Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Deer season is over. The chill of winter has settled in, and for most folks, it’s time to clean the deer rifle, store away the camouflage, and get to work on all those honey-do’s that you kept putting off during deer season. Well, maybe you can put the “to-do” list off for a little while longer. If you’ve still got a hankering to get out there in the woods and wild places with a gun or a bow, an early spring hog hunt may be just the ticket.
Whether you’ve hunted hogs in the past or not, you can extend your big-game season by setting your sights on one of South Carolina’s wild boars. Few things in the world of big-game hunting can rival a one-on-one stalk or still-hunt for the elusive wild boar. If you think a post-deer-season wild hog hunt might be your cup of tea, there are plenty of options. You can participate in one of more than a dozen special wild hog hunts held after Jan. 1 in the Lowcountry and coastal regions of the Palmetto State, or you could take on the numerous herds of wild hogs found on private land throughout much of the state. Let’s begin with the public-land hunts.
MANCHESTER STATE FOREST
One of the best post-season public-land hog-hunting opportunities is the special wild hog hunt held at Manchester State Forest located near Sumter. Beginning right after the New Year’s Day bowl games, specifically on Jan. 2 and running through the Jan. 28, you are welcome to come still-hunt hogs on Manchester State Forest. If the rough-and-tumble sport of hunting hogs with dogs is more your style, a special dog hunt for wild hogs is coming up on Feb. 6 and lasts until Feb. 25.
Harvey Belser, who manages Manchester State Forest for the South Carolina Forestry Commission, said that the portions of the forest located along the Wateree River represent the best bet for hogs. “We have about 4,000 acres in hardwood bottomland,” Belser said. “The Beidler tract is about 3,700 acres and another nearby tract is about 300 acres.” That’s 4,000 acres of prime hog habitat available for still-hunting hogs during the entire month of January. And then, throughout most of the month of February, the same tracts are open for hunting hogs with dogs.
“January is an especially good time to hunt hogs at Manchester if the river is not flooded,” Belser said. But even if the river is flooded when you plan to hunt, Belser said most people hunt around the edges of the bottomlands, as the hogs will try to escape the rising waters by coming up on the high ground, the sand ridges and mixed pine and hardwood knolls. This is fine, because these high-ground hogs can still be hunted within the bounds of the state forest lands. Hunters are not required to check in before hunting at Manchester. Some hunters come in by land and walk to the hardwood bottoms along the river, and some come in by boat on the Wateree River. Regardless, hunters need to plan ahead for getting their hog out of the woods. A deer cart would be a good idea. Also, keep in mind that no live hogs may be removed from the forest and no baiting is allowed on WMA lands.
PRIMITIVE WEAPONS HOG HUNTS
If stalking wild hogs with primitive weapons better suits your style, there is something for you, too. Beginning on Jan. 2 and extending through March 1, a special archery and muzzleloader hog hunt is being held down at the Santee Dam WMA in Clarendon County. That’s two full months that you can hunt hogs on public land. No dogs are allowed on this hunt, so if you’re strictly a still-hunter, you won’t have to worry about being caught up in the sometimes intense action of a dog hunt. There is no limit on the number of hogs taken during this special primitive weapons hunt.
A little farther downstate, down along the coast, the wildlife management areas south of Georgetown, offer several special hog hunts. Jim Westerhold, who manages these DNR properties, said that there are two new areas open for post-deer-season hog hunting in 2006.
First, the waterfowl impoundments associated with the Samworth WMA will be open for hog hunting with shotgun and slugs or muzzleloaders March 2-4 and March 23-25. Hunting is restricted to the impoundments themselves, which are old rice fields, and is limited to hunting from elevated stands only. The impoundments must be accessed by boat. There is no limit on the number of hogs that may be taken during these hunts, but no live hogs may be taken from the property. These wild pigs are what are locally known as “marsh hogs.” The only difference between them and other wild hogs is that they tend to be a bit smaller than most wild hogs found in the hardwood bottoms and swamps of the more interior parts of the state, but can make for pretty exciting hunting, nevertheless.
The second newly opened area is Santee Delta WMA, which can be accessed by vehicle directly off Highway 17. The dates for the Santee Delta hunts are a little different, but the rules and regulations are the same as those for the Samworth hunts. The Santee Delta special hog hunts are scheduled for March 9-11 and March 16-18. Westerhold said that the odds of connecting with a marsh hog are relatively good on either one of these special hunts. “If I had to rate the success ratio,” Westerhold said, “I would say that on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give it a 6 or 7.”
LITTLE PEE DEE HUNTS
Moving up the coast toward the Little Pee Dee region, several special wild hog hunts are scheduled this spring for seven Heritage Trust tracts, which all go under the collective heading Little Pee Dee River Complex. Jamie Dozier is a DNR wildlife biologist in that area. Dozier said that while any of the seven Heritage Trust tracts may have hogs passing through from time to time, the best opportunity to run up on a wild hog is at the Pee Dee Islands tract (a.k.a., the Ward tract). The Pee Dee Islands tract and adjacent DNR properties consist of 1,600 acres, more than enough room to roam around in search of wild hogs without running into other hunters.
According to Dozier, this tract has a variety of habitats, from hardwood bottoms to sand ridges. “The hogs are variable from year to year,” Dozier said, “but typically you’re going to find moderate numbers of hogs there, especially when the river floods. Then the hogs will come up on the high ground.”
The property, located near Gallivant’s Ferry, can be accessed by a county road which bisects the Heritage Trust tract, but you will still need to do some walking behind the closed gates to the areas where the hogs hang out. Count on about a 20-minute walk.
