The first thing I did when my wife and I got to Florida in February was Google “hog hunting near Flagler Beach,” and found the Bear Ridge Ranch Hog Hunting Adventures, less than an hour from where we were staying.
I’d always wanted to hunt Florida hogs, and decided to do it this year. The ranch’s response to my email was quick, but the only open day was March 30, our last day as Florida snowbirds. I responded immediately and called them to book the hunt. I told them I would use a muzzleloader, the one firearm I’ve never used to hunt hogs. I thought this one-shot challenge would be very exciting, but I didn’t realize just how exciting.
My gun choice was a CVA Optima V2 with a 26-inch, 416 stainless-steel fluted barrel and a Quick Finger Release breech plug. I added a KonusPro 3-9x40 scope and chose the 50-caliber, 295-grain PowerBelt Copper, which packs quite a wallop, just what I wanted to penetrate a hog’s shoulder.
At my home and at Bear Ridge’s “Show me how accurate your gun shoots before you hunt” ranges, this CVA/Konus combo’s accuracy was very impressive. If I missed a hog, it was not going to be the gun’s fault.
In Florida, as in most hog-hunting areas, the hogs are active in the early morning, but even more so in the late afternoon. Because of the rainy conditions, I was scheduled to arrive at the ranch around 3 p.m. Scott Maybury was waiting for me at the lodge.
When I drove down the dirt driveway, I noticed several large wooden steps over the fences. Scott told me that the bears, which you cannot hunt in Florida now, were knocking down their electric fences, so they built ramps over the fences, which the bears soon learn to use.
We went to the range and made sure my CVA was sighted in, and then it was time to head into the woods.
The actual hunting area is about 200-plus acres with well-marked trails through some very dense woods and brush. Temperatures were in the mid-70s, and my camo clothing was a bit warm, but necessary. Although a hog’s eyesight is not good, their hearing is highly sensitive and their sense of smell is better than that of a whitetail.
Scott walked me into the woods, and I wasn’t surprised when we got to where I would be setting up. There was a 50-yard-square opening with a few scattered trees and the ground was all torn up from the pigs rooting, and the ground was full of hog tracks. The adrenaline was beginning to flow.
My blind was very natural, made up of cut branches set back on the edge of the brush about 20 yards from where the hogs were feeding. There was a small folding chair and a cushion to sit on, and the wind was in my face, a perfect setup. It was 4 p.m. when I loaded my CVA, which gave me four hours to shoot a hog.
It was a bit warm for the face mask and gloves, but I would be glad to have them on before the hunt was over. I had been sitting for about 45 minutes when I saw something dark moving slowly through the underbrush and coming my way. I shouldered the CVA, but when I saw the bright red head, I knew it wasn’t a hog. It was a healthy beard dragging on the ground, a Florida Osceola, and yes, I put it in the scope’s crosshairs, but didn’t pull the trigger.
For the next hour, my only visitors were a variety of different birds and plenty of gray squirrels, and with the hot sun on my face, I knew a nap was about to happen. To avoid the urge to nap, I decided to slowly stand and stretch, but I’m glad I looked around before I moved. To the left of me, standing just inside heavy cover, I could see outlines of two hogs looking right at me, or so I thought. When they looked away, I slowly raised the CVA to my shoulder and aimed it in their direction.
They were cautiously moving in my direction, but kept the brush between us. My only choice for a shot would be a small three-foot opening that they would have to go through.
It seemed like a long time before the lead hog stepped into my shooting lane. I placed the crosshairs on its shoulder and felt a familiar cold chill run up my spine. It happens when I’m sighting in on game. But when I squeezed the trigger, that chill disappeared. Do you know that metallic sound you hear when a rifle dry-fires? That’s what I heard instead of a loud bang. The hogs were alerted and quickly moved into the brush, but didn’t run off.
Slowly, I lowered the rifle and opened the breech to remove the 209 primer. It definitely had a small dent where the hammer had made contact, but it didn’t spark. I quickly put a new one in, closed the gun, peeked out and they were back. Second chances don’t come often with a muzzleloader, but I was happy to get one, and placed the crosshairs on the lead hog again.
Unbelievable! This time, when I pulled the trigger, the primer went off, but no big bang, just a mild crack and a bit of smoke, and no recoil at all. This was enough to get the hogs running. Laying on my back, I removed the breech (with my fingers) and checked to be sure the barrel was clear. It was. Trying to reload a muzzleloader lying on the ground without moving much isn’t easy, and I didn’t expect to see the hogs again.
I was about to climb back into the chair and set up for the rest of what I thought would be a “hogless” afternoon, when out came four hogs. Lying prone, I sighted in on a dark brown hog, pulled back the hammer, and I have to admit with very little confidence, squeezed the trigger. There was a loud bang simultaneous recoil, a big puff of smoke and that thump you hear when a 295-grain bullet hits a hog’s shoulder. There laid my pig. My phone call to Scott was brief: “Hog down. Great story.”
I spoke with my friend Paul Galcik of Schuylerville, an avid muzzleloader hunter, and he thinks that the reduced recoil of my second shot could have been caused by moisture in the powder pellets, and although the bullet left the barrel, it didn’t have the velocity and force to go very far.
I know my friends at the Marina Bay condos in Flagler Beach are enjoying a delicious pig roast. Love that CVA!
For more information and photos on Bear Ridge Ranch Hog Hunting Adventures, go to www.hoghuntingtrips.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.