It seems since I came on board as a Pro Staffer for SHWAT, the weather in Texas has been working against me. Our latest trip it was no different. After picking up J.D. from DFW Shooting Sports, Stephen Owen,fellow Pro Staffer, Jared Hilton, and I headed out. It was 4:30 PM, 32 degrees, and raining as we departed Dallas and headed west. With a 2.5 hour drive ahead of us, we were betting on the weatherman being right and the precipitation departing upon our arrival.
We arrived around 7:00 PM to an unanticipated blanket of snow. Humidity was 88 percent, the temperature was now below 30 degrees and we knew we had a cold night ahead of us. Our hope was that the hogs would be out and moving since the fields we hunt had been freshly sown and the hogs had most likely been bedded down the previous 36 hours as winter storm Diego wreaked havoc on West Texas. Our assessment ended up being correct, but we had yet to uncover the host of challenges that awaited us.
The first issue was getting the gooseneck cattle trailer detached from the farm truck, our hunting vehicle for the night. I’ll spare you the details, but after two hours and a few phone calls for help, we had it free. Now it was go time, so the first thing we did was go check the CRP and then head east. As we crawled down the farm road we learned that under the layer of snow there was a very slick layer of deep mud. Long story short, we were stuck. Once recovered we did the smart thing and threw the dually into 4WD. As you would expect, after resuming our trek we promptly got stuck, so stuck we had to resort to the last thing any man wants to do, call and ask for help – again. For the second time that night, Jared’s brother-in-law, Kyle, came to the rescue. When Kyle’s 4×4 couldn’t free us, it was decided that we needed to go and get a tractor.
Before I get into the adventure that was retrieving the tractor, here is the rundown of the gear we were running that night. Our foursome was really packing some heat.
- Falkor Petra 300WM with a Freedom Armory Suppressor and FLIR PTS736 on it,
- Primary Weapons Systems MK216 .308 with a Silencerco Omega and a FLIR PTS536
- Honey Badger 300 Blackout from Q with a FLIR PTS536
- LWRC 5.56 SBR with a Dead Air Sandman L and Trijicon REAP IR 35mm
- LWRC 6.8 SPC II SBR with a Dead Air Sandman S and Pulsar Trail XP50.
In case you are wondering, the answer is yes, both of the LWRC’s were equipped with giggle switches (fully automatic).
This equipment came in handy to check out large sounders to the north and south of our stranded position. As our continued bad luck would have it, both of these groups were on property we could not hunt, but at least we now knew hogs were out and about. As the hunters were drooling over hogs they couldn’t shoot, Kyle and I were once more dealing with a frozen trailer, this time on the tractor. If we were ever going to get that truck out of the mud and get this hunting trip started, we were first going to have to free the trailer from the rig, and ASAP. It took a couple of hours and it was now past midnight, but we finally had our truck free and could get on with our hunt.
After deciding we should try to stick to pavement as much as possible, we headed south toward the river. We knew that hogs were out and were hopeful our string of bad luck was over. We quickly found a large group and needed to cover about 800 yards on foot to engage them. I jumped out front to take the lead because I wanted to set the pace and cover some ground. The snow covered field was beautiful, but as my feet started to sink through the snow and into ankle deep mud below, two majors problems arose. One, we were loud, really loud, and the 3-5 mph breeze was not enough to cover our noise signature. Second, it was now 25 degrees and muddy water was seeping through my boots and soaking my feet. I was none too happy about that and I would have done just about anything at that point to get a pair of Jonathan’s beloved Lalo Amphibian boots. At 100 yards out, I stopped our assault to confer with Jared over our plan of attack. As we started to discuss details, the group of hogs decided to bolt. It’s hard to armchair quarterback these things sometimes and we are still not really sure what spooked them. Anyway, with the hogs on the move we quickly formed our firing line and let our first shots ring out through the night. One hog decided to break from the group and angle back towards us. He was at a full sprint, left to right, around 150 yards away. This was perfect for the 4X magnification on my FLIR 536. So, I lined him up, estimated my lead and then sent a Remington 168 GR HTP Copper pill to greet him. I would say he went head over heels for it, but it was more like heels over head if you know what I mean.
