Using thermal-imaging technology to put the cross-hairs on feral hogs.
By Drew Hall
Published in the June 2008 issue of GON
It’s 0100 hours and pitch-black dark as my team and I await our target’s arrival. We’d been briefed just hours before of the mass amount of damage our targets have caused. These beasts have destroyed other’s means of life, they’ve taken hard-earned crops away from farmers and they’ve had little to no regret about any of it. At least, not until tonight. For most of them, tonight will be the end. And for those who survive the assault, they won’t be returning to this area any more. We lay in silence — waiting. Our team leader whispers the targets should be arriving any minute, their nightly routine rarely changes much. Little did they know, their own routine would be the death of them. They spend the heat of the day hiding in the swamps and thick woods, then they leave the safety of the swamps to devastate the land around them,
Using optics with thermal-imaging technology, Jager Pro Tactical Boar Hunting of Columbus kills tons of feral hogs, providing a fun night of hunting for clients and a solution for farmers and landowners tired of having their properties destroyed by pigs.
Suddenly, we spot a group of targets at more than a half-mile away. Our thermal-imagery optics allow us to view the presence of heat at extreme distances. We decide to start the stalk instead of waiting them out. We need to complete the mission quickly; we don’t have time to wait. After an hour-long stalk in a tactical formation, we are within 50 yards of our targets which have no idea anything is amiss. We spread out in kneeling and prone positions and take aim. The first shot rings out as muzzle fire exits our leader’s rifle. A barrage of rifle fire follows as all but a few of the targets fall to the ground. Some manage to escape, but the chain of command has been broken, and they won’t return.
This might sound like an expert from a military novel, but it is really what a tactical hog hunt with Rod Pinkston of Jager Pro Tactical Boar Hunting of Columbus is like. Except, you’ll be carried to your mission location in a Mossy Oak camouflaged E-Z-GO cart instead of having to belly crawl in sand for miles.
Rod’s military background begins and ends in the Army where he began 24 years ago and will retire in August at the rank of master sergeant. Although not officially retired yet, Rod spends most of his free time scouting and guiding as the owner of Jager Pro Tactical Boar Hunting. He is currently the non-commissioned officer in charge of the United States Army Marksmanship Unit’s Olympic Shotgun Team at Fort Benning. He is also a senior field editor with Boar Hunter magazine and has helped the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences with wild-hog research. Rod also attained the “Jagdschein” (European hunting license) to hunt European boars while deployed overseas. Rod said the license is extremely hard for non-European citizens to attain, and it took several years of tests and field training to finally receive it.
He decided to start his guide service after years of military-combat experience, and hog hunting combined with that experience gave him the idea for the ultimate hog-hunting success story. Rod said the name for his company came from his time spent in Germany studying with the several “Jagers,” which means “hunter” in German.
Rod didn’t always plan on starting a guided-hunt company and originally just wanted to be a feral-hog control agent. He said he found that farmers don’t want to pay someone to come kill hogs, and after not being as successful as he wanted in the daytime, he thought of a better way to hog hunt.
“I quickly found that hunting in the daytime, the traditional way, I wasn’t very effective… I saw how effective thermal technology was in combat, and from what I see, farmers and ranchers are at war with feral hogs in the United States. So, it just made common sense to me,” said Rod.
He began the guided-hunt company last year as a means of paying for the very expensive costs of furnishing thermal-imaging optics for his clients. After his retirement, Rod plans to offer more hunts and pursue guiding on a full-time basis.
He said he started with a light on top of a scope then transitioned to generation-3, night-vision technology. Now he has upgraded to thermal-technology optics. Rod said the spotlighting technique works well until the hogs have been shot at once; then they learn to associate the light with danger and quickly make themselves scarce after seeing any source of light. After moving up to the night-vision optics, Rod said it made a huge difference in his success rate, but the optics are still limited in comparison to thermal imagery. The night-vision optics require some sort of ambient light, such as the moon, and when you get into thick vegetation, your vision can be limited, he said. That’s when Rod decided to step up to the thermal scopes. Thermal scopes don’t rely on light at all, making them easy to use from dusk until dawn. The scopes show terrain and other things in a light-gray color and all living objects show up bright white because of their thermal signature (body heat). On the night of my hunt, it was easy to see groups of deer as far as 1,000 yards away, and some even ventured as close as 50 yards without ever knowing we were there as we waited for a group of hogs.
“The long-range spotting scope is rated at 3/4 of a mile, and I can tell the difference between hogs, deer and coyotes at a half-mile. The scopes on the rifles are rated at 500 to 600 yards,” said Rod.
Even at such long distances, different species have separate mannerisms that make them easily distinguishable. The deer look almost like goats at long distances but are easy to distinguish from hogs because of their long necks. Rod said hogs look a lot like an armadillo at long distances. Coyotes trot and jump around like a dog would, and you won’t see a coyote grazing or rooting like deer and hogs.
Rod said after several years of night hunting for hogs, he’s learned quite a few things about their behavior. While some game and fish are affected by the moon phases, he said he doesn’t think hogs are affected in any way.
