Hoggin' All The Right Places

Hoggin' All The Right Places

California offers excellent hog hunting. It also has all sorts of opportunities, from high-dollar outings to do-it-yourself adventures. (January 2009)

While Florida gets to claim the oldest population of wild hogs in the U.S., California is the top choice for opportunities on public and private land.

Author Dave Dolbee took this boar from a well-placed blind. Look for a wallow or an oak dropping acorns, and set up a blind nearby. A little patience will be rewarded by hogs leaving cover in the early evening.
Photo by Dave Dolbee.

Many landowners and biologists would like to see feral hogs eradicated completely -- and for the most part, for good reason. Hogs are devastating to local habitats and farmlands. A single boar can uproot and entire acre of alfalfa in a single night.

However, because the sows are so prolific (they can have up to three litters a year with as many as 19 piglets with a survivability rate of about 50 percent), eradication is very unlikely.

Meanwhile, hunters and guides benefit.

Unlike other big-game opportunities, hogs rein supreme when it comes to year-round access and overall affordability. Guided hunts generally run from about $600 to $1,000. But if you are willing to put in the extra effort, there are a couple of low-cost opportunities and downright free public-land choices. And with only a couple of exceptions -- such as on certain military reservations -- hogs can be hunted year 'round and with no bag or possession limits. (Continued)

Before you set out intent on bringing home some bacon, a California hunting license and pig tag are required. Gone are the good old days of picking up a book of five tags for under $8.

But you still can pick up as many tags as you like for about $15 each. That's a great bargain with fuel prices are high as they've ever been.

Much of California's prime pig habitat features semi-secluded oaks and rolling hills, with a few steep climbs thrown in to keep things interesting. Those oaks provide a primary food source for porkers in the fall, plus plenty of cover for spot-and-stalk hunting. When the acorns drop in autumns, pig sign will be evident in these areas.

As a bonus, if you also have a deer tag for the zone you're hunting, you have the opportunity to double up with venison at the same time.

During the midday hours, hunters will occasionally find a hog at a wallow. But prime hunting times come at dusk and dawn. Glass from a high vantage, then stalk to within effective rifle distance. Pay close attention to brush edges, creek beds and such agriculture areas as fields of wheat and alfalfa.

I've often heard about how bad a pig's eyesight is. I don't want to be the bearer of bad news, but any optically challenged swine must have gone the way of the dinosaurs years ago. All the pigs I've hunted had better than 20-20 vision.

Beyond that, they have a nose that would put a hound to shame. Hogs can smell a single acorn buried under a foot of dirt. Taking that into account, I don't feel any need to discuss the importance of scent control and complete camouflage concealment.

Two popular tactics for hunting hogs are the following:

  • While a spot-and-stalk approach doesn't offer you the best chance for success, most hunters would say they find it the most rewarding. It's thrilling to glass your hog from a distance, put the wind in your face and stalk undetected to within rifle range.

  • Another option is to run the dogs. And I do mean run. Success rates are highest when canines are added to the mix, but you need to do your part, too.

    Normally, "bay dogs" head out to find the hog, and then "strike dogs" are sent in to hold it. The hunter then has to be able to hump the distance and cleanly bring down the boar before the dogs get hurt. This is anything but a cakewalk. But when things start happening, hold on to your heart because the adrenaline rush is on par with jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet.

    Whether you favor a smokepole with a 300-grain bullet, a stick and string or Winchester Magnum, there's only one shot I have found that works every time: quartering away.

    Hogs are tough. On more than one occasion, I have opened up 300-pound boars and recovered a bullet shot broadside into the plate that protects their vitals.

    As a youth, I raised hogs on the school farm and have seen a .357 magnum bounce off a pig's forehead. It stunned the boar, but was far from a killing shot.

    On domestic pigs, a .22 Magnum aimed behind the ear works well. But in the field, if you can get behind the ear, you can get a quartering-away shot to the vitals with a lot less accuracy and without any worry of ruining a trophy.

    Your choices of weapon are pretty simple. I've seen 250-pound hogs taken with bows in the 40-pound range with a cut-on-contact broadhead without a problem. For better penetration, I would recommend 60- to 70-pound bows with an arrow weighing 7 to 9 grains per inch and a 100- to 125-grain broadhead.

    Traditionalists, hunting with fire-belching muzzleloaders, can't go wrong with almost any load that I can think of. At reasonable ranges, 250- or 300-grain bullets with two or three pellets should drop a porker in its tracks.

