It’s late winter, and deer season is over. Turkey season is nearly three months away. What now? Want to stay in the woods longer? Read on and find out how these two south Georgia swampers break in the new 2011 hunting season on public land. January and February they’ll be killing hogs on lonely post-deer-season WMAs. Learn the tactics these longbow hunters use to give hundreds of feral hogs a free ride in the hog hearse.
Robert Carter, of Baxley, and John Bookhardt, of Snipesville, are masters at using the spot-and-stalk method, slipping and sneaking until a pork chop is spotted. No dogs, no bait, no guides, just old-fashioned hunting in its purest form.
While browsing posts on the GON forum, I came across folks asking for advice on where to go to get a hog. It’s great to know where; walking fewer circles helps. But most only want to know where, not how? Learn how first, and then you’ll find where. Learning your quarry is more important than the magic spot. Even experienced hog slayers can use extra advice or add tips to their arsenal.
John once told me hogs were made for a bow. I assumed he meant it was because they were easier to stalk than deer. But after this interview, I discovered another reason, realizing something that would have shortened my own learning curve. When you go stickbow (longbow or recurve) only, you actually create more time to study hogs as you methodically inch your way within 15 yards. You’ll learn more about hogs and their habits, such as feeding and moving patterns. You’ll witness more interesting things than just walking around a corner and….. HOG! BOOM!
Don’t get me wrong. This article isn’t to get everyone hunting with stick ’n string. Hunt with whatever legal weapon and method you like. What I discovered is why these kings of spot and stalk are so successful. Because their weapon of choice magnifies their chances of getting busted, it takes more stealth and patience to be successful. Just think how many times they have attentively observed hogs for long periods of time, and a perfect shot opportunity never presented itself or the wind changed. With no thunderous explosion, they can probably get on these same hogs again, another day. They may have learned an advantage for the next trip or what mistake not to make again.
Here are their secrets to help you become a higher-caliber woodsman. Use them to your advantage on your next stalk, and feral hogs may become your favorite animal to hunt.
To cram in a lot of hog-stalking information, this article is written in the form of an interview. John modestly insisted that Robert answer most of the questions as they both think alike. That’s why they are so deadly as a team.
• Preferred terrain on a WMA: “River swamps and hardwood flats, definitely something with the river nearby. If an area has a clearcut that’s grown back up thick, we’ll look there first. We also like the type terrain Ocmulgee WMA has, rolling hardwood ridges and valleys cut by creek bottoms.”
Rivers are definitely key travel corridors which can keep an area replenished. Old clearcuts make great security cover.
• Plan for an unfamiliar WMA: “We’ll get a map and find the deepest areas near the river that you have to walk to. We like to have some other water that you have to cross because it cuts other people off. It’s always better on the other side.”
Examples would be sloughs, oxbow lakes, bay swamps, feeder creeks and flooded areas.
• Can you beat a hog’s nose: “No. But, I still wash everything down. The main thing is rubber boots. I keep my Alpha Burly’s sprayed down with H.S. Scent A-Way. I don’t want hogs smelling where I walked.”
• Favorite food source in January: “Water oaks. Otherwise, they’ll be tilling dirt, searching for roots and such.”
Water oaks are less desirable than white oaks and more plentiful, dropping later. Once they vacuum up all the white oaks, they’ll return to finish off the water oaks.
John carries food sources and knowing his quarry to a new level.
“I’m a little bit on the crazy side to start with. If I see a deer or hog eating something, I’ll taste of it. Like those mushrooms that pop up in pine saplings after a rain. Those are some good mushrooms. The other day I saw this hog rooting around, right there in one spot. The wind caught me, and he ran. I walked up, and there was a root sticking out with the end bit off. I took my knife and just cut off a piece. You know, that joker was sweeet!”
• What to watch when you’re stalking: “Watch his tail and ears. His tail will be flipping when he’s calmly feeding. If he becomes alarmed, it’ll stop and his ears will lay back. Stop and don’t move until they go back feeding.”
John added, “The first thing I do when I get into hogs is to scope out where they’re all at. I ain’t necessarily trying to count ’em. I don’t want to be stalking on this one, and there be one way over there paying attention that I didn’t pick up. You got to keep guard on them. One may be way over yonder on the edge looking while the others are rooting in the bottom of the slough. Don’t move, he’ll blow it! When clear, pick out the closest one that’s not paying attention. Pick out the next spot you want to be. When they’re all making racket, I’ll make ground to my next little spot. Pick out the spot where you want to end at… when I get to that spot, I’ll anchor and be ready.”
• Stalking method this time of year when the leaves are so dry and piled up: “I keep my feet under the leaves. You can try to be real quiet, taking soft steps, and they’ll all lock up. Or, you can kind of shuffle around a little bit. Then stop and wait a second, and then shuffle around and get a little closer. Then stop and wait. It doesn’t alarm them near as bad. Just watch the hogs. Whenever they act like something’s wrong, stop. When they go on back, just ease with them. The main thing is to stay real low and not silhouette. There’s no way to be totally quiet. By shuffling and pausing, as long as they don’t smell you, they may think you’re another hog.”
