Published by archerchick on 23 Mar 2010
Wild Hogs – by Joe Bell
Few critters match the excitement theses animals offer the bowhunter during the spring and summer off-season.
In June, the California sun is notoriously known for casting out intense heat, particularly 100 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean where tentacles of rugged ridgelines spring out from the immense San Joaquin Valley. Here, the country changes drastically from some of the most robust vegetable- and fruit- growing soils in existence, to towering foothills and mountains dotted with wild oats, valley and blue oak trees, poison oak and various tangles of brush and manzanita. Among this picturesque backdrop live some of the wildest feral hogs known to man.
My hunting partner Chris Denham and I were soaking in the heat and enjoying the landscape as we glued our eyes to our 10-power binoculars. It was a bit early, but with a little luck, we would spot a couple of hogs early enough in the evening to have a legitimate stalk. Earlier in the day, we had walked some steep country and eventually Chris got into some pigs. But as it so often turns out, the kill just didn’t happen.
One of the chief problems with hunting wild hogs during the summer months is dealing with that short window of time you have when pigs are most active. Usually, the last hour of the day is peak hunting time, which means you can’t dally, and long stalks are usually out of the question. So when Chris and I noticed two dark silhouettes only a 3O minute stalk from the truck, I knew luck was finally on our side.
Soon, we were en route, wading through a sea of knee-high grass, across a creek bottom, and up the ridge. My pocket wind indicator was in constant motion. When we got close, I decided to send Chris out ahead. This was his second time hunting with me without the shooting opportunity he was looking for. The crisp under footing told me I needed to back up anyhow, allowing Chris to poke along 50 yards or so in front.
Easing over a rise, the pigs weren’t there. Chris went ahead, while I swung to the right. Soon I caught movement. The two nice boars were feeding along in a perfect place for an ambush. I plodded uphill to search for Chris, and now he was out of sight. I had tried to be unselfish, but these pigs are going to get away if I don’t do something! I went to retrace my steps only to never see the hogs again. Darn! I had let a good opportunity go by…and these moments aren’t abundant with these wild hogs.
Hunting opportunity flourishes today, and you Can find hog hunting places nearly everywhere-Florida, Texas, and in small hunting preserves throughout the Midwest and southern United States, But for my tastes, I like to hunt free-ranging wild hogs in country I’d usually stalk or still-hunt deer. Fortunately I was born and raised in California, which is home to an abundant wild hog population-and this population is spreading in some areas.
I have hunted pig in most sections of the state, but I have yet to find a place that seems as wild and as productive as hunting the famed Taejon Ranch, a historic 270,000-acre cattle ranch home to countless big-game critters ranging from Yellowstone elk, to deer, antelope, black bear, various predators-and a teeming wild pig population. You can seek out hogs in expansive locations, only to hunt an entirely different area come dusk. It all adds up to a true adventure, not casual off-season filler.
The glow of sunset was at it’s peak when Chris and I adjoined. The stalk had been mass confusion, and he was disappointed I didn’t capitalize on the opportunity. I rolled my eyes and mentioned that the boars didn’t show teeth big enough For me. (l was kidding, of course.) By the time we ate dinner, showered and rolled into bed, it was pushing 11 p.m. or so. The nights are short when bowhunting this country in the summer. That 3:30 a.m. wakeup call is ruthless. After coffee and two Pop-Tarts the feeling of aching sleeplessness was beginning to give way to visions of big-tusked wild boar, exposing that perfect quartering-away shot. What would we do without such aspirations?
After pursuing wild hogs for nearly 10 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are lots of different ways to hunt these critters. Classic spot-and-stalk hunting in rolling oak woodland-type country is the most enjoyable-but you’ll find that this hunting can be somewhat of a fairy tale at times. California hogs are truly wild-and even much wilder when hunting pressure hits. When this happens, they tend to roam about terrain with more cover, at least during hunting hours. In this case, you’ll have to really become a hunter, seeking our wily hogs in awkwardly dense locations.
Wild hogs are actually very intelligent creatures. Even farm hogs have proven to be the smartest among all domestic livestock. Now when you take a hog that lives in the wild, one that perhaps has been shot at by hunters, you’ve got yourself one crafty critter.
As we drove up the road, we came across a familiar location. Years ago, I saw a group of hogs cross this exact dirt pathway and amble off into an adjacent creek bottom. Moments later. I still-hunted my way up the cut and found myself face to face with a monstrous pig running unknowingly right at me. I drew my bow more so in self-defense and let the string slip from my finger tab as soon as I hit anchor. Fortunately the arrow hit the proper spot below its throat and drove to the fletching. It was one of the fastest kills I’d witnessed.
Now as we sped along, I couldn’t believe my eyes. About 15 or so hogs kicked up dust across the same bit of real estate and raced into an endless valley of grassland. Immediately, I recognized our opportunity. A narrow ravine slicing through the field would allow us to make an ambush. I banked the truck, and Chris and I scrambled to get our bows. Then we jogged as quickly as we could, eventually changing our clip to a fast walk. It worked like a charm, and Chris triggered a well-placed shot from 30 yards. Soon he was admiring his first California wild pig – a nice 150-pound boar.
To be successful on wild pigs, you must grasp their habits first and realize they do change depending on the season. Of course there are many factors at play here, but food and water are the primary ones, followed by hunting pressure. During the late winter/early spring months, water, and food usually aren’t much of a concern. Wild grass, roots, forbs, berries and other stuff are prevalent and moisture saturates these items at nightfall. With this being the case, wild pigs usually venture toward higher, more secluded ground when hunting pressure is existent. With low hunting pressure, they can still be in more of a “roaming” mode, which could make them difficult to locate.
When temperatures are on the rise, like in late spring and summer, wild pigs are likely to be found concentrated around water and food sources. Early-spring food is diminishing rapidly, and this is when hogs turn to other food like man-made such as walnuts and fruit. Keep in mind, wild pigs are omnivorous, so they’ll consume just about anything including meat from animal carcasses-even their own kind. In a nutshell, summer months can make for great hunting. Just hunt near water. I shot my biggest wild boar in early August as I saw the animal descending from rocky hilltops to a muddy waterhole.
However, during the summer months, if hunting pressure is existent, hogs may only lurk during the wee bit of daylight hours, leaving hunter with maybe a 45-minute window of opportunity to make a stalk- not always enough time. These are all generally based rules. I say this because I’ve glassed up lots of pigs in July roaming towering hillsides, miles away from their watering sources, so you just never know.
When in hog country, look for fresh sign. Tracks are always helpful, but make sure they are fresh, and then try to draw up some conclusions on ways of travel. I’ve read that wild pigs prefer to make their way straight up trails, not at an angle like deer do. Better yet are fresh droppings. These are a sure indicator that pigs are around. Pig scat is shaped much like horse droppings; only they aren’t as firm and not as long and copious.
Creek bottoms that have wallows in them are another good sign pigs are nearby. Recently used wallows are filled with mud, never clear water. Though I have no scientific claim to support this, I’ve noticed that a spring or summer rain seems to somehow increase the level of pig activity. Last April, rainy, drizzly weather appeared to threaten the outcome of my hunt, yet the exact opposite was the case. Each morning, I slid into my Cabelas Rain Suede raingear and still-hunted the hills. The very first evening I glass up animals on every hillside, eventually stalking in on a nice hog. However, I missed the 40-yard shot. The falling light and downhill shot got the best of me. Fortunately, the very next morning I set up a 25-yard shot I couldn’t miss. There were other trips in which I detected this “triggering” affect.
When you finally spot a hog you want to go after, keep in mind that wild hogs have one of the best noses in the business. You have to constantly check wind thermals, preferably with a wind-detector bottle. Depending on the situation. your stalking noise may or may not break your chances. During late-morning or early-evening hours, animals are naturally more alert, but as light diminishes. they feel more safe and are accustomed to their own and other pigs’ noisy feeding habits.’
Just a few weeks ago I was hunting an area along the central-coastal foothills. Conditions were hot, yet springtime rains hovered over the area for nearly a week before my hunt. I knew I’d have to hike far to find pigs, I detected intense hunting pressure in the area. too. On the second evening of the hunt, I climbed to a prominent vantage point and began glassing. About 45 minutes before dark, I noticed odd blemishes against a hill-side that I had been overlooking all evening. In a flash I was off on the stalk.
About 20 minutes later, I stripped my pack and slithered in line with the feeding hogs. The vegetation was much denser than what it appeared like at long range, and I found myself crawling through tunnels and cutting away wild vines with my broadhead-tipped shaft to
gain progress. As light was fading, the sound of the animals grinding their noses across the firm ground digging up dirt and roots grew more and more intense. Soon, I was plum out of walking room-about 10 yards from the feeding boar, but I had no clear shot. I didn’t want to rush the situation, but 10 minutes went by and eventually the boar sensed or smelled something. Soon he began chopping his mouth, making growl sounds and other threatening noises. Is a charge on its way, I thought? Soon the dual ended as I made a hasty move into a wall of brush to attempt a shot. Even so, the moment was well worth it.
If you’re into year-round bowhunting thrill, yet you don’t want to drop loads of money on a remote trip for exotics in New Zealand, Africa or some other hot destination, I’d recommend giving California’s wild hogs a try. They’re loads of fun. and the thrill-well, you just have to judge it for yourself.
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