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Going Hog Wild: A Novice Pig Hunt Using Thermal Optics

Considering your first hog hunt? Find out how this novice hunter's first wild pig hunt went in the Lone Star State.

Going Hog Wild: A Novice Pig Hunt Using Thermal Optics

When I was asked if I would like to hunt hogs in the Lone Star State, my response was a quick and resounding, “Hell yeah!” Despite never having hunted wild pigs before, and my general hunting experience fitting on a postage stamp, I was eager to give it a try. Lack of experience has never stopped me from exploring something new. Just two weeks later, I found myself on the massive, 7,000-acre Sellmark Ranch in Freestone County, Texas, with Sellmark’s Kevin Reese and David Draper of Petersen’s Hunting. We were about to hunt one of the smartest and most destructive invasive species in the United States — feral swine.

Notorious troublemakers, feral swine wreak havoc across the U.S. and are responsible for billions of dollars in damage annually. These invasive marauders decimate natural resources, ravage crops, obliterate property and even pose threats to human and livestock health. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, their destructive presence spans at least 35 states, with Texas alone hosting a staggering 2.6 million of the nation’s estimated 6.9 million wild pigs. Hogs reproduce rapidly and have limited natural predators. If left unchecked, their populations will continue to expand, intensifying the damage, expenses and associated risks.

A Formidable Opponent

As I readied myself for the hunt, I couldn’t shake the reality that these creatures are no ordinary prey. Hogs, with their remarkable intelligence, aggression and adaptability, are not only a challenge to hunt, they’re nearly impossible to eradicate. Wild pigs possess acute senses, including a strong sense of smell, keen hearing and eyesight that allows them to detect a human figure up to 100 yards away. The realization hit me like a wave — this wasn’t going to be easy. The hunt would be a true test of skill, a faceoff against one of nature’s cunning adversaries. Only a true badass could pull this off, and even with my limited experience, I was up for the challenge.

Although typically active during dawn and dusk, wild hogs slyly and easily shift to nocturnal feeding habits, an adaptive response to both human disturbance and fickle weather conditions. Hence, our pursuit would begin under the cloak of the night sky. Hunting at night, however, presented a unique challenge. How would we spot our targets in the black of night? This is where advanced optics like thermal imagers come into play.

Pulsar Thermal Riflescope and Binoculars
The author’s thermal-optic companions on her hunt were the Pulsar Trail 2 LRF XP50 Thermal Riflescope (top) and Pulsar Merger LRF XP50 Thermal Binoculars (bottom).

Thermal optics are invaluable tools for hunting hogs at night. Unlike night vision, which enhances existing light to make objects visible in low-light conditions, thermal imagers detect the infrared radiation (heat) emitted by objects. Thermal imaging doesn’t rely on ambient light and works in total darkness.

For this hunt, I wielded a suppressed AR-15 in 6.8 SPC equipped with a Pulsar Trail 2 LRF XP50 Thermal Riflescope — a lethal combination for wild pigs. The 6.8 SPC, which is ideal for AR-15 hog hunting, delivers speed and precision for multiple shots on fast-moving targets. Our ammo choice, renowned for consistent accuracy and the ability to take down big pigs on the run, was Hornady’s Custom 6.8mm SPC 120-grain SST. The Hornady SST (Super Shock Tip) ensures a flat trajectory, powerful impact and a devastating wound channel — perfect for tough Texas hogs.

Settling In

Just before heading out, Draper, Reese and I made a pit stop at the small but well-equipped shooting range on the property to zero in our riflescopes. To start, we employed a clever trick — hanging zipped-top bags filled with ice on the targets. With the scopes tuned to black-hot, the icy targets offered a stark contrast, allowing us to easily observe our impact and fine-tune our zeroing to 100 yards. Once our scopes were dialed in, we took aim and sent a few rounds towards the steel targets shaped like wild hogs and other creatures. The consistent “clink” at the targets meant we were ready to go.

jessyca-sortillon-sighting-2023

At around 6 p.m. or so, I found myself alone in an elevated blind strategically positioned across from a corn feeder with nothing left to do but wait on pigs (and be eaten alive by mosquitoes). As the sun dipped below the horizon, darkness enveloped me. Relying on my Pulsar thermal imagers became paramount; they served as my exclusive guides for determining where to aim. I was equipped with a thermal scope on my rifle and Pulsar Merger LRF XP50 Thermal Binoculars, and, without their aid, the inky blackness offered no visibility whatsoever. Twice, the subtle snorts of lurking pigs teased me from the surrounding foliage, yet the animals hesitated to journey into the open.

Hours passed, and the elusive hogs remained absent. The corn-laden scene had only managed to attract two small bucks and a host of rabbits. Remembering a tip Reese shared earlier in the evening — if the deer suddenly bolt, it could signal the imminent arrival of pigs — I continued to keep a watchful eye on the deer using the thermals. Unfortunately, as the night progressed, there was still no sign of pigs. I was ready to call it a night when I heard it: the crescendo of snorts and squeals growing louder. The wild hogs were finally approaching!

thermal image of wild hogs
Picture-in-picture display of feral hogs on Pulsar Trail 2 LRF XP50 Thermal Riflescope.

Through my binos, which were set to white-hot, I discerned a small sounder of 5-7 pigs emerging from the treeline on my left. They were nibbling at spilled corn in the road but stayed cautiously close to the tree line and within the shadows. I waited for 15 minutes, hoping they would continue to venture out into the clearing, but no luck. I decided to seize the opportunity. I selected a hog in the group at roughly 100 yards, maybe 105, aligned my crosshairs and attempted my shot — only to hear nothing!

In an effort to be extra quiet, I had ridden the charging handle forward, causing the bolt not to fully close and rendering the rifle unable to fire — a common rookie mistake. Shooting an unfamiliar firearm in the darkness proved to be as challenging as it sounds.

Fumbling around for what felt like minutes, I eventually sorted things out and tried again. This time, “boom!” Initially, I was uncertain if I had hit the boar because after the shot, it swiftly darted to the left and disappeared into the trees. As a novice, I hesitated to leave the stand and investigate on foot. Venturing into the pitch-black night to confront a potentially wounded hog was a risk I wasn’t willing to take. I patiently waited until Reese and Draper arrived to lend a hand.

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As soon as I heard the side-by-side pull up, I exited the stand and guided them to the spot where I shot the pig. Following the blood trail about 30 yards to the left, we discovered my hog — an exhilarating moment. I did it! I had shot a younger but large-bodied boar, likely weighing around 175-200 pounds.

Enjoying the Spoils

texas-hog-hunt-2023

Once confirmed dead, we hauled the hog into a clearing, snapped some photos — proof of my badassery — and loaded it onto the ATV. Returning to the ranch, we hung and processed my pig, its succulent backstraps later crafted into mouthwatering al pastor tacos. Butchering hogs requires a good, sharp knife, along with a knife sharpener, as hogs have extremely thick, tough skin that can quickly dull a blade. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a sharpener handy and had to make do with a dull knife. We got the job done, but it took longer than it would have with the proper tools.

Even though feral swine may cause chaos wherever they roam, they also provide ample hunting opportunities, especially in Texas with its rampant pig population and relaxed hunting laws. If you haven’t experienced the thrill of a hog hunt, what are you waiting for? My first hog hunt was a success, and, most importantly, it was a damn good time.

jessyca-sortillon-target
After the hunt, the author had some fun shooting at the ranch. She shot a Christensen Arms MPR Competition Rifle chambered in 6.5 PRC out to 1,200 yards with the Sightmark Latitude 6.25-25x56 PRS first-focal-plane riflescope.



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