October 28, 2010
The exciting, and sometimes dangerous, business of bowhunting wild boars.
When it comes to hog hunting, I prefer the term "wild boar" for the romance imparted, instead of the unimaginative "feral pig." Granted, they're Plain-Jane European swine gone wild and aren't even native to North America. But they sure are a heck of a lot of fun to hunt.
Find fresh hog sign on water and success won't be far behind. Field Editor Patrick Meitin followed a herd of hogs to a remote stock pond, slipped into archery range when they paused to tank up and sent an arrow through this young boar's ribs.
Swine arrived on the ships of Spanish explorers some 500 years ago and can now be found in a virtually endless variety of shapes and color patterns throughout much of the nation. I first met them in West Texas some 25 years ago. While college finances precluded even the most marginal deer lease, hogs were universally despised by landowners and daily trespass fees were cheap.
Fifty plus hogs later, I still find it difficult to leave them alone, even if that means a temporary detour from my quest for California Columbia blacktail, Texas whitetail or Florida Osceola turkey. On such hunts wild hogs have often served as bonus game and consolation prizes. But on many other occasions, I've also approached them singularly as the prize.
Wild boars have earned my undying respect for many reasons, not the least of which is they provide riotous bowhunting adventure. They also help maintain your edge between more celebrated big-game seasons and require precise shooting skills and hardy gear. And charcoaled, roasted, stewed or fried, hogs are decidedly delectable.
Ready and Waiting
U.S. Department of Agriculture reports reveal wild hog populations are currently entrenched in about 38 states -- with experts predicting they'll spread to all U.S. states (except Alaska) within the next 20 years. Only a bowhunter could see this as a positive development. Although wild hogs cause millions of dollars in property and crop damage annually, they also provide a challenging, year-round target that is close to home for many archers. And if you don't live in a hog-infested area, getting an invitation to a location that is isn't difficult.
Texas is undoubtedly Numero Uno in hogdom. The entire state is inundated and there are plenty of ranchers willing to extend relatively modest daily fees to hunters (normally $50-$200). Non-residents must buy "5-Day Special Hunting" licenses for $48, but with no seasons or bag limits imposed.
California is another hog hotbed, with 56 of its 58 counties holding hog populations and a reputation for monstrous boars wearing trophy tusks. Public hunting is abundant on BLM and National Forest lands, though private holdings tend to receive lighter hunting pressure. Monterey and Kern counties lead the Golden State in hog-hunting returns. Daily trespass fees and guided hunts are popular, with non-resident hunters purchasing tags for $50 each. Year-round hunting is permitted, with no limit on the number of tags that can be purchased.
The Deep South is another popular hog-hunting destination, with Florida leading the way. Public hunting is available throughout the state, with year-round hunting and no limits imposed. Non-residents pay $26.50 for management area permits and $46.50 for a 10-day hunting license. Feral hogs are scattered across the rest of Dixie, with huntable concentrations occurring in innumerable locations. Check state regulations for specific seasons and license details.
The bigger surprise is the odd places hogs seem to crop up without explanation. I've successfully bowhunted them in extreme northeastern New Mexico (alleged pure Russians), southwestern New Mexico/southeastern Arizona and southwestern Kansas. I've seen their unmistakable sign in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Nebraska. I hear persistent rumors of unlikely hogs in Idaho, Maine and Colorado. You just never know where they'll turn up next.
Newcomers to hog hunting should know whitetail tactics work quite well. The most basic -- still-hunting -- involves simply moving slowly and quietly through areas where scouting has revealed copious sign. Hog sign comes in the form of blunted, deer-like tracks (normally randomly sized, unlike deer's rather standard-issue dimensions), rooted areas, muddy wallows and mud-rubbed trees.
While bowhunting Texas in particular, we find many wallows; spots that appear as if attacked by out-of-control tillers. Hog droppings often reveal what hogs are feeding on, say plum seeds or agricultural crops or even grasshoppers (as I discovered once), helping concentrate efforts on productive areas. During midday, or during hot summer months, dive into the deepest cover available -- winding creek and river bottoms, swamp, cedar thickets -- and drop to your knees to peer under the darkest cover. This is challenging, but also productive and exciting; most hogs are spotted at less than 15 yards, and the biggest trick is finding a gap big enough to poke an arrow through.
Spot-and-stalk is another productive tactic if you have semi-open country and good binoculars. Both northern Texas and California serve as prime locations where endless acres of open range and ridgelines invite anxious glassing. In more classic hog country, farm fields attract hungry pigs, and handy haystacks, silos or farm machinery provide concealed vantage points for glassing into standing crops or grassy field edges.
Hunting afoot offers the greatest bowhunting challenge possible. While not as challenging as deer or elk, hogs aren't pushovers when exposed to minimal hunting pressure. Those big, shaggy ears pick up telltale snapped twigs and clothing rustles quite efficiently. And despite what you may have heard elsewhere, hogs are not blind and will catch careless movements.
