Photo by Ernie Price.
Walking very quietly through the woods, I saw a flicker of brown 50 yards ahead. Was it a bird taking flight or something bigger?
It was hot and steamy in Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area along the Ocmulgee River swamp bottom and sweat trickled down my brow. Such weather is to be expected in mid-August when the small-game season kicks off.
Normally this is squirrel-hunting time, but as an extra bonus, many WMA hunters are allowed to take wild pigs with small-game weapons. I was ready for either game with my .22-magnum rifle and .50-caliber CVA blackpowder rifle. That latter weapon obviously might be a little heavy for squirrels, but it is legal and definitely can put the bacon on the table when a wild pig presents itself!
Continued to walk in the direction of the movement, I soon saw a couple of wild pigs moving slowly ahead of me. Knowing that the situation could change quickly and the hogs might be gone in a flash, I pulled up the CVA rifle and took a bead on the larger hog of the pair. Upon squeezing the trigger, smoke filled the air. I heard the hog squeal, so I knew it was hit, but could not see the pig. After a few seconds, I saw it limping off.
I did not have time to reload the CVA rifle, but this was when it is helpful to have a backup plan. My .22 magnum was the problem solver. It only took a couple of seconds to find the pig in the scope and another shot into the chest area put it down for the final count! After a few minutes of picture taking, I boned out the 125-pound sow and put the meat in several large plastic bags that I carry for such occasions and headed to the truck.
Feral hogs now inhabit nearly every county in Georgia and are a frequent target of hunters in Oaky Woods, Ocmulgee, Beaverdam and River Bend WMAs and Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, all located in central Georgia.
Feral hogs can be hunted with big-game weapons during the scheduled firearms deer hunts and with bows or crossbows during the archery season. They can also be hunted during the small-game season with any small-game weapons on open dates listed in the hunting regulations. Even during the turkey season, you can take hogs, as long as you are using weapons approved for gobbler hunts.
In Houston County, the 19,401 acres of Oaky Woods have a strong wild hog population, according to area manager Raye Jones. He said that prime areas are in the bottomlands along the Ocmulgee River, as well as Beaverdam, Big Grocery and Big Indian creeks.
Also, the pigs sometimes show up in the stands of pine trees, rooting for grubs and eating soft green vegetation. When the acorns start falling, the hogs start rooting in areas around the hardwoods.
In Twiggs, Pulaski and Bleckley counties, you find Ocmulgee WMA stretching across 21,243 acres. Area manager Randy Wood said it has a good wild hog population.
“The best places to find hogs are along the Ocmulgee River in the southern sections of the WMA,” Wood noted in regard to areas 1 to 3 of the WMA near the check station. “But the northern section, north of Highway 96, along the bogs and Richland Creek, has been good in recent years, so definitely check it out also.
“The middle sections and the west section and the Gum Swamp tract only have a few hogs,” he concluded, “but a good hunter might find some.”
Wood then suggested that hunters concentrate their efforts in areas where the white and water oaks are dropping acorns, particularly where hog rooting is obvious. He has noticed a lot of hunters going after hogs during the small-game and turkey seasons, and since hogs compete with deer and turkeys for limited food, the hunting pressure on them is a good thing.
For questions about Oaky Woods or Ocmulgee WMAs, call (478) 825-6354.
On the Oconee River near Dublin, lies the River Bend WMA, consisting of 3,500 acres. It has a pretty good hog population, according to Bobby Sanders, a wildlife technician for the Wildlife Resources Division. He suggested looking for them along the creeks and sloughs that feed into the river and scout for active rooting signs. Sanders said the 2009-10 season should provide more hunting opportunity because the WMA will allow hog hunting during all small-game dates and during big-game hunts. In previous years, hog hunting was only allowed after Oct. 31, but check the regulations for any last-minute changes.
Also on the Oconee River, but to the north of Dublin, is the 5,500-acre Beaverdam WMA. The hog hunting on Beaverdam is good to fair, as the pigs move on and off the WMA in response to hunting pressure.
For questions regarding River Bend or Beaverdam WMAs, call (478) 296-6176.
More great wild hog habitat is located near Macon in the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The NWR is open to the public year ’round, except during firearms hunts. That makes pre-hunt scouting accessible.
However, public access is permitted only on the portion of the refuge that is located east of the Ocmulgee River in Bibb and Twiggs counties. Camping is prohibited.
Although gun deer hunting was recently put on hold because of a lawsuit filed by the Fund for Animals, wild hogs are a non-native species and very destructive to the habitat of other wildlife. Thus gun-hunting opportunities for them continue, according to Assistant Refuge Manager Carolyn Johnson.
Both wild hogs and deer may be hunted during the open archery dates, but under present circumstances, check the regulations for full details before heading out.
The refuge is composed primarily of river swamp with creeks and sloughs traversing the entire area. The cover is thick and it is possible to get lost in this terrain.
When the Ocmulgee River overflows its banks, the river plain may remain flooded for weeks. Access by vehicle and on foot may be difficult and four-wheel-drive vehicles may be required to access some areas. Portions of the refuge may be closed during periods of flooding.
Public hunting is permitted on 5,455 of the current 7,348 acres in the Bond Swamp NWR. Johnson said most hogs are found on the west side of U.S. Highway 129/23 (Cochran Short Route) in the drainages of
the Ocmulgee River and Stone Creek. Very few hogs are found on the east side of the road.
All hunters must obtain a refuge special use permit. The permits are free and available at the sign-in station, which is on Egg Shell Road that runs along the southern edge of the tract.
Johnson said hunter success has been pretty good in past seasons. But as a result, the number of hunters using Bond Swamp has grown, particularly since quota hunts were eliminated after the 2006 season. In 2006, 424 hunters downed 107 feral pigs for a success rate of 25 percent.
With removal of the quota restriction, in 2007, the number of hunters jumped to 908, but just 81 hogs were killed. That translated to a 9 percent success rate.
Last year, the number of hunters grew further to 1,172, but the harvest also rose to 117 hogs for a success rate of 10 percent. Bond Swamp’s record makes it one of the better places in central Georgia to collect some bacon.
For more information, call the refuge office at (478) 986-5441.