Doggin’ Hogs in Wilkinson County

These guys only use one chase dog and one catch dog, and that makes the midnight chase through swamp and thicket even more interesting.

In a full sprint, I ran through almost total darkness trying desperately to keep up with the man in front of me. A midnight-black pit bull with a grizzly bear’s build was almost pulling him through the woods. Even the choke collar around its neck wasn’t slowing it down.

At times I could barely see the man’s light in front of me, but I fought through the limbs and briars scratching my face to keep up as we both ran toward the distant howling of a Catahoula hound. My breathing grew heavy, and my chest felt so tight I thought I should just give up when I finally topped the hill and the distant howling sounded a lot closer — probably not even 100 yards. My strength was coming back, and another pulse of adrenaline surged through my veins as I regained my speed and continued toward the hound.

I joined the other hunters in a clearing before a briar patch, and as we stood panting with our breath steaming in the cold night, I remembered “It’s not a race, we’re all on the same team. We’re after whatever pig that hound has run down,” and from the sounds of what was going on in the briar thicket, it was not Pooh’s friend Piglet.

That’s how my Saturday-night hog hunt began on the day after Thanksgiving at Black Creek Plantation in McIntyre. My guides, Scott Laster and Ronnie Habgood, have been hog-dogging for a combination of more than 40 years, and they have even bred their own line of hounds that are a cross between Catahoulas and pit bulls. They are some of the best bay dogs in the country. One of the offspring of that bloodline, Rufus, was the bay dog on the hunt I was a part of.

It was just chance Scott and Ronnie met when they were introduced by a mutual friend, but they immediately discovered their mutual passion for hog-dogging and have been hunting partners ever since.

Scott said for the first eight years or so it was always a race to see who could get to the hog first, but after catching hundreds of hogs a year, they finally decided neither had anything left to prove to the other. Scott and Ronnie’s years of hog-dogging experience is what led me along on what was one of the wildest nights of my life.

Along for the hunt were Ronnie, Scott and I, and Eric Asbell, owner and manager of Black Creek Plantation, and Kevin Taylor, of Rockland, Maine, who was at the plantation for a deer hunt and decided to tag along for the hogs. After the five of us all made it to our point of attack, Ronnie let Boscoe, the pit bull, off its leash, and it ran into the darkness full speed like that’s what it was born to do.

Rufus’ howling stopped, and all we heard was a struggle and scrub oaks shaking violently in the darkness. Then the hog broke loose, and Rufus was on the trail again. We ran to the dirt road ahead to try to cut it off, and when we’d all reached the road, we realized the hog hadn’t crossed yet. It was running an S pattern through the thick stuff as Rufus hung close behind it with the stamina of a marathon runner, while Boscoe fell back and waited on the hog to be bayed again.

Ronnie yelled for whoever saw Boscoe first to grab him before he tried to track the hog too, and about that same time a black shape much like a pit bull came out of the woods running full throttle down the dirt road aiming right for us.

“There’s the pit now,” said Ronnie as he walked casually toward the oncoming steam engine. I guess my view was a little better than Ronnie’s in the moonlight, and that’s when I realized it wasn’t the dog coming back to us, it was a 150-lb. boar hog that was extremely ticked off.

I reached for my knife about the same time second thoughts about a hog article were going through my mind. I thought the dogs were supposed to do the hard stuff, and we would just come in for the fourth quarter.

Ronnie realized it was a boar and not a dog about the same time the boar realized we were standing there, and it made a quick exit into the woods on the other side of the road. It apparently didn’t want anything to do with us either, but it could’ve fooled me there for a second.

Not 20 seconds behind the boar Rufus came out with his nose to the ground on the exact path the boar had just taken. He never even thought about slowing down as he followed the beast into the woods, and the whole shebang started over again. About that time Boscoe came staggering out of the brush. Ronnie and Scott checked him for battle wounds, but he only had a few briar scratches. His real wound was how upset he was the boar got away. You could tell the dog lived for the catch and was obviously depressed, thinking he’d let his owners down.

“You tried,” said Ronnie as he put the leash back on Boscoe. “Rufus will have him bayed again in a little bit, and you can try again.”

With a lot of hog-doggers using multiple dogs to run and catch hogs, I asked why we were only using one dog each.

“If we used more than one dog, we wouldn’t even give the hogs a fair chance. And if we caught every one we were after, it wouldn’t be as much fun,” said Ronnie. “We like to give ’em a sporting chance.”

Now we had to figure out which way Rufus was headed with the boar so we could go the same direction. Ronnie and Scott use electronic tracking collars that send a radio signal to an antenna that shows which direction the dog is. Ronnie pulled a foldable antenna off his back, unfolded the arms and pointed it into the distance. A quiet beep in one direction grew louder in the opposite direction, so we knew which way Rufus went, and were glad it was the direction of the trucks. When we reached the trucks almost a mile away, we checked the collar again and realized the dog was still in the same direction, but a very far distance from us.

After shedding a few extra layers of clothing, Ronnie, Scott and I continued after the dog and hog while Eric and Kevin called it a night so they could get up and hit the deer woods in the morning.

It was close to 9:30 p.m. by the time we were back on the trail of the hog and Rufus, and it led us almost a mile away by way of the crow, but probably farther than that along a series of muddy country roads. We finally reached a place Ronnie’s big Chevrolet truck couldn’t squeeze through the trees any more, and he climbed on top of the dog box in the back of Scott’s Toyota that was about to go down some trails most 4-wheelers would have problems with.

We drove into a stand of planted pines and up an almost 90-degree hill between trees that trucks were definitely not meant to drive between. After an hour of calling and searching for the dog with the tracking device, we decided he was closer to where we had started, on the other side of a humongous swamp, and we’d rather drive around than wade through.

Right after midnight ol’ Rufus finally showed up wagging his tail but still raring to go after another hog. He was completely soaked from head to toe and apparently never gave up on the old boar hog, even after it crossed the swamp. The only thing that probably caused him to turn around and head back was Ronnie’s truck exhaust roaring and us calling him back begging for an early end to a long night.

“There he is. Good boy. You tried. We’ll get him next time,” Ronnie told Rufus as he loaded him in the dog box with his tail still wagging.

We didn’t catch a hog that night, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying. We’d fought the good fight, but with the deer rutting, we thought it best to get out of the woods before midnight to give the bucks a full-night’s rest so they’d be ready to chase some does the next morning.

Ronnie and Scott usually run dogs during the day, but with deer season in full swing, we chose to make it a night trip. Scott said daytime trips don’t have as much potential to go wrong with flashlight batteries dying and getting lost in the dark.

But, if you’re looking for a wild adventure with non-stop adrenaline, February is the perfect time of the year to go on a Georgia dog hunt for hogs. Scott said it’s not too hot, so the dogs can run all day, and neither the dogs nor the hunters have to worry about snakes or ticks.

Ronnie and Scott would be happy to take you out for a very good chance at bagging free-range hogs. Although February is the best month, they operate all year long except for during turkey and deer season. You may even get a chance to be on their newest DVD compilation, “Bad Boars.” The disc should be complete and ready for sale by late January. For more information on hunting with Scott and Ronnie, including footage of recent hunts, visit <www.badboars.com> or <www.blackcreekplantation.com>.

Out-of-town guests are welcome, too, with a full-service lodge, they’ve got a full kitchen and a comfortable pillow to rest your head after a full day of chasing hogs behind some of the grittiest dogs in the country.

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