Foxing & Grunting
Darren Marks takes us hunting with three generations of family to chase a mixed bag of feral game. Good pig hunting tips too.
The week ahead held the promise of some wet weather but with holidays booked and my two boys Damon and Jacob off school we headed west to meet up with my Dad for our annual family hunting trip. It has become a tradition every April and we were all looking forward to catching up and bagging some ferals as well. Heavy rain was falling as we arrived so we had no choice but to spend the first night in the shed where we would at least be dry.
After catching up and having an early dinner the rain had stopped so we went for a scout around to try to work out what the pigs habits were. Surprisingly, there was no fresh sign in the paddock that had always produced pigs in the past. The lack of rain meant that the pigs had to look elsewhere for food and water.
With the light failing we headed downhill toward camp when Damon urgently whispered, "Fox!" and pointed as he dropped to his knees. I quickly settled myself on my backside as a fox playfully chased a grasshopper around about fifty metres away. Closing the bolt on the Ruger .223, I rested on my raised knees and found him in the scope. As soon as he stopped moving I squeezed the trigger and sent a 55 grain soft point into his chest. We headed back to camp, satisfied with our afternoon's efforts. The rain had returned so we all had an early night hoping for better weather in the morning.
The sound of rain on the tin roof killed any early start, but when we arose the sky had cleared so we moved camp to our usual spot. I slung a tarp between some trees as more clouds gathered in the sky above, then it started again so there was nothing else to do than settle in with a few beers while we waited it out.
Clear skies meant that a night out spotlighting was a goer, so with everything prepared we set out to see what was about. We headed down by the river to the black soil paddocks where we always find a fox or two. Suddenly, a pair of eyes lit up about 80 metres away on the side of a hill.
Bringing the Rodeo to a stop, I got busy with the Scotch Predator Call while Damon lined it up. I was trialling a pair of Spika electronic earmuffs and was interested to see how well they worked, as the repeated muzzle blasts from frequent gunfire usually has my ears ringing, especially when I'm in the drivers seat. At the shot, the eyes disappeared but all I heard was a dull thump.
A quick search found a healthy looking fox taken cleanly with a head shot. We motored on, looking for more prey. Before long a pair of foxes were spotted at the edge of a stand of trees about 100 metres away.
As the wily redcoat slunk between the trees, Jacob followed it through the Redfield
scope. "Boom," went the .223 and we both jumped down to go and retrieve his prize. As we approached with our LED torches searching amongst the fallen timber, a head with a pair of pointy ears was spotted lurking in the shadows nearby. I raced back to the ute and grabbed the .22 from its rack in the tray before cautiously approaching again.
As Jacob lit it up with the torch I settled the crosshairs on its head from only 15 metres and bowled it over.
I have never seen that happen before, where one fox hangs around after another one is shot, but we weren't complaining. We started heading back towards camp on a track that would take us near a vacant house on the property.
Graham the farmer had asked us to try to get rid of some rabbits that were digging
around the foundations so I had the .22 ready to go. The spotlight picked up a bunny slowly hopping along in the back yard. I tracked him in the scope and as he paused, I squeezed off a shot and dropped him cleanly. No others were seen so calling it a night we headed for a warm campfire and a coffee.
I was out walking with Jacob next morning when we came across a large area of ground
that pigs had been turning over with their noses in their search for food. The sign was very fresh, having been made since the last rainfall the night before. It was well worth a look at first light but when I couldn't rouse the boys from their cosy sleeping bags I decided to go on my own.
The sky looked threatening in the pre dawn light with an icy wind blowing and scattered spots of rain falling. I nearly aborted the plan before thinking: "It's not far, I'll go for a quick look." With my Remington .270 tucked under my arm to cover the scope from the drizzle I headed off. As I got close to the area in question, I moved into the scrub for some cover and with the wind in my face I slowly stalked forward, eyes scanning everywhere.
Cresting a gentle rise, I spotted three black shapes through the light mist. They were feeding slowly along into the wind so very carefully I kept a 70 metre gap from them and followed along, hoping there might be a large boar with them. I kept that up for about ten minutes but when no other pigs were sighted, I chose a black medium-sized boar
and put the reticle of the Leupold scope on his chest. The crash of the .270 in the early morning silence was shattering and he went down instantly.
The others, including one I hadn't seen, took off for the scrub and I fired a couple more shots at them but to no avail. Well pleased with my decision to risk the weather and go out for a hunt, I got some photos, then walked back to camp where I found Dad sitting at the fire. I sat down with him to warm up with a coffee and told him all the details of my mornings success.
