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Feral pigs provide a wild hunt


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000

The beginning of fall represents many things. Some endings, some beginnings. If you like to hunt, fall is the beginning of hunting season.

The deer hunting season for archers started about three weeks ago. Last weekend Butch Ellsworth and I opened our season by hunting wild pigs, known as feral hogs, at the Hi Hat Ranch. The ranch is 15,000 acres of beautiful oak hammocks covered in Spanish moss, palmetto bushes and lots of wild game just east of Sarasota.

Jay Turner manages hunting and is one of three brothers who own and run the ranch. He set us up with a friend -- Capt. Don Braswell, a tarpon guide out of Marathon -- to guide us around the ranch. Braswell is my kind of guy: When he isn't fishing, he is hunting.

We started hunting around 5 p.m. Friday, and within an hour we had seen a large flock of Osceola turkeys, 25 deer, a bobcat, quail and what we were looking for: hogs. The first group of hogs we came upon included a 200-pound sow with half a dozen piglets. We just watched this group.

The ranch prohibits taking sows with a litter. Turner also discourages shooting boars, unless you are looking for a trophy. The sows are excellent eating, but the boars can be a little gamy. Braswell explained that this year's is a great acorn crop, so the pigs are in prime shape for harvesting. You can hunt wild hogs year-round. Most farmers and ranchers consider the hogs a pest because of their destructive feeding habits. Half a dozen feral hogs can dig up a grass field overnight. Feral hogs are nearsighted, but they can smell you over a long distance. When stalking a hog, move into the wind.

As we moved through an oak hammock and palmettos, we came across a nice brown and black sow accompanied by another huge sow and seven little pigs. We slowly moved through the hammock until we were in range and had a clear shot at the brown and black hog.

Using a 30-30 Winchester, Ellsworth dropped the hog with one shot. The hog weighed about 120 pounds and was in prime condition. The rest of the day we saw numerous boars, some weighing as much as 250 pounds, and a few more sows with litters.

We were back at it Saturday at daybreak, but we saw only two large pigs from about a 1/4-mile away. We did not get a shot before the hogs disappeared into the thicket.

Even so, we considered the morning hunt fabulous. The sun was breaking over the horizon just as we moved through a wet area, flushing more than 300 blue wing teal. The teal made six circles around the area and landed right in front of us. The teal are migrating south and are some of the first ducks to reach Florida.

Around the next hammock we watched a six-point buck chase a doe in an open field. It wasn't long before we saw a 10-point buck chase the six-pointer away. This is the rutting season for deer, and I can testify the bucks had only one thing in mind, and that was finding does.

- Larry "Huffy" Hoffman charters the Enterprise out of Kingfish Wharf, Treasure Island. He is an avid hunter. Call (727) 709-9396. Contact Jay Turner at the Hi Hat Ranch at (941) 371-5797.

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