Porkers In The Delta
September 28, 2010
The terrain and habitat in the Mobile Delta is ideal for wild hogs. So how are they doing down there? Let's have a look. (September 2010)
Anyone traveling along Interstate 65 overlooking the Mobile Delta has to wonder what kind of wildlife flourishes there. The area looks like a wonderland for ducks and like a whitetail deer haven. Despite the obvious benefits for both waterfowl and deer, it is the wild hogs of the Delta that have taken advantage of this area's terrain and habitat to establish a vibrant population of porkers just waiting on adventurous and determined hunters to enjoy.
For hunters there's nothing like having an over-populated species that needs thinning. When it comes to the wild hogs of the Mobile Delta, we might be reaching that point.
Feral hogs have been increasing in number in the Delta. Along with that increase comes the destruction of this valuable eco-system. The hogs cause quite a mess with their rooting practices in search of food. When hunters aid in the control of these animals by harvesting the hogs, it becomes a win-win situation for hunters and the environment of the Delta.
Local Wildlife Biologist, Keith Gauldin is in charge of the W.L Holland and Mobile Tensaw Delta Wildlife Management Areas. These tracts are located south of I-65. He reported that the wild pig population in these areas is abundant, offering hunters plenty of opportunity to harvest a wild hog.
The majority of hog hunting is done on the W.L. Holland area. Because of the terrain and food sources, the hog thrive in this environment.
"Local lore has it that farmers put hogs on the islands of the Delta in an effort to contain them till time of meat harvest. Along the way many of the hogs escaped into the Delta and quickly established viable populations that have increased ever since. These swine became feral after that," Gauldin explained.
Over the years the word has spread about this ever-growing population of wild hogs. Hunters across the state have become anxious to get in on the wild hog action.
"Hog hunting in the Delta has become extremely popular," Gauldin said. "Each year I get more and more hunters calling to get information about hunting regulations and where to hunt the animals."
As with all animals, hogs will be where the food is. Gauldin gave a few pointers as to where to look for the hogs.
"The hog's main food source in my area is the acorn crop. Finding live oak trees dropping acorns is a very essential way to find the hogs. Their rooting activity is very evident. Another food source the hogs love is the fruit of the palmetto bushes. In the fall, the palmettos sometimes have fruit. It doesn't occur every year, but when it does the hogs are sure to find it," Gauldin said.
Wild hogs are not known for having keen eyesight. This helps hunters get close, as long as they apply common sense when using wind direction to your advantage.
"Hogs have poor eyesight, but their sense of smell is pretty good. You must approach them from down wind if you want to be successful," Gauldin advised.
Gauldin also offered some other tips on traditional methods of taking wild hogs in the Delta.
"After finding hog sign or activity, you can set up a ground blind or use a tree climber. Just remember when you get off the ground you are required to use a safety harness," Gauldin warned. "Another very successful way to harvest pigs is to use very low tides to your advantage. When the tides go way out, particularly when pushed by a strong wind, the hogs come out to the waters edge and the mud line. The pigs are actually seeking out freshwater mussels or clams. This is evident by the vigorous rooting sign they leave."
If you choose to look for hogs out on the banks you must resist the urge to take a shot at these animals while underway in a boat. Failure to do so could result in a game violation.
"It is legal to hunt hogs from a boat, but that boat must not be under any mechanical motion when you take a shot. It is legal when you are being pushed by the wind or tide though," Gauldin added.
One of the ways hunters using boats locate wild hogs in the Delta is with the aid of a trolling motor or sculling paddle. Being very quiet and attentive will often lead to success.
"As I said before, you cannot shoot any animal with the aid of anything mechanical moving you along. However, finding the animals and pushing the boat ashore, thereby stopping all motion, is legal," Gauldin said.
"Hogs are very vocal creatures. During their rooting activities they often bump into each other. This is usually followed by loud grunting or squealing, leading you to their location, he continued. "Halt your motion and then you can legally attempt to harvest the hogs."
Gauldin added another thing that hunters must do to stay legal.
"All hunting on the management areas requires the use of hunter's orange, in the form of a cap or vest. We want the hunter's to be safe at all times while using the area."
Bryan Sullivan of Grand Bay is a true hog hunter. Sullivan takes hogs regularly in the Delta each year, filling his own and several of his friend's freezers as well.
Sullivan has been chasing Delta porkers religiously for more than 10 years.
"I hunt the area below Interstate 65 near 12 Mile Island. I look for any areas near the river with some higher ground. Most of the Delta is low and wet, but there are areas that are surprisingly high. You can find these areas by looking at aerial photography or by running the river in a boat.
"Be on the lookout for pine trees along the skyline," he continued. "Wherever there are pine trees in the swamp, there's usually some high ground."
Hogs are pretty common in the lower Delta and some of the places Sullivan suggested to get started are easily accessed by boat.
"There's some good hog hunting that you can get to in a decent size boat. Alligator Bayou, Bayou Black and the north side of Gravine Island all hold a fair amount of hogs," Sullivan advised.
