The food plot looked like a disc had been run across with several passes-enough to turn the soil-with the addition of numerous landmine-sized craters carved among the destruction.
“What in the world?” I said aloud.
“Hogs,” my host huffed. I was in Alabama for a turkey hunt and the landowner, who was showing me around his property, shook his head in anger. “They tear everything up-the land, the food plots. They run deer off, and they destroy turkey nests and eat the eggs. You can’t kill enough of them.”
In my two days there, I still heard plenty of turkeys, but also witnessed no shortage of hog damage-and hogs. In the mornings, you could hear them squealing from the bottoms. Alabama is at the epicenter of the southern hog range. The problem has grown so big, even the mainstream news outlets have taken notice, with NBC’s Today show recently running a segment on feral hogs. Wild hogs now range from Florida to Texas to California, along the eastern seaboard and up through the Midwest all the way to the Great Lakes. They are found in parts or all of 35 states with an estimated 2 million pigs in just the South alone. Experts predict it is but a matter of time-a relatively short time-before wild hogs are found throughout all of the lower 48 states. They were brought to and thrive in Hawaii long ago. Only Alaska looks like it may be spared.
One landowner’s problem is another sportsman’s opportunity. Just ask Troy Ayer, owner of The Buck and Boar Lodge (866-799-5585) in Swansea, S.C. Unlike many outfitters who offer hunts on purely feral nuisance populations of hogs, Ayer has taken advantage of his state’s hog situation and actually manages his land for huge boars with trophy potential. Even so, Ayer’s hunts, like most hog hunts, still remain one of the most inexpensive adventures a client/hunter can book. On average, for a weekend of hunting with meals, lodging and a hog included, a hunter can expect to spend only around $700.
“Probably 90 percent of my business is hog hunters,” says Ayer. What makes the species so great is that seasons run year round in most places, there are seldom bag limits (except on guided hunts) and with ample animals and their propensity for rapidly multiplying, they typically make for a target-rich environment.
“The days of knocking on doors and getting permission to deer hunt a piece of property is pretty much over,” says Ayer. “But if a guy has hogs on his land, he’s probably happy to have you come in and kill some of them.”
Big Game Adventure
In California, where the game department has recognized the true trophy value of wild hogs by requiring the purchase of tags to hunt them, the animals have become a sought after adventure as recognized as other species.
“Hog hunting is a big part of our business,” says Don Geivet, vice president of ranch operations at the world-famous Tejon Ranch in California (661-248-3000). The ranch, the largest unbroken piece of land in the Golden State, sits a mere hour’s drive from Los Angeles. Of an average 1,500 to 1,800 hunters that book hunts with them each year, about half of them journey to Tejon to hunt hogs. Geivet explains that the ranch had some hogs escape from a fenced yard in the early 1990s. Those hogs quickly grew into a population of between 5,000 and 6,000 animals. Combined with the rugged, mountainous terrain of Tejon, hog hunts there offer as much adventure as any western-minded thrill seeker could want with strenuous hikes and challenging stalks to get in position for a shot.
Visiting the ranch, which is in the middle of the state’s zone where lead ammunition is restricted from use in order to protect the endangered California condor, I joined representatives of Winchester Ammunition to test their lead-free ammo on turkeys, ground squirrels, and of course, Tejon’s growing number of hogs. We had expected the hogs to be easy hunting and the Merriam’s there to present the real challenge. The turkeys certainly obliged. But the hogs also proved to be the challenge leading my hunting partner, guide and myself on some near lung-collapsing uphill stalks and shots from precarious mountainous angles.
Golden Age for Hogs
Hog hunting is one of the fastest growing segments of hunting today, says Ayer, matching the popularity seen among today’s predator hunting crowd. In places like parts of western Texas and California where I was, they provide for excellent spot-and-stalk hunting regardless of whether you hunt with a bow or gun (though I’d certainly take the latter on a return trip to Cali). However, the prevalent method for hunting hogs is to catch them feeding over bait (in states where it’s legal) in the early morning or just before dark. In parts of Florida they even hunt them with pit bulls and knives, though that method is a story unto itself.
Hogs have an excellent sense of smell, but poor eyesight, so in addition to modern rifles; they also provide great hunting fun with a bow, handgun or even muzzleloader. Most of the gear many hunters use for other types of hunting will also work hogs, so there are seldom any additional expenditures for gear over what you already own.
Indeed, hog hunting is a true blue collar-budgeted pursuit with followers of all stripes, and as pig populations continue to grow and frustrated landowners seek to minimize damage, it is a sure bet that hog hunting opportunities are going to continue to grow and grow. Isn’t it time you took advantage of them yourself.