One thing I love most about being a hunter is the constant growth that I see in myself. Of course, growth comes in many forms. Maybe it's the ability to lift a little more weight at the gym to make it up the mountain faster, or to shoot your bow a little bit further for more opportunity in the field - these are wonderful ways that I hope to continue growing. However, I'm most proud of myself when I grow internally. We are all guilty of being judgmental and hypocritical at times, and it doesn't feel good when we catch ourselves in those moments. The key is recognizing it, learning from it, and sharing your experience so you can help someone else that may be struggling too.
Hunting with dogs - whether it's for hogs, mountain lions, bears, etc is nothing that has ever interested me. EVER. My perception has always been that you're having a pack of dogs do the work for you, and you're essentially killing a caged animal because it's surrounded with little opportunity to escape. Funny that I used the word "caged," when I've hunted multiple high-fenced ranches in Texas over the years without killing anything (often times barely seeing anything), yet people refer to that as hunting a caged animal as well. I naturally defend it because I have EXPERIENCED it, which is sometimes all we need to do as humans. Give it a chance. One chance. THEN form an opinion because at that point we've been in the same shoes. And guess what? You have the authority to say "I never want to do that again," and it'd come from a fair playing field because you've "been there and done that."
Hunting wild pigs with dogs, often referred to as "Hog Doggin," happened to be THE very last thing I wanted to try. I often get invited through social media to run dogs and I've turned down every offer, until I went with Karankawa Plains Outfitting Co in Pierce, TX. We had arranged a 3-day duck hunt with them and only hunted mornings. To be honest, we didn't need to hunt evenings anyway because it's pretty much duck heaven. Hitting limits are rarely a problem on the 30,000+ acre property. That left the afternoons open to do whatever we chose to do. In that extra time, I chose to go on my first hog hunt with dogs!
It's important to note that not all situations are equal. I'm sure I could go on a hunt with a group of people who don't care about their dogs as much, just like I know there are high-fenced ranches that you can practically hand feed the animals that you're "hunting." You wouldn't experience that on the ranches I've hunted, and Karankawa Plains wouldn't intentionally put their dogs in a situation that they can't handle. This isn't a "one size fits all" situation, but it's what I experienced when I hunted with Karankawa Plains Outfitting Co. Here's a compilation of common perceptions that I"ve gathered over the years (including a few of my own), contrasted with the reality based on my first experience:
- Perception: Owners train their dogs to be vicious and force them to rip the ears and tails off of the pigs. Reality: The hog dogs go with their instinct; if they won't naturally bay a hog, the owner won't run them. A catch dog isn't trained to latch onto the ears, tail, or mouth of a pig - it's instinctual. In other words, it would happen regardless if there's a human around. The idea is to get to the hog and put them down quickly, rather than to sit back and watch the show. This was a huge wake up call for me, as I realized that my innocent, untrained catahoula/pit mix has killed rabbits, armadillos, skunks, possums, birds, etc and I can assure you that I've never trained her to do that. A hog is just a bigger version of any of them.
- Perception: They run their dogs to death and barely feed them, which is why their bones show. Reality: The bay dogs are running a ridiculous amount of miles to get on hogs, making it tough to keep their weight up. They are fed high quality dog food but easily running 10+ miles per hunt. They're in extremely good shape. In addition, we live in a world where people overfeed their animals daily. I'm not pointing fingers - my Junebug is a fat girl and needs more exercise!
- Perception: The hogs die a slow, miserable death. Reality: You're sticking a large blade into the vitals - the same vitals that you HOPE your broadhead hits when you're bowhunting. The difference? There's no guessing. It's a perfectly placed entry hole with a MUCH larger blade. We just aren't used to seeing an animal die from start to finish, and it's tough to take in. Ignorance is bliss, maybe? The idea is to reach the hog quickly and end it quickly, rather than let the catch dog hold on for too long. As a bowhunter, I can't argue that they're suffering any more than a poorly placed broadhead. And let's be honest, every bowhunter has poorly placed broadheads at times, no matter how hard you prepare.
- Perception: Why would I choose a method using dogs when I can do it all myself (bow or gun) successfully? Reality: Very few methods are as effective as running dogs. We were able to put 4 down in 2 hours. I'm writing about an animal that's capable of reproducing 3 times per year, starting at just 6 months old. I'm talking about an animal that has up to a dozen per litter, that can survive without milk after only being alive a week, and that have an extremely good sense of smell, making it a tough hunt many times. Hogs destroy land and many people's means of income. It's actually a very efficient way of attempting to keep up with the growing population.
- Perception: The dogs often die from hunting hogs. The owner chooses to keep getting more instead of hunting another way. Reality: The owner of Karankawa Plains has never lost a dog to hog hunting. The catch dog (typically the one you see getting hurt and dying from this) should always have on a kevlar vest that protects the neck all the way down the body. The owners that don't keep the protective vest on the dog will often lose them in the field. Transparency: sure, there are times that no matter how protected the dogs are, they can get in a bad situation and it can cost them their life, but the percentage is very low, and at the end of the day they are dying doing what they LOVE to do. What they were BORN to do.
- Perception: The dogs will overheat and die. Reality: In hotter months, the dogs run later in the evening and through the night. They also have tracking devices so the owner can find them. The catch dog typically does not run with the bay dogs, otherwise he would overheat quickly. Again, I watched these dogs run over 10 miles just fine. There were water holes along the way to cool off.
- Perception: The owners are simply using the dogs for hunting, and don't take care of them otherwise. Reality: The dogs at KP Outfitting have nicer homes than any other dogs I've ever seen (without being an inside dog of course). They EACH have their own fenced in area with a dog house, a platform to jump up on, and a very large dog run during the day to socialize with each other.
As mentioned before, this was my own personal reality. I’d like to think there are many more out there with the same respect for their animals that work so hard. However, I know that there are hunters in general that don’t represent the type of hunter that I am. In a world with so much negativity, I hope to shed some light on a very controversial subject. A special thank you to KP Outfitting Co for making this a memorable weekend. We will be back!