A HOG HUNT FOR THE AGES

Deer expedition turns swine surprise

By ERNIE MARTIN

Hook & Trigger

When I first got married, my father-in-law was an avid outdoorsman. His son, my brother-in-law, is still a very accomplished outdoorsman himself. The following story is true, and happened to me and my brother-in-law. It was a hunting trip that I will never forget. Let me set the stage for y’all.

It was the winter of 1987. My wife and I had gone to visit her family in southern Mississippi and my brother-in-law, Kevin, had invited me on a deer-hunting trip planned for the next day. It was a 45-minute drive with an 11-foot wooden boat called a “Batty.” Batty had a 20 horsepower motor in tow. 

Kevin had scouted the Black Creek Swamp the evening before and found plenty of signs that the rut was in full swing. We launched the boat about 30 minutes before daybreak and eased down the creek using our Q-beams to light the way. We tied up the boat and began the nearly 1-mile walk to the outer edge of the swamp. Kevin had dropped me off on the edge of a stand of water oaks that were being used by the deer. He went another 400 yards and set up next to a small slough.

The sun had not yet cleared the horizon when I heard what sounded like two bucks fighting. It was on the opposite side of a thicket from me, but they were working toward an opening. Just about the time I started to get a glimpse of two bucks, I heard Kevin shoot. The bucks broke up the fight and retreated deeper into the swamp. 

I waited and watched for nearly half an hour before I made my way to Kevin’s stand. When I arrived at his spot, I saw that he was still in his tree. I started to ease back, thinking he was still looking at deer, when he whistled to stop me. It was at this point that I looked at him with a confused facial expression in which his visual reply was to put his two hands on top of his head to let me know that he had shot a big buck – or so I thought.

Once Kevin reached the ground, the story of him seeing this big buck and where he shot him unfolded. We then began to look for the animal. When we crossed a feeder creek on a log, the edge of the swamp was behind us. The sage brush and pine tree forest was nearly 100 yards deep before we would be stopped by a fence where private land started. 

I should have known something was amiss...

I should have known something was amiss when I didn’t find a blood trail or any deer tracks. I walked back to the spot in the swamp and started over. There were several “holes” in the mud, but they didn’t look like deer tracks. That’s when I spotted a blood splatter. When I examined the holes again, they lined up like tracks. I looked at Kevin and he had this big grin on his face. His next words to me were, “It’s a big ol’ hog.” He then pointed into the chest-deep sage brush in front of us. It had been nearly 3 hours since he shot the hog. We split up and started making our way through the sage.

The events that occurred next are forever burned into my brain because of how scared and excited I became as I stepped on a stick that made a cracking noise that disturbed the wounded giant! The hog grunted, squealed and began to run straight toward the fence and away from me. I was frozen and all I could see was the top of this hog’s back in chest-deep sage brush! 

The next sound I heard was that of a huge wild boar running into an old, wooden fence post, turning it into splinters. It sounded like something had exploded. The hog turned straight back toward me and the safety of the swamp. I went into survival mode by yelling for Kevin. The closer the hog got, the louder I yelled. I was also raising my gun in preparation of defending myself against the monster. 

The hog broke out of the brush about 25 feet from me and he angled away, at that point I shot him. I never took my eyes off the big ol’ pig to see that Kevin had gotten close enough to him so that he could shoot him also. I shot and not even a full second later Kevin shot. He was 10 feet to my right side and 5 feet behind me when he shot. I never saw him coming or heard him shoot. I was so focused on the monster that I didn’t realized he was there until the hog took a 15-foot holly tree out when he crashed to the ground.

Once the excitement had lessened, we quickly realized that the only way to get this Hogzilla back to the boat was to field dress it and start dragging. What took a mere 25 minutes to walk at the beginning of the hunt took over 3 hours with the boar in tow. We ate our lunches and I told Kevin that I was tired. He responded in kind and we relaxed in the boat. After we both fell asleep from exhaustion, I suddenly awoke, realizing that it was getting dark. I woke Kevin up and we started trying to figure out how we were going to get us, our gear, and this beast to the truck.

It would take us two trips to the boat launch. Kevin, myself and the hog slowly made our way to the boat launch in a boat that was at full capacity. Kevin nailed two boards to the top of his dog box in his truck and we rolled the hog out of the boat and up on the dog box. The hog was so long and so fat that his body hung off each side of the truck. We had a full load! We of course arrived back at my in-law’s house late that night with some worried faces waiting for us, but boy did we have a story to tell!

This was a hog hunt for the ages and no, thank you, I don’t want to ever do it again. I can check that experience off my list. 

Until next time, good luck and God bless.

