November 07, 2019
For many outdoorsmen, hog hunting is a passion that transcends filling the gaps of other hunting or fishing seasons. It’s very popular with bow and gun hunters and many consider a long-tusked wild boar a real trophy animal. Hog populations vary throughout their range, but many areas have an abundant population and some have a considerable excess of hogs.
In the cooler weather of fall, hogs are often on the move. Hunters need to know the basic habits and patterns of their hogs at this time of year to be consistently successful.
Many first-time hog hunters are also surprised to discover that hunting hogs is not easy. Hogs don’t roam randomly, and are similar to whitetail deer, for example, in that they have patterns that revolve around food, water and bedding areas. Successful hog hunting is very technique-driven and acute attention to detail is required.
Many hunters develop a real zeal to hunt hogs because the hunt requires skill and effort. An acute sense of smell is a hog’s primary tool to stay alive and that, coupled with their natural nervous nature, makes hogs very wary of unfamiliar odors. To a hog, if it smells wrong it must be wrong and they’re gone.
The use of the pronoun “they” is common when referencing hogs and it’s another important consideration because “they” often travel in multiples—sometimes a pair, sometimes in groups of 20. This trait puts the odds of one pig sensing trouble and alerting others much higher.
Hogs are surprisingly intelligent quarry and learn quickly. I learned that by shooting a couple out of a dozen feeding in an October cornfield one afternoon. I figured an encore performance awaited me the next evening. But not so: the hogs quickly changed movement and feeding patterns.
I’ve also discovered that hogs, especially sows less than 150 pounds, are great eating when properly prepared. Care in handling and preparation are important, but more about that later.
Hog hunting has few downsides and, in places where an overcrowded population thrives, it’s almost mandatory to thin the herd or negative impacts to the land and crops can occur. Also, competition with other species, such as deer, can occur.
FOOD SOURCES PROVE FRUITFUL
When making a hog-hunting plan, identifying where to hunt is the critical first step. Your primary focus should be on locating the basics of food and water, which may not be as simple as it sounds.
One year-round common denominator for finding hogs is availability of water, particularly swamps and low areas that have access to significant drainages. Hogs are killed in upland areas, but often that’s where an abundance of food exists.
Like most wild animals, hogs follow the food. Their diet list is long, and it changes periodically. But good food sources can vary with every tract of land. Hogs consume a wide variety of foods and primarily prefer plants, but their diet does include a small percentage of animals, occasionally including deer fawns.
Prime food source locations certainly include swamps and bottomlands, and this time of the year these areas often produce an abundance of mast from trees.
When acorns are available, they’re right at the top of a hog’s wish list. They’ll aggressively feed on acorns and even push other game animals away from the food. I’ve seen deer approach, see the hogs feeding, and the deer often just slip away.
In addition to eating various wild fruits, hogs consume seeds, leaves, stems and shoots. Also hogs are known for rooting and will actively dig up and eat root crops, bulbs, and tubers. If a hog wants to eat you, being a foot underground is no protection.
Many agriculture crops draw hogs. The list includes corn, potatoes, peanuts and soybeans. Also they’ll eat apples, grapes, cantaloupe and watermelons to name but a few more common foods.
Find what’s popular with the hogs on the property you hunt in the fall and target that, but remember when you put pressure on hogs, they’ll likely change travel patterns, at least for a while.
SCOUTING AND STRATEGY
Basic hunting strategies include a wide variety of techniques. Likely the most popular and consistent for most occasional hog hunters is hunting from an elevated stand. However, ground blinds can be effective if you play the wind correctly and remain downwind of the hogs during your sit.
Hunting from a stand, whether elevated or on the ground, requires patience and attention to wind direction. Bow hunters, of course, need to be much closer than gun hunters, so for them a premium is placed on tightly focusing on specific food sources. Permanent stands are a logical choice when natural hotspots where hogs like to frequent are found. Be sure the stands take advantage of the prevailing wind; don’t hunt a stand on a day that the wind is “wrong” for that stand.
Fresh rooting is a tell-tale sign of hog activity in an area. If it’s very fresh, odds are good they haven’t consumed all the vittles from that area, so setting up there quickly can be essential. When the food source dwindles, hogs will move on. Hunters must react quickly to fresh hog sign.
Hogs do have weaknesses hunters can exploit. Not only are their eyesight and hearing not at the level of deer, hogs need water to cool down. In some places, good wallowing areas are in shorter supply than food sources, and where hogs are under pressure and feed at night, they might still seek refuge in wallows during shooting light.
That can make wallows good spots to hunt.
Hunters can exploit a hog’s less-than-keen eyesight. Experienced stalk hunters will put the wind in their face and slowly, stealthily move through the woods. They’ll use existing vegetating to shield themselves and stop frequently to scan the woods.
Also, hogs are noisy, especially in a group. On several instances I’ve been stalking and have stopped to look for hog movement and heard them grunting and squealing a considerable distance away. When undisturbed, pigs have a gregarious nature and I’ve been able to determine their basic travel route and get ahead of them and set up within range of whatever rifle or bow I’m using when they pass by. That type of hog hunting is very exciting.
Hogs, by nature, are more nocturnal than daytime feeders, but they’ll feed anytime. With cooler weather and usually abundant food sources, they are even more prone to feed by day. Often, their major daytime movement pattern is one of feeding from late evening into early morning. Be prepared to hunt as late as you can: on many instances, I’ve observed deer moving in the late afternoon long before I see hogs that are using the same general area.
Laws on hunting wild hogs vary depending on the state hunted so always check local regulations. However, in some states, nocturnal hunting is not only legal, it’s highly popular. The same can be true on the hog-hunting season structure. Typically, the seasons are liberal, and in some states it’s a 24-7-365 hunting opportunity. Usually, however, some restrictions exist—wildlife management areas often have significant restrictions—so understand the law thoroughly on the land you want to hunt.
The same holds true for baiting: It can be employed in some states but always check the current regulations. If baiting is legal, it’s a game-changer because you can get into an area with a lot of hogs and use bait to attract them to your setup.