Hunting in the Wild West

In the state of Texas there are few limitations when it comes to hunting and firearms. Thomas Lindy Nissen went there hunting with bow, crossbow and rifle

I’m always keen on trying new kinds of hunting – for species I have not been after before, or in countries I have not visited yet. Therefore, I was quick in my reply to my American friend Seth, who asked if I was ready to hunt for boar in Texas, a place I would not hesitate to call the Wild West. The hunt was supposed to take place day and night, seated or stalking, with spotlight and thermal optics, and we could even choose between rifle, crossbow and bow. Well, why choose? All three it is…

Shapes in the dark

The hunt takes place largely as a Swedish hunt for boar would, at a feeding place. At all these points there is a hide, but because of poor wind direction and a shooting distance that precludes the use of a crossbow, which I borrowed from Seth, I’ve made a small alcove in the bush on the opposite side, where I can hide at a good distance from the corn I’ve spread in front of me.

When Thomas’s quota of two wild boar is used up, he just has to photograph them instead

I can see the feeding machine in front of me – a simple, rustic affair. But my attention is wrenched away as I realise that the black silhouettes moving around in the dark just 30 metres from me must be pigs. I’m still not ready, but slowly and completely silently, I arm the crossbow, lie down and aim. It’s still too dark for me to shoot through the sights of the optics on the crossbow, a weapon type I’ve never yet taken any animal with. I have the rifle with me, and could take a shot through the scope, but we have a tag limit of up to two pigs per hunter and we have one and a half days yet – I choose to wait.

Wonderland

Seth, who has been out dropping off the third man, Heath Whitacre, suddenly drives down the edge of the bush by the three wild boar. The farm is enormous, and he’s gone a little wild in the dark on the way to the hiding place he is going to sit in. The pigs run out of the cotton fields around me and get my smell – none of us will shoot anything on this session!

Texas is the land of the free – that’s especially true when it comes to hunting

Wild boar like these are not originally found in Texas. The stock is derived from escaped domesticated animals, which more or less resemble European wild boar. Seth has arranged the hunt for three days on a large farm outside the city of Ballinger in the heart of Texas. The farm, which lies directly on the Colorado River, is partially fenced with bush and cactus, partially planted with cotton fields.

The wild pigs, which are both spotted and single-coloured in colour varieties from completely bright brown to black, are numerous in the area. There are also plenty of whitetail deer.

Wild boar is a nuisance around here. This, coupled with the fact that Texas views itself as something of a wonderland for people in need of freedom, it’s obligatory to hunt the species all year round, not to mention around the clock and with all types of suitable firearm. Hunting wild boar requires a licence, and you can get a hunting licence for five days for non-residents (of Texas, not the USA) at the equivalent of 40 euros. With this we could hunt wild boar and some other species such as coyote, bobcat and fox.

Rural graffiti

Now it’s afternoon, I’m on my stomach, holding myself up by the elbows, looking at the feeding place through a clear hole in the bush. The reddish sand under my legs, chest and arms is filled with cactus roses that drill through the clothes for every movement I make. When bowhunting – and now also hunting with crossbow – it is essential to know the shooting distance. Therefore, I have already used my Swarovski EL Range 10×42 binos to range out a 30, 40 and 50-metre mark, so I can just concentrate on choosing the right pin in the sight.

Bow, rifle and crossbow – three firearms with which to engage Texas’s boar

There are still a couple of hours for sunset when a barrel-shaped figure with subtle graffiti-coloured skin enters the stage. For a few minutes, the young keiler follows the edge of the bush, while with curling tail in constant motion, gnashes corn after corn between its teeth, loudly grinding them into yellowish flour. The .30-06 is safe on its bipod and would easily be able to do the job, but with such a long time until sunset I’m quite sure that the chance to shoot it with crossbow will arise.

Suddenly and without warning, the boar pulls back into the bush. I can hear that he is wandering around in there and that he is still getting closer, but I cannot see even a peek of it under the bushes from my lying position. Then he suddenly steps out in front of me again. He is a bit closer to me than the 30-metre mark, he is broadside – perfect.

Acceleration in the dust

With rifles overlooking a feeing point, it was almost like a traditional Swedish hunt

I raise my upper body slightly. A cactus immediately jabs into my right elbow, but I ignore it thanks to adrenalin and concentration.

