February 16, 2011
A little research and a lot of grit will buy you an adrenaline high at a bargain price.
After a nerve-wracking night in a burned-out cypress swamp, I was pleased to recover this 180-pound Georgia boar.
IT WAS MID-FEBRUARY, and two friends and I were still-hunting for feral hogs on a military post in Georgia. To avoid forming a crowd of three, I split off from my friends and made my way to a burned-out cypress pond, thick with downed timber. A few of the snags were still standing, but many had fallen, creating ideal conditions for wood-boring beetle larvae. I felt confident of finding an old boar there, ripping up logs in search of grubs.
At my approach, the wind was blowing into my face. Perfect. Carefully I made my way into the burn, stopping every few steps to listen. Almost immediately I heard a scraping noise and realized it was the sound of a hog's cutters scraping against his whetters as he worked his jaws. Small hogs do not make this sound!
Sneaking toward the sound, I could barely contain my excitement, and when I caught sight of the boar, my heart began to pound. As he ripped apart a log, I lifted my rangefinder. Thirty yards. That was good, but if possible, I like to get even closer.
Creeping a few more minutes, I stood a scant 20 yards from the big boar when things got crazy. The boar I'd been watching attacked another boar I had not seen, and the two scuffled for a few seconds -- grunting, squealing, and shoving. The hair was really up on my neck now!
Finally, the two broke apart and went back to rooting, and I waited for a quartering-away shot on the bigger one.
Then I heard something coming through the brush on my right. Another large boar was walking by me at 20 yards. Apparently he had heard the fight and was coming to investigate. By the bulldog look of his shoulders and small rear end, I immediately knew he was big. Drawing my bow, I followed him with my 20-yard pin, and as soon as the angle looked good, I shot.
The arrow buried to the fletching, and he took off with a loud bellow straight at the other two pigs. They scattered like bowling pins, one going with the wounded boar, the bigger the other way.
Most commonly you will find pigs, and especially big boars, in the thickest cover bordering creeks, ponds, and other water sources.
Experience has taught me that if a hog doesn't know what happened, it will often come back to investigate, so I waited quietly. Within minutes, the big, lone boar slowly worked back toward me, although I saw only a glimpse of black here, a moving bush there, as he circled to my left, obviously checking the wind.
Hoping to cut him off, I eased to my left -- and snapped a twig under foot. Instantly he came at me -- growling, jaws popping -- and slid to a halt 10 yards from me! I stood at full draw, sight pin dancing on his head, as his beady little eyes probed the bush for the source of the noise.
Again he circled to my left, and again I tracked him with my sight but could not shoot for all the brush. When he started walking away into even denser cover, I slowly paralleled him to keep him from getting downwind of me. The whole time he was growling like a dog -- a deep, guttural sound that can be very unnerving.
In contrast to deer tracks, which are pointed, hog tracks are easily distinguished by the rounded tips on the hooves. The dewclaw usually makes an impression on the ground (red arrow) even when the animal is walking. Judging from the large size of this lone track, I suspect it was left by a mature boar.
Watching him and not the ground I snapped another twig, and again here he came! This time he was so close I could see dirt and wood on his snout -- and a great set of choppers. Our eyes locked, but still I could not get a clean shot.
He never did blow out of there, as I expected, but slowly retreated and paced back and forth about 30 yards out, groaning and popping his jaws. At dark, I lined up a big snag between us and fumbled for my flashlight. I could hear him coming closer. At that moment the small arms range in a bordering training area erupted with chattering M16s. I could hear nothing...
OVER THE YEARS I have spent many adrenaline-packed hours matching wits, sharpening my stalking skills, and collecting pork on public properties across the country. While the above story might be a little more hair-raising than most, hogs will keep you on your toes. Out of 50 or so hogs I have arrowed, four have posed a serious threat to my well-being.
Because pigs are destructive and prolific, they can quickly destroy land and vegetation, threaten endangered species such as sea turtles and salamanders, and out-compete native species such as deer for forage. Thus, many state and federal agencies practically beg hunters to shoot pigs, and many states have yearlong seasons and no bag limits.
I recommend a solid, three-blade, cut-on-contact broadhead powered by a heavy bow. While most hogs will weigh less than 100 pounds, you might run into a brute and need some firepower. Big boars have a 1 1/2-inch-thick shield over their chests to protect them during fights, and this is tough to penetrate.
