Getting the Drop on More Hogs: Scouting, Setups and a Thermion, Oh My!
I didn’t stumble into hog hunting accidentally, I jumped right into it and over the past 20 years have hunted them in a number of states, learned scores of lessons and have killed more of them than I care to count—most of them under the cloak of night. I have developed something of a love/hate relationship with feral hogs over that time; I love hunting them and hate the damage they leave in their wake. I wish I could say the latter is my greatest motivation to hunt feral pigs but the truth is simply in the hunt. They are incredibly intelligent animals, see better than most people give them credit for, are unpredictable—an element of danger included, their sense of smell makes successful hunting even more challenging, and they taste great. Of course, my hunting adventures don’t always end with successful kills; in fact, often, they do not but I certainly have learned how, when and where to get the drop on more of them.
I can’t recall where we were headed but the words have never stopped toying with my hog-hunting mind. As we slipped out of our front gate and onto the dirt road one foggy spring morning, my son, just a toddler at the time and peering through the window chimed, “It’s hoggy outside.” For nearly 15 years, his innocent statement has held quite a different meaning for me—good feral hog habitat. I’m sure anyone who has ever spent time with me has heard me say “It’s hoggy out there” as I point or look into crop fields, heavily wooded areas and thicket-lined waterways.
In a state like Texas, of which I happily call home, finding hog-friendly habitat isn’t necessarily hard. Thick underbrush I like to call piggy-hotels, food and water sources and often lack of human presence combine to comprise spectacularly hoggy hunting ground. Of course, short of seeing them, scouting for hog signs is the only way to know for sure.
Hogs are nocturnal and patterning them can definitely be an exercise in frustration—in my experience, hogs do what they want, when they want, period. Trail cameras can certainly help establish even short-term patterning to, from and in areas providing water and food sources. Cameras also identify and verify access and pinch points as well as trails. Other information from trail cameras can also be invaluable—sounder sizes, breeding periods, etc.
Whether your scouting turns up scat, tracks, rooted areas, bedding areas or active trails, mark them on a map, even a hand-drawn map of your hunting area works. The information not only helps you determine if your ground is hoggy, but it also helps you form your hunting strategies. In Texas, the information most often lends itself to setting up effective hunting spots near areas of highest activity, as well as how to best access them without being detected.
As a side note, I scout like I hunt and employ similar measures for both to mitigate my impact on their wildlife routines. I work to control my scent and am quiet and always carry optics. At a minimum, I carry a pair of good binoculars, preferably with XD (extra-low dispersion) glass like the Sightmark 10×42 Solitude XD. As often as possible, I also carry a thermal binocular like the Pulsar Accolade XP50 LRF or Helion XP50 monocular. While traditional binos definitely make it easier to spot animals at a distance, thermal imaging binoculars or monoculars expose wildlife in areas with reduced visibility, for example, shadowy areas of dense foliage. In heavy thickets or open expanses, there is also no denying thermal’s ability to detect heat signatures we may have missed while entering, scouting or exiting areas. When it comes to slipping in and out of an area undetected, thermal is as indispensable to scouting as it is to hunting.
Determining the best places to set up tree-stands, ground blinds, box stands, etc. is often directly related to scouting. Even if your stand location is based on an intentional food source like a food plot or broadcast feeder, the location of the resource you generate is often determined by scouting, or at the least, trying to forecast optimum wildlife activity at that resource based on previous experiences.
That said, wherever your scouting dictates best hunting setup location, predominate wind and the landscape give you further guidance on types, precise placement and even potential locations for alternatives in the same area. For example, placing a blind on the side of an active trail downwind of predominant wind direction may be a great idea but consider setting up an alternate position that allows you to hunt if the wind direction reverses. Considering wind and setups, even if your strategy is to locate and stalk, setups aside, the wind is as much a factor in the stalk as it is in hunting from a stand or blind setup—stay downwind.
Ground blinds may be great long edges of open areas, off trails and in areas with decent views of shooting lanes and in landscapes with minimal trees; however, tree-stands and elevated box stands may be the right answer for an enhanced view of the area around you, especially on ground holding tall grasses, thick vegetation and other features that compromise your ability to see and shoot without obstructions. Speaking of seeing, using devices like thermal imaging can reveal activity nearby you never knew existed.
The Thermion Thermal Riflescope, Oh My!
Whether you’re trying to get more hogs, or just one, seeing is the most critical element in the hunting dynamic, day or night. Good friend and History Channel’s season 2 Top Shot winner Chris Reed said it best, “You can’t hit what you can’t see”—targets or pigs and a key to getting the drop on more is simply seeing more. And, seeing them when they are most active—at night. Circling back to tidy things up a bit here, thermal is, hands-down, the best way to see more feral hogs.
Nighttime aside, it’s worth noting that hogs are easy to miss, even during daylight hours, when you’re scanning for wildlife in the shadows of a wooded area. Thermal imaging exposes them, too; in fact, if it has a heat signature, day or night, it glows—there’s no mistaking wildlife for the environment around it. Disclaimer here: You certainly can mistake various types of living things. Always be sure of your target. A Pulsar Thermion thermal riflescope can help in more ways than one.
One of the best features of the Pulsar Thermion is the riflescope’s 8-color display palette. Even if a field of view seems muted in colorless hues of black and white, the Thermion’s color palette can change an easy-to-miss shot…to an exceptionally difficult-to-miss shot. As an example, using the Red-Hot display option would display flashes of red where one might normally only see white. If the white signature were small enough to miss, perhaps because of dense foliage, you definitely would not miss red signatures on the display—nothing else, other than a heat signature, would register red on the display.
The Thermion’s robust magnification and step-and continuous-zoom functionality get heat signatures closer to you, making them easier to spot, observe and ultimately, identify. On the topic of magnification, picture-in-picture also enhances your ability to identify pigs and even enhances your shot placement at the moment of truth. The Thermion’s picture-in-picture doubles your device’s magnification power specifically in a duplicated reticle area at the top-dead-center of your display. True to its namesake, it only takes up 10-percent of the display so you never lose your primary field of view.
While stadiametric rangefinding also helps you identify heat signatures, the technology also helps to validate the identification by providing important distance information. When it’s time to drop more hogs, numerous reticle choices and colors also help. As an example, in a world of black or white reticles with black- or white-hot thermal imaging, it can be tough to identify your reticle, more importantly, the central point of your crosshairs. The Thermion offers color reticles to dramatically enhance the contrast between your crosshairs and the targets beyond them. And while you’re busy getting the drop on more hogs, you can record the action for friends and family on the integrated video recorder.
As final notes on how the Thermion can help you get the drop on more hogs, microbolometer resolution and detection ranges are worth mentioning. Thermion XM models include 320×240 microbolometer sensors with 12-micron pixel pitch for an extended detection range, even in less than desirable weather conditions while Thermion XP thermal riflescopes boast 640×480 sensor resolution with a 17-micron pixel pitch. 640 sensor resolution may not detect heat signatures at quite the distance of XM series thermals; however, the imaging range is still quite significant—up to 2,000 yards—and image quality is definitely superior to those devices employing 320 sensors, especially as you begin to increase magnification. Something worth thinking about when it’s time to decide on the right Thermion model for your pursuits.