Midnight Bacon

Midnight Bacon

"Psssschk." It’s 1:30 AM, that's not the sound of a beer being opened; it's my second energy drink of the day. It’s mid-March here in South Texas, and when the sun goes down, the action heats up. There I was, 20 miles southwest of Laredo, spotting and stalking hogs with my thermal gear.


Welcome to the Night Life

Being from the Midwest, I rarely get opportunities to spot and stalk—especially at night. In my home state of Illinois, we are permitted to hunt coyotes at night, but only for a short window in the fall and winter. However, in Texas, there are no restrictions when it comes to hunting wild hogs. There’s still four feet of frost on the ground at home, but in South Texas, the daytime highs are in the 90s, making most of the wildlife activity nocturnal.

Hunting hogs is typically a numbers game. The objective is to harvest as many as you can as efficiently as you can. I have found the best way to do this is to utilize the technology available to modern outdoorsmen and women. Quality thermal optics paired with reliable cellular trail cameras have allowed me to harvest hogs in double digits nearly every night I hunt.


Setting the Stage

Most ranches are set up to target big South Texas Whitetails. That means an abundance of feeders, water stations, and ponds. Most feeders are fenced in to protect the expensive feed focused on growing the biggest bucks possible. However, most water sources, specifically ponds, are open to livestock and other wildlife. This is where I target wild pigs.

Walking around the edges of these ponds, it’s relatively easy to find where the hogs have been visiting the water. Judging by the number of tracks and how fresh they are, you can easily spot their preferred side or corner to drink from. Once located, I place a trail camera on a stake perpendicular to the water's edge. I’ve had the best of luck with Moultrie Mobile Edge cameras. Their simple one-button turn-on function, no SD card, and auto-connect feature make setting these up fast and easy.

To help keep the hogs there longer, I sprinkle shelled corn along the water's edge and specifically in the mud and shallow water. I spread it out so the hogs have to search for it and dig it out of the muddy water. This keeps them at the pond longer than they would stay for a corn pile on dry ground. I normally have eight ponds I set up like this during a normal precipitation year.

One key thing I make sure to do with my cameras is to label them well. I also drop labeled pins using the OnX Hunt app. This allows me to easily know what cameras are being triggered and what pond I need to get to. Neglecting this step can be seriously confusing once your cameras start teeming with hogs!


Mapping your Success

Hogs may not have the best eyesight, but their noses are very sensitive. After the cameras and corn are out, the next thing I look at is the wind direction. I then come up with a unique game plan for each pond, looking for the perfect position from which to shoot. My location needs to meet three criteria:


  1. The area must be flat with a good line of sight to the pond's edge, within my comfortable shooting distance, and upwind of the bait.
  2. The path to the shooting location must be an easy-to-follow, quiet path near the location where I parked my side-by-side. In the darkness of night, I don’t want to make any sudden noises to spook the animals, so I remove any debris or obstacles that may be in the way.
  3. Lastly, I plan where I need to park the side-by-side. I generally park about 400 yards away from the pond.


Seeing in the Dark

It’s pretty crazy to think civilians can own an optic that allows you to see a field mouse scurry across a field 150 yards away in absolute darkness. The older hunters in my family, such as my father and father-in-law, are blown away by thermal technology. And quite frankly, so am I. Each year, optics continue to get better. Higher resolution, better definition, rangefinding capability, longer battery life, and other advancements make stalking in total darkness a breeze.

I am currently running the Pulsar Thermion 2 LRF XP50 Pro scope and the Pulsar Axion 2 XG35. I love these units. The magic begins with their use of germanium lenses. Both units use them, making their imaging crystal clear. Their intuitive interfaces make them easy to use, and their mobile app is a game-changer for streaming and sharing photos and videos. I keep my Axion 2 in a chest rig bino harness, which keeps the unit safe from dust and other elements as well, keeping it secure to my body and not swinging around when I am in my gun or not using it.

My Thermion 2 is on my Bravo Built .224 Valkyrie AR. This combo has proven to be absolutely deadly. The Thermion’s forgiving field of view lets me have multiple follow-up shots or engage other targets quickly. I prefer the H50i reticle, which has fine crosshairs with a small, illuminated center, offering a clean, crisp sight picture with an easy-to-acquire point of aim.


Ready, Camera, Action

I stage each location during the day. After each pond has a camera and corn set out for bait, I head back to the lodge to rest and relax because once the sun sets, it doesn't take long for my phone to start vibrating with trail camera notifications. As soon as I get pictures of hogs on one of my ponds, I jump in my side-by-side, and the fun begins.

Pulling up to my pre-planned parking area, I open my phone to check the cameras one more time before making the stalk. Confirming the hogs are still there, I load my rifle, attach it to my tripod, power up my thermal units, and begin. I prefer to carry my rifle and tripod together over my left shoulder. Being right-handed, this frees my dominant hand to use my Axion 2 while walking into position. As I get close to the pond's edge, I slow my approach, checking for the heat signatures of the hogs.

Almost always, there is a group ranging from 5 to 30 hogs. Through my scanner, neon white pigs fill my view. I slowly step into position, being extra careful to avoid unwanted noise. I open my tripod and settle in behind the gun. Looking at the buffet of targets, I pick out the largest hog, hold the reticle behind its ear, and slowly squeeze.

This scenario will repeat itself all through the night. As fast as I can load up the hogs from one pond and get them to the cooler, more will appear at a different one. Nights like these are action-packed, target-rich, and addicting.

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