Thermal Hog Hunting: Nighttime is the Right Time!

Step into the darkness and step up your hunting game.

Thermal Hog Hunting: Nighttime is the Right Time!

America’s feral hogs might be a boon for year-round hunters but are a formidable foe for farmers, ranchers, conservationists and indigenous wildlife. More troubling is the hog “prob-ulation” and the keen senses they possess as an invasive species — more than hard to kill, they can be equally as hard to find and even harder to stalk (if that’s your game). So, as hunters, where do we begin and how do we leverage our odds of bringing down these beasts? I suppose it makes sense to start at the beginning — a bit of Feral Hogs 101. 

Our feral hog problem grew legs in 1539, compliments of Spanish Explorer, Hernando de Soto. De Soto brought 13 pigs to the New World and by 1542, the pork population had grown to over 700. Feral pigs can reproduce up to twice per year with average litter sizes of eight to 12, and an average of 1:1 boar-to-sow ratio. As a result, estimates are as high as 6 million nationwide and up to 3 million in my home state of Texas, and have been reported in at least 39 states, as well as four Canadian provinces. Their numbers must be put in check if we are ever to win our war on pigs — something I have been acutely aware of for nearly two decades. In that time, I have done my level best to bear the heavy load with fellow hunters … or eradicators, as it were, which brings up a great point.

There are two classes of hog hunters to consider: game-style hunting and eradication. To such an end, the term “hunter” in eradication pursuits is always a bit awkward; after all, eradicators are bent on killing as many as possible. They are indeed fighting a war against a catastrophically destructive invasive species that also happens to make great table fare. Who doesn’t like bacon? 

In a nutshell, more traditional hunters are after one or two pigs while eradicators remain at war and focused on filling truck beds. Of course, there are common themes. Both groups experience the most success after dark when feral hogs are more active. It took a little time to figure that out and quite a bit longer to transition into a full-fledged night hunter. Today, 90 percent of my hunting takes place while most folks are asleep. Night hunting for hogs (and predators in general) is much more action-packed, and also peaceful, but it wasn’t always that way. As a novice night hunter, winding down the serpentine trail to my ground blind was a daunting task, not because I had a fear of the dark, but because I was acutely aware of the types and sizes of wild things lurking around — bobcats, occasional cougars and yes, plenty of wild and wooly feral hogs. I had hunted them extensively during daylight hours with disappointing results but learned quickly, thanks to a trail camera, that nighttime was the right time.

Mature boars that can be paranoid and elusive during the day often become emboldened by night. Thermal optics are an excellent means of leveling the playing field.
Mature boars that can be paranoid and elusive during the day often become emboldened by night. Thermal optics are an excellent means of leveling the playing field.

A Hunt to Remember

My nighttime pursuits began nearly 20 years ago and include many errors in judgement — as they say, walk on the rocks I’ve stumbled upon. With sights as my primary low-light challenge, I hit a local store and found a spotlight, a large handheld with a rechargeable battery and 12-volt adapter, as well as a blinding throw of fairly focused illumination. It was perfect, or so I thought, for all manner of spotlighting for swine from my truck or boots-on-the-ground stalking — I had much to learn. 

They say if you’re going to be dumb you’ve got to be tough and learning to night hunt without some experienced guidance proved the point more than once, my new spotlight as a shining example. After a late evening still-hunt, lack of sleep and activity caught up with me. It was time to head home. With the push of a button, my walkie-talkie chirped. “Hey buddy, it’s time to head home. I’ll meet you at the edge of the trail.” 

Soon after, we met at the narrow trailhead leading a half-mile or so back to the truck. Along the trail, we passed several large pockets of coastal grass swaying in steady 9 o’clock breeze. The heat and humidity in the ground blind had been stifling, making the breeze all the more welcoming. Midway up the trail, thick forage gave way to another pocket of tall grass, though this time the swaying accompanied a heady scent, and with it, a rush of movement on our left side. Raising my near-useless flashlight, I caught the silhouette of a large hog slowly trudging right to left, roughly 75 yards out at a 10 o’clock direction in grass rising to its shoulder. On that path it would soon cross over the trail directly in front of us. 