When shooting with a crossbow, like a bow, the arrow does not take a particularly flat trajectory, so I must choose the right pin in the optics if I do not want to mess it up. However, the distances that stand out for each cross- section of the crosshair are in yards, while my measured distances are in meters. Luckily, I thought of that, and have already made a plan of which pins to use where. In this situation I will aim a bit low with the 30-metre pin.

To push the fuse forward, I raise a little higher on my elbows. Again, the cactus bites, but the pain subsides as I slide down on my stomach again. Cheek at the crossbow, I aim. I curl my finger and acknowledge that Seth was right earlier when he told me that the trigger is hard. However, I keep the sight steady, hear the string move and see the arrow (or the bolt, as it is really called on a crossbow) strike the pig with a double lung penetration. A little whine, acceleration and a cloud of red dust – the pig is still amid the cotton field after a 70-metre dead run.

It’s my first ever Texan boar. A big smile is on my lips as I process the animal, which, owing to its striking colour pattern, reminds me of a killer whale.

Cicadas sing for the last hour before sunset. The temperature drops under glowing skies. Anything can happen now. Wild boar can break out of the thorny cactus bush or the endless, puffy cotton fields, or a bobcat could appear along the edge. Somewhere on the other side of the river, a group of coyotes chimes in with a locator call, then seconds after, another group answers on the other side of me. The next few minutes are just about enjoying the surroundings. Hunting boar in a manner reminiscent of classic Swedish methods, but in 20-degree heat and such a beautiful visual and sonic backdrop, is not only amazing, it`s unique.

Not like other pigs

Heath with his wild boar the morning after the hunt

Seth wanders off to sit on the folding chair in the shed, not knowing that a scorpion found the seat of the folded chair very useful for today’s shelter. Fortunately, he discovers it at the last second in the low light, and gets it (after some fuss) out of the way. Texas is not a hospitable place, which does not make our next move more appealing. We are going night hunting with thermal optics and spotlight. Rattlesnakes and big spiders – such as the brown tarantula, which can achieve a 10cm leg span – are hard to see in the dark. Even though the spider species is not poisonous, it’s not a something you want to get in close contact with in the dark, not to mention scorpions or tense boars.

We drive from one feeding place to the next, spotting with light. At the third feeding place, a young keiler flees into the cotton field, where it stops in the apparent misunderstanding that it is covered. Heath locks the crosshair on the pig and drops his first boar with the rifle. The night hunt is neither bow nor crossbow friendly, so he chooses to wait and try to take his second to the next morning with the bow. Seth is not familiar with the night shooting, so he too will wait for the morning hunt. That’s why I – the man who is not a ‘dieter’ when it comes to hunting methods or hunting tools – get the pleasure of taking over.

Gralloching needs to be fast and efficient in the unforgiving Texas heat

In Texas, owing to the variety and the number of pigs, it is good practice to shoot what you see, females included. If there was a keiler in the feeding place in front of us, I would have shot it, but there wasn’t. Past midnight I shoot a young, one of the seven boar that can be seen in the red spotlight in the feeding place. My quota of two wild boar has been used.

The pigs of these prairies, as mentioned, are colourfully reminiscent of their European relatives – but they also seem to react differently to the ‘real’ wild boar I have met elsewhere. Normally, wild boar that get disturbed find cover in craters, forests or thickets, but these ones run when we encounter them, out on open ground. There are plenty of cotton plants on the ground, and the pigs camouflage themselves among them, but they are not hidden. Perhaps this stems from the fact that there are so many cacti and torn bushes in the thicket towards the river that it is too risky or painful to escape that way.

Final shots

It’s morning. I’m in on area calling coyote while Seth sits by with both rifle and bow. He sees a pig, but at 70 metres, it’s only half out of the bush for two seconds before turning off without giving the chance of a shot. A big pig, perhaps the biggest we have seen, but not the biggest chance. I shoot two pigs – with a camera. My quotas are used.

The pigs here are far from as fascinating in appearance as the European, but the freedom of hunting methods and tools makes Texas particularly enticing. It’s not the last time I’ll be hunting in the Wild West. Whether the next will be with bow, rifle or crossbow, who knows?

A Texan boar taken with the rifle under the spotlight

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