Cotton State Hog Prospects
September 28, 2010
Wild hogs: they can be big, they are definitely mean, and they offer a big-game alternative in the Yellowhammer State. Here's what hunting them is like in the region.
Hunting wild hogs with a bow is probably your best bet once they have been spooked by other hunters. That is especially true on public lands.
Photo by John E. Phillips
Do not do it! You may want to have off-season game to hunt, and the temptation of free pork chops, spare ribs and ham sounds good, but introducing feral hogs to your property creates more problems than benefits for you and your neighbors. Besides, Alabama has made stocking or transporting feral hogs from one place to another illegal. Wild hogs are much like cockroaches. Once you get them, you practically have to burn the house down to get rid of them.
"Hogs cause trouble for other wildlife," said David Hayden, assistant chief of the Wildlife Section of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. "We don't recommend hunters manage for hogs. Instead, we suggest they manage for deer and turkeys.
"Because of the many problems hogs create, we want to see the sportsmen in Alabama take as many hogs as they possibly can, whenever they can. I know we have some hunters who really enjoy hunting hogs and who have some well-trained dogs that can find, chase, bay, catch and hold hogs. But we really want to see the number of hogs statewide reduced drastically because they do so much destruction to the habitat."
Hogs have a high reproductive rate, which is at the heart of the problem. According to Hayden, one sow can produce three litters in a year, with each litter usually averaging eight to 12 pigs. If you only have five sows and one boar on your property the first year, the second year you may have 180 pigs! Assuming 50 percent of each litter is female, the worst case scenario suggests you could possibly can have more than 1 million pigs in five years. As you can see, you may have many more hogs than you ever wanted in a very short time.
Hogs also eat the same food deer and turkeys eat. They root up roads, destroy greenfields, cut and slash pine timber, and make themselves general nuisances.
Although you find feral hogs in many sections of Alabama, they travel primarily along many of the state's waterways. Hogs have to have water. Although you may find hogs several miles from water, generally they do not stray more than a mile from water.
"Water keeps hogs cool during the summer months, and the hogs use mud to help protect their skin from insects," Hayden explained. "Hogs root to eat, and rooting in muddy areas is much easier than rooting in dry areas."
Anywhere that has water may have hogs. Any branch, stream, creek or tributary coming off a major river system may become a highway for the porkers.
"Hogs are extremely sensitive to hunting pressure, and they can move quite a distance in a short time," Hayden explained. "If hogs receive a lot of hunting pressure, they'll pick up and move, often a mile or two away. So when you have hogs on your property, all your neighbors soon will have hogs on their lands too, whether they want them or not."
Wild hogs do not just eat the wild forage; they also destroy crops. A herd of hogs can move in one night and completely destroy an agricultural field, be it peanuts, corn, soybeans or even a watermelon patch. Feral hogs cause millions of dollars' worth of damage to crops every year nationwide.
Although the idea of hogs on your land may sound like fun, bringing them onto your hunting lease compares to bringing a known felon into your home. Both will destroy your property, because that's what they do.
BAMA HOG HISTORY
Alabama's landscape has been home to feral hogs since the first settlers brought in swine from Europe. Originally, these porkers were free-range, wandering the woods and fields looking for food. When it was time to butcher a few, the early settlers rounded them up.
Because of the hogs' high reproductive abilities, their tendencies to live in boggy, swampy areas, their ability to learn, their very keen sense of smell, and their skill at dodging human contact, farmers could find no way to catch all the hogs, even when the fence laws came into existence.
At best, all we can try to do now is control feral hog numbers in the areas of the state where they exist and discourage anyone from catching and transporting them to stock in other regions.
Alabama sportsmen hunt wild hogs with a variety of weapons in order to add to the adventure. A few years ago, I decided to try hunting hogs with a blackpowder pistol. I used a Connecticut Valley Arms reproduction of the Navy Colt .45-caliber pistol used in the movie "Lonesome Dove." I stalked a herd of about 15 hogs on the edge of a cornfield in central Alabama and slipped into a position less than 30 yards from the hogs. From there I could get an upwind shot. Picking out the biggest black boar hog, I raised the handgun, held it steady, aimed with the iron sights, and squeezed the trigger.
At the report of the old Navy Colt, the pack of hogs broke and ran. Although the hog was hit, it did not go down. I immediately jumped up and fired like a cowboy blasting at a passing herd of buffalo. I shot often, but apparently hit little.
Then matters took an awkward turn. The boar now turned and headed straight for me. I could see his big tusks and ugly face, but even more frightening was the fact that I was running out of shots. I swung the gun in front of me and fired. I would like to brag that I had the shooting ability of the legendary gunslingers of old. However, because of the short time I had with hurt on the way, I just aimed and fired. Luckily, the bullet hit the boar right between the eyes, and the hog piled up 10 steps in front of me. Rather than skill, however, the shot was more likely my primitive instinct for survival kicking in!
As I stood there on the dirt looking at the hog, paralyzing fear swept over me when I realized only a few feet had separated me from the chance of an angry boar having seriously injured me. It was much the same feel one gets when having to swerve on the highway to narrowly miss colliding with a reckless driver. It is after the adrenaline rush wears off that you begin to shake with the realization of how closely harm has passed you over.
I have never again hunted a hog with a pistol. I should have known to wait and let the blood trail of the wounded swine lead me to the carcass instead of challenging the beast. It was proof positive the tables can turn quickly when hunting hogs. A porker can and will hunt you, especially when you are at close quarters with it.