As quickly as we had dropped to our knees, my buddy had his .270 Winchester Model 70 pointed down the trail and I had my new spotlight ready to turn night into day. For another minute or so, we watched the boar’s back, silhouetted in faint moonlight, creep toward the trail, until his head finally slipped out of the grassy edge. With my buddy ready on his rifle and the boar stopped dead in his tracks, I lit up the trail with 1,000 lumens of bright white light. No sooner did I light him up, he bolted across the trail, back into tall grass and disappeared in the darkness with my spotlight trailing well behind. My friend never found him through his scope — there was simply no time. The spotlight had blown our only opportunity. 

Days later, I invested a hard-earned $20 into a color-filter lens set for the spotter, but my efforts were met with mixed, still disappointing results. There had to be a better way.

Wild hog eradication efforts mean putting lots of pork in the truck by the end of the day. For this purpose, thermal optics have become the latest no-longer-optional piece of equipment.
Wild hog eradication efforts mean putting lots of pork in the truck by the end of the day. For this purpose, thermal optics have become the latest no-longer-optional piece of equipment.

Hunting for a Better Way

Nearly two decades later, that horrible hunt still powers my searches for knowledge, gear and emerging technologies designed to up my night-hunting odds. Through those years, I have tried, thrown away and even trusted scores of light systems, from softer spotlights and color-LED flashlights to laser illuminators and high-tech optics from generational night vision to digital night vision devices, digital scopes and finally, thermal optics — the latter being today’s go-to. 

Through all those next-best-thing products and ideas, the most productive high-tech help has come from thermal imaging. Unfortunately, thermal technology is not cheap. That said, thermal riflescope price points once ranging from $20,000 to $30,000 now average $2,000 to $6,500 — much like DVD players once costing hundreds of dollars can be found for $50. Truth be told, there has never been a better time to get into the thermal game and whether you’re bowhunting or rifle hunting, looking for a single pig or dead-set in eradication mode, thermal optics have become the latest no-longer-optional piece of gear.

Recent optic innovations and emerging technologies, coupled with positive actions from state legislatures, have dramatically enhanced nighttime hunting opportunities in most states. The result? Significantly more nighttime hunting opportunities than just a decade ago, and a dramatic uptick of optic options, as well as optic manufacturers. Thermal imaging, generational night vision, digital night vision and now, digital day-night riflescopes such as the Sightmark Wraith have enjoyed dramatic sales growth. More hunters than ever have turned their attention to post-sunset pursuits and an increasing number of hunters turn to thermal as the gold standard. Why? First, NOTHING hides from thermal. Second, thermal is not night vision — it can be used day or night for shooting and hunting and can pull double-duty as a handheld thermal monocular while bowhunting, scouting, observing wildlife, walking to and from hunting setups and recovering animals.   

With respect to thermal optics, the field of competition has doubled over the past five years, a healthy industry trend for industry leaders such as Pulsar. Nothing spurs innovation like competition. While Pulsar is considered the leader in consumer-thermal and night-vision optics, especially considering the industry’s best combination of feature-rich technology and high-definition imaging, assigning “flagship” to a specific optic model is a bit more challenging when technological advancements continually raise the digital optic bar. However, as the term relates to recoil-rated firearm-mountable optics, the Thermion 2 LRF XP50 Pro currently claims Pulsar’s top spot. For how long? Guessing is little more than a shot in the dark. 

Regardless of what type of gear or optic you employ, what should keep you awake at night is hunting. Why aren’t you out there? What holds you back? If your state and local hunting regulation boots fit, put them on, get outside and hunt the night! We’re out here, you’re not alone and the hunting is superb. Remember though, the better equipped you are, the better your odds of bringing home the bacon.


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