Kevin Hamm’s 1987 deer hunt yielded unexpected results when he crossed paths with this massive wild hog in southern Mississippi.

Kevin Hamm’s 1987 deer hunt yielded unexpected results when he crossed paths with this massive wild hog in southern Mississippi.

SUMMER FOOD PLOTS FOR DEER

Deer are not grass- or cereal-eaters by nature, but prefer clover and legumes.

Deer are not grass- or cereal-eaters by nature, but prefer clover and legumes.

Good nutrition is important for antler size

By Arlo Kane, private lands biologist

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

If you are interested in improving the quality of your deer, then you have to be serious about summer food plots. Most hunters plant a fall crop of cereal grains and maybe some clover to attract or keep deer on their lease. If your goal is to improve your opportunity or you simply do not have much land to plant crops, then winter plots are great.

But if your goal is to improve the nutritional quality of your food sources and improve the body size and antler size of your bucks, then summer food plots are your best bet.

Age, nutrition, genetics

Antler size depends on three factors: age, nutrition and genetics. While there is very little you can do for genetics, you can definitely affect age and nutrition. Antlers increase in size up to about 6 years of age for most bucks, but most bucks in Florida are harvested before 3 years of age. Therefore, letting bucks get to maturity will automatically improve the size of your antlers without spending a dime.

If you are already letting young bucks walk, the next step is to improve your summertime nutrition. Growing antlers are composed of 80 percent protein and growth occurs from late May through August, with the peak growth occurring in June and July. Before a buck can put any energy into antler growth, he will have to restore lost body weight from the rut. That means if you can have a high protein source of food available starting about March, your bucks should be in good shape to start maximizing antler growth in June.

To have high protein forage available in March you need to think about adding a clover to your fall mix. White clover and red clover can actively grow from March to October but clovers like crimson are done by May. If you have moist soils, then your best bet is to plant white clover in the fall and manage it through the summer. If your soils are a little drier then red clover is a good option, but if you have enough room to plant at least a 5-acre patch, then look for a good summertime legume to plant.

Legumes are plants in the bean and pea family. Plants such as soybeans, cowpeas, lab lab, velvet beans, American jointvetch, and Alyce clover are good choices. The key to summer plots though, is size. Small plots will not do for summertime. Lab lab and Alyce clover are good for droughty, sandy soils and soybeans, cowpeas, American jointvetch, and velvet beans are good for better soils.

You can try mixing your peas with corn. Plants like lab lab and cowpeas like to vine around the stalks. If you can find them, velvet beans are excellent. Once used as a natural nitrogen fertilizer on farms in the 1930s, this plant is fast-growing and able to keep ahead of most browsing by deer. The velvet-covered seed pods are hard to clean to remove the seeds, so their availability is low, but you can find them online.

If you do not have enough land to plant summertime plots, then consider converting your fall plots to clover plots. To establish these plots, reduce your cereal grains (wheat, oats, or rye) to only 25 pounds per acre and add in the clover. Deer are not grass-eaters (only 3 percent of their diet is grass) and cereal grains are grass. Watch your cereal grain plots in a warm winter and see if they are not the best you have seen. It’s not because you suddenly became a great farmer but because the native foods do not go dormant as quickly in a warm winter and deer prefer anything other than cereal grains if its available.

Look at your cereal grain plots in spring and you will notice the same thing. It’s as if they suddenly started growing. That’s because as spring green-up begins, deer move off of plots and back to their preferred native vegetation. Deer eat cereal grains because it’s the only thing green and growing in most cold winters, not because they are preferred.

In the spring, use a grass selective herbicide and kill off the grass in the clover plot. Your clover will reseed itself each fall and you can get up to seven years from one planting.

I also advise hunters, not to buy premixed bags of grain and clover. Clover is a small seed that needs to be top-sowed and cereal grains need to be planted about 1 inch deep. Planting them together usually buries the clover seed too deep to fully germinate. Instead, plant your cereal grains first then top-sow your clovers and cultipack or drag them in if you can. Remember that clovers and other legumes need a bacterial inoculant. Either purchase pre-inoculated seed or make sure you buy the correct inoculant for the type of legumes you are planting.

If you cannot find enough acreage to plant, or you lease timber land and are not able to plant food plots, then protein pellets may be an alternative. Look for pellets with at least 20 percent protein and feed them from March to August. Open trough feeders with a good covered roof at least 3 feet above the trough is needed to keep the pellets from becoming water logged and for bucks to feel comfortable putting their head in the trough.

To learn more about managing wildlife on your property, check out our habitat how-to section at the FWC’s Landowner Assistance Program by going to MyFWC.com/LAP. If you need technical assistance you can also contact the LAP regional biologist at the FWC Regional Office.