When it comes to scent, it's an entirely different ballgame. A hog doesn't see as well as a deer, but a deer doesn't smell as well as a hog. A hog's number one defense is its nose. Get on the wrong wide of the wind and the game's over.
Take A Stand
Many seasoned hog hunters prefer to climb into a treestand; not only because it's safe, but because it's extremely effective. Whether guarding obvious trails, feed or water, a treestand offers real advantages, especially where thick cover makes moving silently difficult. Just about any standing water or crop may act as a hog magnet, and it's seldom difficult to obtain hunting permission when marauding swine ravage crops. On one scouting trip, a friend and I discovered maybe 30 hogs helping
themselves to a field of young millet. More poured in as we watched. We wheeled into the nearest driveway, knocked on the door and asked if we might help alleviate a bit of the farmer's troubles. What he spewed can't be printed here, but the general gist was we could shoot every single one of the unmentionables if we wished. We managed three in a single evening.
Setting up over food always makes sense, but a stand over water might be even better, especially during warm spells. Hogs must drink daily to survive. Big boars also come to water to wallow, which cools them off, deters biting insects and helps remove ticks. When it's hot, hogs can appear at any hour of the day.
One of my biggest boars to date came this way. A particularly nasty boar was killing and eating a rancher's sheep. A friend and I were summoned to settle the score. Without rain for 28 days, the area was parched and water would be pivotal to success. A dwindling mud hole in the farthest reaches of the ranch grabbed our attention. Over the next day and a half, a few dozen eating-sized hogs arrived within range of our makeshift ground blind, but we waited for the sheep killer.
By the second afternoon blowzy heat had zapped me of mettle. I was fighting sleep and swimming in my camo. I opened heavy eyelids and he was simply there -- appearing like a bristly black Volkswagen Beetle. I jabbed my partner and slowly reached for my recurve. I was thinking it would be impossible to miss such a behemoth at 25 yards, but also noticed I was shaking as I drew. I made a mental note of the nearest climbable tree and released. The 2419 aluminum flew true, but abruptly met the old boar's gristle plate, penetration impeded as if encountering oak planking. We sat for 20 minutes, wondering if it was enough.
Finding wild boars can be the hardest part of a hunt. But once you find one, you'll likely find many, making multi-animal success quite common in better locations. Patrick Meitin, right, and friend Steven Tisdale pulled off a recurve double on these Texas tuskers.
Over the years, I've heard a lot of talk about 500-pound hogs, but at the end of that 200-yard blood trail was the first dead hog I'd unequivocally label such; an absolute mountain of black.
Into The Fray
For unadulterated adventure, try hog hunting behind hounds. The ignorant proclaim it offers no sport, and I suppose there are people who find no challenge in charging hell-bent over miles of rough terrain, dodging blood-mad, charging boars in tight confines or poking through bouncing, frenzied hounds while seeking a safe shot at a rampaging target. Obviously, this requires a friend or guide with trained dogs, but even guided hunts are fairly egalitarian affairs and within the average wage earner's means.
Where To Go:
California Fish & Game
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Texas Parks & Wildlife
Burt Coyote Co.
Easton Technical Products
There are two kinds of hogs in these deals -- runners and fighters. Runners are lean and long legged. These chases start fast and proceed at a reckless pace; houndsman and hunter merely trying to keep the entire mess within earshot until hounds or hog run out of minerals. Many houndsmen employ "catch dogs" -- dogs that literally attach themselves to the hog in an attempt to slow progress. But even the best catch dogs must first overtake the hog, which can require miles.
Fighters are most often big, ornery boars used to having their way. These chases seldom go any great distance, normally proceeding in stop-and-go fashion, with plenty of frazzled nerves along the way. These are the dangerous ones; hogs that kill hounds and leave nasty scars on careless hunters. I bear such a scar, thanks to a careless moment during a northern California hunt. That boar was something like 350 pounds, and when he turned to charge I stood my ground looking for a shot instead of running like I should have. I wound up flat on my back with one very agitated boar on top of me and had to be rescued by my outfitter and his magnum handgun.
Make no mistake; the dangers of wild boar hunting are very real. Like black bears, 99 percent of them will turn and run given the chance. But when wounded or cornered (especially with hounds), they'll fight all right. They are bigger and tougher than you are. Handguns do serve as useful backup in a pinch -- something to feed a charging boar in the event of a too-close encounter. Tree-climbing skills also are especially handy, unless in brush country, where hurdling and dodging abilities become more important. Don't laugh. I'm serious.
I never tire of bowhunting hogs. It offers an exciting getaway when other big game seasons are only a distant hope. Wild boars are flat fun to hunt. They live in varied habitat, offering a multitude of challenges. Ask around, place some phone calls and make the most of your off-season by going hog wild.