On another occasion while bowhunting in the Mobile Delta a few years ago, I shot a 150-pound eating-size boar with my bow. It was a good shot, and I then began trailing the boar through the palmettos. However, before I reached my hog, I heard some deep grunting. Nocking another arrow, I was thinking of the possibility of getting a second pig. But as the grunting got closer and louder, the backs of three big hip-high hogs came into view. Each of these tuskers would have weighed 300 to 400 pounds, and they looked mean.
Quickly looked around, I saw no tree or escape route in sight. I had to make a decision. As they drew closer, I knew that if I shot one, he probably would not go down instantly. He probably would also get very upset when he took the arrow. The prospect of trying to outrun a mad hog on muddy, palmetto-filled, uneven terrain was not promising.
On the other hand, if I did not shoot, what was I going to do? While I evaluated this situation, the hogs closed in on me. I had my mechanical release on the string and prepared to draw and shoot. Almost subconsciously I was locating an opening in the palmettos for a shooting lane that would allow me to place the arrow behind the lead hog's front shoulder.
|BEST BETS FOR COTTON STATE HOGS ON WMA'S|
|Mobile-Tensaw Delta & Holland WMA||58,321|
Nature has provided protection for feral hogs in the form of virtually armor-plating them. A boar hog has a shield of tough gristle on his shoulders that protects his vital area. Regardless of how heavy a bow you pull or the sharpness of your broadheads, most arrows will not penetrate the thick shield. To bring down such a tusker, you have to place the arrow well back on the hog, just in front of his hindquarters, so the arrow travels forward into the vitals. If you can't get that shot, you have only a slim chance of bringing down a mature feral hog.
On this day in the Delta swamp, with big boars closing to within 20 yards, my mind was going a mile a minute. I once again re-evaluated my situation. If I chose to shoot, there would be no time to nock yet another arrow and virtually no chance to flee whether I took a shot or not.
Still mulling the conflicting thoughts, I drew my bow. Luckily, at that moment the wind changed. As it turned out, the hogs were not bent on mayhem and had not even been aware of my presence. At the first whiff of my odor, the three porkers wheeled and ran the way they had come. I never had to make that final decision of whether or not to shoot.
What would have been the consequences of such a shot? I really do not know, but more than likely I would not have taken it anyway. There's no hog worth getting hurt over, even a trophy boar. When you're in close quarters with a hog and there's no escape route in sight, you are definitely in harm's way. You are sort of like a matador in the ring to fight a bull, but in this case I had no cape or sword, but rather a stick and string!
"When on private land, you can hunt hogs with anything -- bows and arrows, rifles, pistols, shotguns, primitive weapons, spears and dogs -- as long as you have the landowner's permission," Hayden explained.
He went on to note that hogs can be hunted on private property year-round and night or day. But if you hunt at night, the landowner must get a permit from the DCNR law enforcement officer in his county.
The rules are bit more complicated when targeting wild hogs on public land in the Yellowhammer State. When hunting hogs on public lands, you can take them with any type of arms or ammunition with which you legally can hunt the species that is in season. In other words, when you're dove hunting, you can shoot a hog with a load of No. 7 1/2 bird shot, but you will probably only make him mad. You probably also want to have a good climbing tree nearby if you try it. Being on the ground when a mad hog charges is not pleasant.
During deer season on public land, you can use shotguns with buckshot or slugs, rifles or bows. During turkey season on public land, you can shoot hogs with any shotshell load that is legal for taking gobblers.
Private lands in the Cotton State hold far more hogs than public tracts. Still there are a number of WMAs that have huntable populations, mostly in South Alabama.
"When a WMA has hogs, they often move off when it has a scheduled deer hunt," Hayden offered. "Therefore, you more than likely have the best opportunity to take a hog with a bow on WMAs.
"The best WMAs for hunting hogs include the Upper Delta's Zone A and Zone B, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and W.L. Holland WMA, Lowndes WMA, Oakmulgee WMA and Black Warrior WMA," Hayden offered.
From those, Hayden picked Lowndes WMA in the early fall for your best shot at taking a hog on public land.
"Lowndes WMA has an area that runs diagonally through its southern section where you find a lot of muddy land or standing water throughout most of the year," Hayden reported. "This type of region provides favorable habitat for hogs with plenty of escape cover. The hogs tend to stay in that wetland; however, they do come out of the water and feed on the higher ground. The mixture of habitat in Lowndes is highly conducive to hog hunting."
Hayden went on to note that Chris Jaworowski, a wildlife biologist for the DWFF, has seen hogs taken from Lowndes County WMA with weights as much as 450 pounds and several others weighing from 350 to 400 pounds.
If you have a boat, the Upper Delta WMA is another tract that holds a lot of hogs. Since virtually all of the property requires a boat for access, it does not get a lot of hog-hunting pressure. Still, you have to work for a hog on this WMA. These porkers have made this wet, marshy land their home for a very long time. They know their home grounds much better than you can.
Having a good map and a GPS receiver pay off in the Delta, as you have to do some scouting to be successful here.
Alabama's wild hogs offer some great options for exciting hunts, regardless of how you choose to pursue them. Just be a bit smarter than I have been when f
acing down with these tuskers. But come what may, expect to experience some exciting action.