Even before daylight, our Alabama weather was still so hot that I had begun to sweat. In my tree stand, I could hear off in the distance some grunting and squealing.
I realized bacon on the hoof was about to be served up for my PSE bow. I had set-up where three trails came together near a big mud hole. From the tracks in the mud and the droppings on the ground, I knew that a large number of wild hogs frequented this mud hole.
The hogs needed the mud to coat their skin, cool them down and help protect them from insects. I always had found that in hot weather, hunting wallows paid off better than hunting feeding sites. Wild hogs eat a wide variety of foods, so they are not locked in to single locations. They could feed most anywhere.
Prior to heading out I had made liberal use of Scent-A-Way Spray to foil the feral pigsâ€™ very keen noses. You donâ€™t have to worry about the swine seeing you. They have very poor eyesight. But you need to do everything possible to keep them from smelling you. Otherwise they will never get within shooting range.
I clipped my mechanical release onto the loop on the string of my bow, stood-up and readied for the shot.
The hogs â€” two big sows, four other hogs that weighed between 50 and 80 pounds, plus several baby piglets about the size of big swamp rabbits â€” came from my left. They all waded out into the mud as I waited. I wanted to take the shot after the hogs had come out of the wallow to keep from having to retrieve a hog from the mud.
A red-colored hog that I estimated to weigh about 70 pounds came out first, moving up to dry ground, where it stood broadside 50 yards from me. Drawing the bow and aiming, I released the arrow that hit right behind the wild hogâ€™s shoulder and produced a clean pass through. The hog ran off into some high grass, but I didnâ€™t think heâ€™d go more far. Plenty of morning was left, and I decided to wait 30 minutes before looking for my hog.
Once down from the tree and on the ground, I nocked another arrow, clipped-on my release and went to look for the hog. I found the blood trail and was only about 20 yards into high grass, when I heard some deep grunting. With no limit on the number of hogs you could take, I hoped Iâ€™d get a shot at another wild porker.
I crouched in the grass and waited for more hogs, determining as they drew closer that the deep grunting indicated at least one of them was a very big hog. I really got excited then.
Once the hogs were closer, I eased-up over the grass to try to see the porkers. I wasnâ€™t prepared for the mountainous hogs I saw, moving toward me. All three appeared to be boars. I never had seen three boars hogs moving together, nor seen any hogs this size in the wild. The pigs moved toward me from my left to right, and I drew my bow when they got about 25 yards away.
A random thought suddenly interrupted my excitement and stopped it dead in its tracks, as a voice inside my head said, â€śAll three of those wild boars are at least waist-high. If you shoot one of them, he wonâ€™t like taking that arrow and neither will the other two boars. You donâ€™t have a tree to climb or any way to escape if those big hogs decide to charge you. And, are you planning to drag one of them 3/4-mile to reach your vehicle? Youâ€™re not planning to mount or eat a big boar like that.â€ť
Now 15-yards away, the biggest boar was closest to me, I had an easy broadside shot, but I let my bow down. I allowed those three big wild boars to pass and never regretted my decision.
Why has the population of feral hogs mushroomed into almost every county in Alabama? Steve Ditchkoff, associate professor of wildlife ecology and management at Auburn University explain has an explanation.
â€śFrom what I hear, hunters moving pigs has been one of the biggest reasons why weâ€™ve seen feral hog populations expand. Feral hogs do not expand their home ranges very quickly on their own.
â€śHogs have been in certain sections of this country since the 1500s,â€ť Ditchkoff continued, â€śbut only in about the last 20 years have we seen a major range expansion. And once you get hogs in a new area, you just donâ€™t get rid of them.â€ť
â€śMost sows have at least two litters per year, with three being possible,â€ť Chris Jaworowski, a hog specialist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said. â€śThose litters average eight piglets. And, at six months of age, the young are capable of breeding.
â€śTop this with the fact that hogs have very few if any predators, and the result is an ample supply of wild pork.â€ť
Wildlife managers have increasingly turned to hunting to control hog populations, so thatâ€™s good news for hunters. Unfortunately, having plenty of hogs to hunt can severely hurt your deer population.
â€śWe think pigs are displacing deer to some extent,â€ť Ditchkoff noted. â€śDeer arenâ€™t fond of pigs. We donâ€™t think that pigs drive the deer out of an area.
On the other hand wild hogs can deplete the natural food supply, especially the mast crop. Then the deer leave on their own, looking for new forage.
â€śBut weâ€™ve learned through our research that when we eliminate feral pigs from an area, the deer population skyrockets,â€ť Ditchkoff pointed out.
WHY HUNT HOGS
A couple of good reasons are taste and nutrition. Many people believe that meat and produce raised without growth hormones, pesticides and additives is a healthier food than you buy in the grocery store. That being said, meat of feral hogs is about as organic a food as you can eat. It is much leaner meat than domestic hogs or beef. This meat is free of steroids, and wild pigs have been feeding on grasses, forbs, fruits, roots, tubers, invertebrates and acorns.
Of course, not all pigs are created equal when it come so food value and quality of taste. You need to identify which are meat hogs, and which are trophy hogs, before you pull the trigger.
The best feral pigs for meat are females weighing 150 pounds or less. A trophy boar will weigh 200-pounds plus.
