Photo courtesy of Jim Niemiec.
The wild hog population in California continues to push to record levels. Big-game hunters are taking advantage of numerous hunting opportunities on public land, military bases and private ranches that have opened up prime pig hunts.
Wild pigs are huntable across much of the state as they expand their range despite California’s drought. In the past three years, the breeding hasn’t slowed down.
“Our clients are seeing more hogs every year as the pig population continues to grow in the central valley,” said Clayton Grant, master guide for Bitterwater Outfitters.
Many farmers converted fallow CRP land to wheat crops when the price of grain skyrocketed a couple of years ago, he said. The intense farming put tens of thousands of acres of raw land back into grain production. That harvesting left a lot of food on the ground for the hogs.
“The pigs got fat and the population responded with sows having a couple of litters of piglets a year, and the trend seems to be that hogs are moving into new areas,” said Grant.
There is excellent wild hog habitat in many parts of the state, but according to information gathered from hunter report cards by the Department of Fish and Game, the bulk of the wild hogs harvested are shot in either Kern or Monterey counties.
Areas in Northern California also have concentrations of hogs. Some of it is even public land. But the bulk of the more productive pig-hunting country lies within large ranches stretching all the way from the coastal range to the foothills of the western slopes of the High Sierra.
According to hog-hunting expert Terry Knight, about the only public areas around Lake County that offer fair-to-decent hog hunting is the BLM land that’s called the Payne Ranch, also known as Cache Creek Wilderness Area.
It’s an area of more than 60,000 acres and is located on Highway 20 in eastern Lake County. It’s all hike-in. The more successful hunters hoof it at least three miles, Knight said.
“The Cow Mountain Recreation Area (BLM) also has a few wild pigs,” he said. “It’s located just east of the town of Ukiah. There are also some wild hogs in the Mendocino National Forest just outside of Covelo.”
While public land, national forests and BLM ground offer the unattached hunter a chance at shooting a wild hog, realistically, the success rate is significantly lower than hunting with a guide on a private ranch.
“Yes, there are huntable numbers of wild pigs on public land here in Northern California,” said Matt Mitchell, who heads up the hunting operation on Dye Creek Preserve. “But unfortunately, hunter success is very low.”
Hogs are nocturnal and key in on food plots and grain fields in the valley floor. They also feed heavily on the annual acorn crop that falls to the ground under the blue oaks in the higher savannahs, said Mitchell.
“We hunt hogs within the transition zones, making it a lot easier for our guides to pattern the pigs and ensure a successful hunt for the client,” he said.
Fortunately, hog hunters have two great choices when it comes to hunting wild pigs on a budget. The hunting programs at Fort Hunter Liggett and Camp Roberts are ideally suited for the hog hunter who wants to hunt on a budget but at the same time have a realistic chance at shooting a quality tusker.
These huge military bases are located halfway between two of the largest population areas in the state.
Both bases offer hog hunting by advance permit. If you’re willing to work within the game management and military restrictions enforced on these coastal properties, you can enjoy a successful hunt.
“I really love hunting hogs on Fort Hunter Liggett,” said seasoned hog hunter George Pondella of Glendale. “I can enjoy a great hunt and come away knowing that I did it all by myself. Sure, there are some restrictions on choice of guns, ammo and prime areas that are closed to all access, but the opportunity to hunt on a huge parcel of great hog habitat makes this a great choice for those who prefer not to hunt with a guide or spend a lot of money for a wild pig hunt.”
Fort Hunter Liggett is an active military training facility encompassing 165,000 acres of grassland, woodlands and chaparral in southern Monterey County.
There could be up to 130,000 acres open to hunting on weekends and federal holidays. The number of hunters is limited on any given weekend, and registration is first-come, first-served.
These two bases are surrounded by private ranches that hold huge numbers of wild pigs that move through the region as they seek out new sources of food, water or expand their territory.
It has been said that wild hogs were originally brought onto these military bases to help control rattlesnakes, but that didn’t work out so well. With all the cover and safe havens to breed, the hog population just exploded and pigs spread out all over the central coast and into the central valley.
As you move farther into Southern California, public hunting opportunities are limited although there is a pretty good population of wild pigs in the Los Padres National Forest.
The Zaca wildfire of 2007 and the Indian fire consumed nearly 450,000 acres of prime hog habitat and timber in this huge forest. The effects of the fire are still being felt on the hog populations that thrived so well in a mixed habitat of sage, mesquite, berries, oaks and tall timber.
Fierce firestorms pushed hogs across forest boundaries into ranches adjoining the Los Padres National Forest.
“Properties to the north of the Zaca fire really attracted lots of big game that escaped the fire,” said Grant of Bitterwater Outfitters based out of Cholame.
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