence.
Once we were set, the guide asked us to confirm when we had “eyes” on the targets. We confirmed and I watched his reticle on my phone lower and settle onto a sweet spot just behind the largest pig’s ear. The guide counted down, “three, two, one.”
At one, the first shot shattered the deafening silence, dropping the first pig where it stood, it never budged an inch. As hog hunting sometimes goes, especially with new hunters, the rest of the hogs made it into nearby trees, disappearing instantly under the cloak of a tangled thicket.
It was his first kill ever and on a wily old sow. I smiled to myself in the darkness as a flurry of high-fives and hugs made a quick round. Decades later, I still recall the sudden rush of adrenaline, when my emotions suddenly were not my own… and a mix of tears and laughter, perhaps best described as elation, reverence plain old uncontrollable jitters. I had been a mess and now some of those feeling had rushed back being fortunate enough to share this defining moment with him. There, on that field trimmed neatly in hues of midnight blue and silver, another hunter was born.