â€śThe largest of the hogs taken in Alabama have bottomed out our scales, and those scales can weigh animals up to 500 pounds,â€ť explained Chris Jaworowski. â€śAlthough 6- to 7-years growth is required for a boar to reach that size, there are some that big in Alabama.â€ť
Another reason to target wild hogs is because the porkers are a serious threat to wildlife populations. They are simply more efficient at finding wild food sources.
â€śDeer, turkey, squirrels and other animals that feed on acorns find their food by sight,â€ť Jaworowski said. â€śThe wild pig uses its nose to find food. Therefore, a large population of hogs on a particular property can wipe-out an acorn crop and severely damage the food supply for not only deer and turkeys, but also for other wildlife.â€ť
Alabama has liberalized its feral hog regulations in recent times. On private land in Alabama there is no closed season for hog hunting and no bag limit. A hunter does need to have a hunting license.
Another tremendously important innovation has been changes in policies of the U.S. Forest Service.
â€śYouâ€™re allowed to hunt feral swine in Alabamaâ€™s Bankhead National Forest,” said spokewoman Marilyn Malloy of the USFW, â€świth the exception of spring turkey season and the stalk-only deer season.â€ť
But be aware that the Black Warrior Wildlife Management Area in the national forest has different rules and regulations on hog hunting.
In Alabama, several different WMAs opened for a special hog season in 2010. These are planned to continue this fall as well. During the 2010-11 season, special gun hunts for feral swine were scheduled during both the fall and the spring on the Choccolocco, Coosa and Lowndes WMAs. Spring hunts only were scheduled on the Black Warrior, Oakmulgee and Seven Mile Island WMAs.
For the 2011-12 season, an additional special gun hunt is planned during the fall at Black Warrior WMA on Sept. 3 to 18, 2011. A spring is also planned for the Scotch WMA on Mar. 2 and 3, 2012.
For the most recent reporting period during the 2009-10 season, the total estimated harvest of feral swine for all WMAs was 1,795.
To get Alabama wild hog hunting rules for specific WMAs, visit www.outdooralabama.com and click the link for Hunting. On that page select Seasons and Bag Limits.
For more general information on hunting feral pigs, select Feral Hogs from the menu.
For details on hunting wild hogs in Alabamaâ€™s national forests, visit the U.S. Forest Service Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r8/.
HOW TO TAKE FERAL HOGS
Regardless of whether you hunt on public or private land in the Cotton State, there are some common points to keep in mind. Hereâ€™s a look at several of them.
Keep downwind of any wild hogs you spot while stalking. As noted, the critters have bad eye site, but excellent noses. Also, itâ€™s best to keep trees and brush between you and the hog to break-up your silhouette, just in case.
Donâ€™t walk across the trail you expect hogs to come from to reach your stand location. Even when wearing rubber boots, you can leave enough human odor in the area to spook a hog.
Scout for hogs the day before you plan to hunt. But keep in mind that hogs are nomadic and may be in an area one day and gone the next. For that reason, itâ€™s a good idea also to scout an alternate site as a back-up location.
While hogs can show up almost anywhere, they generally prefer to bed and travel close to water and in thick cover.
If you find a tree that hogs have rubbed, or boars have sharpened their tusks on, itâ€™s a sign that pigs are in the area.Â The higher you see the tusk slashes from the ground, the bigger the boar. Although these signs mean thereâ€™s a big boar in the area, donâ€™t put your stand or blind there. Youâ€™re more likely to catch hogs moving on trails leading from that location to feeding to bedding areas.
If you get a shot at a hog â€” whether you hit or miss it â€” plan to change stands. Once shot at a group of hogs wonâ€™t return to that location anytime soon.
Place your shot behind the gristle shield on the hogâ€™s shoulder. That shield covers the hogâ€™s vitals, but also can be so thick it can deflect an arrow or change the trajectory of a bullet. Your best chance for downing a boar is a quartering-away shot.
* If you wound a hog and it runs off, you need the aid of a canine. The wounds of big hogs often close-up quickly, not leaving much of a blood trail. However, a tracking dog with a good nose can find your hog for you.
Hunt the trails leading to a feeding site, but donâ€™t hunt right over the forage. If you shoot a hog on the trail leading to the feeding area, more than likely the rest of the herd will continue to use to feed there, but take a different trail to reach it.
Shoot the hit hog at a feeding site, and the rest of the pigs wonâ€™t return for several days, if at all.
Know what kind of pig you are hunting before you head to the woods. There are two types of hogs. The first is a mounting hog, which generally weighs 200 pounds or more and has large tusks. Itâ€™s a great trophy, but often useless as tablefare.
The other variety is an eating hog. Itâ€™s usually a sow or boar that weighs between 50 and 150 pounds. You see more of this size hog when you hunt, theyâ€™re easier to take and delicious to eat. They donâ€™t have much fat, are low in cholesterol and usually tender.
THE FUTURE OF BAMA HOGS
According to Steve Ditchkoff, scientists at Auburn University are working on a hog contraceptive, funded by Auburn University and the Alabama Farmers Federation.
â€śResearch has been going on for many years for a feral-hog contraceptive, but no significant solution has been presented yet,â€ť Ditchkoff said. â€śWe know we need a species-specific contraceptive that only inhibits the reproduction of hogs.â€ť
In the meantime, hunters offer the best alternative for controlling the number of these destructive piney woods rooters.