Thirty yards ahead of me in the pitch black of a moonless March night stood Josh Watts, of Clarkesville, and his lifelong buddy Kyle Rogers, of Cleveland.
They were standing in a massive, freshly planted Lee County cornfield, and they were hog hunting. Before them were three pods of hogs numbering 12 to 25 head per pod and at ranges of 500 to 900 yards. The fun was about to begin! And I had a ring-side seat for it all.
This hunt actually began months earlier at the Outdoor Blast when both Josh and Kyle filled out ticket stubs to be entered into a Go With GON trip with HogSWAT to do exactly what they were about to do. Josh was the lucky winner; Kyle says “he is ALWAYS winning something!”
Next to this pair of winners stood one of the most intriguing hunters I have met in the past 30 years.
Hal Shouse is the founder of HogSWAT, and he loves what he is doing for a living. Hal is from Arizona originally, did a stint in the Navy, started his own service business working with awnings and tinted windows (lots of sun in Arizona), and morphed into the bar business where he wound up with a number of establishments.
He was looking for something else to do for a living where he could raise his family and enjoy what he was doing.
By watching hunting shows on television, Hal fell in love with the notion of hog hunting. His research told him that he could make a living taking folks hog hunting, and that he could gain access to land by helping farmers who were having hog problems.
He decided all of this before he had left Arizona, and before he had ever killed a hog.
In very short order, Hal did his market research, made a couple of trips to Georgia to meet people and test if his assumptions seemed accurate, and then he took the plunge. He sold out in Arizona and moved to Georgia. He was in business with no land to hunt or clients to take. That is stepping out on the faith of your business plan.
It has worked out in spades.
Of all the vastness of south Georgia and all of the hogs out there that need hunting, Hal can only cover a range of about 35 miles from his home in Smithville, located between Cordele, Albany and Americus. This part of Georgia holds a liberal mix of row-crop agriculture, pine trees and swamp bottoms; all combine to make perfect habitat for hogs.
So, how do you hunt these porcine rascals all year long?
Equipment is the key. Hal’s first piece of equipment is his hunting vehicle. He calls it the “Hambulance.”
It is a jacked up 4X4 work van that is made to tackle off-road to the extreme. Hal says this first one is about worn out, and he is getting a new one soon.
The original Hambulance is wood paneled and a long step up from the ground. It comfortably seats four, and six friends could hunt from it.
The two doors in the back swing open and carry the gun racks where AR-15s await hunters, along with 30-round magazines and ear phones that serve as both sound protection and as two-way radios. Everyone can hear each other whisper in the dark.
There are night scopes atop these rifle and they hold the key to success in the HogSWAT operation. These night scopes are the core of the Special Weapons And Tactics that put the SWAT in HogSWAT.
Back in the Hambulance is the nerve center of night vision. Hal has mounted one of the night-vision scopes atop the Hambulance and can control where it is looking via a joystick inside the van. He can swing the scope left and right as well as up and down. The output from the scope is fed down to a viewing screen mounted about where a rear view mirror is mounted. Everyone in the Hambulance can see what the night scope is seeing. Hunting hogs with Hal is essentially spotlighting with an invisible spotlight while traveling at 40 to 55 mph. If there are hogs in a field where he has permission to hunt, you stop and hunt. If there are no hogs spotted in the field, you keep moving until you find a spot where hogs are out in a field. And then the hunt begins.
This is exactly how it happened for us that dark night. We had left Hal’s home base after a safety briefing, a run-through on how to fire the rifles and the process we would use on the hunt. Hal has each hunter carry shooting sticks along with the rifle. When he has hunters close enough to a group of hogs, everyone quietly lines up in a firing line, rifles atop sticks, and they all pick out a target.
Hal gives the countdown.
“Three, Two, Bammm!”
Hopefully, each hunter shoots a pig on the first shot.
Then it is a crazy shooting gallery as pigs are running wildly in every direction and hunters are banging away. You can hear this shooting gallery effect and see the pigs running on a video I shot (see the video below). It sounds like a hot dove shoot there for a bit. And it is great fun and great hunting.
The .223 rounds loaded with 75 grain hollow points pack an amazing wallop on these pigs, and the low recoil helps keep hunters on target in the scope. If they lift their head to look for results after the shot, obviously, they see nothing. It’s dark outside!
What actually happened to us on that hunt was that we parked about 500 yards from the nearest pod of pigs, and I sat in the Hambulance videoing their progress as Hal, Josh and Kyle fast-walked the plowed field toward the hogs.
As they got to within about 75 yards of the hogs and were setting their shooting sticks, readying for the first shot, something spooked a second pod of hogs that were about 100 yards farther out in the field. As this bunch broke for the cover of the woods, they rushed into our pod, causing them to stampede, too. Hal said “Shoot,” and the melee was on!
It looked like a fireworks explosion of hogs running in all directions—stopping, rushing off in another direction, squealing and tearing around. The white dots on the video screen I was watching that were no longer moving were the hogs Josh and Kyle had killed.
Now, it was time for us to drive the Hambulance to the scene of the melee and take a count.
The boys had downed one impressive boar hog—Hal guessed it about 175 and that seemed a bit light to me—and three excellent eating-sized pigs.
While field-dressing these pigs (oh yes, you want to bring a large cooler), Hal demonstrated an electrical device he uses to bleed the hogs. It forces a dead animal’s heart to pump, draining blood from the tissue and making the meat even more tender and palatable. The product is called Tenderbuck. Hal swears by it.
These wild hogs are very good eating. They feed on farmed peanuts, corn and watermelons.
“No antibiotics, no steroids, no hormones. Just an all-natural goodness on the hoof,” Hal says on his website. “The farmers need them all gone. It’s our job. It’s your adventure.”
The rest of the evening (we quit about 2 a.m.) was a repeat of drive, scope and watch. However, the hogs only cooperated at one other location. That stalk and shoot produced one more pig.
HogSWAT is truly a unique experience, and I look forward to going again soon. Hal says he is rarely booked in warm weather, though that is often when he has the most hogs.
For more info, visit https://hogswat.com, or call (229) 669-9748.