The Pee Dee Island hunt and those scheduled for the other six Heritage Trust tracts in the Little Pee Dee River Complex will be held this year March 1-18. These are hog-only hunts, and no dogs or buckshot are allowed. There is no limit on the number of hogs that may be taken during these special spring
Several other special hog hunts are scheduled for various wildlife management areas around the state in spring, but hog populations on some of these tracts tend to vary widely from year to year.
Jay Cantrell manages the Webb Center (James W. Webb WMA) and Palachucola WMA. Cantrell said that special dog hunts for wild hogs are scheduled for the weekend of March 2-4 on both WMAs, but it’s hard to predict whether there will be hogs to hunt at any given time. “Even though we’re right here in the middle of hog country, we have 10 or fewer hogs killed in a year,” he said. “We get most of our hogs moving through here in April after the adjacent properties take up their corn for turkey season. When we start planting corn, that’s when the hogs show up.”
Still, if someone wants to come down and hog hunt during that first weekend in March, Cantrell said to come on down. Even though this special hunt is specifically a dog hunt, he said he wouldn’t turn away a still-hunter who was hot to trot to find a hog. Note that all hunters must check in at the Webb Center before hunting, and any harvested hogs must also be checked in.
It’s pretty much the same story down at the Donnelly WMA near Green Pond. In years past, Donnelly was known for producing quite a few hogs, but the hog numbers are way down. Only seven hogs were taken in the dog hunt at Donnelly last year. The special party dog hunt for hogs at Donnelly WMA is held the same weekend as the one at the Webb Center, March 2-4. Hunters must sign in before hunting and other special regulations apply. Check the WMA rules and regulations brochure before planning to participate in this hunt.
Several other special hog hunts, mostly party dog hunts, are worth checking out. Crackerneck WMA in Aiken County, the Waterhorn WMA in the Francis Marion Hunt Unit, Santee Coastal Reserve and Bear Island WMA all have party dog hunts for hogs scheduled for spring of 2006. Still-hunts are scheduled for Marsh Furniture WMA and for the Great Pee Dee WMA. Suffice it to say that there are ample opportunities for someone looking to hunt hogs on public land after the first of the year.
Now, let’s suppose that you can’t work in one of these special hog hunts on public lands, but you have a craving to go hunt wild hogs. Well, there is good news for you, too. Much of South Carolina is covered up with wild hogs, mostly on private land. The good news is you can hunt wild hogs on private land year ’round with a big-game rifle in all regions of the state, with the notable exception of Game Zone One, in northern Greenville, Pickens and Oconee counties. That still leaves a heckuva lot of territory to pursue the wary wild boar.
Anyone with access to private land along the lower reaches of one of South Carolina’s major river corridors almost certainly has access to wild hogs. Wild hogs have been roaming and rooting in the woods of the Palmetto State since the first Spanish explorers made their way up the Savannah River in the 1500s. Most of the wild or feral hogs in South Carolina today, however, are the progeny of hogs that have been released into the wild in modern times. For a century or more, farmers have turned their hogs loose in the woods in the fall of the year to fatten up on acorns. Some of those “hogs gone wild” evidently never returned to the pen. Others have been released intentionally by hog hunters who wanted to get hogs established in regions where they could hunt them.
Hog hunters should take note that a new South Carolina law prohibits trapping, and releasing into the wild, any wild hog from one county to another. Note also that in all the public-land hunts described earlier, no live hogs may be taken off any of these various and sundry wildlife management areas.
Now, let’s say that you have access to private land where hogs are known to be, but don’t really know how to go about hunting them. Well, don’t feel bad, most wild hogs harvested in South Carolina in any given year are taken incidental to deer hunting. That is, someone is out deer hunting and a wild hog walks in front of the stand. It is a whole different thing to specifically go after wild hogs.
Here are a few basic hunting tips for those new to the sport. First, a hog is not a deer. Deer have a home range and will move about that range on a daily basis. A hog has no home. “Home” is wherever a hog is at any given time. Where a hog is at any given time is wherever the food happens to be. Find the food and you will find the hogs.
Keep one thing in mind when scouting for hogs. Fresh hog sign is where the hogs used to be. This is something that goes against a deer hunter’s instincts, but it is important to keep in mind. If you see fresh deer sign under an acorn tree in the fall of the year, there is a high probability that the deer will be back to that tree, probably within 24 hours. Wild hogs, on the other hand, are struck with wanderlust. It is just in a hog’s nature to wander around and investigate potential new food sources. You may go into an area that is all torn up with fresh hog sign, and yet the hogs may not return to that spot for a long time — maybe never.
So what do you? How do you pin them down to a place where you can hunt? Well, there are two ways. The most productive is bait. Where legal, you can bait hogs with corn or one of the commercially available hog baits. The mistake that most hog hunters make when placing baits is that they put the baits where it suits them. That is, they put the baits out where it is convenient for them to hunt, usually out in the middle of a wide-open food plot. They can’t believe it when they sit in the stand for hours and no hog shows up to gobble up the conspicuous pile of corn. The problem with that strategy is that the hogs have all day and all night to come get the corn, and the hunter only spends a couple of hours during daylight in the stand.
That brings us to the second most effective strategy for hunting hogs. Find the travel corridors. If you spend enough time scouting around an area where there is hog activity, you will eventually begin to see a pattern emerge. There may be random tracks going this way and that, but if you really pay attention, you can pick out the perennial trails and travel corridors that hogs use when they are in that area. Look for trails with tracks coming and going, both fresh and old. Look for tracks from big hogs and little pigs, and everything in between. Finally, focus on trees coated with mud where the hogs have rubbed up against them. If you find a place with all of the above, you have found hog central, and a sure bet if you climb up a tree and wait long enough. When you find the right place, bait becomes less and less important. If you’re in the right place, the hogs will come.