by Doug Howlett - Friday, May 11, 2012
Photo Courtesy of Osceola Outdoors
In case you haven’t noticed, it seems hogs are everywhere these days. If you’re one of the lucky ones whose land hasn’t been visited by them yet, just wait. If you’re one of the unlucky ones (or maybe lucky, depending on your perspective), then you have been given one heck of a hunting opportunity. Wild hogs are now found in at least some parts of 35 states, with the epicenter of hogdom being found in the South where an estimated 2 million feral pigs are believed to be rooting around and destroying the land. Like the spread of the coyote, hogs are expected to expand their current range throughout much of the continental 48 states sooner than later.
Because of their destructive tendencies—a rooted up food plot or crop field can look like it has been hit with mortars—few landowners want hogs around and are more than eager to have hunters come in and remove them. Hogs may be the last great knock-on-a-landowner’s door to gain easy permission to hunt opportunity. Of course, outfitters throughout the South have been quick to seize on the growing interest in killing a big hog, and many now offer hunts that are among the most affordable of any guided hunt.
A Perfect Opportunity
“A hog hunt is about the cheapest hunt a person can go out and do,” said Mike Tussey, owner of Osceola Outdoors. “It’s a cheap way to go out and hunt and it’s a fun hunt because there are so many hogs, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll get one.”
For roughly $250 a day, a person can hunt hogs, compared to a $1,000 to $2,000 for a three-day turkey hunt or even more for a trophy deer hunt. The affordability and likely success, makes hog hunts great for corporate outings or groups of friends who want to share in a hunt. The species is also great for first-time hunters.
“I think there is definitely a mystique to them,” Tussey said. “It’s an animal that can actually put a hurting on you if it came right down to it, so there is that sense of adventure. There’s also that trophy appeal as well when hunting for one with big tusks. Everyone wants one for the wall.”
And for the slightly unsure new hunter, hogs are an easier kill since most people can relate to and enjoy eating ham, bacon and sausage. Because of their appearance, you don’t get some of the hang-ups newer hunters might have over shooting something like a deer.
Tussey points out that in most places, one exception being California where hog hunting is regulated, the animals can be hunted year round, providing a great pre-season tune-up for archers and gun hunters alike. Hogs are also a great way to double up the action when traveling out of state on hunts for other critters like turkeys and deer.
While an industry does seem to be growing up around today’s newly focused hog hunter—special publications are being put out by publishers and websites such as shwat.com (SHWAT stands for Special Hog Weapons and Tactics) are promoting specialized gear and tactics for the hunting of wild porkers—the bottom line is it takes nothing special to hunt hogs. The same rifle or bow you use for hunting whitetails will do, as will the same camo, boots, etc. If you hunt at all, you’re most likely already outfitted to pursue hogs.
With the way hog hunting is done—sometimes numerous targets, sometimes at night—today’s tactical rifles are a popular choice. But so are traditional arms and archery tackle.
“A .223 will certainly work, particularly for recoil-sensitive shooters such as kids, but if that hog is coming straight at you, it can be difficult for the bullet to penetrate that shield [around the skull and shoulders],” Tussey said. “I would say a .223 would be the minimum caliber you would want to use. A .243 is certainly much better.”
Indeed, on a Texas hunt last year to test Mossberg’s new MMR line of rifles topped with Bushnell optics and even night vision and thermal imaging sights, the .223 had few problems taking down the hogs we encountered. Beyond long guns, the hard-hitting handgun calibers in .45, .357 and .44 are also good options, as is a slug gun for shotgun enthusiasts.
Besides obtaining permission to hunt private lands where hogs roam, there are abundant public areas overrun by the animals. A quick call to a state game agency in a state that contains hogs will likely result in a multitude of places for you to hunt. Because hog hunting still lacks its dedicated adherents and because hunting can be spread out throughout the year, there’s a great chance you’ll have little competition once you’re there, too.
Because hogs remain designated as a nuisance species in most areas where they roam, the way in which they can be hunted tends to run the tactical gamut. Everything from baiting and spotlighting at night on down to running them with dogs and killing them with knives and spears can be fair game, depending on where you hunt.
By far, the prevalent and simple way to hunt them is over bait. In states where feeders and bait piles are legal for attracting deer, hogs will also congregate. If you’re baiting specifically to attract hogs in pig country, make your setup in swampy, muddy areas where the pigs will naturally root for forbs and wallow to cool off. Find an area criss-crossed with pig trails (hog tracks will be rounder and larger than a whitetail’s) and you know you’re in a good spot. Bait the area or two or three and set trail cameras on each to determine when the hogs typically show up. Time your hunts to be there an hour before the pigs generally arrive, set up close, get downwind and wait. You’ll want more than one bait site. Wild hogs have a good sense of survival and when shot at from a bait site, they will be slow to return to that same location for a time.
Enhance bait sites with powerful smelling scents designed to key in on a pig’s keen sense of smell and taste. Top choices are Wildgame Innovations’ Pig Lickker (a liquid attractant) or Hog Heaven (a granular attractant). Code Blue’s Swine Wine and Apple Smash also work great.
Because many hogs move at night, if the state where you live or are hunting allows spotlighting at night, pull some night ops with a powerful battery powered or rechargeable portable spotlight. In Texas, many outfitters hunt in this method, simply riding around and shining pastures and senderos in search of wandering sounders of pigs. It’s trickier than it sounds and can be a fun, social evening of skilled shooting and searching.
With poor eyesight, but a great sense of smell, hogs make for a great stalking adventure. Spot them across a field or through the woods, typically in the early morning or late evening, and see how close you can get. Hunters typically crawl within easy bow or handgun range if keeping the wind in their face and moving when the hog’s head is down as it roots around on the ground.
If you really love a sense of adventure, find an outfitter or group of hunters in Florida who use dogs to run down hogs and either bay or secure them in their jaws as a hunter wades in to finish the hog off with a knife or spear. While Tussey says such hunts are not as dangerous as they might seem to the uninitiated, the up-close experience can certainly get your heart pounding and adrenaline flowing. Of course, if a really big hog shakes itself loose, all bets are off.
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