Having tried many popular heads, I would stay away from two-blade broadheads and mechanicals. Two blades will kill a hog just as quickly as three blades, but hogs are notorious for leaving poor blood trails, and you need a head that will make as large a hole as possible and bleed freely.
With mechanicals, I have seen some devastating hits on small hogs and some that barely penetrated on large boars. Unless your bow can deliver upwards of 65-70 foot-pounds of kinetic energy, I recommend you stick with a cut-on-contact, fixed-blade head.
The kill zone on hogs is small, low, and forward, so pinpoint accuracy is a must. Use a rangefinder, get close, and wait for a good shot angle before loosing an arrow.
Pigs might wallow at any water source, but b
ig boars generally frequent secluded wallows hidden in dense thickets. These hideouts are good places for stands and for still-hunting.
The cool of morning and evening are the best times. With the wind in my face, I still-hunt through areas of good sign as well as nearby thickets. I do more listening than looking and almost always hear pigs before I see them. Rustling leaves, grunts, squeals, the sounds of fighting -- and the whetting of tusks -- are the most common clues.
In open fields, food plots, and marshes, I use binoculars to spot pigs from a distance and then stalk them. While pigs don't see well, they will catch sudden movement, so the operative word in stalking is SLOW. Pigs have excellent ears, but they normally feed in groups and make so much racket themselves that if you make slight sounds, they'll take you for another pig.
Pigs have excellent noses, and one whiff of human will send them running. Try to get close and shoot as efficiently as possible. The longer you hang around, the more likely an errant breeze will give you away.
SCOUTING FOR SIGN
Start with food plots, burns, logging blocks, and similar openings to look for rootings and tracks. Hog tracks are rounded at the tips, while deer tracks are more pointed. Next, check every water source -- swamp, creek, spring, stock tank -- in the area. Hogs are always associated closely with water, and finding the best place to hunt is just a matter of finding the best sign.
In particular, during hot weather look for wallows, and still-hunt or take a stand at these key spots. At a really "hot" wallow the water will be stirred up and muddy, and numerous trees surrounding the wallow will be rubbed and caked with mud. You can get a good idea of the size of a pig from the height of the mud on trees. Generally speaking, the best wallows are hidden in secluded thickets.
You must know what hogs are feeding on at different times of year. In the areas I hunt, during late winter/early spring they will be rooting for tubers, grubs, and any remaining acorns in creek bottoms. Once the woods green-up in spring, the hogs will start hitting fields and openings to graze on tender forbs (weeds), followed by ripening blackberries.
In June and July, blueberries will be the ticket, and I often find pigs on the blueberry flats gorging themselves at all times of day. Later in the summer they'll frequent disturbed open areas to eat passionflower fruit (maypops, the locals call them) and to root for insects, eggs, and small animals. In the early fall, they start hitting persimmons and palmetto berries, and then they move into the oaks to gorge on acorns on through fall and winter.
The best time to hunt any food source is when hogs first make the switch. Just like deer, hogs eagerly tie into a plentiful new food source and often feed earlier and longer during the day than normal. This behavior will last a week or so until the newness wears off or they begin to get pressured.
This big tree trunk is caked with mud, the height of such rubs indicates the size of the hog.
The quickest and easiest way to find good places is to surf the Internet. I use a search engine and type in the state + hog hunting, and a wealth of information pops up. Many states have feral hog populations, and it is a simple task to find spots near you. Also, talk to state and federal biologists on wildlife management areas and military installations. They can point you in the right direction.
As the M16s chattered away, I could hear nothing. Quickly I pulled a Maglite out of my fanny pack and began probing the darkness. Pigs' eyes don't shine, so I was looking for a dark shadow. My light probably looked like a light saber dancing through the woods as I worriedly shined back and forth.
Eventually the shooting stopped and I heard my buddies holler. I hooted back and they came to me. Only when they got close did I finally hear the big boar ease off. After I'd related my story, we took up the blood trail of the pig I'd shot. The blood trail was phenomenal, but after 100 yards I was getting nervous. Suddenly, right in front of us a large boar jumped up and ran.
My friends wanted to back out, but we decided to take a quick look at his bed. Taking a few cautious steps ahead, we saw my hog, stone dead. He had large tusks, and we later weighed him at 180 pounds. The hog we jumped was apparently the one that had followed my hog and had bedded next to the dead boar. I don't know why he let us get so close -- 10 yards -- but I was glad I hadn't been tracking him by myself.
Lee Mitchell began bowhunting with his father at the age of 12. He works for the Department of Army as a wildlife biologist specializing in game management.