“I kept track of moon phases and when I would see hogs and when the most were killed. I don’t think it has anything at all to do with the moon phases. I think hogs are intelligent enough to know it has more to do with hunting pressure and time of year,” he said.
He said the hotter the weather is, generally, the later in the night the hogs start to move. During the beginning of the summer the sows and smaller groups will start to move as soon as it gets dark, and the mature boars will start to move around midnight. As the weather gets hotter, both the sows’ and boars’ movements will move later into the night. Rod said their behavior and movement periods are very predictable during the summer nights.
“You can almost set your watch to it. I hunted the same place, the same tree, for three nights in a row and killed 44 hogs in those three nights. All three nights the first hog came down the trail between 11:30 and midnight,” he said.
Rod only offers hunts from the end of January until October because he doesn’t want to confuse any DNR law-enforcement officers about shots occurring after dark. He doesn’t offer hunts during deer season so his activities won’t be confused with poachers spotlighting deer.
Some people might question the legalities of hunting hogs at night, but everything Rod does while hunting hogs at night is perfectly legal. The Georgia hunting regulations state that a special permit is only needed when hunting hogs from a vehicle, over bait or while using a light of more than six volts, none of which occur while hunting with Rod. The only thing anyone needs to hunt hogs with Jager Pro is a Georgia hunting license.
Rod said people ask him all the time why he doesn’t like hogs so much and his response is always, “If you scooped as much hog manure as I did for the first 18 years of my life, growing up on that hog farm, it’s kind of therapeutic for me.” He made the comment jokingly assuring me he has no personal vendetta against hogs. Even with the large quantities of hogs taken during his hunts, it would still be almost impossible to ever eradicate hogs in Georgia. Females become sexually mature at six months and have a gestation period of only 115 days — meaning adult sows average two litters of young per year. With up to 14 young per litter, and basically no natural predators after the age of six months, the hogs are still reproducing faster than they are being harvested.
Since Rod is doing farmers and landowners a service by harvesting nuisance hogs on their land, he asks that every hog be taken, not just the mature boars or sows. He explained that if he doesn’t harvest the 3-month-old gilt (young female hog) now, in three more months it will be sexually active and producing offspring. Therefore, in order to successfully eliminate hogs from one particular area for an extended period of time, all of the hogs, not just the mature animals, must be taken. And if anyone is actually worried the heavy hunting pressure could ever eradicate hogs completely, Rod doesn’t hunt hogs during deer season, giving the animals a pretty long recovery period.
Daytime Hunting and the “Judas Pig”
Rod has become well known for finding hogs and being very successful during nighttime hunts, but a lot of hunters in other states can’t hunt hogs at night. And most people in Georgia can’t afford to outfit their rifles with $11,000 scopes. So, Rod has now developed a solution to finding hogs in the daytime, and using their own four-legged friends against them.
“I get a dozen phone calls every month from hunters [in other states] asking me to help them be more efficient finding hogs in the daytime,” said Rod.
Rod calls his method the “Judas Pig” method because it literally turns one pig against the rest of its species. The method begins with the trapping of a large group of hogs. Rod recommends using five to six large livestock panels and some sort of door that allows hogs in, but won’t allow them out. He said hunters, now trappers, should leave the door open for an extended period of time, which allows the hogs to get used to feeding in the large area inside the trap. When they’ve grown accustomed to feeding in the area, then you start using the door. Rod said the method works exceptionally well when more than one group of hogs are using an area.
“If one group of hogs is feeding earlier in the night and gets into the trap, when the next group comes they think ‘Hey, those hogs are eating my food,’ then they go into the trap as well,” said Rod.
The next step to turning the hogs in the trap against their species is simple. Rod has designed a radio-telemetry ear tag especially for hogs which allows hunters to track the tag once the hog has been released. The technology works the same as most dog-tracking collars, and can usually be programmed to a frequency to work with equipment hunters might already have for tracking dogs. But, the reason the technique is called the “Judas Pig” method is because you should kill all the hogs but the youngest gilt, which you tag with the telemetry ear tag. Rod said the youngest gilts are so group oriented they will find another group of hogs as soon as possible.
“Turn her loose, and within a matter of hours she will find the closest group,” said Rod.
Then the next time you are hunting in the area, you know exactly where the group of hogs is. The ear tag will last up to one year on its battery. Rod said the ear tag works well for dog hunters and even groups of traditional hunters.
“When those hogs are bedded up, now you know exactly where they are at. You can put some hunters on one side of the hogs and let the hogs smell someone on the other side to run them toward the group. Now, you’re in control of the strategy you need to use, and you know where the hogs are at,” he said.
Rod said to let the tagged gilt get away every time you hunt a particular group so you won’t have to trap another gilt to tag if you harvest the tagged one.
“She’ll just keep finding them — just like a paid informant,” he said.
Rod’s equipment is available through his company Jager Pro and a special one-way hog trap door, described in the article, will also soon be available at farm-equipment stores. All of the equipment is also marketed under the Jager Pro name. To book a guided tactical hunt or to see videos and photos, visit the website at www.jagerpro.com.