Pigging Out: Wild Hog Hunting
My doctor denies it exists, but I know I have it. I am even fairly certain that most big game hunters share the excess anxiety and unspent energy brought about by PSSS, or post season stress syndrome. Other than occasionally venturing to the woods to change out trail camera cards or batteries, this time of year brings about little contact with the ungulates that were the focus of most of my time, energy and thoughts over the fall and winter. I am left with a giant void in my schedule and a burning desire to fill it with a similar activity. Bring on the hogs!
Although there is some debate, it is generally believed that domestic pigs were first brought to the United States as early as the 16th century by Spanish explorers. A combination of free-roaming practices and inadequate fencing eventually led to a subsequent feral hog population (those escaping from domestication and becoming wild). Russian wild boars were later brought to hunting preserves in several states and also resulted in a few lost ones. The result today is three types of wild hogs in the U.S.: feral hogs, Russian wild boars and a reproductive cross between them.
Although hogs have been on this continent for hundreds of years, they have become a topic of greater interest in the United States in the last decade. Through their adaptability and prolific nature, feral hogs have been expanding their range and increasing in numbers, with a current estimated national population of about four million. California, Florida and Texas have the highest populations of hogs (with Hawaii and Oklahoma quickly gaining on them) but they can be found in an increasing number of states (44 at last count). Hunters are becoming more aware of them as challenging, readily accessible and unwelcome big game prey in many regions.
Hog hunting provides an opportunity to get into the woods when all other seasons are closed.
In addition to the free-roaming wild populations scattered across the U.S., "Hog Hunting" preserves are located just about everywhere. Fenced enclosures (ranging in size from a few acres to several thousand) are often associated with a fish-in-a-barrel type hunt, but reputable outfitters focus on providing a challenging hunt while increasing the opportunity of success for younger hunters, those with less experience or someone with limited time to hunt. I once still hunted at a snail's pace through a 40-acre enclosure that contained more than 50 hogs, and never saw a single one until I began my second pass through.
In the wild, a feral hog will typically stick to a home range of less than 10 square miles. They are adaptable to virtually any type of habitat in the U.S. but will most often be found in swamps, forests, brushy areas and close to agricultural fields. They will spend most of the daylight hours resting and hiding in dense vegetation, thickets or brush piles or wallowing in mud holes.
If hogs are in the area, any brush pile could be a potential daytime resting area.
Feral hogs feed mostly at dawn and dusk. They are very non-picky omnivores, eating just about anything: roots, tubers, berries, fruit, grasses, leaves, nuts, crops, amphibians, reptiles, rodents, insects, eggs, small game, fawns, lambs, calves and even carrion if it is all that is available.
The habits and inherent destructive nature of hogs make it fairly easy to determine their presence and aid in their location. Inexperienced hunters often confuse hog tracks with whitetail deer tracks due to their similarity, but the hooves of hogs leave a track that is shorter, rounder and less heart-shaped.
Studying the tracks and hooves of hogs can help distinguish their prints from whitetails and other animals.
During the warmer months, hogs will use mud wallows to cool themselves and provide some relief and protection from insects. Other animals sometimes use wallows (elk for example), but the track-revealing nature of mud makes it easy to verify hog activity.
Hogs will visit wallows to cool off and discourage insects.
Overturned rocks, trampled vegetation and rooted up dirt are also highly visible signs of a hog population caused by their feeding activities. Hair and mud can also be found on trees or fence posts where wild hogs like to scratch or rub themselves. The height of the sign can be a good indicator of the size of the hog.
Trees rubbed with mud and hair can also indicate hog presence.
The destructive nature of hogs makes them an unwanted species in many areas.
Once you have located a population of wild hogs or a promising hunting preserve, it is time to make a game plan. Usually productive stand locations include wallows and water holes (in warm weather), dense brushy areas, trails, fence crossings and feeders. Tree stands and ground blinds work equally as well, but hogs can become wary of them if they are hunted often.
Whitetail hunters are accustomed to decreasing their scent, noise and visibility. That skill will pay off when grocery shopping for wild pork. If a breeze carries your human odor in the wrong direction, a hog will already have kicked it into warp speed by the time a whitetail has become alert and is sticking his nose in the air curiously. Hogs can also hear very well so noise-management is important. The eyesight of hogs is often referred to as undeveloped, but I have seen them pick off a well-camouflaged hunter on more than one occasion. Gun hunters can get away with a little less attention to visibility, but bowhunters should make it as much of a priority as scent and noise.
If you have done your part and a wild hog comes into range, as with all game, shot placement is critical. In addition to the skeletal obstructions of most animals, hogs also have a "shield" in their shoulder. This is actually composed of very tough scar tissue as a result of fighting with other hogs. A bullet will usually pass through, but an arrow has little chance except at very close range. Many hunters will try to shoot a hog behind the shoulder a few inches, but this will result in a gut shot. A hog's vital area is smaller and farther forward than a deer's. The heart and lungs sit almost straight up from the front leg, conveniently protected by the shoulder and shield. A gun hunter should aim a couple of inches above the intersection of the front leg and the chest. A bow hunter's best success will come from threading an arrow low and behind the front leg on a quartering-away shot.
Out of respect for the animals that we pursue, all hunters want to make a quick, clean kill, but a wounding shot on a hog will also result in a dangerous situation. Hogs have four tusks (two on top and two on bottom) that continuously grow throughout their life. The scissor-like action that occurs during eating, causes the lower ones to become and stay very sharp. Couple that with the unpredictable nature of wild hogs (especially a wounded one) and the hunter can become the hunted. It will only take one charge by a ticked-off boar for a hunter to quickly appreciate their remarkable speed and the importance of a fatal first shot. If a charge does occur, don't run directly away. You will lose the race and wind up with a cut leg or hoof prints up your back. Instead, get behind or a few feet up the nearest tree. A hog will usually run straight at the hunter and then keep going, and getting out of the direct path is your best option in a dicey situation.
A piercing stare and bristled hairs can indicate a charge is about to happen.
Due to their destructive nature and ability to transmit diseases to livestock and wildlife, most states have liberal limits (if any) on wild hogs and acquiring access to hunt private land is much easier than chasing other big game. Check with your local state concerning regulations, but many will allow baiting, trapping, night hunting and your choice of method (archery, firearm, etc.) A farmer or landowner with any sort of hog-related crop, property or livestock damage will likely welcome you with open arms to help eradicate or control the hog population.
Wild hogs make fine table fare, when properly cared for and prepared, but hunters should use caution and rubber gloves when field dressing a hog and handling the meat. When cooking, the USDA recommends a minimum internal temperature of 160°. Wild hogs have much less fat than domesticated swine and a slow cooking process such as roasting or indirect-heat smoking will produce a more tender result.
So instead of putting away the deer hunting equipment for the summer and woefully waiting for the return of fall, do a little research and find a hog hunting preserve or a state with a burgeoning wild population. It's a great opportunity to fill the freezer, keep your hunting skills sharp in the off-season and have an exciting time doing it.
Larry R. Beckett Jr. is a full time freelance writer, photographer and videographer. His greatest joy is spending time fishing, hunting and hiking with his wife and son. Larry discovered his enthusiasm for the outdoors at a young age and devotes much of his time trying to instill that same enthusiasm in future generations.