By Todd Triplett
Most hunters are eager to pursue a different species when their particular favorite game isn’t in season. One critter that is quickly reaching the top of this off-season hunting list for Alabama sportsmen is the wild hog. For many of the state’s hunters, the lengthy seasons, the great addition a hog makes to a trophy room, and the top-quality table fare a wild hog provides are making the wild hog a main goal, rather than a secondary one.
While hogs are found throughout Alabama, they are not spread as evenly as other game, such as deer or turkeys. It seems that their need for a specific habitat is more inherent than it is for some other wildlife. For hunters who enjoy hunting these tough animals, opportunities await at some state wildlife management areas (WMAs). Fortunately for Alabama sportsmen, a premier destination for hunting the wild hog is located within a short drive south of the state capital.
Lowndes County Wildlife Management Area is located, as the name implies, in Lowndes County, with the closest township being Whitehall. Swampy lowlands, palmetto thickets and hardwood bottomlands make up the more than 11,000 acres owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Forever Wild program, which is a state tax fund used to purchase lands for hunting, as well as other public uses.
Since the mid-1990s Lowndes WMA has built a very good reputation among those who hunt anything, from squirrels and ducks to deer. In addition to traditional game, the wild hog population has burgeoned – so much, in fact, that individual seasons are being offered prior to, and concurrent with, other available seasons.
After doing a bit of math, it is easy to understand why the hog populations on Lowndes WMA, as well as in most of the state, have grown significantly. According to Chris Jaworowski, the resident biologist and wildlife officer for Lowndes WMA, most sows have at least two litters per year, with three being possible. In those litters are an average of eight piglets. Then, if that isn’t enough, at six months of age the young are capable of breeding. Top this with the fact that hogs have very few if any predators and the result is an ample supply of pork.
It is believed that hogs were introduced to areas adjacent to Lowndes by well-meaning individuals who simply wanted something to hunt in the off-season. These stocked hogs quickly spread onto the WMA. While the practice of releasing any wildlife is prohibited by state law, it has in essence provided the sportsman with an additional hunting opportunity.
Because the feral hog is so prolific and can be very destructive to habitat, the state is very generous when it comes to the matter of wild hog regulations. Statewide there is no size limit or harvest restriction. In fact, on Lowndes, as well as on many other WMAs, hunters are encouraged to take hogs. Also, because wild porkers are considered to be small game, those who hunt hogs on any WMA are only required to be in possession of a small game license and WMA stamp.
While Lowndes WMA consists of three tracts, the majority of the hog population exists south of County Road 40. Because hogs are somewhat nomadic, you may find them anywhere on this southern tract. Though their patterns aren’t as easily determined as those of deer, pigs generally return to a favorable area at some point.
Hogs are not native to Alabama, but they are well suited to life here. Habitat within Lowndes is ideal, as evidenced by an increasing population. Hogs are far from finicky when it comes to what they eat, as they readily consume most anything, from grasses to carrion.
A favored food for the feral hogs is acorns. Because many oaks can be found within the Lowndes property, hunting near an acorn source should be considered. If an isolated, healthy crop of hard mast is found in an otherwise lean year, a hog hunter can consider the situation ideal.
Also, places of key interest on Lowndes are any swampy areas with abundant water. This can be a major draw, as the mud is useful to the hogs for deterring pesky insects and the water serves to cool these wiry-haired, thick-skinned critters. All year long, but especially in late summer and early fall, these wet areas are where hogs spend the majority of their time.
Hunting methods on Lowndes WMA vary by personal preference and time of year. During the archery and gun deer seasons, most hogs are taken from tree stands. Many hunters are just as happy to harvest a well-fed tusker as they are to take a deer.
Those whose favorite tactic is to hunt from a stand for hogs should have no problem finding a site, as hog sign is easily located. Resident hogs voraciously turn up the topsoil green fields that have been planted for other wildlife. This rooting activity is also obvious in the surrounding forestland.
In the separate seasons that open in late summer and early fall, stalking is an excellent hunting method. Many serious hog hunters prefer slipping through food sources and the swampy areas. The reason this method can be more productive at this time of year is because of the wild hogs’ reluctance to move during the daytime heat of summer.
Whatever method is chosen, you should be very conscious of wind direction. Hogs have poor vision, but they have excellent noses.
For those after a trophy hog, serious consideration should be given to Lowndes WMA as a destination. In recent years, boars in excess of 500 pounds, with more than 4 1/2 inches of visible tusk, have been taken there.
“The largest of the hogs have bottomed out our deer scales, and those scales go to 500 pounds,” said Jaworowski. “Though it takes six to seven years for a boar to reach that size, there are a few around.”
Because hogs are dense and well built (compared to a deer) they can take a lot of punishment. This seems to be especially true of any hog over 200 pounds. While this isn’t as much of a concern for a gun hunter, the archer should be very selective of any shot taken if he hopes to take home his prize. With the abundance of swampy areas on the Lowndes property, a wounded hog that escapes several hundred yards before expiring will most likely never be found. The ideal shot, as with any larger game, is a broadside shot, which allows the archer to pierce both lungs.
Hunters must keep in mind that seasons on most WMAs are individual from state regulations. On Lowndes, though wild hogs may be taken at any time another season is open, the hogs must be taken with a weapon that is legal for that particular season. For example, while the archery deer season is open, a hog may be taken only with archery equipment. But when a gun deer season is open, hogs may be taken with any firearm that is legal for deer. While any small game season is open, a hunter may take hogs with shotguns using shot smaller than No. 2 or with a rifle no larger tha
n a .22 magnum. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend the use of small game weapons for hogs.
In addition to hunting opportunities that are available concurrently with other seasons, a separate early season has been established.
“We encourage hunters to harvest as many of the hogs as they have a use for,” said Jaworowski, adding that it is because hogs compete heavily with the native wildlife for food sources.
For a permit map, season dates or other information, visit the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Web site, which is located at www.dcnr.state.al.us/agfd/, or call the Lowndes County WMA office at (334) 242-3469.
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