The Truth about Wild Hogs
Crawling on all fours through the nastiest tangled cover you can imagine, I wove my bow through the overhanging branches. Minutes before, my guide and I had spotted a massive Hungarian Razorback grazing through the timber. Anticipating that the huge boar might follow the most heavily used trail, we hoped to intercept him.
No sooner had I crawled into the opening and nocked an arrow, when I heard a twig snap underfoot. In the dark shadows ahead of me was a mass of gleaming tusks and grey hair. As he scurried toward me, I went to full-draw and waited. Seconds passed and by the time the 300 lb. boar knew I was there, we were face to face at 12 yards! I'd heard stories about the thick armor covering their vitals and to be honest, wasn't quite sure if I could take a head on chest shot. Opting to wait, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that my guide was beginning to unholster his .45. Then it happened. The boar wheeled around and at that very moment I let go sending an arrow behind his ribcage angled forward and into his vitals. Upon impact he let out a spine-tingling squeal and bolted for cover!
After a 10-minute wait, we followed the sparse blood trail for 50 yards to find my trophy boar laying stone cold dead. That hunt took place over 10 years ago and it was then that I learned what all the fuss was about. I have to admit, my initial thought was, "how smart can a pig be?" In short order I learned that they are cagey and swift. Without a doubt, wild hogs earned my immediate respect. Contrary to preconceived notions, I found that hunting these introduced critters was far from a sure thing. In fact for those looking for year-round hunting opportunities, wild hogs are the real deal. Affordable, prolific and accessible, they are a must-try experience for every hunter.
The author with his 300 lb. hog taken at 12 yards with a bow
The world-over wild hogs get a mixed review. In parts of Europe they're admonished. Throughout North America many landowners consider them a nuisance. Most hunters on the other hand, argue that they offer incredible sporting opportunities for those looking to put a little pork on their fork!
The truth is they are largely misunderstood. Introduced and interbred, today's wild hog is rarely, if ever, found as pure stock. Throughout the U.S. and parts of Canada, wild hogs are swine found out of captivity. They include European stock (to my understanding, mostly of Russian or Hungarian origin), feral hogs and hybrids. Feral hogs (Sus scrofa) are from domestic descent and, over time, they have adapted and evolved as a wild breed. With the Russian boar imported for sport hunting several decades ago, escapes and interbreeding have resulted in feral/Russian hybrids. Wild hogs, although sharing similar traits, are considerably different from North America's only indigenous pig, the javelina or collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu).
Although in the U.S., many southern states have growing wild hog numbers, some authorities suggest that California, Florida and Texas have the highest populations. The Hawaiian Islands are also known to hold considerable numbers as well. Most states have declared them a game animal, but sport-hunting is typically allowed year-round. Be sure to check your local game laws to determine their status in your area.
Mostly found in high fence outfitted hunts, European boars and sows generally have a more distinct grizzled look. Some are more black or brown and generally have a mane or ridge of hair running down their backbone. Feral hogs on the other hand are found in a range of colors and skin patterns from black, spotted, belted, white, and just about everything in between. One of the reasons they come in such variety is that over the years, there have been many different introductions of pure European stock into resident populations.
Biologists have determined that wild hogs can have a small or large home range. Some will remain in a relatively condensed area as small as a half square mile while others may roam up to almost 20 square miles. Much like their distant relatives, the black bear, boars tend to have a bigger home range than the sows, particularly during their breeding season. Boars normally travel and feed by themselves. If you see a herd of several wild pigs of variable sizes, the odds are that they are sows with their young. Boars may follow behind, but are more commonly found on their own.
Landowners often view wild hogs with disdain, and for good reason. First and foremost they are destructive by nature. They are well known for their rooting, wallows and rubs. Often times creating a wake of destruction wherever they go, sport hunting enthusiasts can look for these tell-tale signs to determine if wild hogs are in the area. Another reason many landowners dislike wild hogs is that the environmental impact not to mention damage to fences and crops can become a fast growing problem on their property. Crop depredation and erosion from rooting activities cause ample headaches for farmers. Further, feral hogs reproduce quickly and efficiently. Their gestation period is thought to be 115 days, so it is common for sows to deliver two litters of between four and ten piglets each time. Do the math and it becomes obvious that wild hog populations can easily explode if not managed properly.
Doug Whitson with his rifle killed feral hog taken in a classic Florida Swamp
Habitat and Diet
Wild hogs are highly adaptable. They can call just about any lowland and even some upland habitats home as long as they have certain amenities, specifically dense vegetation and water. Biologists and game managers have learned that moist or even wet areas near streams, rivers or other habitats with water nearby tend to support hogs. Thick foliage is usually preferred as wild hogs use this for cover and concealment.
Although wild hogs can and do travel, readily available food sources along with hunting pressure, will dictate whether or not they stick around. Wild hogs are opportunistic omnivores and, as such, they'll eat just about anything. That said, their diet tends to shift with the seasons. With the new growth in the springtime, they focus mostly on grasses, forbs, roots and tubers. As the months progress through summer and fall, their diet shifts to food sources like some fruits, prickly pears, mesquite, and acorns. They are also known to eat mushrooms, carrion, eggs, insects, and more. Where accessible, hogs will capitalize on cereal and other crops such as wheat, barley, oats, corn, and soybeans. So, logically, savvy hunters will target the most accessible food sources in areas known to hold significant numbers of wild hogs.