Later in the day, we all went to check out another part of the property in the hope of finding signs of pig activity. It was just after midday and quite chilly as we cruised along the paddocks.
Suddenly, Jacob pointed into the scrub and said "Pig." We pulled up and Damon grabbed the .270 from the back seat. The pig had run off and climbed the side of a scrubby hill before stopping to look back. Damon took a steady rest and at the shot it tumbled down amongst the rocks. "Got him," I shouted and after congratulating Damon on a good shot and a quick photo session, we continued on our way.
We did end up finding plenty of fresh sign so headed back to camp for an early dinner so we could come back to see if the pigs would return. At about four o,clock we jumped back into the ute and went to see if our scouting trip earlier in the day would pay dividends. We hid the Rodeo behind a bank and with rifles ready we stalked
along the edge of the scrub.
Suddenly, I saw Jacobs eyes widen in surprise as he spotted a mob of around ten pigs feeding in the scrub only twenty metres from the fence. I stalked in to within 10 metres of the nearest one for some photos and it was a thrill to be so close to them while they fed
and the young ones played. The breeze was in my favour but a slight shift must have alerted the closest one, who abruptly snorted, turned and ran a short way before stopping and looking back in my direction. It started feeding again but I knew I had waited long enough.
Swapping my camera for the .270, I lined up a spotted sow and knocked her over. The others froze, unsure what to do as I swung onto a white one and blasted him with another 130 grain slug. That shot broke the spell and pigs started scattering everywhere. A spotted brown porker bolted across in front of me and I followed him through the scope, but too many trees were obstructing my view of him so I swung ahead of him to a gap between some trees and when he appeared I sent one on its way.
The soft point projectile collided with the pigs head at over 3000 feet per second and there was no doubt about the result as it somersaulted to a stop. Three pigs with three shots, I was pretty happy with that.
A spotlighting session was planned for that night but we hadn't been out long when the
Rodeo hit some soft ground and dug in, refusing to move. Grabbing the guns, we walked back to camp and I sheepishly had to ask our host to give us a pull out with his tractor the next morning.
It was our last day so we took it easy around camp and Dad and I had a couple of beers,
making the most of our last day together, while we made plans for our final afternoon hunt. Jacob hadn't shot a pig yet and I really wanted him to bag one so that afternoon found us staking out the area where I had got my three.
With only about half an hour of light left I was starting to doubt my plan and was about to suggest we go for a look around when an assortment of around 12 pigs of all colours and sizes started streaming through the fence about 200 metres from our position.
"Grab the rifles, let's go," I urged the boys, aiming to keep the wind in our favour and head the grunters off. We started moving carefully along a path that would give the boys a chance for a shot. As the hogs approached, I told Jacob to sit and not to rush as he got ready.
The pigs stopped and started milling around nervously, obviously aware something wasn't right. The .270 roared and Jacobs boar keeled over to a solid heart shot. As the pigs headed for the cover of the scrub, Damon shouldered the Ruger .223 and nailed a white sow with a nice running shot. It was a great ending to our trip and we sat around a roaring campfire that night with a cuppa going over the weeks events while we demolished what was left of the cake and snacks.
We'd had a great time together and bagged a few ferals, all in a beautiful part of the world that holds a lot of memories for me. I'm looking forward to the next time we head out west.
Pig Hunting Tips
1: Pigs don't have strong eyesight but more than make up for this deficiency with a superlative sense of smell and very good hearing. Always be aware of what the wind is doing and keep noise to a minimum.
2: Learn to identify the droppings of pigs as well as the evidence of their habit of turning over the earth while feeding. If you find an area of freshly turned over earth, be sure to concentrate some effort in that area. That is what I did to find the new haunts of all the pigs taken in the story.
3: Use an adequate calibre. Yes I know, someone's mates brothers uncle that a workmate knows kills pigs all the time with nothing more than a .22 but that doesn't mean it will always work in less than ideal conditions. Give yourself a decent chance by using something that fires a bullet of around 80 grains minimum. And make sure you target a vital area for a quick kill.
4: Nothing beats local knowledge. If the farmer says he's seen them in the oat paddock, listen to him and give that area a good going over.
5: When you have found fresh sign in a particular area try the sit and wait method. Get there well before dark, get comfortable in a spot downwind, and stay vigilant. Only leave the spot when you can no longer see through your scope. And use binoculars! They make it so much easier to pick out details and distinguish game from the background.