Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Waxahachie Camera Project Update: "Hog Heaven"

I was able to get up to Waxahachie on Memorial Day and check on my cameras. As usual, the trip was a mixed bag. I greatly enjoyed being out on the land and visiting with the property owner. On the flip side, it looks like I have lost another camera.

I arrived a little later than I would have liked (about 3:30pm) but still had plenty of daylight in which to get the two cameras already on the property serviced and get my newest camera deployed. I had recently purchased a used Reconyx RC-55 and was excited to get it posted as a replacement to the cheaper Wildgame Innovations camera which malfunctioned after only one month in the field. To be fair, I’ve had pretty good luck with Wildgame Innovations cameras but this one turned out to be a real lemon.

Upon my arrival, I visited for about half an hour with the property owner. She told me that quite a few things had occurred over the last few weeks. One of her horses suffered a nasty and very deep wound on its head/jaw, which she feels is attributable to a predator. She also said that she had heard a deep grunting call similar to that of an African lion coming from an area about 100 yards east of her house and the area where the animals are kept. She also mentioned that the donkey, which acts as sort of a watchdog, had been “on alert” for most of the week. She had discussed this behavior with me before. Basically, the donkey will walk a little ways away from the house and stand dead still and stare at a specific spot for extended periods of time. The property owner feels the donkey is positioning himself between what it considers some sort of threat (possibly a predator) and the two horses and house. While this behavior had been described to me, I had not seen it myself on any of my previous trips to the property. This time I did see it.

The horses and donkeys on the property are very friendly and curious. On my previous trips they would circle my truck almost before I could get out of it. The donkey, in particular, would approach me and my vehicle very quickly upon my arrival. He did not do so on Monday, however. This time, the donkey was positioned in the middle of the yard staring off toward a thickly wooded area to the south-southeast. During my conversation with the owner he did not so much as twitch an ear or flip his tail. He has like a statue. The owner said he had been acting like this off and on for the last couple of weeks. The animal is pretty tame and, if he wasn’t already in your hip pocket, would certainly come quickly when beckoned with a “cookie” or “treat” by the owner. She said when he is “on alert” he won’t come for any reason. She demonstrated by calling him by name and telling him to “come get a treat.” The donkey didn’t even turn his head. I don’t know for sure that this animal sensed some sort of threat or was just “in a mood” but I can now say for sure that I have witnessed the behavior described by the property owner. What it means is open for debate.

It just so happened that I needed to walk right into the area at which the donkey was staring in order to reach the first camera. I figured if there were something in there I would have a decent chance of seeing it. Armed with this knowledge, and a Mossberg shotgun, I began my trek out to the first camera. It was simply unbelievable how high the grass and weeds had grown. There were thistle plants that were literally as tall as I was. The extremely high vegetation made the going slow and forced me to really pay attention to where I was placing my feet. I couldn’t help but think that anything could be out there laying low and I would never see it.

When I reached the first camera I noted the vegetation was extremely high in front of it. I downloaded the data but did not take the time to view the video at that time. I had a lot of events but anticipated 90% of them would be nothing more than shots of weeds blowing in the wind. So, I made a decision to move the camera to a less overgrown area. I found a suitable spot only 25 yards, or so, away from the original location. I then baited the area in front of the camera with a couple of scent dispensers soaked in mountain lion urine (very pungent stuff). This is the first time I’ve used any sort of attractant at this location. If there is a big cat of some kind on the property then I’m guessing it will stop by and have a sniff. I then loaded up and headed back toward the house.

After checking in with the owner, I accessed the back portion of the property in order to get to my second camera. I was excited about the potential for some good photos from this camera as it had been relocated to a spot on a hidden pond the month before. Justin Horn and I had located all manner of animal sign including some large, and catlike-looking, scat at this location. My plan was to refresh the existing camera and deploy the new Reconyx camera on the opposite side of the pond. When I arrived at the pond I immediately found scat very similar to that which we had found a month before. Encouraged, I made my way toward the Cuddeback camera that had been watching the north side of the pond.

