Wild Hogs At Night With Black Guns And Thermal Scopes
A night-vision scope to hunt hogs after dark can be done on a budget.
Craig James | May 3, 2018
Ideas for many of my GON articles start in some interesting places. They’ve started in weigh-in lines at tournaments, in the halls at church and by listening to tales of fish being caught at local tackle shops. The bottom line is that if there is a story to be had, I’m on it.
After a successful duck hunt this past winter, I was driving on Highway 121 just outside of Blackshear and talking to GON Editor Brad Gill on my cell phone. As I came over a hill, I was met by the blue lights of a Georgia State Patrol car, and as I looked down at my speedometer, I knew exactly why they were on.
After pulling to the side of the road and watching the state trooper exit his car, a GON story was the last thing on my mind.
When Cpl. Gentry Mattox came up to my window, he asked for my driver’s license and inquired as to why I was speeding.
“Well to tell you the truth, I’ve been duck hunting this morning, and I was telling one of the GON editors all about the hunt, and I totally wasn’t paying attention to my speed,” I said.
With a slight laugh, Cpl. Mattox said that he was a long-time GON reader and an avid hunter, as well.
“Me and some of my friends killed 275 hogs last year through trapping and night hunting, and we killed most of the hogs at night with our night vision and thermal scopes,” said Cpl. Mattox.
After listening to a few of his hog hunting stories on the side of the road, I knew it was something GON readers needed to hear. So, after giving me his number and a polite warning to slow down, I was on my way, and another adventure was on my mind.
I managed to schedule a night-time hog hunt with Gentry a few weeks before going to press, and I was excited to say the least. After arriving at his house, he introduced me to his long-time hunting buddies Phillip Bennett and Jason Crump.
“We all got into nighttime hog hunting really serious a couple of years ago, as a way to control the hog population on our property and on other farms nearby. Now we’re all hooked, it’s a pile of fun, and it’s not nearly as hard or complicated to get into as you think,” said Gentry.
Other than a place to hunt, all you need is a good high-powered rifle, preferably a semi-automatic for taking multiple shots in succession and a good night vision or thermal scope.
“Like any other type of hunting out there, you can spend a little, or a whole heck of a lot, to get into nighttime hog hunting. I recommend staying on the cheaper side until you know how much you like it,” Gentry suggested.
Gentry’s preferred rifle/scope combo is a DPMS 300 Blackout equipped with a ATN 5×20 scope, and an ATN IR850 illuminator, common referred to as a torch.
“I think what keeps folks away from the night hunting is the lack of understanding of the equipment associated with it,” said Gentry. “I had a decent knowledge of it through my 21 years in law enforcement, but the gun store I use, Jot Em Down in Blackshear, has helped me tremendously in setting up my nighttime hog rifle. They can get you set up with a quality firearm and optics regardless of your budget. Even if you’re from out of town, they can get you set up with exactly what you need.”
As the sun sank down, we jumped in Gentry’s pickup and headed out into the darkness in search of some sausage.
Jim Waters, a neighboring farmer, had been having some hog problems, so we met him in one of his fields and began our search for hogs.
“The most important part of nighttime hog hunting is safety. You need to know where you’re shooting, where your hunting partners are, and your magazine doesn’t need to be in your gun until you’re ready to shoot,” Gentry explained.
For this reason, everyone walks in a single-file line until the edge of the field is reached, and then everyone stands in a straight firing line to search for hogs with their night-vision scopes.
As we scanned the first potential area for hogs, the guys let me look through the scopes to get an idea of the different types and the visibility they offer.
I looked through Gentry’s night-vision model first, and I could see exceptionally well, considering it retails for around $500, a modest price in today’s hunting equipment world.
Next, I looked through Jason’s clip-on model night-vision scope (connects to any normal scope), and my vision was enhanced even more. It came with a price tag of around $2,000.
Finally, I looked through Phillip’s Armasight Zeus thermal scope and was amazed at the clarity and range it offered. This scope retails for around $5,000.
“You could write a stack of articles just on weapons and scopes for nighttime hunting. There are many options that will work well, but it just comes down to how much you want to put in it,” said Gentry.
“On good moonlit nights, virtually any night-vision scope performs well, and the thermal-imaging units help a lot when there is little to no light from the moon.”
After scanning for a few minutes with only a couple of rabbits to be found, we elected to walk by moonlight to another field to search. As we scanned the field, a coyote quickly ran across before anyone could get off a shot. After a few minutes with no hogs seen, we began to head to another field.
“You never know where they are going to be on any given night. Hogs move around a lot and are fairly hard to predict exactly where they will be next. That’s where covering a lot of ground and doing a bunch of scanning in a hurry will pay off big time. A handheld thermal imaging unit can be purchased for around $500 and further aids in scanning fields quickly,” said Gentry.
Our next stop was a large clearcut on Jim’s property that was loaded with hog sign. As we scanned the field, Phillip whispered, “There’s some right there in the middle, good ones, too.”
After Jim looked through Phillip’s scope, he determined based on landmarks on his property, that the hogs were roughly 150 yards away.
“Wherever you hunt at night, knowing how far distances are is absolutely crucial. With night-vision optics, it is very hard to gauge distance,” said Gentry.
After deciding the hogs were a little too far for a clean shoot, the guys decided it would be best to circle from downwind and try to make a move on the hogs.
“With hogs, you want to use the wind to your advantage. If they smell you, it’s over. Hogs are much smarter than most hunters realize,” said Jason.
We spent the next 20 minutes making a slow, methodical stalk, looking around the clearcut. Once we made it to about 90 yards out, you could clearly see several hogs feeding on corn in the center of the clearcut.
Gentry whispered, “You want to bait the hogs to a central area in the wide open. This will up your kill percentage tremendously and give you multiple shots to try and knock the pigs down.”
As we closed the distance to 75 yards, the guys formed a firing line and whispered who was shooting at which pig. After a three count, shots rang out as if a war had started, and squealing hogs took off in every direction.
As we turned on our flashlights, two hogs were down in front of us, and other hogs had been hit and left blood trails through the brush. We spent the next hour or so looking for the hogs, as eventually their blood trails ran out.
“You will have a lot of hogs you won’t find with this type of hunting. Even with a hit from a high-powered rifle, they can run a country mile in a hurry,” said Gentry.
Phillip pointed out that all three of their scopes record video, and that by taking a look at which directions hit hogs ran, they have recovered several pigs that didn’t leave a good blood trail.
As we ended a few hours of hunting, we had two nice hogs on the tailgate to show for it, not bad at all for a few guys with some moderately priced night-hunting equipment.
Working on this story there are two things I have learned. If you haven’t tried night-vision hog hunting, you definitely need to, and if you’re telling a good hunting story while you’re driving, be sure to pay attention to your speedometer!
I have been hunting on a farm in lower S.C. since 1980. Up until about 7 or 8 years ago, we never saw any signs of feral pigs. That is not the case now. We can see anything from 1 to 40 in a field on any given night. I bought ATN Thor thermal for my 308. Also bought a thermal Monocular. Using the monocular is so much easier than powering up the scope every time I need to scan a field. We have trapped or shot roughly 90 or more since the first of Feb. It is amazing to see the damage that these critters can do to a field. I live in NW Ga., so sometimes I have to keep a check on my speed as well, especially on I-20 east late at night. Really enjoyed the article.