OKEECHOBEE, Fla. - If Florida is Hog Heaven then the heavily farmed area around Lake Okeechobee is Hog Central.
Actually, any one of a whole bunch of other states can lay claim to being called the Wild Boar Capital of the World. Count Texas, California, the Carolinas in the mix with Florida.
The estimated population of wild, or - feral - hogs in the United States is pegged at around four million animals. Florida’s share is said to be about 500,000 porkers while Texas leads with a piggish two million hogs.
It is opined as well that wild hogs are now in 35 to 40 states. Among them being Ohio.
No one really knows for sure just how many feral pigs are really rooting up farms, fields and woodlots in Florida or anywhere else.
Part of the reason is because a female hog - called a sow - becomes sexually mature in as little as six months of age. These sows can have up to three litters annually with each litter consisting of nine to 10 piglets.
That is why scientist use such terms as “pandemic” and “environmental disaster” to describe the country’s pig population explosion.
You have to go back to 1539 to assign blame. That is the year that Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto introduced swine into southwest Florida. Add to that an influx of hogs allowed to roam freely by farmers over the past couple of centuries and the species’ ability to burst at the seams was simmering on the back burner.
The heat was turned on by the massive spread of factory farming operations. The pigs have taken a real shine to crops, including the sugar cane fields of south Florida.
Of course no one can say that feral hogs are dumb brutes. They are as sly and intelligent as they are prolific.
And just as mean. For that just ask Bitt Johnson, a guide who works with Floridian fishing/hunting outfitter Ron’s Guide Service.
The week before I went on a hog-hunting trip and used Johnson to lead the way, he had stepped down from his combine-size swamp buggy to approach a boar for one reason or another. A very bad mistake as things turned out.
Johnson said that when the boar eyed him the animal charged. Using its sharp tusks the boar gouged a pretty nasty furrow in one of the guide’s legs.
Thing is, though, hunting wild hogs/feral pigs in Florida is a blast. As it has become in many other states.
So much so that just within the past couple of years a whole constellation of hog-hunting specific hardware has appeared.
Such firearms makers as Savage and Rock River are now selling guns specifically geared to hog hunting. That even includes semi-automatic firearms built on AR-style chassis as well as tiny M-O-A bolt-action rifles, complete with camouflaged paint jobs and tactical optics.
Not to be outdone, ammunition makers such as Hornady and Winchester have developed both lead-based and all-copper loads tailor-made just for killing hogs.
Gun cranks, too, have cooked up new center-fire calibers specifically for the killing of hogs. Think: .450 Bushmaster and the .458 SCOCOM.
Really, though, many standard rifle configurations and long-time calibers are perfectly adequate for the hunting and killing of hogs.
On my recent trip to the hog-thick Lake Okeechobee region I packed my vintage and unaltered World War II-surplus Springfield 03-A3. It was fed Remington’s Managed Recoil ammunition that includes 125-grain bullets. The round is intended for recoil-sensitive persons and for shooting at deer-size game out to 150 yards.
In the past I’ve used my Ithaca rifled-barrled 16-guage shotgun with Lightfield sabot slugs. This was a death-dealing hog killer. And one time I even used a Ruger semi-automatic pistol in 9mm caliber, something that I wouldn’t do again. It was underpowered.
I thought the 03-A3 rifle/Remington Managed Recoil combination would perfectly suited for killing a hog. It was, which came as no surprise.
After getting over a case of buck fever and missing, I cycled another round into the Springfield. The rifle sent the bullet speeding 70 yards downrange to the trotting boar. When the bullet arrived the hog never made another step.
The thing is, hog hunting in Florida is just so darn cheap. And equally as successful. The total cost for a hog hunt with Ron’s Guide Service is $250. That price includes skinning and quartering the animal.
Another positive fiscal factor: Because feral hogs are considered an invasive species in Florida, a hunting license is not required. Not to be forgotten either is that there are no bag limits and no closed seasons.
For these reasons I call a Florida hog hunt the country's least expensive big-game hunting opportunity.
Also, hunters in many cases have a choice of hunting from a tree ladder stand, following a pack of specialized hounds or climbing aboard a swamp buggy and traveling across a swamp-infested ranch. That last method is a hoot and is my favorite way of hunting hogs in Florida.
Oh, and the safest, too. Just ask Johnson who said he never intends to disembark from the machine until he knows for sure the hog isn’t going to rise up Zombie-like and strike again.
For information about hunting with Ron’s Guide Service, contact http://www.ronsguideservice.com or call 954-582-6647.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn