Ready for one of the best wild pig seasons ever? Experts from throughout the state say they've got pigs, pigs everywhere! (January 2006)
Pig hunting on Dye Creek Preserve in Tehama County is limited this year. But manager Gordon Long (pictured) says good things await hunters who go there.
Photo by John Higley
What is it about wild hogs that makes them the second most popular big game among California hunters? Could it be because the season on them never closes? Or is it because there's no limit on the number a hunter can kill each year? Maybe it's the unique character of the hogs themselves. After all, they generally have a poor disposition, they like to wallow in mud and sometimes smell to high heaven -- especially after feasting on carrion such as the occasional dead cow.
Well, we can overlook some of their less endearing traits.
The fact is, hunting wild pigs is just plain fun and ultimately, very rewarding. A mature boar makes a fine trophy, and most wild pigs yield delicious meat. "Most" is the key word there. Years ago, I killed an ugly, scar-faced boar with meat that was so rank I couldn't stand to cook it in the house -- and even after it was roasted underground for hours, you couldn't get it past your nose.
I've since learned that there's a major difference between prime meat animals and raunchy old sow-chasing boars that can't be ground into highly seasoned sausage. For the best fresh pork, give me a young boar or a plump, dry sow any day.
Wild pigs may be obnoxious at times, but they have a lot going for them as sport. For one thing, despite their poor eyesight, they fare quite well in predator-prey relationships. Pigs can readily detect hunters and other predators through their acute senses of hearing and smell. Make a noise at the wrong time, or allow your scent to announce your presence from a distance, and any hog worth its bacon will be long gone.
These animals are not dumb, nor are they sluggish. Startled, wild pigs can trot for miles. While fun to watch, such a spectacle can be a bit frustrating unless you know where they're headed and can cut them off. I've seen some energetic and physically fit hunters fail miserably in their attempts to catch a moving herd on foot.
True, pig hunting can be dirty and frustrating, but it's also a wonderful excuse to spend time outdoors. Depending on when and where you're hunting, you can spot-and-stalk your quarry (my favorite way), hunt from a stand when they're moving to -- or from -- water or a food source, or you can push them out of brushy hiding spots on foot. Some hunters still chase hogs with hounds, a game plan that works very well in areas with limited visibility.
That said, the element of danger in dealing with wild hogs adds a dash of spice to the undertaking. Most experienced hog hunters admire the animals for the fearlessness they sometimes display. Unfortunately, however, a few Nimrods have learned the hard way that an injured or cornered wild boar can inflict considerable damage with his sharp tusks.
Not that you're ever going to be hurt by a wild pig. Really, that's about as likely as winning the lottery, but this hunting has an edge because the slight possibility for mayhem always exists.
Many years ago, while guiding a few pig hunts in Northern California, I encountered a couple of inexperienced hunters who practically came unglued when pigs got close and the moment of truth was at hand. One of them was so nervous that in a single day he missed four hogs, one of which was standing only 20 yards away. It took another day for him to finally settle down and connect with -- of all things -- a hog on the run.
Some basic truths must be addressed about hunting hogs in California. For one, while there certainly are wild hogs on some public lands, their numbers are usually low. In fact, the California Department of Fish and Game claims that 95 percent of the annual harvest occurs on private land.
Jim Matthews, publisher of the quarterly California Hog Hunter Newsletter, notes that there are a few hogs on some national forest and BLM land. However, some of those pigs are transient and if that's the case, you simply can't depend on them to be in the same place twice.
"Sometimes you can find a place where some pigs regularly travel from private agricultural land to public land bedding areas," Matthews says. "And you might be able to ambush them at dawn or in the evening. But to keep out of trouble, you've got to know where the public land ends and private stuff begins and where the nearest legal access -- which might be a mile away -- is."
The boar on my office wall, which I killed in 1966, came from a private ranch in the Coast Range. There was nothing easy about that hunt with long-time hog hunter Eldon Bergman and his pack of hounds, yet it remains one of my most memorable pig hunts of all. I still remember following Bergman on my hands and knees into a dank pig tunnel in thick brush where one very irate, bayed boar was fighting off the dogs. Eldon and I were almost in the middle of the melee when I got a clear shot and put the pig down for the count. It doesn't get much more exciting than that!
I don't know what the population estimate for wild hogs was in the 1960s, but today there may be more than 400,000 of them in the state's oak woodlands. According to the DFG, there are at least some wild hogs in 56 of the state's 58 counties. As usual, the biggest numbers are in the Central Coast Region. Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Mendocino, Sonoma and San Benito counties all produce hefty numbers of pigs each year.
Of course, when you say that most of the wild pigs reside in oak woodlands, you're talking primarily about foothill regions, which are mostly private property. It's not impossible to get permission to hunt on private ground, but it isn't likely these days, unless you're a good friend or related to a landowner. That's why there are so many hog-hunting operations in the state.
Through reaching agreements with landowners, literally dozens of guides have arranged to conduct organized hunts on private land. And that's why so many hunters opt to splurge once in a while and book a guided hog hunt, which can cost from $600 to $900 for two days in the field, depending on services rendered. That's a lot, but when you realize that you might hunt on public land for years before you ever get a chance at a boar or sow, it puts the fees into perspective. What's more, compare the low success on public land with the near 100 percent success rate enjoyed by guided hunters.
TRADITIONAL PIG HOTSPOTS
According to the DFG's 2003-2004 Wild Pig Take Report, at least 53 percent of
the reported pig kill comes from the Central Coast. Surprisingly, however, the top two single counties are Monterey and Kern, which are in very different regions of the state.
To give you an idea of how this pig hunting works, 951 hogs were reported taken in Kern County last year, but only 14 of them came from public land. The rest were harvested on the sprawling Tejon Ranch, south of Bakersfield, where hog hunting has become a big deal in the last few years. Meanwhile, Monterey County reportedly produced at least 1,371 hogs, 108 of which were killed on public land -- namely, the Los Padres National Forest.
The DFG's wild pig report shows that roughly 28 percent of hog hunters were successful in their home counties. However, there are lots of counties where only a small handful of hogs are taken, and most of those are incidental kills by hunters looking for something else. In other words, of the hunters who deliberately hunt pigs close to home, most already reside in some of the most productive counties.
The best counties, aside from those in the Central Coast region, are Kern (951 pigs killed), Tehama (312), Santa Barbara (307) Fresno (183), Glenn (153), Colusa (100) and Shasta (80). Bear in mind that the reported take is one thing, and the estimated harvest is quite another. The DFG's only hard figures come from the tags returned by successful hunters, but for one reason or another, a lot of hunters don't return their tags.
HOTSPOTS FOR 2006
To flesh out this forecast, California Game & Fish contacted several guides to get an overview of hunting conditions in the areas where they work. Their predictions for 2006 are also seen below.
Because the Dye Creek Preserve has been around for 40 years and is one of the best-known places for wild pigs in the state, an update on this Tehama County property is a natural place to start. Two years ago, for a variety of reasons, the preserve's pig population was struggling, and hunting was put on hold for a season. Pigs were again fair game last winter, but only a few hunts were held.
The situation is about the same today. Multiple Use Managers (MUM), the outfit that oversees hunting on the 37,000-acre property, will conduct hunts for a couple dozen hogs during their season, which runs from December through May.
"The incredible acorn crop last fall really put fat on the pigs," says Gordon Long, MUM's operations manager. "The sows, being in excellent condition, had a good number of little guys early in 2005, so the future is looking brighter. Meanwhile, we've got enough mature pigs on the preserve to provide a few good hunts right now."
John Drew of Shasta Outfitters hunts on a 12,000-acre ranch that, like Dye Creek, also lies in Tehama County, but in a vastly different setting. "The hogs are abundant on the property we hunt," Drew says. "The sows went into spring acorn-fat and ready to raise their young. Production was real good, and I expect hunting will be excellent from winter through spring."
Jim Schaafsma of Arrow Five Outfitters in southern Trinity County, also had a glowing report about the ranches he hunts.
"The great acorn crop in the fall of 2004 helped the hogs tremendously, as did the spring rains we got," Schaafsma said. "We saw lots of sows with good-sized litters of young, and I think our population here is expanding. We hunt from February through May, and I expect to take between 60 and 70 hogs this year."
Doug Roth, of Camp 5 Outfitters in southern Monterey County, said that in 2006, his operation -- which covers 60,000 acres -- will take between 250 and 300 wild hogs, which is about the usual number. Roth noted that the cool months of 2004-2005 produced good hunting and about 98 percent success for his hunters. Like most folks we talked to, Roth waxed enthusiastic about the huge acorn crop last fall and the favorable spring rains that kept the pigs supplied with food.
"What I'm seeing is lots and lots of hogs, including more little ones than I can remember. It's like most of the adult sows had five or six (piglets) and successfully raised them all. Sows are capable of having two litters a year, but you don't see that too often. But last year, I think a lot of them did just that. Last summer, we killed some sows that had weaned their first litters and were already bred back again."
As an aside, Roth also mentioned that on one of his hunts in June, hunter Mark Buchanan of San Diego killed the toothiest boar ever. The animal weighed nearly 300 pounds and sported 4 1/4-inch tusks.
Meanwhile, Eldon Bergman, who's in his fourth decade of pig hunting, notes that he's been seeing plenty of young pigs on the ranches he hunts in San Luis Obispo County, and while last year was good, he expects 2006 to be even better.
|INFORMATION SOURCES |
|For those who want lists of hog guides, places to hunt on public land or wild hog hunting techniques, there's plenty of information available. The Department of Fish and Game's Hunting Guide For Wild Pigs In California is a useful publication for new pig hunters. View it online at |
www.dfg.ca.gov/hunting/pig/index.htm. You can request a print version by emailing email@example.com or order it by phone at (916) 653-2225.
A list of licensed hunting guides is available from the Department of Fish and Game, License and Revenue Branch, 3211 "S" Street, Sacramento, CA 95816; (916) 227-2271.
A couple of books take in-depth looks at pig hunting in California. The first is Bob Robb's Hunting Wild Boar In California--Vol. 2. Autographed copies are available for $19.95 each from Bob Robb Books, P.O. Box 771083, Eagle River, AK 99577. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The other is Gary Kramer's The Complete Guide to Hunting Wild Boar in California, published by Safari Press. Autographed copies cost $19.90 each from Gary Kramer, P.O. Box 903, Willows, CA 95988; e-mail email@example.com.
A constantly evolving resource for hog hunters is Jim Matthews' quarterly newsletter, California Hog Hunter, P.O. Box 9007, San Bernardino, CA 92427; (909) 887-3444; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bureau of Land Management, meanwhile sells a packet of Central California hog hunting maps for $4. Contact the BLM, 20 Hamilton Ct, Holister, CA 95023; (831) 630 500.
Big Game Hunting Maps (BGHM) offers a California wild pig packet that covers 26 BLM lands and highlights known pig-producing areas. For details, contact BGHM at 6288 Marlborough Dr., Goleta, CA 93117; (805) 967-4482; or online at
www.biggamehuntingmaps.com. -- John Higley.
Brady Daniels of Cal-Quest Outfitters had equally good things to say about his Santa Barbara County hunting area.
"We're a small operation, and we try not to over-hunt any of our places," said Daniels. "And that won't be a problem this year, because we've got pigs all over the place. The acorn crop was sparse around here, but there's plenty of other feed, and recruitment of little pig
s was great. We'll take 80 to 100 pigs this year and do it easily, I think."
All the guides are saying it: There are more half-grown pigs around than ever before. Don Geivet, wildlife resources manager for the 270,000-acre Tejon Ranch in Southern California, has glowing reports on the situation there this year.
"In 2003, hunting was a little tougher than usual," Geivet told California Game & Fish, "and that I attribute to near-drought conditions around here, which knocked pig numbers back a bit. But after the acorn crop last fall and the best rainfall we've had here in many years, things are really looking up. Last summer we saw a variety of hogs here, there and everywhere. 2006 should be a really good year around here, and if things go right, we expect to take around a thousand pigs."
Obviously, the picture looks bright for wild hog hunting in 2006. If you're tempted to give it a try, this is a very good time. Just remember to get a pig tag before you go. For residents, tags cost $16 each; nonresidents pay $53.30. Of course, you'll need a hunting license too.