    If I wrote that a certain centerfire caliber wasn't enough gun, hate mail would probably fill my editor's mailbox. So I won't rule out any caliber here. However, I have had marginally good success with a .270.

    And just this year, I had great results with a .257 Weatherby Magnum, which was first described to me as a "hog-killing machine."

    California doesn't restrict any calibers, so everything goes. But for quick, confident harvests on trophy boars, choose wisely. Smaller calibers will work just fine on smaller meat pigs.

    In the end, I do not think the caliber is as important as the bullet.

    A few years back, I was on a hunt where one of the other hunters brought a .30/06. He did bring down the boar eventually, but only after he reloaded.

    That unfortunate hunter must have misunderstood when we described pigs as being "built like little tanks."

    That's the only reason I can think of that would prompt him to shoot steel-core ammo -- well suited for shooting through an engine block, but a poor choice on game. It poked .30-caliber holes on both its entry and exit, but failed to expand and do the damage needed to bring the boar down quickly.

    Much of that is a moot point with the new ammo restriction in effect in much of the boar range in Southern and Central California.

    Before heading out, be sure to check local regulations. See if you will be straying into the U-shaped California condor range where lead bullets will be restricted from centerfire firearms.

    If you're going to be hunting in a restricted zone -- or for safety's sake, even if you'll be close to the edges of the zone -- check out the Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullet or Nosler E-Tip bullets. The California Department of Fish and Game has approved both of them for use. Other non-lead loads, being developed by major manufacturers such as Hornady and Federal, should be hitting the shelves by the time you are reading this.

    This year, these new loads will be available in only a limited number of calibers, with more planned for 2009. Jump on the Internet and check out their Web sites for the latest loads for your caliber.

    For those of you with extra walking-around money, there's a plethora of guides and outfitters. I've heard of a few bad ones, but they are all out of business. I would recommend an outfitter who's been around for a while with plenty of references from both successful and unsuccessful hunters.

    In the end, remember that you're buying a hunt, not a pig. Most reputable outfitters will guarantee opportunity, though, or offer a chance to try again, free of charge -- or at a reduced rate that covers their minimal costs.

    Trophy fees are another consideration. Many guides may reduce the cost of the initial hunt, but tack on a trophy fee at the end of a successful hunt.

    Trophy fees can be applied to anything, ranging from a drop of blood to beyond a specified tusk length.

    The tusk-length fee can bite you: Most often, you get to see only one side of a boar's head before you shoot. Tusks may not be the same length on both sides, and the hog's lip can hide a significant portion of the tusk.

    If you'll be hunting where a trophy fee is an option, figure on paying the full amount and consider anything less as a refund. Trust me, it's easier and will leave you feeling happier when it comes time to settle up.

    Tejon Ranch
    I have hunted with only two outfitters that are still in business. The first is the Tejon Ranch, a first-class operation all the way. The Tejon has well over 250,000 acres -- and guides who really know their ranch and how to get you on a pig.

    The ranch is in three sections: the north, the central and the south, or desert, region. All three have their advantages and disadvantages, but the central and the north sections offer you the best bets for a trophy. Not due to numbers or pressure, but because over time, the desert's sandy soil naturally tends to grind down the boars' tusks.

    A tusk-length trophy fee can bite you: Tusks may not be the same length on both sides, and the hog's lip can hide a significant portion of the tusk.

    Camp 5
    The second outfit I have hunted with is Camp 5. The food was exceptional, the accommodations were on par and the hogs were plentiful. As with all top-end outfitters, expect to pay for what you get -- likely something in the neighborhood of $1,000.

    A couple of low-cost, high-reward options would be Hogs Wild and Big Horn Ranch.

    Expect to pay about a third of what a fully guided hunt would cost.

    Here they will point you in the general direction, but the hogs are in a fenced enclosure. It's not a matter of whether you will find a hog, but when, if you hike around long enough.

    In the case of Big Horn, unsuccessful hunters only pay a small trespass fee, which makes it ideal for new hunters or a quick one-day hunt.

    If a low-cost outfitter still doesn't fit with your budget or goals, California offers thousands of acres of public land. But finding hogs consistently there will take hard work.

    Before investing a lot of time, talk to a regional biologist in the area you want to hunt.

    Check out www.dfg.ca.gov/regions for the six regions' boundaries, as well for as the biologists' names and phone numbers.

    When hunting on public land, always look behind you just before you shoot. No, not to check for a warden, but to see whether the hog you're about to bag is heavier than you are willing to haul back to the truck.

    Good luck, and good hunting!

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