In the wilderness, without tools, humans are generally useless and defenseless. Our teeth aren’t meant for fighting, nor are our fingernails, and our soft skin is easily broken. Compared to most animals, we have poor eyesight, a poor sense of smell, and we don’t run very fast. Our climbing abilities are sub-par, and we can swim reasonably well, as long as there are no marine predators, currents, seaweed or cold temperatures. Our sense of hearing is rather weak, and our diets are specialized towards cooked food and a small selection of edible plants. When it comes to wilderness survival, our sole evolutionary advantage is our over-sized brains. Humans are intelligent, if nothing else, and we’ve learned to bend more primitive, savage creatures towards our purposes.
People have been hunting with dogs for thousands of years. The average dog can smell between 1,000-10,000,000 times better than the average human, which makes them ideal for tracking prey across uneven, wooded terrain. Canine visual acuity is still being studied, but the consensus is dogs can see better during dusk and dawn (prime hunting hours), and they have a quicker recognition-mechanism for moving objects. When it comes to hearing, dogs can detect frequencies from 67-45000 Hz, compared to the human range of 64-23,000 Hz, which means a dog can hear about 4 times further than a human. These attributes, combined with their sharp teeth, 20mph running speed and natural aggression, make dogs the perfect brawny-complement to human intelligence. When a human and dog hunt together, the combination is extremely effective.
Considering America’s feral hog crisis, hunting with dogs is not merely a fun hobby – it’s a necessity. In these modern times, the human-dog hunting combination has found the perfect complement: Thermal Imaging. The ability to see heat signatures is relatively new technology, and the finest purveyor of thermal imaging, without a close second, is Pulsar. Pulsar’s vast collection of thermal imagers includes the legendary Helion XP. For a sense of the Helion XP’s power, consider these features:
- 640×480 microbolometer resolution
- 1970-yard detection range
- 8x digital zoom
- Picture-in-Picture digital zoom
- Built-in Recording
- Stream Vision App connects to smart device
- Rock and forest object identification modes
- Defective pixel repair feature
With these spectacular capabilities, is it any wonder that some enterprising hunters utilize the human + canine + thermal imaging combination? With these three separate entities, nuisance animals don’t stand a chance. In order to understand how truly effective this combination is, a representative from Pulsar caught up with a popular hunter in Florida, The Python Cowboy.
Pulsar: Thanks for doing this interview, Mr. Python.
Python Cowboy: Please, call me Mike.
Pulsar: Absolutely. Now, let’s establish some basics – How did you come up with your nickname and which region do you prefer to hunt? Why?
Mike: The year I started hunting pythons was with the first group of state-contracted hunters in the SFWMD Python Program. That’s when people started calling me the python cowboy, probably because my background working on cattle ranches, my style of clothes, and just how I hit pythons’ full throttle! I prefer to hunt the pythons south of lake Okeechobee out in the swamp, depending on time of year, north of Homestead…specifically ‘Area 3’ for all my South Florida locals! I feel this area has the highest concentration and is sort of ground zero for people dumping their nonnative pets into our Everglades. I can hunt either by airboat/jon-boat, on foot, or even in my truck on levees that stretch up to 20+ miles into the swamp to help control water levels and direct flow.
Pulsar: Excellent. So how long have you been hunting with dogs, and who taught you?
Mike: I’ve been keen on training dogs most my life, but I have only gotten into using dogs to hunt and help me in conservation efforts this past 5 years or so. I like to think I’ve learned a lot of it on my own with very strong guidance from Allie and her dad #GoKartRicky. Between them, they have 60+ years’ experience; Allie started hunting with him in a car seat on a swamp buggy at 6 months old and hasn’t stopped since!
Pulsar: How many dogs do you use, and which breeds do you prefer?
Mike: I currently have a growing pack of 12 working dogs with 3 more being picked up this week from #GoKartRicky’s new litter of promising hunters. The number of dogs I use at one time all depends on the job. Sometimes we may take 6 at once because we expect large groups of hogs or want to have fresh dogs ready to roll for a long hunt. Sometimes one dog is all I need, for example when I hunt iguanas and Egyptian geese, I will usually just bring our dog Otto. My favorite breed of dog would have to be the Florida Cur or Black Mouth Cur, but we use everything from Catahoula Leopard dogs and GWPs to purebred Ladner curs and Rhodesian Ridgeback mixes. Plott hounds are another favorite as well.