If you're looking for a fine eating hog, consider taking a dry sow or a smaller pig in general. Big boars, while tougher to hunt and more impressive to look at, offer a lower quality table fare. Their meat is generally tougher and less palatable. Less concerned about taste and more focused on trophy quality, wild hog aficionados look for two things: body weight and tusk size (length and girth). As a rule, a wild hog weighing between 80 and 150 lbs. may be considered a good eating pig. On the other hand, a boar weighing 250 lbs. or better is considered a trophy. Likewise, hogs with a tusk length of two inches or better (cutters and whetters, or bottom and top) to fall under the trophy category as well.
For wild boar enthusiasts, a relatively new scoring system has been introduced; it's called the Weiser Weight & Tusk (WWT) scoring system. Developed and promoted by Brutal Boar Creations (www.brutalboarcreations.com) in partnership with Boar Hunter Magazine, this official record book system provides a simple comparative method for scoring wild boars. In their words, this system gives both body weight and tusk size "separate but equal" representation. The innovative record book has categories for boars harvested under free range conditions as well as from high fence operations and allows entry into tusk class or weight class depending on combined scores. For more information or to contact an official scorer, visit (http://www.brutalboarcreations.com/official-scoring-system.html).
If you're after a real trophy yourself, you're in luck. Plenty of self-guided hunting opportunities exist in many states, however professionally outfitted hunts are relatively affordable and there are scores of operations in existence. Wild hog prices may vary considerably from state to state or province to province. In my experience, the average rate is around $200 a day and up, but I've also heard of some landowners/guides commanding as high as $1,500 for a trophy boar hunt.
Bowhunter Darryl Kublik with his Russian Boar
Wild hog hunting strategies vary. Four methods are commonly employed including stand or ground blind hunting, still hunting, spot-and-stalk, and the use of dogs. While using treestands or blinds is probably the most favored with spot-and-stalk following close behind, some states allow dogs to be used to track and chase hogs. Like most big game hunting, similar rules apply. Wild hogs have an amazing nose, so attention to your own smell is very important. Regardless of which method you prefer, making sure your hunting clothes are relatively scent-free can be invaluable. Some hunters like to use cover-up scents, but I personally believe in washing clothing regularly and even wearing garments made by companies like Scent-Lok.
If you like hunting from a treestand or ground blind, setting up near heavily used trail intersections to and from bedding and feeding areas or in locations with lots of rootings and wallows can be a dynamite way to go. Setting up over bait is also a common strategy. A lot of hogs are taken incidentally by deer hunters sitting their deer stands. Likewise, many hog hunters experience great success focusing directly on feeding areas.
In some regions, where the topography or cover allows, glassing from a high point or across open feeding fields can produce great spot-and-stalk opportunities. Assured that hogs will show up sooner or later, by locating their primary food source you can increase your odds for a shot opportunity substantially. But remember, much like deer, the sows and young will often come out into open areas first with the boars usually exposing themselves as the light fades. More cautious, trophy-sized boars are not as easily duped. Even still, wild hogs can be active throughout the day depending on the time of year and availability of food. As a rule, they tend to be less active during hot summer days and more active during the cooler winter days. Hunting pressure as well can cause them to turn nocturnal.
In states that allow it, hunters using dogs may travel on foot or on horseback to keep up with the dogs. This strategy involves more of a chase than a pure hunt. The dogs are used to track and the chase the hog and then, when they eventually catch up to the hog, they hold it at bay until the hunter(s) can catch up. Upon arrival, the hunter can then decide whether or not they want to kill the hog.
When it comes to the kill itself, aiming point is critical. Like any animal, they die efficiently if a shot is well placed. Although they can, under certain circumstances be dangerous, they are normally not. Their thick hides and dense layers of fat can create a tougher barrier for penetration of bullets or broadheads. In my opinion, a quartering away shot is always the best option. Remember, there hide and gristle is particularly thick around the shoulder and vitals. The key is to place your shot just behind and angling forward to ensure that the vitals are hit. An ideal hit will resemble the one I outlined at the beginning of this article penetrating the hog just in front of hindquarters and traveling forward into the chest cavity. For sake of explanation, a good shot on a hog may appear like a shot that is too far back on the animal.
If you've never hunted wild hogs, it's something you've simply got to try. They offer a spectacular option during the long break from our typical fall and spring seasons. For more information hunting these wild swine, consider checking out Boar Hunting Magazine on the newsstands or visit their website at www.boarhuntermagazine.com.
Kevin Wilson is a freelance outdoors writer and professional big game & waterfowl
guide/outfitter from Alberta, Canada. Confessing an obsession for big whitetails
and bighorn sheep, he has hunted most North American big game species with either
bow, muzzleloader, rifle or shotgun. Specializing in archery, freshwater fishing,
waterfowl and big game hunting, his articles can be found in several well known
outdoor publications across the U.S. and Canada. For more information on his
outfitting services, visit www.venturenorthoutfitting.com.
Member of OWAA & OWC.