Georgia Bond Swamp Hog Hunts

Georgia Bond Swamp Hog Hunts

This national wildlife refuge in central Georgia has traditionally had a strong population of wild hogs. Here's a look at this tract of land and what it's like to hunt there.

The author displays the 200-pound wild hog he bagged in the Bond Swamp NWR. Photo courtesy of Wm. Hovey Smith

By Wm. Hovey Smith

Hunting hogs amongst the cane thickets, briar patches and sloughs of the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge provides the opportunity to practice wilderness navigational skills while simultaneously helping to reduce environmental damage caused by an abundant hog population.

First opened to hunting in 1999, the refuge lies east of the Ocmulgee River to the southeast of Macon. Bond Swamp is composed of 4,500 acres that are periodically flooded river bottoms, along with 2,000 acres of upland habitat north of Stone Creek and State Route 23. Although hogs and deer are Bond Swamp's most important inhabitants from a hunter's perspective, the swamp also has black bears, alligators, snakes, waterfowl and bald eagles among its resident wildlife.

THE HUNT

I was drawn for a hog hunt on Bond Swamp in February a couple of years back. This was the second season that hunting was allowed in the swamp, and I was seeing the area for the first time. Finding sites with recent hog activity consumed most of my time. Some 400 hunters had tromped through the swamp during three previous hunts, and the surviving hogs had retired to the more remote parts of the refuge.

During the first two days, I scouted the upland parts of the refuge, walked the trails and looked at the area along the Ocmulgee River. On the afternoon of the second day, I walked along the east side of Stone Creek. Though I saw some fairly fresh sign and the skull of a big boar, no live pigs appeared. Even in February it can warm enough for snakes to be out in the refuge, and I saw several cottonmouth moccasins.

The last day of the hunt, I put on my hip boots, crossed Stone Creek and hunted along the west side. The forest there consisted of tall trees, scattered cane thickets and open areas covered with leaf litter.

While in this area I met a group of three hunters with a freshly killed hog. Among them was David Lee Piper from Dallas, who ended up taking three hogs on the hunt, while one of his companions, Michael Jenkins from Hiram, harvested one.

These guys hunted by slow-walking in a line through the open woodlands, taking any hogs they might see. As I left them, they were getting ready to drag their downed pig across a flooded oxbow and two creek crossings to get it to the check station.

Continuing my hunt, I kept checking my compass to keep going in a northerly direction as I slowly walked along. This kept the wind in my favor. At about noon, I saw three hogs bedded at the foot of a large oak. Raising the .50-caliber muzzleloader, I fired. The 300-grain jacketed bullet hit the hog's shoulder and killed it instantly.

After gutting the hog and cutting off the head and feet, I dragged it northwards towards Bondview Road. That proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated. I had to cross four water channels and go through some nearly impenetrable cane, briars and thick second-growth before I reached the road. Even when I was on the road, I was still several miles from my truck.

Obviously it would be a better plan to take in a pack, bone out the meat and not fight the long drag out. I started dragging at 1 p.m. and did not make it out to Bondview until dark. In retrospect, I should have retraced my steps and exited the way I had come.

THE REFUGE

There is limited access to the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, and even this may be severely restricted during high water. Developed hiking trails include the 1.9-mile Longleaf Pine Trail north of SR 23 and about 1.6 miles of Beaver Swamp Trails on the east side of Stone Creek. There are also about 10 miles of frequently muddy access along old logging roads and power lines. These are open to foot traffic and may be used by ATVs for hauling out game. Boats are allowed at only one crossing on Stone Creek.

For management purposes, the swamp has been divided into eight compartments. Unfortunately, these are not marked out in the woods. Numbers 1 to 3 are located along the Ocmulgee River, numbers 4 and 5 are west of Stone Creek, and numbers 6 to 8 are east of Stone Creek. Compartments 7 and 8 and a bit of 6 contain the uplands rising from the valley of Stone Creek.

Not shown on the maps provided to hunters are water-filled oxbows, meandering creeks and beaver ponds between Stone Creek and the Ocmulgee River. During low water these may be waded, but some are over 6 feet deep when full. In some cases the same creek may have to be crossed three times within 100 yards.

Outside of SR 23, the only man-made feature that cuts through the swamp is the Central of Georgia Railroad. Using the railroad right of way for foot or ATV access is prohibited, but it is a useful landmark.

Hunts to be held on the refuge include an open quota archery deer and hog hunt Sept. 20 to Oct. 2; a combined deer and hog hunt Dec. 9-11 with a 100-person quota; and two hog-only hunts Jan. 20-22 and Feb. 10-12 with 150-person quotas. Applications need to be returned to the refuge by noon on Oct. 14 for the drawing held at 1 p.m. that day. Rifles, muzzleloading rifles, shotguns with slugs and archery equipment may be used during the January and February hunts. Orange must be worn during the gun hunts.

PLANNING FOR THE HUNT

Since flagging may not be used on the refuge to mark your trail, most of the mystery of hunting Bond Swamp is finding your way around. The flat river bottom gives few hints, and the changing flow directions of the meandering streams provide more confusion than aid. The maps provided to hunters do not show sufficient detail to be of much help west of Stone Creek.

Navigationally challenged hunters often choose to follow a trail or logging road, but some of the old roads are incorrectly plotted or are flooded. After the first few hunts, the hogs quickly learn to avoid the more easily accessed trails and move deeper into the swamp. If you want the security of following a well-marked route, the most consistently present line of markings is located along the refuge boundaries.

A compass or GPS unit is an indispensable aid in hunting the swamp and finding your way out. The GP

S unit also helps to relocate a kill site, if it is necessary to make two trips to recover a hog. If any meat is left in the field, hoist it in a tree, as other hogs will quickly scavenge a carcass.

This is a hunt best done with a buddy. This is not only for safety reasons, but also to help drag out hogs that may weigh more than 200 pounds.

If the animal can be taken out whole, this keeps the meat clean. It is also good to remember that hogs float. Often the easiest drag is through a shallow pond or down a flooded road rather than around it.

An additional aid of hunting with a companion is having two vehicles. By prepositioning them, you have more options of getting out of the swamp and avoiding several miles of walking.

Hunting in hip boots is no fun, and hunting in waders is worse. Alternatives are to dress in tennis shoes and wool or synthetic fleece to hunt wet. You can also just restrict your activities to the upland parts of the refuge. There are hogs in the uplands, but be aware that they are more numerous closer to the river.

MEAT CARE

Bond Swamp hogs, particularly sows and young boars, yield good-tasting wild pork that can be safely eaten and handled if a few precautions are taken. The refuge does not provide a game cooler, but the locations of nearby commercial game coolers are available at the sign-in station.

Hunting Bond Swamp's porkers does have its challenges, but the result can be an interesting outing in a truly wild area along with a cooler full of good-tasting meat.



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