The land, the bugs, and the environment all make hunting in the Philippines completely different than hunting in the prairies of Texas. With such marvels as night vision and thermal equipment costing thousands of dollars, near-invisible high-tech blinds with mirrors, artificial pheromones, high quality animal calls on hundred dollar remote-controlled speakers and specialized hunting soap that eliminates all odor, the American hunter seems just a tad… spoiled.
As someone who grew up hunting in the Philippines, I found my first American hog hunt remarkably easy. Never had I ever heard of the concept of stand hunting, and neither had I ever seen a feeder. It almost felt unfair to shoot the animals without doing any of the stalking work. Almost. Bait is still a valid hunting method, and a kill is a kill is a kill no matter how one spins it. Despite this fact, it’s still a very different animal (pun unintended) from hunting in the old country.
I should begin with a caveat – in the Philippines, hunting is illegal. However, for a law to be enforced, there must be enforcers, and the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources is woefully understaffed. This unfortunately means poaching is frequent. With that being said, the DENR has no qualms about eradicating pests on private land, which is how I hunted.
Unlike Texas, a land gripped by a feral hog invasion, the most common edible pests in the modern Philippine hunting scene are birds like weavers, sparrows or shrikes which wreak havoc on the local rice crop. While larger game does exist, hunters need to do a bit of work to get it.
My Uncle Mae (pronounced ma-eh), who taught me how to shoot, was an avid hunter back in the “bad old days” of the 1970s when the country was a dictatorship under martial law. While the police and military patrolled the big cities arresting people without a trial and executing “enemies of the state” on a whim, the authorities would neglect the jungles. It was for a good reason. The deeper one went into the jungle, the more likely one would find Communist bandits waging their guerrilla war against the government. While these Communist terrorists are still around, the jungle where my forefathers hunted has changed significantly over the course of a generation.
The jungle is still a terrible green hell for the unexperienced, though. Trekking through the woods was mired with difficulties like sheer vertical climbs, muddy, uneven terrain on sheer cliffs where unsure footing would ensure a broken bone or death, and a lovely host of non-huntable animals like leeches, mosquitoes, spiders, and giant flies.
Hunting in the Philippines is done in constant, oppressive humidity . Unlike Americans, Filipinos rarely talk about the weather because it never changes. A “cold day” for a Filipino is 77° since temperature usually fluctuates between 89° and 95° with an average humidity of 80% year round.
Compared to hunting in the old country, hunting in Texas is a blessing. I would rather bear the 90° – 100° dry heat of the Texas prairie than torturous unchanging humidity in the Philippines. “Muggy” is not a word in Philippine English. That’s just every day.
In the golden age of Philippine hunting, my uncle recalled aside from the fruit eating pigeons (delicious eating) and Philippine mallards, another non-avian creature was fair game: giant flying foxes, some of which had wingspans of up to 5 feet 6 inches. These large, winged mammals which lived in caves deep in the jungle could be turned into a stew with coconut milk and ginger or marinated in adobo sauce. It seems these wild jungle-dwelling bats are far safer than their captive-bred Chinese cousins who gave us the coronavirus.
While the American south has plenty of wild hog, well known for their tenacity and rapid reproduction, the Philippines has its own version of wild swine in the form of the Visayan warty pig. This mohawked Asian version of the wild hog seems to be just as intelligent as its western counterpart. A French scientist recorded a captive warty pig using a piece of tree bark as tool to dig its burrow, a first for any kind of wild pig.
Finding one of them in the wild, however, is a bit of a chore. It would require hiking up dangerous mountain passes into territory frequented by Communist insurgents, and even then, the pigs would have to be hunted at night due to their nocturnal nature. When cornered, just like their American cousins, the warty pig puts up a ferocious defense.
Creatures other than the warty pig roam the forests at night, such as the Visayan spotted deer. Both the warty pig and the spotted deer are critically endangered, but local hunters have no respect for conservation and poaching is an unfortunate fact of life.
However, sometimes even the wildlife doesn’t respect boundaries. The nearer one lives to the jungle, the more likely it would be for an animal to invade one’s home. Warty pigs destroy crops just like feral hogs do in Texas, and even in the city, pythons crawl into people’s homes looking for pets to eat.