Pulsar: Great! So, what are some advantages and disadvantages to hunting with dogs?
Mike: There are many advantages that comes with hunting with dogs. The most obvious being their sense of smell. They can track and locate different species of animals I’m trying to find and remove, whether alive, or maybe one I just shot and need to recover. But that’s just the beginning. I also use them to help me capture the animal in most cases. For example: most of the hogs on hog jobs I’m contracted are trap-smart. Usually a trapper before me has proven unsuccessful so now they were referred to me. Shooting a hog and removing it is one thing, but I much prefer to squeeze that extra dollar out of it, keep the hogs alive and sell them as livestock. This is where my pack of trained hog dogs come in crucial! Even with trap-smart hogs I’m able to find them where they are, capture them alive and transport them back to the ranch to be fattened up and sold! I could go on and on about the advantages, but you get the idea…now for some of the disadvantages! These dogs ain’t cheap and they sure as hell ain’t easy y’all! They eat a lot of expensive food and require a lot of medical care in their line of work. We try to do most everything in house, even surgeries when possible, but there are still a lot of expenses. There is always something to deal with or some new hurdle to overcome but that’s what I’m all about! These dogs have high drives, lots of power and can sometimes have BAD attitudes towards each other… they can be a handful! At the end of the day you get out what you put in and believe me it takes ALOT of blood, sweat and tears if you want to be a true houndsman.
Pulsar: Excellent, now let’s discuss your Pulsar device. Do you find the Helion XP easy to operate? Do you understand all its features?
Mike: The Helion XP has been very easy to operate, especially after using the ATN Thor the year prior, there is a day-and-night difference in imaging and interface. It is very user friendly and just feels like a quality tool. I was able to quickly understand and figure out all the features, and that’s usually where I have trouble. I’m extremely pleased with it so far.
Pulsar: Does the Helion XP perform how you would expect?
Mike: The Helion performed better than I expected. I was totally blown away the first time I saw the difference between just the imaging of the Helion vs thermals I’ve previously used. I could easily navigate woods & water with just using this thermal, and I had a lot of trouble getting around using other thermals. I was also surprised how easily I was able to identify which animal I was looking at while using the Helion; usually identification can be an issue using thermals.
Pulsar: Are you able to locate feral hogs more efficiently with the Helion XP?
Mike: I definitely have been able to locate hogs and all wildlife much more efficiently using the Helion XP. With the combination of my thermal “eyes” and my dog’s noses, we’ve been unstoppable!
Pulsar: Does the Helion XP make the hunt safer for you and your dogs?
Mike: The Helion makes the hunt much safer for me and my dogs. I’m able to scan an area very quickly and have a very good idea of what animals are around and how many we are about to encounter. It is easier to develop a plan of attack when you see the enemy before they see you, or you are right on top of them. Being able to have eyes on the dogs while crouching around palmetto heads really helps too. A lot of times you can still make out their heat signature in between the vegetation. With feral hogs you can get yourself into a sticky situation quick! Also, it is a big help spotting gators in bodies of water without shining lights. Because they’re cold-blooded, you can’t see their heat signature, but you can still see their outline.
Pulsar: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of hog-dogging with a thermal device like the Helion XP?
Mike: I must say the Pulsar Helion XP has been a game changer, especially while hunting hogs with the dogs out on the airboat. I can spot hogs from insane distances and close in on em’ before they even know we are releasing the dogs! Beyond that, it’s been a huge help just keeping an eye on my dogs, day or night. A lot of times I can get a better idea of what they are doing by watching them with the handheld, especially in vegetation. It’s great for spotting hogs then dropping dogs on the ground to catch them without the hogs having any warning. Honestly, the only disadvantage was having to carry the device…and I can deal with that.
Pulsar: Did hog-dogging with a thermal change any of your real-time decisions?
Mike: Using the thermal while hog dogging helps me make more informed and careful decisions because I have a much better idea of what the dogs are doing and what’s around us. I don’t have to shine lights everywhere to try and see what’s going on.
Pulsar: Do you plan on using your Helion XP for future hunts?
Mike: I definitely plan on keeping my Helion XP thermal handheld close for all my future hunts, including with the dogs! I get a little better with it each hunt and am starting to feel naked without it.
Pulsar: Great, thanks for taking the time to discuss your work and experiences with the Helion XP. We wish you all the best in your future adventures.
Mike: Thanks, it’s always a pleasure.
To see the Python Cowboy in action, check out this link! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsSiBA6s-jI