That is when things got interesting.

I was about halfway between the pond and the camera location when I heard something splash in the water behind me. I turned to see a very large black hog at the edge of the pond. He raised his head to look at me about the time I spotted him. He was approximately 30-35 yards away at that time. Hogs don’t have very good vision so I can’t say for sure that he saw me but he did seem to react to my presence. He did sort of a stiff-legged hop up and down on his front legs twice. I’ve not observed this before and couldn’t say for sure what it signifies. What I do know is that right after that the hog began trotting around the edge of the pond towards me. He wasn’t coming, forgive the pun, full-boar but wasn’t dawdling either. I had no tree suitable for climbing so quickly decided that this hog needed some discouragement. The hog was about 20-25 yards away when I opened up on him with my 12-gauge Mossberg Persuader. The hog stopped in his tracks, fell back on his rump, made a sound between a grunt and a squeal and sprinted away into the woods. I heard him thrash around a bit and then things got quiet. The property owner began yelling my name (she could not see me from the house) and I could hear her quickly approaching my location. I decided to emerge from the brush around the pond and let her know I was ok rather than try to follow the hog at that point.

After relating the events leading up to the shot, the property owner accompanied me to the camera location. I was disappointed to find the camera face down in the mud at the base of the tree on which it had been attached. The bungee cord had snapped. From the looks of it, the camera had been partially submerged by water at some point over the past week or so (it is no secret that we’ve had some stormy weather in north Texas and Oklahoma over the last month). I was encouraged as the display screen on the camera was still operating. I removed the card and was able to download a large number of photos. I was disappointed, however, when after loading fresh batteries the camera would not turn on. I pulled the camera and placed the new Reconyx camera in the same spot. The spot had yielded a large number of photos so it seemed foolish to leave this spot without camera coverage (Placing another camera near the spot where the scat had been found would have to wait). I baited the area in front of the Reconyx with cougar urine and we made our way back to the house.

Interestingly, the donkey’s affect had completely changed. He was like a different animal. He was once again following us and seeking attention. He followed me to my truck and gently head-butted me in the back so that I would stop and pet him a bit. He, again, was the very curious animal that I had always seen before. I thought he was actually going to try to get in the truck when I opened the door to stow my gun case. He followed me back to the porch area and had himself a roll in the dirt and dust near the house. Whatever had been bothering him before was no longer doing so. I found the change in behavior very interesting.

I ended up getting only one video of interest from the first camera. It showed a very large spotted hog wandering about. As I suspected, the bulk of the video showed only swaying vegetation and/or birds. The lack of anything interesting reassured me that moving the camera to a less overgrown area was the right move. Hopefully, next time, especially since the camera has been scent-baited, I’ll get better results.

The photos the old Cuddeback took prior to its untimely demise were very good. Lots and lots of pictures of big, healthy hogs. Truly that pond area is “hog heaven.” It is no wonder I had a run-in with one. The camera also got photos of a couple of coyotes, what might be a fox or maybe a very small coyote, and a red-shouldered hawk in flight. If nothing else, these photos prove that a lot of wildlife frequents this spot making it a prime camera location. As we get into the summer months here in Texas, this pond is going to become more and more important as a watering hole. Hopefully, all the animals in the area, including any big cats, will make periodic stops to drink. If so, I should get the photo I’m looking for eventually.

At least, I hope so.


  1. I had recently purchased a used Reconyx RC-55 and was excited to get it posted as a replacement to the cheaper Wildgame Innovations ... ewildgame.blogspot.com

  2. Wildgame Innovations, to be clear, I was not knocking your product. The cameras of yours that I had were some of the lower end models while the used Reconyx were considered top of the line cameras just a few years back. I would be glad to perform some kind of head to head field test if you would spot me a couple of cameras.