Hunting in the Philippines with night vision or thermal goggles is completely unknown. The rich plantation owners and politicians who have the funds to skirt around conservation laws usually hunt at night by slowly driving around in a truck, shining high intensity halogen lamps through the jungle undergrowth trying to pick up the glint of a pair of eyes or any rustling tree or bush.
Hunting in blinds, as I previously mentioned, is also unknown. Hunters from the city and foreign visitors would navigate through the jungle with local guides. In the old days, tribals were the best guides one could get, but these days most guides are usually mountain men — non-tribal Christians (as opposed to the tribal animists) who make the lush mountains their home. When someone hires one of them, the hunter has to hope his new guide isn’t an insurgent leading him into an ambush.
Even if the guide isn’t an insurgent, communicating with him is a kind of game. Filipinos, by nature, are not very straightforward people, and the cultural nuances and subtleties can make foreigners seem strange at best or rude at worst. For example, if a Filipino is eating and sees you passing, he will normally say “let’s eat.” To actually sit down and eat with him would be considered weird and a little rude. The polite thing to do would be to smile and nod.
The guides may also be extremely superstitious and could do things such as talk to termite mounds to ask invisible dwarves who live on them for safe passage or wear their clothes inside out at night to confuse woodland spirits. The Philippines is a land where people believe magic to be very real, especially in the jungle. In fact, your guide may expect you to do as he does or risk the wrath of the spirit folk who lurk in the jungle.
As far as hunting techniques go, American bird hunters in the past were said to have hitched rides on rice carts travelling to the city, blasting any birds out of the sky which dove to the carts for food. Others would simply put their feet up on a porch of a hut in some mountain village and spread rice out onto the ground about twenty yards away. The hunter would crack open a cold one while waiting for any unsuspecting birds to feed on the bait before blasting them away.
That said, I appreciate the ease of blind hunting over stalking in the jungle as well as the fact the Texas prairie lacks the cliffs and steep uphill climbs of the Philippine mountains. The one thing I do miss, however, is being able to hunt everything with iron sights.
As far as weapons and optics, many Filipino hunters use iron sights since the very idea of long-distance shooting is ridiculous when everything is obscured by heavy vegetation. Philippine law prohibits high-caliber centerfire cartridges, so .22lr and .22wmr rimfires are the most common rifle rounds, while 12ga remains a staple for dealing with larger animals. This is not to say there are no hunters who use larger calibers illegally. Over the decades, many an unscrupulous hunter has found some way to get their hands on .223, .308, .30-06, and .243 Winchester. Larger calibers like .300 win mag and .375 H&H exist, but are rarer than the spotted deer they are meant to be used on. However, with enough bribe money and the right clan name, one could hunt with something as absurd as a fully automatic M60 like an uncle of mine did.
Armscor is the premier firearms manufacturer in the Philippine Islands. As a local company, Armscor guns are cheap and widely accessible. The most common models are the Armscor M30 12ga shotgun, which resembles something in between a Remington 870 and a Mossberg 500, and the M22 bolt action rimfire rifle. Indigenous hunters, mountain people, and insurgents who cannot afford the $600 for a factory made weapon use their ingenuity to create their own firearms. Constructed from lead pipes and cheap aluminum, these improvised firearms range from slam-fire 12ga shotguns and matchlock muskets of questionable safety to the “Barit” .50 caliber rifle, named after the Filipino mispronunciation of “Barrett.” Although the latter is used more for hunting Philippine soldiers than jungle critters, it is still a testament to the Filipino gunsmith’s ability to improvise.
Hunting in the Philippines is mired by government corruption, poaching, declining natural habitats, and outdated technology. The few recreational hunters who remain are finding less and less animals to hunt not so much due to the lack of conservation laws, but more because of the lack of enforcement.
Put into context, in contrast to the Filipino recreational hunter, American hunters are conservationists who care about preserving the sport for their children and grandchildren. Not every day is open season on every living thing like it is in the Philippines. Trekking across the Appalachians or the great Alaskan wilderness might be just as difficult as hunting in the Philippines. The greatness of American hunting lies in its diversity – depending on where one goes or what one is hunting, the hunt can be as easy or as difficult as one desires.