Wild Pigs Hunting
There are two competing narratives about wild pigs in America. The first is from landowners who are quick to cite the growing abundance of wild pigs that are wreaking havoc on their property by causing extensive crop and landscaping damage. The second is from would-be hog hunters who can’t seem to get hunting permission. When they inquire with a supposedly plagued landowner, they either get turned down outright or are asked to pay a big chunk of change for trespass permission. It’s unfortunate, and it doesn’t make absolute sense, but it’s reality. Many farmers and ranchers are having legitimate wild pig problems, but they are also having legitimate money problems. If they can turn a nuisance into a dollar, they’re not going to pass up the opportunity. Therefore, aspiring hog hunters with a limited budget need to forget the whole nuisance thing and approach permissions the same way that deer and turkey hunters have always done. Start out by working your immediate family and social connections as well as the connections of friends and coworkers. Failing that, you can offer to swap a weekend’s worth of labor to a landowner for a weekend’s worth of hunting privileges. The other option is to hit public land. Yes, it’s extremely challenging. Hogs on public land are heavily pressured, no matter the location. They often feed exclusively at night and then bed down through daylight hours. While the private land hunter in Texas is shooting pigs from a weather-protected blind near a timer-controlled corn feeder, the public land hunter in North Carolina or California is trying to get the drop on a bedded pig by crawling silently through nearly impenetrable brush with the breeze to his nose. While the former hunter might have the advantage, the latter hunter gets to know that he took on a tough task and gave it his all. A dead pig is just icing on the cake.
BARROOM BANTER: There are eight species of pig worldwide; none is native to North or South America. The pigs that we have in the United States, whether classified as domestic, feral, or wild, all belong to the same species, Sus scrofa. This pig’s native range extended across much of Europe, Asia, and North Africa, with island populations from Corsica and the British Isles to Japan and Sumatra. Domesticated strains of pigs were derived from this wild species on multiple occasions over thousands of years in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, though the original wild population continues to thrive in many parts of the species’s native range. (Conversely, the wild foundation species of the domestic cow, the aurochs, went extinct in A.D. 1627.) Domesticated strains of Sus scrofa were introduced to the United States as early as the 1500s, and many of these escaped to become feral. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, wild strains of Sus scrofa from the forests of Germany and Russia were introduced in New Hampshire, North Carolina, California, and perhaps elsewhere. While we still have scattered populations of these genetically pure ancestral hogs in the United States, most American wild pigs are either wild/domestic hybrids or descended from purely domestic stock. When the numbers are totaled up, we’ve got about eight million wild pigs spread out over thirty-five states. Both of those numbers will con-tinue to rise in the coming decades.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Feral domestics have a strong resemblance to typical barnyard pigs and vary widely in color. Eurasian wild pigs are distinguished from feral domestics by a combination of attributes, including black hair, a longer snout, a straighter tail, a raised mane of bristly hair, and more prominent tusks. Large male wild pigs can weigh over 400 pounds, females over 300 pounds.
DIET: Highly opportunistic omnivores. Favorites include hard mast such as acorns and hickory nuts, tubers, roots, fruit, and bird eggs. Will also eat worms, snakes, frogs, grasses, insects, young rabbits, tree bark, various rodents, carrion, manure, and newborn livestock.
LIFE AND DEATH: Bears, coyotes, and bobcats will kill young wild pigs; older animals are generally safe from predation. They can live to be well over twenty years old. Wild pigs have no long-term threats; they are here to stay.
BREEDING AND REPRODUCTION: Can breed year-round. Litters range from three to twelve.
HABITAT: Highly variable, ranging from forested mountains to coastal swamps.
TELLTALE SIGN: Rooted-up ground, overturned cow pies, and stirred-up leaves and ground cover are all indicative of feeding activities. Also look for wallows in mud, plus rubbed and muddy tree trunks with hair stuck in the bark from the animals scratching themselves. Wild pig trails are narrow and often run straight up and down hillsides, unlike the angled trails of deer.
EDIBILITY: Usually very good, quite similar to domestic pork though much leaner. Older boars, as well as pigs that have been feeding on rotten carrion, can taste quite awful.
HUNTING OPPORTUNITIES: Roughly twenty states offer pig hunting. Acquiring a tag in those states is a fairly straightforward process requir-ing no special applications. In some states, including Florida, you do not even need a hunting license to hunt wild pigs. Wild pig seasons are long; in many states, they run year-round with no bag limits.
HUNTING METHODS: Spot-and-stalk tactics work great for hogs in the dry, semi-open country of California as well as in many areas of Texas, Hawaii, and elsewhere. Timing is key to spotting pigs. While they will sometimes move in the late morning or even at midday, they do the bulk of their daylight traveling during the first hour of the morning and the last hour of the evening. That’s when you’re likely to catch them in the open, and you absolutely have to be watching from a good vantage point where you’re overlooking prime food sources that show recent evidence of hog activity in the forms of fresh tracks and scat. This could be rolling hills of oak, irrigated alfalfa fields, pastures full of wild oats, or even rip ening stands of wild guava trees. During dry conditions, when water is limited, another great option is to set up where you can watch multiple water sources or a long stretch of valley bottom. Once you spot pigs, you need to make a quick assessment about whether or not you should go after them.
If the pigs are hundreds of yards off and traveling quickly in the opposite direction, it might be wise to let them go for the time being. It is very difficult to catch up to pigs, as you’ll be forced to move at a speed that makes detection likely. As long as you leave them undisturbed, you can try locating those pigs again the next day from a more strategic vantage point. If the pigs are coming toward you or traveling perpendicular to your line of approach, it’s good if you can ascertain where they are headed. A fast-traveling pig always has its destination in mind; it’s going to be food, water, or bedding cover. By being knowledgeable about your hunting area, you should be able to anticipate which it is and then try to get there first and set up where you have a good command of the surrounding area. But when the animals are moping along slowly or actively feeding, you can do a more direct approach as long as you pay careful attention to the wind. A pig’s nose is its primary defense against danger; if it smells you, your stalk is going to be over in a hurry. But as long as the wind is good, you can approach a pig rather aggressively until you get within a hundred or so yards. Don’t take that to mean you can just run right at them. You still want to utilize available topography and cover, but it’s nothing like stalking antelope or deer. If you do spook a group of wild pigs at close range while trying to stalk 221 them, don’t lose hope. Often there will be some confusion within the group, and certain pigs might scatter while others go just a short way and then hold tight in order to assess the situation. You should try to press ahead quickly and see if you can catch up to them. If the animals go down into a creek bottom or head uphill in the bottom of a draw, try running parallel to the land feature to see if you can pass them and then get them as they come through. It’s a long shot, but you might as well try it since you’ve already blown the situation anyway. Still-hunting is probably the most exciting way to hunt wild pigs. You’re right in there, smelling ’em and hearing ’em, and things can happen very fast.
The area you should hunt depends on the time of day. In the early mornings and late evenings, focus your efforts on feeding areas. Work into the wind along active pig trails that course through oaks or any other areas that show recent evidence of rooting and feeding. If you maintain silence and use the wind to your advantage, it’s possible to slip within easy bow range of a pig without the animal even knowing you’re there. Dark-colored pigs blend in very well with the shadows, so keep your binoculars around your neck and use them often to examine shadows and mysterious shapes. Pigs make a lot of noise, so listen for them. You might hear grunts and squeals, or you might hear them rustling leaves as they root. During midday periods, focus your efforts on bedding areas. Pigs will consistently use the same bedding areas again and again, though they will have multiple preferred bedding locations and might go weeks or months without visiting one. So again, it is vitally important to identify fresh sign. During hot weather you want to look for dank and thickly vegetated areas, particularly in the vicinity of mud and water. The thick brush along creek bottoms is a good bet, as are the edges of marshes and the middles of palmetto thickets. There will be well-used trails heading into these areas if they are actively used. During cold weather, pigs are more likely to bed on semi-open hillsides where they can soak up some warmth from the sun. Work into the wind when hunting bedding areas.
If it’s really thick, don’t be afraid to get down on your hands and knees in order to peer beneath the vegetation. Look for dark shapes and shadowy blobs tucked up beneath bushes or against tree trunks or curled into shallow wallows. And use your nose. Pigs live in extended family groups called sounders, and they’ll bed close together. That much pig flesh packed into a small area is going to let off an unmistakable odor. It doesn’t smell like old pig; it smells like new pig. If you catch a whiff of this, get ready for something to happen. You want to proceed very slowly and scrutinize every shape. While you might get a shot at a bedded pig, it’s more likely that you’ll get a shot at a pig when it stands up to see what’s going on. You will not have a long time to make your shot, but you still need to take careful aim. Big boars can be difficult to bring down. They have a thick hide around their shoulder area known as a shield, and their organ placement is lower and more forward than a deer’s. Rifle shots can be placed about a quarter of the way up from the bottom of the pig and just a couple of inches back from the shoulder’s rear edge in order to avoid destroying a lot of the shoulder meat. The pig won’t go far. Bow shots are trickier. Ideally, you want the pig quartering away from you so that you can send your arrow at a forward angle into the area behind the shoulder. On broadside shots, keep your arrow as close to the rear edge of the shoulder as possible. Quartering or broad-side, aim low. A pig’s heart and lungs are just a few inches up from the bottom of its brisket.
When hunting pigs with dogs and a knife, a 3-inch blade is all that it takes to penetrate the hide and pierce the heart when you stab into the pig’s armpit. Shot placement is especially critical because pigs do not bleed well thanks to their thick hide and layers of fat. A mortally wounded pig might leave a faint or even non existent blood trail if there’s not significant damage to both lungs and/or the heart. Losing them is a very real threat. Remember aim small, miss small! Where it’s legal, most wild hog hunters who use ambush strategies do so with the help of bait. Wild pigs are suckers for fermented or “soured” corn, and they have a hard time keeping away from it. Still, bait has to be placed in an area that is frequented by pigs or else they are unlikely to find it in a timely fashion. Baits are typically placed in covered holes or containers or in commercially produced feeders that prevent the pigs from getting all the bait at once. A cost-effective method 223 is to take a 5-gallon bucket and drill a dozen 3/4-inch holes through the bucket about a third of the way down from the top. Fill the bucket with soured corn and wire the lid in place, then hang it from a limb near a pig trail so that the bucket sits just 5 or 6 inches off the ground. The pigs will quickly figure out how to nudge and tip the bucket in order to spill corn. The slow release will cause them to linger much longer than if you just dump the corn on the ground.
If you’re willing to work hard and do some careful scouting, you can ambush pigs from a stand position without having to rely on bait. The key is to identify features that are being actively exploited by pigs, including wallows, feeding areas, water sources, or travel routes leading into bedding areas. (Don’t try to set up an ambush too close to a pig’s bedding area; if you spook it badly, it’s not likely to return anytime soon.) It’s best to ambush pigs from a tree stand because you see more of the surrounding country and your odor is up away from the ground. But it’s not essential. Pigs have poor eyesight and will easily walk into range if you’re wearing muted colors and sitting against a suitable backdrop—so long as the wind is to your advantage. You have to stay downwind of the pig’s avenue of approach or you’re not going to have much luck. The other important factor is to be in your stand well before daylight in order to catch the early flurry of activity at first light. And make sure to be back in your stand a couple of hours before dark in order to be ready for the evening activity. During the middle of the day, you can do some still-hunting in other areas as long as you’re not disturbing the same group of pigs that you’re trying to ambush. And if you go a couple of days without seeing any pigs from your stand, you’re probably not in the right spot, or you were in the right spot but the pigs have moved to different feeding and bedding areas. Do more scouting and get yourself on to fresh sign. Only then will you bring home the bacon.