Hunting Wild Hogs
The wild hog is a truly polarizing animal in today’s day and age. Associated with terms such as feral, pig, and swine, they are frequently regarded as a dirty, destructive species whose sole purpose in life is to forage and breed. Loved by some and hated by many, the wild hog has a rich and controversial history. Originating from Europe, hogs were brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 1500s to be used as food stock. However, due to poor management and their frequent escape, hogs began to stake their claim in the southern United States. Then, some 400 years later, Russian wild boars were introduced on hunting preserves. And, yet again, the crafty pigs escaped and began to breed in the wild. The result has been the destruction of land and the disruption of established native ecosystems.
Wild pigs are unique in that they do not have a distinct breeding season, with female pigs, known as sows, having the ability to go into heat at any time of the year. After breeding, their gestation period lasts only 114 days, with litters producing up to two dozen piglets typically occurring twice per year. This rapid reproduction cycle has resulted in an explosion of the pig population over the past few hundred years, and has made them very difficult to manage. They have spread and continue to thrive in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Pigs have an incredible sense of smell, and are believed to be able to detect odors up to 25 feet underground or from 7 miles away. This, coupled with the fact that they predominantly feed on vegetation that is either on or under the ground, is cause for their destructive behavior. Anyone that has spent any amount of time in the woods in a southern state has seen this destructive “rooting” first hand. This rooting is where hogs have used their snouts to dig and turn over the soil much like a farm tiller, leaving huge patches of upturned earth behind. Being that farmers typically grow things that are in a hogs diet, a great deal of this damage is caused on private farmland. It has gotten so bad that according to the USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center, hogs cause nearly 2.5 billion dollars of property damage annually. This damage has resulted in them being labeled as nuisance animals in most states.
The nuisance animal classification makes hunting hogs an easy prospect. Frequently, there are no seasons, bag limits, or really any regulation on hogs, as some states do not even require a hunting license to shoot them on private land. However, do not be mistaken, as hog hunting is neither easy nor boring.
As previously mentioned, hogs have a very strong sense of smell that they trust completely, not at all like a deer that will catch a whiff of human scent and ponder the consequences before bolting. To increase the difficulty further, hogs frequently travel in large groups. If one hog smells something it does not like, the whole group is hightailing it out of there. Though gifted with an incredible sense of smell, they are handicapped by their poor sense of sight and hearing. If a hunter can play the wind correctly, they can often sneak quite close to an unsuspecting hog.
There are nearly as many methods of hog hunting as there are hogs. They can be hunted over a feeder from a blind or tree stand, spot and stalked, still hunted, at night with thermal or night vision, with dogs, or even from a helicopter. Being that hogs are highly focused on their next meal, they can easily be patterned using a feeder or other kinds of bait or attractants, offering an easy and effective method of harvesting an animal.
For a slightly greater challenge, they can be spot and stalked or still-hunted, which is great practice and a good test of your woodsmanship. Another method, which is growing in popularity and extremely effective, is with a thermal scoped rifle at night. Hogs are predominantly nocturnal animals, especially if they are under any kind of hunting pressure, and can become difficult to hunt during the day. However, as soon as night falls, they seem to throw caution to the wind, venturing into open fields and gorging themselves. With the use of thermal or night vision technology, hunters can easily find animals and get a shot. Due to the fact that most other species have regulations on shooting times that prohibit their harvest at night, most people have probably never experienced this exciting and emerging style of hunting, making it a must for first time hog hunters.
Finally, a more regional favorite is to catch hogs with dogs. This style of hunting is about as high intensity as it gets, with in-your-face encounters that are sure to get your adrenaline pumping. This technique involves the use of several dogs that will move through the woods attempting to smell a hog. When they get on a trail, they will chase down the hog and run circles around it, sometimes even biting its ears and hanging on as the angry animal attempts to get away. When they successfully round up the pig, they will bark in order to let their owner know they are on one. Upon hearing the chaotic scene echo through the woods, the hunters race to the sound and attempt to catch the pig. Once the pig is subdued, its legs are either tied together or it is quickly dispatched with a knife. This style of hunting hogs is up close and personal and is guaranteed to get even the most experienced hunter’s blood pumping.
Wild Hog Food Quality
For most people, a huge part of hunting is the acquisition of food, and hogs rarely disappoint. As with any animal, large mature males can develop an off or “gamey” taste that most avoid, and hogs are no different. If you intend to eat your wild hog, it would be wise to be selective on which one you shoot. Opinions on the matter vary greatly, but here is a general rule of thumb. Due to the lack of testosterone, sows (females) typically taste better. That is not to say that a big boar (male), will taste bad, but boar over 150 pounds tend to have a stronger flavor. However, being that the testosterone is usually the cause of the gamey taste, many outfitters will catch small boars and neuter them, thus creating a bar hog. These bar hogs continue to eat and grow as usual, but develop a beautiful layer of fat instead of their protective shield. These bar hogs taste great, and can provide as much or even more meat than you’d get from a whitetail buck.