The only thing better than being in Texas for a feral-hog-eradication mission, is being in Texas with a suppressed AR-15 and thermal night-vision technology to get the job done.
That’s what awaited me as I met up with Eric Mathes of Sellmark Corporation.
Sellmark is a state-of-the-art technology company that specializes in making high-quality night vision and thermal optics for hunters and shooters. It has an array of options available to the hunter through its Sightmark and Pulsar brands — from entry-level optics to high-end military-grade thermal optics. Mathes agreed to let me try them all!
Our hunt would take place in central Texas, near Cameron, which is about an hour south of Waco. We’re hunting with Arrowhead Outfitters. They specialize in feral hog hunting with shooting houses and bait stations littering 10,000 acres of cattle pastures, creek bottoms and thickets — and the place is crawling with hogs!
Shortly after arriving in camp the first afternoon we headed out to our hunting location for an evening hunt. Mathes and I would share a blind the first night so that he could familiarize me with the high-tech optic that I’d be using for the hunt. While this optic has many features on it, I quickly learned that operating this night-vision scope was simple. In fact, it was much easier turning the unit on and being ready for action than it was climbing into our shooting house that doubled as a hornet condo. A quick glance into the house revealed about 200 resident hornets! Apparently this isn’t too uncommon because the outfitter had a full can of wasp spray sitting by the door. A couple tactical sweeps with wasp spray and a few minutes of ventilation cleared the house for a superb evening of hunting.
HUNTING WITH NIGHT VISION
My hunting rig for the first night was a suppressed 300 BLK topped with a Sightmark Photon digital night-vision scope. The Photon is a unique night-vision scope that can be used in the daylight as well as in the black of night. It features a built-in LED IR illuminator, which is crucial for shooting on moonless or overcast nights. While the IR light is invisible to the naked eye, when looking through the Photon it lights up the world like a spotlight within 150 yards or so of the shooter. If you’ve never looked through a night-vision optic, you’re actually looking at a screen display and not through glass. The Photon features a crisp LCD display with six different reticle options to click through and 6.5X digital magnification. This technology allows you to drop hogs out to about 150 yards or so. However, the beauty of hunting at night is that the animals are more relaxed and even though many nocturnal animals see better at night than we do, they still don’t see great on dark nights, so it makes stalking a very successful endeavor.
With the forecast calling for on-and-off thunderstorms, we sat comfortably in our shooting house as the clouds occasionally spit rain. This gave Mathes time to show me how to change reticles on the Photon, increase and decrease magnification, flip through various other functions, etc. After my tutorial, we settled into the hunt
Mathes and I swapped hunting stories and talked about the technology we were using, when we were suddenly interrupted by a dark object at the far end of the grassy road we were sitting on. I pulled up a pair of Sightmark Solitude binos and got the confirmation I was hoping for — wild pork! As the pig fed more into the open, we could could see that he had friends — three large hogs and one small one. Peering through the binos I could see the largest black pig had ivory tusks sticking out of the sides of his mouth. I thought he would make a good target if given the opportunity. The pigs continued to feed on lush oats and grasses at the far end of the lane as daylight was fading. It made no difference if it got dark before the hogs came into range as I was using night vision, but we were wanting to film the hunt, so I decided to exit the shooting house and stalk the pigs while Mathes ran the camera.
With the wind blowing from left to right, I was able to slink through the thick Texas brush and get within 35 to 40 yards of the feeding pigs. They had no clue I was in the area. I eased out of the brush and laid prone on the ground with the 300 BLK aimed at the biggest hog’s shoulder. I squeezed the trigger and the big boar instantly hit the ground, kicking only a few times before lying motionless in the wet grass. The versatility of the Photon allowed me to shoot this hog in the daylight, even though it’s a night-vision optic. As luck would have it, heavy rains moved in to the area after dark and that was it for the hunting that night.
HUNTING WITH THERMAL
The next afternoon Mathes introduced me to the Pulsar thermal optics — an Apex XD38A scope and a Quantum XD50S monocular. If night vision blows your mind, then Pulsar’s thermal lineup will leave your head spinning. This culmination of technology is almost akin to magic. The display screen in the thermal optics shows a crisp image of the landscape and critters in it by reading heat signatures. The super-sensitive microbolometer reads the differences in heat in objects and displays an amazingly sharp picture in the screen of the optic. In the white hot setting, object with more heat, such as warm-blooded pigs, glow white, while cool objects are black — the colder the object, the darker the color, the hotter the object, the brighter white it is. When scanning fields with the Quantum monocular, hogs glow white and are instantly detected. This technology allows you to run and gun while quickly scanning fields for destructive hogs.
On the second night, I sat perched in a ladder stand in a thick creek bottom with a corn feeder a mere 30 yards in front of me. Fresh hog tracks littered the muddy dirt trail that I walked in on. With the sun starting to set I was eager to see what would unfold after dark. It wasn’t long into my sit that I noticed small birds flying in to feed on the grain sitting on the ground. Because thermal reads heat signatures, you can use it in the daylight without worry about the sensors being fried from the bright sunlight, which can happen with night-vision optics. So I turned on the Quantum monocular and pressed the soft rubber eye cup up to my eye. The small birds glowed bright white as the cooler surrounding contrasted drastically with the warm animals. I could even detect field mice coming in to feed, even though I couldn’t see them in the tall grass with my naked eye. Thermal vision really removes nature’s ability to hide — seeing through light brush, smoke, fog and darkness — making it the perfect tool for combatting damaging pigs.
