I wasn’t surprised that my friend, Doctor Neil from Nassau, paused at my offer to go hog hunting in Florida.
“You know we don’t have guns in Nassau,” he reminded me when I called him.
“Not to worry. I have one for you.”
“What about a license?”
"You won't believe this. Hogs are such a nuisance in Florida that it's open season all year round, and you don't need a license."
"Even if you are from out of the country? After 9/11?"
"Yes. All you need to do is show up, and the guide will take care of everything. There's a great hog hunting ranch that you can fly into near Okeechobee.”
“Dude, you’re my best social manager. I’ll be there.”
Though I had hunted elusive wild pigs and western javelinas many times before, only one wound up in my freezer. Because of their poor vision, they typically stay in the thickest of underbrush, where hunting is difficult. Therefore I was surprised to read about Ron’s Guide Service that guaranteed a kill or no charge for a hog hunt. I signed Doc and I up and drove south for a day of fun.
When I picked Doc up from the Okeechobee Airport, I asked, "You were late coming in. Was there trouble clearing customs in Lauderdale?"
"No problem there. I was slipping through those low clouds, you know. When I broke out of one, I was in a swarm of buzzards circling. A big bird in the prop would have been the end of me. I pulled up hard to miss them, and then I was back in the clouds. I slowed down the rest of the trip, sweating each time I pushed into an open space."
“I don’t know of anyone killed by a buzzard before. That would be a lousy way to go. I’m glad you made it down okay. Get your gear into the car and let's go shoot hogs.”
As we headed west out of Okeechobee, Doc said, “Tell me more about this hunt.”
“Hogs tear up the land around here, so farmers are glad to lease their land out to let hunters shoot them. Florida has no season or limit on hogs, so it’s a matter of killing as many as you want to clean and eat. In this flat land around Lake Okeechobee, there are no woods to hide in, so the hogs roam around in the fields. Our guide uses a swamp buggy to chase them, and we shoot on the run."
“What’s a swamp buggy?”
"Some big four-wheel drive with giant tires."
“Sounds like fun,” Doc replied with a big grin. “What kind of gun do we use?”
"Either a rifle or shotgun. Have you shot a rifle before?"
“Okay, I’ll give you the shotgun. The shell has many BBs in a wide pattern. You'll have better luck hitting a pig with that than the rifle I'll use with one bullet. We each get one kill. We have a one-hour hunt reservation at 2:00. They assured me that it was all the time we would need.
There must be a lot of hogs out there."
"Hmm," said Doc. "A one hour hunt."
A short while later, we pulled up to a barn serving as a headquarters for Ron's Guide Service just a few miles from Lake Okeechobee. I parked next to the craziest vehicle I had ever seen. Four large tractor tires supported a platform six feet in the air. There was nobody to add weight in thick mud. Boat chairs seated four shooters and a driver under a Bimini boat cover. Wouldn't want a hunter to be hot or wet. At the rear were two dogs in cages.
We checked in with our guide, Mark, and signed our life away. It seems there was concern about falling off tall, bouncing vehicles, rookies shooting guns, etc.
“What do you want to shoot today? Alligators or hogs?” Mark asked.
“Hogs,” I replied.
“What kind of weapon will you be using?”
“A 30-30 Winchester, a 12 gauge shotgun with buckshot, and a 9 mm Glock.”
“We do have other weapons if you want to kill close in. We use the dogs to run them to exhaustion, and then you finish them off a mano." Mark pointed to a pile of well-used blades in the corner of the room.
A bow or crossbow – pigs have thick skin. I think an arrow would just piss them off. A spear – did I look like a young, strong Indian? Hatchet – butcher then alive? Large knife – for real? They have large teeth. Hold them down and stab them to death? Sword - hack them to pieces? What kind of people came out here from Miami?
I looked at Doc's wide eyes. "No thanks," I shook my head. "We'll shoot from up top."
"Just checking. It takes all types, you know," Mark said with a crooked smile. "The dogs will get a break. Are you looking for a trophy? That will be another hundred dollars.
“No,” I replied. “The smaller ones taste better. Besides, we’re breaking Doc in. He’s never been hunting.”
Mark smiled. "I see. He will have lots of fun. Then let's get loaded up."
We went to the buggy, climbed a ladder, and placed our guns in safety racks. Mark started the loud diesel engine and drove down a dirt road.
“See that pond?” Mark pointed to the other side of a fence. Alligator heads blanketed the water. Big ones. “We raise and sell gators. There’s good money in the hides. After cleaning the hogs, we feed the remains to our pets.”
A self-sustaining operation. Very clever.
“Do you have another lake? Doc’s never shot before, so he needs some practice.”
We went to a small pond where I showed Doc how to operate my shotgun safely. After blasting the water a few times, he was ready to go.
“I’ll shoot first,” I told Doc. “You watch and learn.”
“We’ll go to a place where we saw some this morning,” Mark said.
Mark drove across a flat field at a bearable speed that didn’t bounce too much. Fortunately, it was the dry season, and we weren't fighting mud. I held onto the rails and looked for hogs in short grass, shallow ditches, and along fence lines. From ten feet up, I could see a lot further than I could shoot with my open sight rifle.
A few minutes later, two medium-size hogs, one red and one black bolted from a ditch a hundred yards away.
“There they go,” shouted Mark. “I’ll cut them off at the fence.”
I raised my rifle and held on as Mark bounced us across the field in pursuit. The dogs, sensing the hunt was on, barked and howled. The hogs turned at the fence, giving me a good broadside angle. Mark slowed down. A little. I cocked the hammer. The rail bounced too much to support my rifle, so I used an offhand shot, the hardest way to shoot. In my youth, I had learned to shoot a shotgun at flying doves from a moving vehicle. The key was to hold a steady bead on the animal by letting my body and shoulders move like shock absorbers while the gun barrel stayed on target. I steadied my rifle's bead on a red shoulder and fired. Down fell the lead hog from a heart shot. The dogs howled. Greg and Mark cheered my shot and gave me high fives.
When Mark drove us up to the quivering animal, he said, “Better bleed him now. The longer you wait before he dies, the more lactic acid pours into its muscles, wrecking the taste. I hope you have a sharp knife.”
I jumped off the buggy and gave the coup de grace to the eighty-pound sow with a stiff neck slice from my hunting knife. He was right. The skin was tough as leather.
“The other one stopped up there by that tree,” said Mark. “Let’s go get it.”
Back on the swamp buggy, I gave the shooting seat to Doc.
“When we get close, push the safety off. Remember, after you shoot, pump to get another shot,” I instructed.
Mark raced across the field, bouncing us like crazy, dogs barking in a frenzy. The shotgun is a short-range weapon, so Mark had to get close for a kill shot. At fifty yards, Doc brought the shotgun to his shoulder.
“Not yet,” I warned.
The tired hog slowed. Doc waited. The truck slowed.
At twenty yards, Mark said, "Now."
Boom roared the shotgun. Down went the hog.
“Great shot,” I yelled. “Right in the back.”
We climbed off the buggy to look at Doc’s first kill.
“Do I shoot him again or cut his neck?” Greg asked.
"Go ahead and shoot him. We'll be back at the barn in just a few minutes,” Mark said.
“Use my pistol,” I said.
It was over with a quick shot from my Glock.
We gathered both hogs on the buggy and returned to the barn. Mark made short work of butchering the meat, and we turned back onto the highway one and a half hours after we left it.
I told Doc, “That’s the shortest and easiest hunt you will ever take. No getting up before daylight and crawling through the woods for hours.”
“Thanks for the hunt, Brother. Let’s go get a beer.”