A single pig out of a group of over 50, with 4 shooters is pretty bad if you ask me, but I had found the first thing that had worked for me all night. The FLIR 536. 25 Degrees, 88 percent humidity, ice, snow, and wet feet were not going to hold me or my FLIR topped PWS MK216 back. We had our first taste of blood for the night and this team of hog reapers was ready for more. In my experience, cold weather is no friend to batteries or electronic optics and humidity is definitely not kind to thermal imaging devices. The FLIR was proving to be crisp and clear, and while I have had nothing but good luck with these FLIR units in 2018, I knew this was going to be the ultimate test.
With our first small success of the night, we trekked 800 yards back through the snow swamp, loaded up in the truck, cranked the heater, and headed out in search of more. As J.D. and Jared took turns spotting with the Pulsar Helion XP50, I spent my time taking cat naps and knocking down junk food. It didn’t take to long for my bag of Cool Ranch Doritos to be interrupted by Jared with word of another group. A plan was developed and we started to press out on this group of about 10 hogs with my FLIR 536 in tow. About 70 yards from the hogs we formed our firing line and began our countdown. I was able to drop 2 pigs in this group and our team got a total of 5, bringing us to 6 for the night. Again, I was impressed by the clarity and detail of the FLIR and how it was able to ignore the adverse conditions.
Back in the truck, I picked up where I left off on those Doritos and moved on to another Oatmeal Creme Pie. I began to wonder how long my soaking wet feet could endure the 25 degree weather before safety became a legitimate concern, but once again I was interrupted with news of pigs. As we left the truck this time, I opted for the Falkor Petra 300WM. We are working on a 300WM R&D project and it was time for me to get some data. This was another small group, but with the wind picking up it was easier to cover the sound of our movement and we were able to quickly press inside of 100 yards. Assembled in our line, we got ready to unleash justice on these uninvited, crop-destroying, feral hogs.
In my hasty zeroing the day before, I did not take time to adjust the gas setting on the Falkor and with the suppressor it was severely over gassed. My right eye and the rear of the FLIR 736 became well acquainted during that time. So, as the 4 of us simultaneously broke our first shot into this group, my right eye was re-acquainted with its old friend. As my vision cleared I saw something I did not expect, my target was at a full sprint to the right, seemingly uninjured. Did I miss? I must have, but instead of contemplating it I got back on target quickly and dispatched my escaping hog, while letting the FLIR 736 give me another kiss. I have to say these FLIR units are pretty tough; it was having to deal with bad weather conditions, the recoil of a 300WM, and impact testing against my head which, according to many, is very hard. The 736 didn’t hesitate, flicker, or falter and both me and the receiving hog would agree that it packs a punch. With a base 6X magnification the FLIR 736 would be my top choice for long distance thermal hunting.
With daylight and hypothermia approaching, we finally found a lone boar. Another great opportunity for the 300WM. I pressed out into the field with J.D. by my side, rested the Falkor on my Primos Tripod, and peered through my 736 unit once again. I was surprised to see….nothing? Once found, the pig was on a fast trot moving to the west, our left. I didn’t need to say a word, J.D. and I were on the same page. I got on target, steadied myself, and clicked the safety to the firing position. That click was the sound J.D. was waiting for and right on cue he let out a whistle. The hog stopped to look and a 180 grain pill was sent to greet him. An instant dirt nap followed and with that our hunt was done. We ended up with 11 recovered hogs. It wasn’t the number we were hoping for, but with all things considered, it was a great night and a trip we will talk about for the rest of our lives.
Over the course of 2018, I have been on multiple, all-night hunts with these FLIR units that have resulted in dozens of dead hogs. I haven’t had a single issue. I could easily give you a run down of the features, but so can FLIR’s website. To summarize, there are 3 things that make this a real winner for me and the kind of hunting I do. First, the clarity they provide is outstanding and I no longer find myself wondering what kind of animal I am looking at. I can easily spot pigs and identify that they are pigs at 600 yards. Second, I love that it allows me to record without having to use a DVR, and I find the user interface simple to interact with. It has 4 directional arrows with a button in the center, once I memorized what button did what I never found myself hitting the wrong one, as I often do with other units. Finally, FLIR hit the nail on the head by having the PTS 536 and 736 come with American Defense Manufacturing Quick-Detach mounts. If you are like me and are constantly moving optics around, a quality mounting system that returns to zero is a must. When you consider the performance, reliability, ease of use, and competitive pricing you have a winner. If you are in the market for a weapon mounted thermal, make sure to put FLIR on your list of considerations.
Ever hunted hogs in the cold? Tell us about it in the comments below!