My last mountain bike used for hunting was decommissioned at least ten years ago after many faithful turkey hunting trips. That first bike was a very basic one without any suspension that I used exclusively for turkey hunting and scouting.
In recent years it was becoming clear that I wanted to reach further into the refuges where I hunt with greater speed and ease both during hunting trips and scouting.
Although I wanted to purchase and customize a bike for about $300.00 total cost, I quickly realized that would be difficult if I wanted a decent quality bike with front suspension.
· Front suspension
· Decent quality frame and components
· 29” wheels
Knowing that a new bike was out of the question I began to scour the local online ads and stopped by a few local pawn shops. Within a couple weeks a promising bike was found very close to home. The owner of local pawn shop who is expert mountain bike rider had a Giant Talon 29 in decent shape for sale. When negotiations were concluded I rode it home for $275.00.
Back at home any decals were removed and painted surfaces cleaned and roughed with a scotch brite pad to prep them for camo paint. I applied a basic three color flat camo paint job with flat spray paint from Lowe’s and some camo duct tape applied to the forks and seat post. I installed a RAM mount on the handle bar post to hold my GPS or iPhone, installed a rear cargo rack, mounted a survival knife to one of the frame members and zip tied an old canvas bucket to the front bars. Phase 1 complete.
On a cool February day I loaded the bike in my now trusty 4Runner and went for a few hours of trail riding in one of my favorite refuges. I put a few pounds of gear in the front bag and put a pack on my back with about 15 pounds in it and threw my shotgun over my shoulder of my 185 lb frame. All in all I suppose the bike was carrying about 210 lbs. With the tires at approx. 35 lbs of air I found the bike moved easily over the trails that were grassy and relatively firm. The 29” wheels are a real plus when coming up on roots, rocks and branches of a reasonable size. In most cases, I simply slowed and rolled over them, in other cases leaning back and giving the front tires a little lift assist did the trick. In the mud and sand the bike did well, the aggressive tires wanted to power through unless the mud was too deep or sand too fine. Cornering was ok except of course in the mud. As far as shifting goes, it was effortless although keep in mind that this is Florida and there was no real elevation change to deal with only changing trail conditions and a little experimenting with various speeds. The best part of the ride was the ability to scout so much more territory relatively fast compared with being on foot. Additionally, I had forgotten that riding is often generates less noise than walking allowing me to slip up on all manner of fauna.
Next effort will be to think about how I want to set up the bike for spring turkey season and fall deer and hog.
Preparation, failure and lessons learned on a Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge wild hog hunt.
The middle of January was coming fast. I was under pressure to locate some hogs so Bill and Paul, two close friends from out of town might enjoy a successful hunt. Two weeks before I spent a day scouting two very different areas and found some promising hog sign and some well used trails. Although I wasn't satisfied with my scouting efforts and wished I'd had more time, I had to turn my focus on getting gear together for the two-day hunt.
Paul drove up from Tampa on Friday, arriving just as I was wrapped up my workday. He and I quickly determined the priority course of action; first: go to the grocery store and buy steaks to grill for dinner and a serious amount of beer and wine, that I, the fool I am was sure would last us the weekend, plus some. While Paul and I were discussing culinary matters, putting a dry rub on the steaks, making a salad dressing and starting a fire of oak and charcoal in the grill, Bill was in the air, in route from South Florida via California.
Back at my place after picking up Bill from the nearby airport, we assembled our gear on the living room floor, set a wake up alarm for 4 AM and sat down to dinner and a briefing. Dinner was full of good food and conversation, with recent decades of water under the bridge; we had a lot to catch up on. So much in fact, none of us remembered what time we turned in but I'm reasonably certain it was between 1 AM and 3 AM.
Fast-forward after only a couple hours of sleep, we were walking through the dark of night just before the dawn, into the swamp to our setups. We walked Paul to a hang on stand overlooking a swamp and the edge of a hammock with some well used hog trails. Bill and I then packed in climbers and set up on different sides of another hammock. Bill was in a palm tree overlooking couple hog trails that cross a creek between two hammocks. I had killed a nice boar and buck in the general area about a month earlier and there was plenty of fresh hog sign.
At approximately 8 AM I heard some hogs fighting about 150 yards away in the hammock I was overlooking. I used my hog grunt call to make some contented feeding grunts and about an hour later caught a glimpse of the sow and a number of piglets. The Palmetto was thick and I was only catching a glimpse here or there mostly of the palm fronds moving. The hogs were always moving and I tried unsuccessfully to follow their movements in my scope. It was midmorning and I was impatient enough to take two shots both clean misses I believe.
Approximately 30 minutes later I heard the report from Paul’s rifle, a beautiful Henry 30-30 carbine with a brass receiver and heavy octagon barrel. I climbed down met up with Bill and we proceeded to Paul's location with the expectation we would find a dead hog on the ground. But we learned the sow and piglets left the hammock I was hunting and took a path through the swamp that brought them approximately 100 yards away from Paul. The sow and piglets we removing pretty fast through heavy cypress and hardwood timber only affording Paul a difficult shot at best and it appeared to be a clean miss.
Disappointed but looking forward to having lunch and strategizing about our afternoon hunt we headed over to the Treasure Camp restaurant on the banks of the Suwannee river. The Treasure Camp is one of those authentic, small, out-of-the-way restaurants, serving good food and run and staffed by authentic people in places…all of which have become far too rare.
I’ll fast forward to the lessons learned because there were no dead hogs for photo ops. What did we do wrong or could have done differently?
Except for no dead hogs it was a great two days of much needed time together in the beautiful and challenging Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge.