March 23, 2021
By Bob Robb
In the past several decades, wild hogs have spread across America like ants at a picnic. Today, estimates place the current number in the U.S. at about 5 million pigs in 45 states. Populations exist as far north as Michigan, North Dakota and Oregon.
This range expansion is mostly a result of illegal translocation of pigs by humans—hogs are not native to North America, but they come equipped with the ability to eat a wide range of food and to reproduce at a tremendous rate when they have enough to eat. They are also a challenge to hunt, and all but the biggest boars are fine eating.
Although hogs have the same needs and habits wherever they live, the best hunting for them in the West is in California, where the season is year-round and tags are relatively inexpensive. But hogs aren’t everywhere in California. To hunt them successfully, you have to be where they are.
Where to go
While wild pigs are found in at least 56 California counties, some have far more pigs than others. The heaviest concentrations are mostly found west of the Central Valley from Mendocino to San Luis Obispo counties. Monterrey, Mendocino, Santa Clara, San Benito, San Luis Obispo and Napa counties are the top producers.
In northern California, Tehama County produces the most wild hogs by far, with Humboldt County a distant second. Just south of there, Colusa, Sutter and Solano counties are the best bets. Kern and Fresno counties are the leaders in the south-central part of the state. In southern California, Santa Barbara County is the only solid bet.
In these areas, hogs are much more likely to be found on private land than public land. That’s partly because hogs move and live in larger, more tightly associated groups than native big game animals like deer. It’s also partly because hogs eat a lot. If the food runs out in one spot, they quickly move on to the next. Throughout the state, private land provides more and steadier food supplies for hogs, so that’s where they concentrate.
Fortunately, there are some good guides for hire, and the cost of a guided hog hunt is a bargain compared to, say, a guided elk or deer hunt. And because hogs are not a native game animal, the season never closes and you can hunt them as your schedule allows.
"We hunt hogs using the spot-and-stalk method most of the year," says Ron Gayer of Indian Rock Ranch near Glenville. "However, from late July to mid-September we hunt out of ground blinds near water."
Most of the time, Gayer says, the key to hog hunting is food. But when all of the good food sources are depleted by late summer and the weather gets hot, hogs will go to water all hours of the day. He says that archery hunters who patiently wait in a ground blind can get some good shots, as large sounders of hogs show at water to hydrate and cool off.
"The rest of the year we hunt first light and last light for 2 to 3 hours, when hogs are out and about," Gayer continues. "We then hunt ground squirrels midday or take a nap, so we don’t risk blowing the hogs out of their bedding areas."
The Public Option
When I first started hunting hogs in California years ago, my good friend, the late Durwood Hollis, and I tromped all over public-land parcels up and down the state looking for good pig hunting. And while we killed a few hogs, they were few and far between. That is just as true today as it was back then.
It’s not impossible to do a DIY hunt for hogs on public land, but the fact of the matter is the bulk of California’s wild hog population lives where water and food are constant and plentiful. For the most part that means private land that combines crops with hilly terrain cut with gullies and canyons covered with oaks and brush. Game department statistics back this up, showing that roughly 93 percent of all pigs taken in the Golden State are harvested on private lands.
The state offers special public-land pig hunts at Cottonwood Wildlife Area, Carrizo Plains Ecological Area, San Antonio Valley Ecological Reserve and Tehama Wildlife Area. Find more info on these hunts
Hog Hunt Fast Facts
- Season: Open year-round
- Bag and Possession Limits: None
- Licenses: Resident, $51.02; Nonresident; $178.20; valid July 1 to June 30.
- Hog Tags: Resident, $24.33; Nonresident, $82.08; no limit on number of tags
- Legal Methods: Centerfire rifles and handguns; muzzleloaders of at least .40 caliber; shotguns with slugs; archery equipment
- Ammunition: Non-toxic only
How to Hunt Them
Whether you hunt on public or private land, spot-and-stalk hunting is the primary method for hunting wild pigs, regardless of area or time of year.
Hogs are less attached to physical "range" than they are to food. If they find good food, they stay and eat it. When the food is gone, they go find more.
Hogs are not demure creatures, and they leave plenty of sign to signal their whereabouts. They rub their sides on trees after soaking in mud. They root up the ground like no other animal in North America. They make a lot of noise as they travel in packs.
To find their sign, focus your efforts near preferred food sources and available water, setting up to glass before daylight and looking for pigs leaving food and water and heading to thick bedding cover.
In the evenings, the reverse is true. If you know hogs are using a specific area, either through boots-on-the-ground scouting or a combination of scouting and game cameras, taking a stand near food or water can be very productive.
Keep in mind when setting up on hogs that they have an extraordinarily well-developed sense of smell. Calculate the wind carefully whether you spot-and-stalk or set up around food, water or bedding areas. If you set up for an afternoon/evening hunt over food, make sure you are familiar with the prevailing evening wind direction. On a morning hunt near bedding cover, know whether the wind changes direction once the sun rises and warms things up or if it stays consistent through the morning hours.
During midday, pigs tend to bed down in the shade of thick cover. You can spend some midday time moving and glassing, looking for bedded hogs. As good as their sense of smell is, their eyesight is less developed. Because they move in groups and are noisy even when bedding, you can often tell they are there before they see you. If you’re not worried about bumping them from a property entirely, driving the brush can force them out.
Most hunters use centerfire rifles, with calibers ranging from .270 up through various .30-caliber cartridges being most common. Muzzleloaders and handgunners also take a lot of hogs. Bowhunting for wild hogs is fun, too; just be sure to use razor-sharp broadheads, as hogs have a cartilage-like "shield" over their rib cages, heavy bones and thick muscles.
You’ll find that a large wild hog is extremely tough and vehemently opposed to death. A poor shot will result in a difficult tracking job in dense cover for a large, angry animal with formidable tusks.
The Last Word
An added bonus to hunting wild hogs is the quality of their meat. When properly cared for—immediate field dressing, cooling, skinning and cleaning of blood, dirt and debris (don’t be afraid to wash the carcass with a garden hose)—the meat is some of the sweetest and most flavorful you’ll ever enjoy. A moderately sized hog that spends its days eating acorns and farm crops is eating as well as a domestic pig and is some of the best wild meat you will find.
GO WITH A PRO
Hunting hogs with a guide will exponentially raise your odds of success.
While California certainly has it share of shady hog guides, one excellent outfitter is Ron Gayer of Indian Rock Ranch (661-809-1613; theguidesguidetohunting.com), located near Glenville in Kern County. A typical hunt there involves two days of hunting, though accomadations can stretch on either side of the hunting days for traveling hunters.
If a hunter provides his own food and wants one hog, the cost is $875. A deluxe package includes all meals and two hogs for $1,475. Lodging, access to a walk-in cooler and game processing are included. As an added bonus, you can shoot ground squirrels at midday at no additional cost.
In Northern California, another excellent guide is Parrey Cremeans of Just For Hunting, a full-service outfitter based in Redding (650-888-0808; justforhunting.com). Cremeans hunts hogs on more than 15,000 acres of private land with near-100-percent success.
A one-on-one, two-day hunt runs $1,050 (for two or more hunters together, the cost is $950 each), with lodging and food extra. Cremeans also offers excellent hunting for deer, turkeys, pronghorn and elk in California and other states, as well as Canada and Mexico.
Booking agent Keith Hartman of Adventures West Recreation in Paso Robles (805-674-1623; adventureswestrecreation.com) books for hog hunting outfitters both on the Central Coast and in northern California, with hunts ranging in price from $800 to $1,600.