Photo by Wm. Hovey Smith.
“Mostly uphill” is an expression that accurately describes the steep slopes of the 15,800-acre Warwoman Wildlife Management Area. This area has a good hog population that may be successfully hunted during both small- and big-game seasons. According to wildlife technician Craig Nelson, whose responsibilities include habitat improvements for the WMA, recent growth in hog numbers is in part a result of the development of over 1,100 acres of food plots and controlled-burning programs.
Although local hunters enjoy hunting and eating the area’s wild hogs, professional game managers can do without them. These feeding machines root up food plots almost immediately after germination, Nelson said, which deprives deer, bears, turkeys, grouse and small game of important food resources.
“With last year’s drought, our food plots have been under stress, and hog damage done to those that were successful becomes even more serious as the quantity of natural foods was also reduced,” he explained. “We need to shoot more hogs. Currently hunters take 30 to 40 hogs a year from the WMA.”
This rugged WMA near the town of Clayton in Rabun County is best reached from Warwoman Road, which runs in the valley of the creek of the same name. Improved dirt roads accessing the WMA typically start in the valleys of the larger tributaries, such as Finney Creek, where the check station will be found, and run to the ridge noses. A few of these roads intersect a less well-maintained road that traverses the northeastern ridges. A road-improvement program has been under way for the past five years. During dry weather I’ve driven the WMA roads with a two-wheel-drive pickup, but Nelson warned that four-wheel-drive is necessary when snow starts to accumulate.
Some roads are closed during hunting seasons, so getting access to many of the food plots requires walking a mile or more up steep grades. Cross-country traverses, while not impossible, are difficult because of the severe slopes and dense mountain laurel, although controlled burning has opened up some areas. At this WMA, it’s always good practice to hunt uphill. Even so, some steep uphill drags may be necessary if an animal is shot on a slope and winds up in a creek bottom.
Female hogs have gestation periods of three months, three weeks and three days, which allows the sows to produce three litters a year that may contain 8 to 12 piglets each. With few natural predators, hogs may overrun an area if left unchecked. Hogs eat nearly anything, including fruits, nuts, the eggs of ground-nesting birds, reptiles, carrion, insects, and most species of young plants. Because they are so food-driven, the best way to hunt them in general is to find the best available food sources and look for recent droppings and evidence of rooting.
Photo by Wm. Hovey Smith.
Because of the energy involved in food gathering, the typical mountain hog weighs between 150 and 200 pounds. Negotiating the steep mountains requires a certain degree of agility from both humans and game. Once a hog weighs over 300 pounds its weight becomes disadvantageous for living in such a habitat.
Most of the hogs are dark-color phases, but some light and spotted hogs are seen.
HOW TO HUNT HOGS
For the dedicated hog hunter, the best approach is to scout the food plots in early August, find one that has active hog sign, set up a tree stand and occupy it before dawn on Aug. 15, the opening day of Georgia’s squirrel season. During the first few days of hunting, hogs may come to the food plots at any time of day, but as the season progresses, they become increasingly nocturnal. Later in the year, the best opportunities for hog shooting often come immediately before dark. Baiting, night-hunting and hunting hogs with dogs are all prohibited on Georgia’s WMAs.
Warwoman WMA’s first big-game season opens the second week in September with sign-in archery hunting for deer and bears; this lasts through about mid-October. A buck-only and bear gun hunt occurs the second week in December, with the last two days of this hunt allowing the taking of either-sex deer. The big-game season concludes with a check-in deer and bear hunt during the first week in January. Small game and furbearer hunting (including hogs) is allowed during the gaps between the big game seasons and until the end of small-game hunting season on Feb. 28. In effect, hogs may be hunted from Aug. 15 through Feb. 28. Regulations require that blaze orange be worn during the big-game hunting periods; check current game regulations for exact dates.
WHAT TO USE
Because muzzleloading guns of any caliber are considered small-game firearms in Georgia they’re good yearlong options for hog hunts. Rifles, smoothbores (as long as they shoot a single ball) and muzzleloading handguns may be used during any of the small-game hunting periods.
A precise shot with a .22 LR in the ear will kill hogs, and it’s traditional to hunt squirrels with .32 and .36-caliber muzzleloading rifles, I’d recommend that nothing smaller than a .45-caliber round-ball rifle be used on hogs.
Most often, the gun that I carry on a combination hog/squirrel hunt is a Navy Arms Company flintlock Kentucky rifle using a round ball and 85 grains of FFg of black powder. This load is accurate enough to take squirrels and powerful enough to kill hogs. Any .50-caliber rifle and load that a hunter has successfully used on deer should also work on hogs. For early-morning and evening shooting, a scope is a definite asset.
Deer and bear hunters’ archery equipment can also be used to take hogs. A large-cut broadhead or an expandable is preferred, because a hog that’s taken a double-lung hit still will often run 30 yards before it goes down. The loose hide tends to slip, reducing the amount of blood and making trailing difficult.
During archery season I often use a scope-mounted crossbow with an extra-long 100-grain Grim Reaper expandable head. Usually this arrow shoots completely through the hog.
Any centerfire rifle chambered for the .243
Winchester and up also works fine on hogs, provided that appropriate bullet weights are chosen for deer-sized game.
I GOT HIM! NOW WHAT?
Early-season hog hunters face the additional difficulty of getting the animal cooled down and transported quickly enough to keep it from spoiling. Depending on where the hog was shot, dragging out your kill may be a matter of several miles. Ideally, you want road access to be fairly convenient, and for the drag to be downhill.
One of the best methods for accomplishing this is to gut the hog and detach its head, put the animal on a plastic sled and haul it using the upper part of a safety harness hooked up to the sled for uphill pulls and a strap to help restrain the sled on downhill runs. The temptation on straight downhill passages is to let the sled go, but if it leaves the road, you may wind up with more difficulties than you expected.
In one case, I dragged up a cooler filled with two bags of ice on the sled and stashed it at a nearby spring; the only thing that left the mountain at the end of the hunt was boned meat on ice. Processing hogs on the mountain usually requires a folding saw, a sharpening steel and a good knife. The saw is used to cut the ribs and bones and the steel for retouching the knife’s blade after it’s been dulled on the sand-impregnated hide. Also include two pairs of rubber gloves to prevent picking up blood-borne infectious organisms from the hogs.
The biggest hog may not be the most desirable one to shoot. The best hogs for the table are typically sows weighing between 100 and 150 pounds; they provide some excellent pork.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wm. Hovey Smith, an award-winning freelance writer from Sandersville, contributes to Georgia Sportsman regularly. An authority on blackpowder and crossbow hunting, as well as knives and bowfishing, he has hunted all over North America and participated in African safaris.