John adds, “If you’ve got one hog rooting hard with his face buried in the leaves and dirt, you can get right up on him quick. He isn’t hearing anything. One time, I came upon a little boar about 70 pounds with his face buried, rooting away. I snuck up and caught him by the back legs (laughing).”
• Calling hogs: “I bought a grunt, but when it’s thick enough, I just make noise with my feet, and they come. If you find a hot sow surrounded by boars in thick cover, a lot of times he’ll think you’re another boar and come to fight.”
John added, “At Ocmulgee in a clearcut one evening, we had four boars over 200 pounds on a sow.”
• Do hogs cycle through an area: “Yes. For example: You recognize a certain group of hogs such as a red sow and a certain number of pigs. You saw ’em on this oak flat today, and tomorrow they’re over there on this oak flat. A lot of people are going to hunt where they seen ’em last… you’ll need to be ahead of them the next day. They may work a two-or three-day pattern.”
• Favorite type of sign: “Fresh rooting with sow and pig tracks in it. If we go in an area with big boar tracks, we don’t care about hunting that because a lot of times they’re nocturnal. If you go to a place where there’s sow and pig tracks, they usually live right there somewhere. They may have a little range, but if food is there, you can find them. They’re going to have other hogs with them. They’ll probably have the litter before with them, too. They’ll have a habit of what they’re doing… the big boar hog, he may be 2 miles over that way tomorrow. I’ll shoot the 50-lb. shoat ahead of the 200-lb. boar every time.”
If family groups are in an area, boars will come by anyhow checking for sows in estrus.
• Arrow placement/distance: “I won’t shoot at anything unless it’s 20 yards or less. I really like 15, cause I know I’m gonna kill him every time. I aim for the crease of the shoulder, low and tight, preferring slightly quartering forward. You about can’t shoot too far forward.”
A hog’s vitals are much more forward than a deer’s. Also, tight and low will get underneath the thicker portion of a boar’s shield.
To handle situations of game presenting themselves at inopportune times or positions, Robert has learned to shoot his longbow in awkward positions. He has shot hogs at 3 yards, hugging the ground so low he could feel grass on the back of his string hand. He probably didn’t need a bow then, just stab ’em with an arrow.
• Buddy hunt: “Yes. We’ll hunt the same area, but go separate ways. I met John on Ossabaw Island. The trips with him were some of the best. We’ve had some great times and learned a lot from each other. I’ll never forget one of our first trips. We wound up on the same group of hogs coming up from each side. I used to be real picky, waiting for a hog to turn just right. Waiting too long, the hogs broke. John hollered, “You gotta shoot, son!”
• Favorite hog scenery: “A high bluff river bank lined by reeds and cane, cut by small deep sloughs with a water oak flat by it and a long walk from the road.”
• Favorite WMA… Or should I say second or third (laughing): “—– —–, John’s, too, but don’t print that (smiling). But we do like Ocmulgee and Fort Stewart. If you can’t kill a hog at Fort Stewart with a gun, you need to take up golf. Plenty of room at both areas.”
• Most memorable outing: “Twice I killed two hogs with one shot. I spined the first hog of three. The two other hogs with her ran up and started biting her while she was hollering. I shot the next one a little far back. I watched it run off and lay down. I went to trailing the blood, and it went the opposite way. The arrow had passed through the second hog, hitting the third hog perfect in the crease.
“The other time I was hunting on persimmons. Two sows with shoats came in, running around all crazy. I shot the sow, hitting her good. She ran off, and I could hear my aluminum arrow clanging going off through the woods. The arrow had went through and hit a 40-lb. pig in the neck that was behind her. I mean it was luck. I didn’t plan it like that.”
• Any secret strategy: “I’ve got some honey holes where I can see hogs every evening right before dark. I’ll be covering a bunch of other ground trying to ‘Injun’ up on some hogs, but I always got that last 30-minute place. I’ll know where the predominant wind is, but when the sun gets right at the treetops, the wind will go toward it, unless there’s a front. Once it goes below the trees, the wind will turn totally opposite. Pay attention to that next time you’re in a stand. The last 30 minutes is when you’ve got a perfect wind. I’ll be working way over there until the wind changes, and then turn and work my way to my honey hole getting there right before dark. I’ll be easing in at prime time when they’re either out there or coming in. Earlier, the wind would have been blowing every which way and probably blew my scent in the thicket they’re coming from. Near dark, they don’t peck around, they’ll come on. You can bust right on up there and catch him when he first pops out.
• Do you guide: “I give away two traditional bowhunts every year for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. I’m in a traditional club that raised more than $100,000 in donations last year. We offer a two-day hunt for a pair of hunters. All hunts we’ve had hogs at 20 yards rooting. The selling point is that it’s on public land, and you can return on your own. For more info, go to <www.tradgang.com>.”
I hope you enjoyed spot and stalk. Maybe it enthused you to go out and bag those first sharp-tusked trophies of 2011, whether it be gun or bow, public or private land.
Maybe you’ll need your very own hog hearse.