Finding some high ground is only part of the recipe Sullivan needs for wild hog success. Getting to within gunshot of the hogs requires a little more effort.
"I like to get out and walk, constantly looking for fresh
sign. While doing this I make sure to walk with the wind in my face," Sullivan said. "Pigs can't see worth a flip, but their sense of smell will surprise you. I'm usually walking parallel with the bank. I walk real slow and keep my ears open. Most of the time you can hear them before you see them."
The sounds the pigs make have become pretty recognizable to Sullivan.
"Whenever you have a lot of palmettos, there's a good chance of pigs close by. You can hear the hogs brushing up against the palmetto fronds and sometimes that sound carries a good distance," Sullivan explained, and then continued. "Some of the sounds you hear are the hogs popping the root balls from the palmettos. Once I hear that, I will position myself down wind and set up for a shot."
Sullivan also finds hogs by covering local creeks with his boat. "Another way I locate hogs is by using my trolling motor and trolling sloughs off the river and listening for them. As I said before, once you hear them, it's just a matter of getting out and slipping up on them from down wind.
Most of Sullivan's hog hunting is done with a shotgun or rifle. However, when necessary, he will use a bow and arrow.
"On the Lower Delta you can use any weapon that is legal within another game season. I normally use a 20-gauge or 12-gauge slug shotgun or a lever gun .30-30. Most of the shots you get will be close range due to the amount of growth in the woods. In this situation I use open or iron sights. Shot placement is not that critical with these weapons. I prefer a headshot, but a shot behind the shoulder will usually drop them in their tracks," Sullivan said.
"As far as archery is concerned, I like a contact head, such as a NAP'S HellRazor or Muzzy's 4 bladed Phantom. Shot placement is very important with a bow. Hogs, especially the large boars, have a heavy shoulder plate that even the sharpest heads have hard time penetrating. So for hogs, I recommend a quartering away shot."
Besides the excitement and thrill of hunting the feral pigs, the benefits don't stop there. The hogs provide some pretty tasty meat that can't be procured any fresher.
"The wild pigs of the Delta make some of the finest sausage available, in my opinion," Sullivan said. "I usually make patty sausage out of the shoulders. I smoke the hams and grill the back straps."
Although Sullivan takes his hogs to a processor, he often preps the meat to insure the best flavor of the finished product.
"After skinning and quartering the hog I will wash it down thoroughly with a high pressure water hose. I next ice down the meat in a large ice chest." Sullivan explained. "I will then keep the meat on ice for at least three days. Each day I drain the melted ice off the pig and rinse it down. I then add enough ice to cover the meat again. This process helps get rid of a lot of blood and makes for a better tasting meat."
In addition to prepping his hogs, Sullivan has learned through the years that selection before the shot can be as critical as any aspect of harvesting the best tasting hogs.
"When I'm looking for the tastiest meat, I will try and harvest a sow pig of 150-pounds or less. Even though I have had some good tasting meat off a big boar, the big boars are far less tasty. In a perfect situation I would like to take a sow under 100-pounds," Sullivan said.
Hunters excited about chasing wild hogs need to plan well in advance of their hunt. The Mobile Delta can be a dangerous place for the first timer , as well as the veteran hunter. Sullivan was extremely serious about the following advice.
"The Delta can turn ugly in the blink of an eye if you're not prepared. Some of the places I hunt are a good ways away from the nearest boat launch." Sullivan warned. "Cell phone reception is spotty and there're no roads to walk out of there. Because of that, I have put together a small watertight box that contains everything I need, just in case."
Some of the things in the "just in case" box are pretty common. However, so no one misses out, we'll list them anyway.
"I pack a hand-held GPS and a compass. The swamp looks all the same and if you walk very far, there is a chance of getting turned around. I also bring a hand-held VHF radio. Tugboats are common on the big rivers and they stand-by on channel 16. This will allow them to relay a message to the Coast Guard if needed". Sullivan said.
"Other items I carry are waterproof matches, zip-lock bag for cell phone, a small first aid kit and bug spray," Sullivan said. "Sometimes the mosquitoes are unreal during the milder months. I couldn't imagine being stranded over-night without some sort of bug repellant."
Other safety items Sullivan recommends might seem like overkill, but his years of hunting the Delta have taught him well.
"I always wear a quality pair of snake boots. Some years there seems to be more than others, but some days I have seen as many as 10 or more cottonmouths while hunting.
"The more you walk, the better your chances are of getting bit," Sullivan said.
Finally, Sullivan mentioned these safety items for a Delta hog trip.
"Carrying extra dry clothing is really a no-brainer. You should also carry some sort of food, such as sardines, Vienna Sausage, Beanie Weenies or trail mix," Sullivan said. "Don't forget to bring a tool set, and an extra knife. Carrying along a chainsaw isn't a bad idea either. I have been trapped in sloughs after trees drifted down the river and blocked me in, especially during high water periods."
The Mobile Delta is certainly not the only place in Alabama to harvest wild hogs. However, you'll be hard-pressed to find any area any more beautiful or scenic to chase the elusive porkers.