Four of us stood in the thin pine trees bordering a rice field in east Texas under the cover of darkness. The world filtered to our eyes in shades of green through our night vision goggles, and all around our heads, swarms of mosquitoes buzzed in great, moving halos. We were on the hunt, so no one wanted to slap at the insects too loudly. I heard someone beside me in the darkness muffle a curse and wave their arm to try keeping the bugs at bay.
“Hear that?” our guide whispered.
I did hear something over the whine of the mosquitoes—a wet, sloshing sound interrupted by a strange noise that mimicked a zipper. The sounds continued ahead of us and to our left and I did hear something over the whine of the mosquitoes—a wet, sloshing sound interrupted by a strange noise that mimicked a zipper. The sounds continued ahead of us and to our left and right, and through the trees, we could see an open expanse that held perhaps 200 hogs. The zipper sound was generated as they stripped grains of rice away while feeding. Far in the distance, I heard a familiar squeal as two pigs fought over the same patch of rice.
Hog populations in Texas have become so bad (there are an estimated 2.5 million pigs there) that farmers have lost total crops to these invasive animals. The wild pig population exploded in the state as early settlers released or lost pigs a century ago, and now, dramatic steps are being taken to curb the population. From the sounds we were hearing in the field ahead of us, this farmer’s entire crop might be gone by morning.
We stepped up onto a levy, and the shooter to my right used his night vision in conjunction with the infrared Crimson Trace laser on his AR rifle to sight in on one boar standing chest deep in the flooded rice field. When he fired, I heard the thump of the bullet and a massive wash of sloshing water as pigs poured out of the field in every direction. I found another hog that was making its way toward our position on the levy. I aimed and fired.
That was more of an eradication effort than a hunt, but by the night’s end, we had several hundred pounds of fresh hog meat that would be butchered to feed families in the area.
Texas biologists estimate that 66 percent of the feral hog population in that state would have to be eradicated just to keep the numbers stable. And Texas is not alone; there are hog populations in 39 states, and each year, the number of pigs nationwide expands.
Because I am a hunter, this offers the opportunity for very lowcost hunting and lots of fresh meat. No matter where you live, there are probably pigs nearby, and state wildlife biologists likely want to see those pigs killed.
Why? Feral hogs are not native, and they greatly damage ecosystems. They drive out native species and cost millions each year in lost crops. In addition, they are prolific breeders. Sows reach sexual maturity at 1 year of age and can have up to three litters of six to eight piglets each year. To combat this, state wildlife agencies have offered no closed season on hogs and no bag limit.
“THE FERAL PIGEON HAS BECOME SO COMMON, FEW PEOPLE CAN IMAGINE THAT THEY AREN’T NATIVE BIRDS.”
Hogs can be hunted using several methods. You can pursue them with dogs, over feed, or by glassing and moving slowly through areas where they feed. In some areas, you can even use helicopters—although that’s an expensive method.
While night vision equipment helps, you can hunt feral hogs with very basic equipment. Your deer rifle loaded with tough bullets works, but most hog hunters prefer a firearm with lots of capacity in case they encounter a large “sounder” (group) of pigs. ARs are ideal, but lever guns, slug shotguns and even handguns also work quite well. Well-constructed bullets are the key, and if you get into a large group, you can have several hundred pounds of meat on the ground in a hurry—all while helping native wildlife and farmers.
Invasives In The Sky
The feral pigeon has become so common, few people can imagine that they aren’t native birds. In fact, pigeons were introduced to this country from Europe in the 1600s. And while some people don’t have first-hand experience with the damage that feral hogs cause, virtually everyone has witnessed the problems pigeons cause.
The most common method for pigeon hunting is the use of decoys (see the sidebar on this page). In a good area, it’s not unlikely to bring in several dozen birds a day. Additionally, pigeons make for exceptional eating: On a pigeon hunt in Idaho, the team from Camp Chef was on hand to prepare the birds after they were killed. The results were impressive. (Don’t let the nickname, “feathered rat,” fool you—pigeons are delicious, especially those that feed on a steady diet of waste grain.)
Another invasive bird that is becoming more common in the United States is the Eurasian collared dove. Like the pigeon, the collared dove is a member of the order Columbiformes, or “dove” family. However, unlike the feral pigeon, these birds were introduced recently—sometime during the 1980s. But they are prolific breeders that compete with native dove species, and they are generally viewed as pests with liberal (or no) bag limits where they occur.
The essential gear for hunting pigeons and collared doves is pretty basic. You’ll need a shotgun loaded with #6, #7½ or #8 shot shells. These birds have excellent vision, so you’ll need to be camouflaged to bring them in close. But on a good, invasive bird hunt, you can leave the field with enough fresh meat to fill the freezer for some time.
Soar No More Decoys, based in Kuna, Idaho, offers a full line of pigeon decoys that are incredibly realistic and do an excellent job of fooling even wary birds. A combination of the brand’s SNM MAG PRO Pigeon, SNM Rock Pigeon Shells and SNM Rock Pigeon MOJO decoys is the ticket to shooting lots of pigeons and keeping flocks coming in day after day (www.SoarNoMore.com).
Federal’s Hi-Bird shotgun loads are available in 12-gauge with both 1¼-ounce and 1 1/8-ounce loads and are specifically designed for challenging shots on birds such as pigeons, doves, crows and upland species. They are the choice of serious pigeon and collared dove hunters (www.FederalPremium.com).
If you’re in the market for a pigeon shotgun, check out Stevens’ superb 555 line of over/unders. These are lightweight, durable and affordable. 555 shotguns are available in 12-, 20- and 28-gauge and .410 bore, and the new 555 Enhanced version comes with upgraded wood, a silver receiver and laser engraving (www.SavageArms.com).
Brad Fitzpatrick is a full-time freelance writer based in Ohio. His works have appeared in several print and online publications, and he is the author of two books: The Shooter’s Bible Guide to Concealed Carry and Handgun Buyer’s Guide 2015. He has hunted on four continents and was a collegiate trap and skeet shooter before becoming a writer.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the November 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.