Predator tournaments offer hunters chances to put their money where their mouths are

It happens each winter, usually about the time the general deer season wanes. Some good opportunities roll around for predator and hog hunting junkies to put their money where their mouths are and test their skills against others who share the passion for life on the wild side.

I call it the wild side, because that’s exactly what it is. Ask anyone who has played either game very much and they will agree the allure of chasing varmints and pigs during the wee hours of night is the uncertainty. Strange things can happen when tangling with coyotes, bobcats, feral hogs and other critters that make a living off the land once the sun goes down.

Ronnie O’Neal of Collinsville has been a shadow captain for years now. O’Neal grew up running coon hounds in the creek bottoms and rural woodlands around Grayson County, but gradually saw access to some of his best hunting spots gobbled up by the unforgiving teeth of urban sprawl.

About 13 years ago, O’Neal turned his attention to predator calling and night hunting as a way to get his fix while at the same time helping local cattle ranchers keep coyotes, bobcats, feral hogs and other troublesome critters that raid their land in check.

One thing led to another and O’Neal eventually teamed up with some friends to take their passion to another level. They started out making DVDs before eventually taking their game to the television screen.

Fittingly called “Night Crew,” their program showcases hard hitting predator hunting using thermal imaging, night vision optics and other tactical gear in a dramatic format that combines great storytelling and high quality, action-packed footage in each episode. The show currently airs on the Sportsman Channel with past episodes available on YouTube.

Recently, O’Neil decided to test the water in another area of predator hunting that offers others with like interests the opportunity to enjoy some friendly competition and have the chance to win some rich pay days — predator hunting tournaments.

Participants form teams and pay entry fees. Prizes are awarded based on who tallies the most, biggest or heaviest cumulative weight of critters during a specified time, usually overnight or during a weekend. Several tournaments are held around the state each year, and some offer lucrative pay days to the winners.

Heavy Hitters Set

On Jan. 22-23, O’Neil will host the 1st Annual Heavy Hitters Tournament. Based out of Collinsville, the Heavy Hitters event is a high stakes, predator calling tournament. It places a big bounty on coy customers known to prey on everything from cattle, fawns and lambs to lap dogs and common house cats — coyotes.

The coyote tournament is open to 1-4 man teams who ante up a $1,000 entry fee. Teams can bring in 10 coyotes with the winner decided by the heaviest weight on five.

“It’s sort of like fishing a bass tournament — get lucky and catch a few big fish you can win,” O’Neil said. “It’s the same deal in coyote tournaments.”

The pay back has the potential to be healthy. Based on 20 entries first place will pay $15,000; $5,000 for second. Not bad for a successful night of varmint hunting. Predator hunters typically use manual or electronic distress calls to lure coyotes and other varmints into the open.

Plenty of local events charge less for entry fees and offer smaller awards. O’Neil is hoping a richer pay back will bring more teams out of the woodwork as it has in other events held in different parts of the state.

“If you want to hunt all night just to win $50, this ain’t the tournament for you,” he said. “If you want to have a real shot at winning some real cash, get your partners together and enter. You gotta’ have some skin in the game to win big. I’m not sure what to expect at this point, but I thought I’d throw it out there to see if it sticks. There’s been a lot of interest so far.” For more information or to register, call 940-372-4877.

O’Neil pointed to a couple of the state’s longest running contests as inspirations for the Heavy Hitters derby.

Six Digit Purses

Based on San Angelo, the West Texas Big Bobcat Contest may be the state’s oldest and richest predator calling contest. The derby has been around for 14 years and drew about two dozen teams in its first year.

The WTBBC is held annually to help area ranches with predator problems and to put some cash in the pockets of participants. In addition to posing threats for livestock and more desirable wildlife, predators like coyotes and foxes also are primary carriers of rabies and other diseases.

The contest has steadily increased in participation and pay back every year since it began in 2008, according to organizer Jeremy Harrison. In fact, it has grown from one event to a tournament circuit with a series of three monthly derbies, January through March.

Last year’s tournaments drew 1,498 teams from multiple states that competed for $344,540 in cash. The January event alone attracted 644 teams who competed for nearly $150,000 prize money and all sorts of valuable prizes donated by national and local sponsors, according to the contest website,

The entry fee is $250 per team for up to four members. The heaviest bobcat wins the grand prize, but there is a catch. Teams must bring in at least five grey foxes or five coyotes in order to enter their biggest bobcat.

Russell Haley and Howard McDaniel won the top prize of $45,080 in the January 2021 tournament with a 42-pound bobcat. Payton Sims, Jonathan Shaw, Jaxon Ransom and Coby Robbins won $25,760 for second place with a 35-pound, 2-ounce cat. Additional cash prizes are paid down the line.

The 2022 WTBBC contest dates are Jan. 29, Feb. 26 and March 26. For more information or to register,

Big Cash For Fat Hogs

As hog hunting contests go, the Wise County Hog Contest touts itself as the biggest and richest of its kind in the world. Trey Hawkins of Decatur and Tres Poynor of Bridgeport held the first event in 2011 and it drew 28 teams.

The contest has since expanded to include two separate events, including a month-long big hog tournament that runs throughout February and a 24-hour contest each April. It’s a good deal, because it encourages folks to hunt nuisance feral hogs and offers some good pay days for doing it.

Last year’s big hog tournament attracted 408 teams and paid out $114,000. Tom Parish won it with a tournament record 419-pound sow shot near Gatesville. The fat hog brought a plump check for Parish and his teammates, $56,000. The event paid our four additional cash places ranging from $33,000 to $2,500, plus a hog feeder for sixth place.

The month-long contest is unique because it gives pre-registered hunters from anywhere in Texas or Oklahoma a legitimate chance to win. It’s open to entries of free ranging wild hogs taken by gun or bow.

Whole hogs must be officially weighed at the tournament headquarters in Bridgeport within 24 hours of the kill. Hogs taken with the aid of dogs, traps, helicopters or from high fence property are not allowed. Boars must have both testicles.

Entry fee is $200 per two-man team. Additional team members up to four total are $100 each. The tournament runs Feb. 1-28 with a Jan. 26 deadline.

The 24-hour April 2022 contest will have payout for three categories — heaviest hog, longest cutter and the heaviest weight on three hogs. For more information, see or contact Trey Hawkins at 940-389-4911 or Tres Poynor, 817-805-0218.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, [email protected]

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