PALM BAY, FL. - Slap, smack, swat, and then repeat.
The blood-sucking mosquitoes were out in force, buzzing with more than just a little inquisitiveness at the bloke who was invading their palmetto hearth and home.
Kind of cool, I thought, to find myself battling mosquitoes in the dead of winter. Especially since cellular text and voice messages sent back and forth to my Northeast Ohio home were rich with the excitement of polar vortexes, dipping jet streams, lake effect storm warnings, dangerous wind chills and all of the other weather trappings that have turned this season into one of discontent.
Well, not for everyone. Most certainly not for me.
A 964-mile drive south plucked me inland a little ways and alongside the Atlantic Ocean, just to the west of I-95.
That is the seasonal migration route for the so-called snowbirds who arrive from places as far north as Quebec with a healthy flock of Ohio retirees looking for sand, sunshine and early bird dinner specials.
Me? Why I was (again) much more interested in things more exotic than watching old men strutting up and down a beach wearing Bermuda shorts with knee-high black-colored socks and dress-white Velcro-closure sneakers.
By exotic I mean pigs. Wild hogs, feral boars. The whole lot of them.
And Florida has a bunch, too. In fact, Florida is said to rank second in the number of wild hogs with an estimated population of around 500,000 such swine.
Only Texas has bragging rights to playing host to more little and big piggies with an estimated population of 2 million wild hogs. (That figure, by the way, is a tad more than one-half the nation's total feral pig population).
Of course, “hosting” is hardly a word that Floridian property owners and Florida health, agriculture and wildlife officials would apply to these vermin.
Then again the problems associated with wild pigs have been percolating in the Florida back-country, swamps and bush for a pretty long time. Like 500 years when Spanish conquistador Hernado DeSota thought it was a right-smart idea to bring along the bacon as it were as he looked for gold.
He didn't find much gold but the hogs he left to run wild sure did secure a really good pig's-feet hold on the Florida peninsula.
Wild hogs are totally indiscriminate feeders, too, racing through a matrix of agricultural and native land the way a bus-load of traveling seniors will forage their way through a Chinese buffet.
Nothing is safe; not even the ground itself. In their quest for anything and everything to eat, Florida's feral hogs think nothing of ripping to shreds the landscape.
I've seen entire fields of crops ripped apart overnight by a sounder of wild hogs. Sounder, incidentally, is what's used to describe a large congregation of wild hogs.
Other names that are unprintable are used also, of course.
None, however, carry the interest quite like “hog-hunting” to me and to a growing legion of sports looking for a hunt on the cheap.
That's why I hooked up with Matthew Cates, owner of Triple M Outfitters Unlimited in Palm Bay, which is about 40 or 50 miles south-southeast of Orlando, which for many people is the only Florida they'll ever see and know.
Too bad since the Florida I've come to appreciate with its myriad natural embellishments beat an overpriced visit to an over-rated amusement park any day of the week.
Anyway, this was my second hog hunt with Matt in the past seven months.
I had transferred my hog-hunting flag from the top edge of Lake Okeechobee north to Palm Bay. That way I could save money by bunking at my in-law's homestead located one city north of Palm Bay.
Besides, Cates is really good at what he does and when he says you'll have no problem connecting the dots on one or more wild hog then you won't have any problem connecting the dots on on one or more wild hog.
That's why you would have found me hunkered behind some palmetto leaves stuck in the gray-black and dusty earth a smidgeon before sunrise.
“The feeder is set to go off about 7 (a.m.),” Cates said. “You need to be ready.”
Ready I was and with the precision of a Swiss watch in sync with the cesium atomic clock in Fort Collins, Colorado so was the first of my three wild hogs.
Equipped with a phenomenal sense of smell and acute hearing, swine believed that was enough when the good Lord was passing out the better genes. Hogs never did stick around long enough to also collect an equal portion of keen eyesight.
Which was just as well. My hog clearly knew something different was behind that green veneer of palm fronds. It just wasn't sure what, and when it comes to eating many-a hog will oink a shrug and make for the corn kernels washed onto the ground by an electronic feeder.
Bad decision that for this black-haired young boar. A 150-grain Federal Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet launched from a .30-06 rifle built for me by a late gun-tinker friend a quarter-century ago was all it took.
Then again so did a 185-grain Hornady Z-Max fired from my Taurus Model 1911 in .45 ACP as well as a 150-grain Winchester Super-X slug that had exited from my father-in-law's 100-year-old Model 1894 lever-action rifle chambered for .30-30 Winchester.
You see, a hunter can use virtually any type of weapon is virtually any caliber or gauge. I decided to utilize three different cartridge types to take the three hogs.
Shoot, a hunter doesn't even need a firearm. A muzzle-loader will do, thank you, as will a crossbow, a longbow, a Bowie knife or even a spear.
That is, if you want to get close with a hog that is all bundled up in a wad of hounds that hate the feral pig with the same loathing the swine possesses for its nemesis.
Just be careful. You make speak of the meanness of a junkyard dog but I assure you an enraged wild hog that is chattering its teeth would just as soon sharpen those spikes on your shin bone as it would the skull of a tormenting (and very possibly already bloodied) hound.
Yet it's part of Cates' hog-hunting package, one that is assembled with enough variables and alternatives to ensure success.
If stand hunting doesn't produce because a late winter morning becomes too hot for the hogs to remain active then you can spot and stalk them. That's when the swine start slipping up and down trails and farm right-of-ways or else laying up underneath loblolly pines, purchasing rest in the shade of the trees.
And if push comes to shove Cates will release the dogs from their canine carriers in the back of the truck. These dogs will root out a hog or two or maybe an entire sounder. That's when a person willing to endure the stiff leaves of the palmetto plants can chase after pig and dog.
Or wait until the dog(s) have cornered an animal.
Anyway, either way.
Just so long as you do your part Cates will be happy, his dogs will be happy, the game processor who'll turn your boar into savory breakfast sausage will be happy, and Florida's wildlife officials and farmers will be happy.
About the only ones who won't be thrilled are the hogs.
And that's okay, too. Florida has so many rapidly breeding feral pigs that they never do seem to miss Uncle Charlie, Aunt Mable or even Ma.
For information about hog hunting with Cates, visit his Triple M Outfitters Unlimited web site www.triplemoutfittersunlimited.com, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 321-863-2985.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn