You are a deer hunter, but it is springtime. Your last day on stand was a distant four months ago. The same amount of time separates you from the next frosty morn with a rifle or bow in your hand. But your hunter’s heart is yearning for the sight of a sunrise through trees, the still of the morning woods, the crunch of leaves as a big-game animal approaches your position. Perhaps it’s time for you to be a pig hunter.
Consider a few facts: In California, wild hogs have possibly overtaken deer as the game animal most frequently pursued by hunters. In Texas, the wild pig population stands at more than 2 million. In Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, and elsewhere, you can shoot them spring, summer, winter, and fall. Wild hogs are found in 31 states, ranging from Maryland south to Florida and west to the Pacific coast and Hawaii. The Northeast seems to be devoid of them, except for New Hampshire, where they’ve been running around the Blue Mountains since escaping from a game preserve in 1893.
In fact, no matter where you live in the Lower 48, you are within a day’s drive—or far less—of a bona fide tusk-bearing, charcoal grill–filling wild hog. And there’s no better time to give it a try than right now. Cool spring days before the heat of summer keep hogs active all day long. Then, as the weather warms, pig activity settles into patterns easily read. Hot days, when water sources become critical, are trophy hog days. Hogs rip habitats to shreds, sully clean streams, compete for food with native animals, and even eat turkey chicks.
So you could consider it your patriotic duty, as well as a favor to land and wildlife managers, to harvest a pig. And because you are a deer hunter, you already possess the basic skills and equipment required to get serious about swine gone wild. Private land, public land, gun or bow, stalk or bay, and in some states, all year long. Have you ever had as many reasons to hunt anything?
The Basics of Hog Hunting
Like deer, hogs are hunted most effectively at first light and last light, they travel in small groups, and they leave behind plenty of sign. Both are cover oriented, although wild hogs seem to be more comfortable ranging far into open agricultural fields. Those habits lead to three main hunting methods:
Spot and Stalk
Hogs have superb senses of hearing and smell, but their sight is very poor. That’s why stalking hogs after spotting them from a distant road or ridgetop is a common method. To locate hogs in open agricultural country or ranchlands, you’ll need to spend a fair bit of time behind glass—either binoculars or a windshield. Check water sources frequented by pigs early in the day, then make your move before the animals head for thick country once the sun is high.
Stand hunters are somewhat handicapped by the wandering inclination of hogs, but you can still put your deer climber to good use. Pulling wild hogs into the open with bait from timed corn feeders is an effective and accepted practice in many regions. Also look for wet areas. Pigs have no sweat glands, so they need to cool off in water and wet mud. The hotter it gets, the easier it is for stand hunters to key in on favorite wallows. Hogs may be coating their hides with mud to help cool off or turn away insects. Look for muddy slicks, and give them the sniff test: Hogs urinate and defecate in their wallows, so it’s easy to tell if you’ve found one. Focus, too, on areas where you see plenty of rubbing spoor. Hogs frequently rub their bodies on trees, fence rails, logs, and even rocks. Be alert for rooting. A hog’s tusk can turn over dirt like a spade, and a sounder (group) of feeding hogs can churn acres of earth in a single night. They tear open downed logs with their tusks to get at grubs and termites, and rip apart the soil surface to search for earthworms and insects. If you find a partially eaten rattlesnake in a feeding area, you can be certain it was not the work of a gobbler.
New hog hunters who opt for a dog hunt will almost always need to go with a guide. But a word of caution: The loose restrictions on hog hunting in many places has led to a number of fringe techniques, from spearing the animals to killing them with handheld knives after they’ve been bayed by a dog pack. Have a frank discussion with your outfitter before you book.
What to Pack for Hogs
Kevlar and a double layer of 1,000-denier Cordura turn back the tusks. Sorry—it comes in dog sizes only ($100; razorbackhuntingsupply.net).
Just about any deer rifle from .243 caliber and up can serve double duty as a pig gun. A smaller vital area—the heart and small lungs are lower and tighter to the shoulder than they are in a deer—and tendency to leave a poor blood trail demand pinpoint accuracy at long ranges. The capability for a quick follow-up shot—or three—is a serious plus for pig hunters in wooded environs, where shooting can be fast. Various Marlin lever-action models, including the new XLR versions, are chambered in big-pig calibers such as .45/70 Gov’t., .450 Marlin, and .444 Marlin ($782; marlinfirearms.com).
Wild hogs are notoriously tough. “Imagine a 700-pound elk compressed into the body of a 250-pound animal,” says Jim “The Hogfather” Matthews, publisher of the California Hog Hunter newsletter (outdoornewsservice.com). Go with premium bullets such as Winchester’s Fail Safe, Barnes Triple-Shock X, or for long-range shooting Barnes MRX bullets.
The best bow shot is quartering away, aiming for the forward edge of the opposite shoulder, so it’s accuracy that brings home the bacon. Better to forego the less-forgiving power-broker models and stick with a balanced outfit like the Hoyt 38 Pro ($759; hoyt.com).
Boar Hog Urine Harmon
Deer Scents collects this from mature breeder wild hogs. It’s 100 percent urine. Careful—a little dab’ll do ya ($7; harmondeerscents.com).
Hog Squealer Call
This handy horn by Knight & Hale mimics the distress calls of a young hog and the sounds of fighting boars. Keep a quickly climbable tree handy—hogs are very fast ($15; www.knightandhale.com).
Top 5 Regions for Tuskers
Some researchers estimate that half the hogs in America are found in Texas. Sabinal, a gateway to Texas Hill Country, is a farming community of 1,600 that calls itself the “Wild Hog Capital of the World” and hosts an annual Wild Hog Festival. Most Texas hunting is over corn feeders. The Sabinal Chamber of Commerce provides a list of outfitters.
The Sunshine State is second only to Texas in total numbers of wild hogs. Pigs on private property are considered domestic livestock under landowner control, but public lands fall under various regulations. Three of the best state tracts are the Lower Econfina River WMA, Kicco WMA, and Myakka State Forest. Contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Despite its size, California has meager public hunting opportunities. There are a number of top-flight outfitters, however, that offer fully and semi-guided hunts on huge chunks of land. Pig hunts on the massive 270,000-acre Tejon Ranch start at $400 (661-663-4210; hunttejon.com). At Camp 5 Outfitters, two-day hunts on its 60,000 acres are $750 without lodging.
North Carolina and Tennessee
Boar hunting in North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest and the adjoining Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee is a serious pursuit. Russian-strain wild boars have roamed this rugged country for nearly a century. Most folks run hogs with hounds, but still- and stand hunters score as well. Try the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.
If it’s big and wild enough to possibly harbor the ivory-billed woodpecker, once thought extinct, then the Pearl River bottomlands along the Mississippi–Louisiana border is plenty big and wild enough for serious hogs. Reports of 300-pounders are filtering out of the cypress-gum bottomlands. A good bet is the 6,000-acre Pearl River WMA, north of Jackson. ––T. Edward Nickens
Are Feral Hogs an Easy Hunt?
The 5,000 acres of bottomland the Po’ Boy Hunting Club owns in southwest Arkansas is loaded with hogs. The caretaker—who left Mexico 25 years ago and whose real name is Jesus, although everyone calls him Chewy–routinely sees groups of 10 or 20 or 40 when he making his rounds to replenish feeders. Thomas reckons the hog population somewhere in the hundreds, although nobody knows for sure.
We’ve been sitting for 3 hours in a tower stand. Eighty yards away at our 12 o’clock is a feeder. At our 9 o’clock is a 400-yard-long grassy four-wheeler trail. If the hogs come to the feeder, I’ll whack one with Thomas’s scoped Browning .243. If they appear in the trail, Thomas is ready with his new bull-barreled AR from Rock River Arms. I’m excited. I’ve never killed a wild pig. They gorge on the bottom’s acorns at this time of year. Thomas says they’re fantastic eating.
Thomas Shurgar is 20 years my junior and had the luck to grow up on a farm. He killed his first deer at seven, recalls that he twice replaced the differentials on his truck on high school dates, and once killed a running buck at 400 yards. When you grow up shooting, it’s not that big a deal. “It’s not much different than shooting birds,” he shrugs. “You get a feel for how much you have to lead and just swing through.” The family farm wasn’t far from Stuttgart. Thomas doesn’t remember exactly when he realized that he lived in the middle of the best duck hunting in the country. He just got used to limiting out in the first hour. If he didn’t, that was unusual. The duck hunting at Po’ Boy, for example, is excellent. But Thomas said he had to stop himself when a member bragged about the time he’d caught the duck he’d just shot in his hand before it hit the ground. I asked why he had to stop himself. “I think I’d done that at least a hundred times before I graduated from high school,” he said.
We tell each other lies as the afternoon wears on. When Thomas laughs, the whole stand shakes. Around 5, three deer materialize silently and work their way toward the feeder. It’s a mama, her offspring, and a button buck that the doe repeatedly chases off. Eventually, something beyond the feeder spooks them and they take off.
Five minutes before legal light ends, five or seven hogs show up. He’d told me they generally sound like an army approaching, especially when the woods are this dry. But these make almost no sound. I put the scope on nice one but then it faces away. Thomas is telling me to shoot, so I move right, to another hog. Thing is, they’re all black. As is the scope reticle. With so little light, I must judge where the pig’s shoulder is. I also have to center the reticle solely by the visible parts of the crosshairs. It’s not rocket science, but it’s apparently more than my brain can handle in the excitement of the moment. I fire, a cloud of dust rises by the feeder. “I believe you missed,” he says.
I had. We looked all over for blood, which would have been easy to see on the dusty ground. We went out the next day and both sat in stands and drove around in the gator hoping to jump some pigs. We saw one group but they skedaddled well before we could get our rifles on them. Long story short, no pigs. Turns out hogs are just like deer or geese or turkeys. They’re all over the place until you pick up a gun or a bow, when they disappear as if they’d just gone extinct. ––Bill Heavey
How to Track and Find Wild Hogs
Wild hogs are expanding their range across the country. Hogs are largely nocturnal, though, and can be difficult to find. These tips can help put you in the swine zone.
A hog’s prints are nearly square in shape and typically shorter than a similarly sized deer track. If the tip of the toe is blunt, a hog likely made it.
Look for doglike scat without the ropy shape common to predator scat.
Hogs roll around wet areas to get caked with mud, which gives them relief from heat and biting insects. Clay is favored because it won’t wash off easily.
Trees, logs, telephone poles, and fence rails coated with mud are undoubtedly hog rubs. Fresh mud means hogs are nearby.
Hogs rip the ground to shreds looking for tender roots and any grub, worm, or acorn they turn up in the dirt. The relative moisture of a rooted area is a clue to its age, but hogs roam far while feeding. Don’t spend too much time watching a feeding area.
Wild hogs typically dig a shallow bed in thick, nasty cover. Find a tunnel-like trail opening facing open woods or water sources, then get in position for a downwind ambush. ––T. Edward Nickens
How to Make a Good Hit on a Hog
A feral pig isn’t difficult to kill with a well-placed arrow, but having to recover one after a marginal hit is no fun—and all too common. That’s because most bowhunters are trained on deer, and a hog’s anatomy differs significantly. Aiming just behind a broadside boar’s shoulder, as you would to double-lung a whitetail, typically results in a paunch hit.
While a small portion of a pig’s lungs extend slightly behind the shoulder crease, most of the vital area rests between the shoulders. To make a good hit on a hog, you need to keep your shots close and follow these steps:
1. Get an Angle
Wait for the pig to quarter away. The favored shot angle of many whitetail bowhunters is a near necessity on hogs. The angle needn’t be sharp—just a step or two beyond broadside is fine.
2. Target the Far Side
Aim at the opposite shoulder. You want your broadhead to exit either through the far shoulder or just in front of it (no more than an inch or two). If you’re behind it, you’re likely in the guts. Hitting the far shoulder, even if the arrow doesn’t pass through, typically means a double-lung shot.
3. Hold Low
A pig’s heart is located low in the animal’s chest, in line with the bend of the elbow. This way, if you miss low, you’re apt to get a clean miss. If you miss a little high, you’ll get lung—and you’ll likely get your pig. ––Will Brantley