As darkness blanketed the Texas brush country, I heard an eerie sound emanate from deep within the creek bottom. A multitude of grunts and squeals shrieked up the bottom, too far to hear footsteps, but close enough to make my mind race. Sitting in the black I envisioned herds of “walkers” from the hit show The Walking Dead crawling through the mangled thicket. Over the next 10 minutes the swine vocals would erupt from somewhere in front of me then die back down, and then do it all over again. I lifted the thermal monocular to my eyes every few minutes in anticipation of the oncoming horde. However, they never appeared — about 25 pigs in all. They went another direction to another feeder where Mathes was hunting. With the action heading in a different direction, I decided to leave the safe confines of my ladder stand and head back the way I came and enter another huge pasture with a feeder in the far back corner of it.
Entering the field, I began scanning with the thermal vision. I quickly picked up two deer entering the dark field to my 10 o’clock position. It was a moonless night and the deer could neither see, hear or smell me, so they had no clue I was walking right through the middle of the pasture. Scanning from the deer to my right, my heart skipped wildly as I saw a convoy of large and small hogs to the far right along the pasture’s border with a thick swamp. There were 30 to 35 hogs stretched out from the feeder to 300 yards along the edge, all heading to the feeder. I was literally 300 yards from hog heaven! With the wind blowing from the hogs to me, I began my stalk across the wide-open field. While darkness concealed my presence in the field, it gave the hogs false comfort to feed undisturbed as they’ve done every night before. I had technology on my side this night and each quiet footstep put me closer to my prey.
As I got within 100 yards of the main group of pigs I noticed there were two large hogs 50 yards to my right moving away from the main group. I decided to setup for a shot at these two pigs prior to approaching the main group. With a suppressed 300 BLK AR-15, I felt like I could take out these pigs and possibly not disrupt the main group before getting a bead on those hogs. At this point I took a knee and put the Quantum monocular on the ground at my side and shouldered my rifle, which was topped with a Pulsar Apex XD38A thermal optic. The Apex optic has a very useful feature called picture-in-picture, which overlays a small picture at the top of the screen that is zoomed in more on the target with the reticle. This allows you to aim more precisely, while leaving the majority of the screen in a lesser power setting and wider field of view for better accuracy when firing on running hogs.
Lining up the zoomed in top screen, I centered the reticle on the biggest hog’s shoulder and squeezed the trigger. At the quiet report of the rifle I watched the hog hit the ground. Its partner didn’t know what was going on, so I swung the reticle on that hog’s shoulder, squeezed the trigger … and nothing. The gun had jammed! I quickly cycled the action with the charging handle and chambered another 110-grain round. This was obviously not quiet and the still-living pig took notice and began to move off. I scanned to my left and noticed that the main group of pigs were still feeding without a care in the world, so I let the loan pig move on and continued my stalk toward the main group — hoping the entire time that my rifle was finished malfunctioning.
Once I crept within 50 yards of the main group of pigs, I again took a knee, shouldered my rifle and picked out the biggest pig I could find to the far left. If I could drop this pig, I thought it might spook the other pigs to my right allowing me to quickly work over the fleeing bacon as they passed in front of me. Again using the picture-in-picture feature, I lined up the reticle on the pig’s shoulder and squeezed the
trigger. A solid thud let me know that the TSX bullet had met flesh. The other hogs milled around not yet realizing the danger lurking in the dark. I lined up on another pig and squeezed … again, nothing! I was beyond frustrated as I worked the charging handle to chamber the third round. At this sound the hogs quickly began moving to the right to flee to the swamp. I picked out another large hog, lined up the reticle on the running pig and fired. Again a solid thump echoed across the pasture, but the rifle would still not cycle. By the time I jacked another round in the chamber, the hogs had disappeared into the swamp, the only sign of them was the sound of sloshing hooves through the muck. I later found out there was a malfunction in the ARs gas system and it wasn’t feeding pressurized gas to cycle the bolt.
Another great aspect of thermal vision is game recovery. I grabbed my monocular and began scanning the field by the feeder. As I got closer I could clearly see the outline of a bright white carcass laying in the cool, black grass through the screen. Now time to find the third hog I shot. I quickly found a blood trail that led under a barbed-wire fence into the swamp. I climbed the fence and began scanning with the thermal. Within seconds I saw the glow of a hot-blooded blob laying in the swamp some 60 yards away. Piggy No. 3 was down for the count! The guys were all cheers as they pulled up to get me and saw the pile of dead pigs I had gathered. I told them, “It really could have been messy if my AR-15 didn’t turn into a bolt gun!”
As I left Texas, the feral hogs were still winning the destructive war, but I learned that with night vision and thermal, the odds can be tipped in the hunters’ favor. To learn more about these optics, check out www.sightmark.com and www.pulsarnv.com.