FLORIDA HOG HUNTING

florida swamp buggyMy baptism as a hog hunter took place in a waist-deep drainage ditch on a cattle ranch near Lake Okeechobee, Florida, in 2005. Robert Paxton had just waded across a 10-foot-wide ditch — soaked from boot heels to belt buckle, he looked back at us and matter-of-factly said, “At least one of you has to come help me. I can't do this alone.”

Mike Tussey (owner of Osceola Outdoors guide service), fellow hunter Joel Townley and I hemmed and hawed. At just 7 a.m. on a January morning, nobody felt very eager to get wet.

The hound that had chased a hog across the ditch began barking more intensely. Paxton turned toward the sound coming from 200 yards away through the palmetto scrub. He tightened his grip on the leash that held his second dog.

Tussey finally slogged through the ditch. I figured I had two options: give up on the hunt right now and walk back to the Lakeport Lodge motel to watch cartoons for the rest of the morning or jump feet first into the adventure that lay ahead.

A minute later I scrambled up the far bank of the ditch with Townley following close behind. Water sloshed in our boots as we all took off at a trot to locate the dog-on-a-hog ruckus.

The baying dog kept barking in the pig's face to command its attention and prevent escape. Paxton released the catch dog, which promptly grabbed the 120-pound sow by an ear and immobilized it. Paxton lifted the hog wheelbarrow-style by the hind legs and deftly flipped the animal on its side. He quickly knelt on the pig's ribs and neck, pinning it to the ground.

hog hunt“What do you think?” Paxton asked.

“It's a long haul back to the buggy,” Tussey said. “Better let her go.”

Townley and Tussey held the dogs while I stood behind them. Paxton leapt up and trotted in our direction. The sow slowly got to her feet and eyed us. She started to charge but the snarling dogs persuaded her otherwise. The irate hog turned and bolted away, a survivor of catch-and-release hunting.

THE SWAMP THING

By the time we had crossed the ditch again and marched back to Paxton's swamp buggy, strengthening daylight allowed me a better look at our mode of transportation. It seemed the perfect vehicle for cruising pond fringes and palmetto scrub in search of wild hogs — or for delivering Frankenstein's bride to the wedding ceremony. Rather than robbing graves, however, Paxton visited the salvage yard to collect the buggy's body parts while assembling his mechanical masterpiece.

The buggy's organ donors include a Jeep Comanche (frame, rear axle), an International Scout (manual transmission), a Dodge Power Wagon (front axle) and a tractor (hydraulic steering components). Paxton procured the steering wheel from an unidentified Buick and added an aftermarket destroyer knob for a sure grip while traversing rough terrain. The straight-six motor and automatic tranny came out of a 1979 Ford Fairmont.

finding hogs“The automatic transmission goes into a manual four-speed to reduce the gearing and produce more power. That way I don't need a big engine,” Paxton says.

Don't bother looking for a rear-view mirror or a brake pedal. Extremely low gearing makes brakes unnecessary — the buggy loses forward momentum the instant Paxton eases off the accelerator.

Riding on 149-24 tractor tires, the buggy's top deck sits 6 feet above ground and measures 7 feet by 16 feet. The deck makes a stable shooting platform and offers ample room for hunters and gear. Under the deck you'll find three dog pens and plenty of dry storage.

“The 17-gallon tank holds enough fuel for me to run all day,” Paxton says. “And there are a few spots on the engine where I can warm up a can of beanie-weenies if we want to have a hot lunch in the field.”