March 06, 2022
Hog hunting is a popular recreational pursuit throughout the South, but it’s also an ecological necessity.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), every state in the region has too many feral swine and the damage they inflict on croplands and natural habitat costs in the millions of dollars annually.
However, feral swine have a knack for making themselves scarce when hunted. Hogs might not look too bright, but looks are deceiving in their case. Those who have hunted them on a regular basis know they’re no pushovers, and it doesn’t take a lot of hunting pressure to put them on guard. Here are a few tricks to help you track them down.
STALK THE SKITTISH
Hogs, especially the younger ones, can be downright careless until they start getting targeted by hunters—then they wise up fast.
"When hogs start having human encounters fairly frequently where I hunt, they spend less time in the open and move way back into the woods, swamps and off the beaten path," says Don Hammond, a retired marine fisheries biologist who lives near Charleston, S.C. "Then—at least in the daytime—they like to hang out in the swamp edges where it’s so thick you can’t see more than 20 yards around you.
"When they get that skittish, I’ve found it’s better to slow-stalk the swamp edges into the wind," he says. "I take three or four steps and stop and listen awhile before moving on. Stalking pigs is a solo deal, though. I have never had any luck stalking pigs when guiding another hunter. Someone is always going to move or make a noise at the wrong time."
Hammond likes to stalk close—he’s shot multiple pigs at less than 10 yards—but sometimes pressured hogs are so near that a hunter can’t help but walk up on them. Occasionally, noise works in the hunter’s favor. A hunter might hear hogs rooting or fussing at each other. For the most part, though, they stay quiet and careful as they forage in swamplands or lay up during the heat of the day.
While stalking is a good option, stand hunting can also pay off. Hammond, who hunts hogs and deer alike with a .270 Win. and 130-grain spitzer-type bullets, has trail cameras and stands strategically positioned around his feeders, mainly to pattern whitetails.
Deer season on private lands where he hunts opens in mid-August, and hogs aren’t pestered much until deer hunters show up in numbers. When the shooting starts, however, hogs gradually begin to shy away from feeders except at night, and even then, their comings and goings are more sporadic and less predictable.
Hammond doesn’t waste his time setting up on feeders until "dark-30," as he puts it.
"It’s also important to approach your hog stand from a different direction than the hogs normally use to get there," says Hammond. "It’s like deer hunting, and if your scent is going to drift over to where the hogs are feeding, don’t hunt there that day.
"Go to another stand where the wind is right," Hammon contnues. "Hogs really won’t cut you much slack if they get your scent. They don’t see and hear as well as deer, but never underestimate their sense of smell and how they’ll react if they catch wind of you. They’ll be out of there and you won’t even know they’re gone."
If you don’t think Jay Coleman is serious about keeping hogs away from his fields near Yazoo City, Miss., check out his arsenal of nighttime pig-popping rifles. The trio includes a Sig Sauer .300 Blackout (with a Pulsar Trail Imaging RXQ30V thermal scope), a .300 Win. Mag. made by NEMO Arms (usually paired with a Trijicon REAP-IR 35mm thermal scope) and a LMT 5.56 teamed either with an Eotech laser illuminator or the Trijicon. For general low-light hunting, Coleman might swap out one of his thermal scopes for a Nightforce NXS 2.5-10x42mm mounted on the NEMO rifle. Another useful tool for spotting hogs after dark is his ATN PVS 7 night-vision goggles mounted on a Chase Tactical light helmet. The small, light and versatile REAP-IR is Coleman’s favorite thermal scope, but all his rifles and scopes are interchangeable.
Where feral swine are hunted only occasionally, their feeding and family habits don’t change much. As soon as they feel threatened, however, hogs quickly learn how to stay out of harm’s way. When they do, Coleman makes himself less conspicuous by putting as much distance as he can between himself and the pigs.
It took a lot of range time, but Coleman became an excellent long-range shot. A 300-yard poke in the daytime is a gimme for him, and Coleman sometimes takes shots of more than 800 yards. His practice target near his home is set at 1,350 yards.
Hogs are diurnal by nature, meaning they have no preference when they move around and go about their daily routine, but hunting pressure will turn them into night prowlers. Coleman is prepared for that eventuality when his daytime supply of hog targets dries up. He typcally first locates hogs by driving around his property and looking for sign, or by mounting cellular cameras on trees and fenceposts.
"Once hogs wise up that you’re after them they become super careful," he says. "It might be midnight with the wind in your favor, but if one hog in a bunch senses or suspects that something’s not right, it’ll take off and the rest of them will scatter in all directions."
WATER IS KEY
"Sweating like a pig" is a term sometimes used to describe one’s reaction to being outdoors in hot weather. But it’s one of the most inaccurate phrases there is when applied to wild hogs. You’d think that feral swine, whose ancestors originated in tropical locales, would be genetically equipped to handle hot weather better.
As odd as it seems, however, porkers don’t sweat much at all and consequently suffer from high temperatures more than most critters. Because pigs lack major sweat (or, eccrine) glands, they’ll stick around shady water holes on the hottest days and visit them often. Scouting will reveal hog wallows or where they pass through to and from water holes on a regular basis. The hotter the weather, the more often porkers will visit out-of-the-way wallows to avoid hunting pressure. The best scenario is to set up on fresh sign with a ground blind or screen and hunt hogs when the temperature is pushing triple digits. Focus on thick cover in the backcountry with several escape routes. And mud is a must-have.
"Pigs prefer to feed around wet areas where the ground is soft and their wallowing areas aren’t far away," says Hammond.
"When I go into a new area, the first thing I look for is where water is standing and where there is thick vegetation–mostly palmettos–all around. Then I’ll skirt the water’s edge and move very slowly, paying constant attention to the wind direction."
Who doesn’t get tired of the same old grub? Wild hogs have an abundance of natural food sources, such as native vegetation, worms, acorns and what they can root up in a farmer’s field. But once in a while they appreciate a change in their diet. If the sign says they’ve all but used up the main food sources they’ve been focusing on, or have grown wary of approaching the same bait piles or fields because of hunting pressure, try different food.
A variety of attractants are available through online mail-order outlets, farmers’ supply stores and wherever hog-hunting accessories are sold. Old-timers swear by strawberry gelatin poured over shucked corn set within range of a ground blind or stand. Another option is to use a post hole digger to dig a hole about 4 feet deep and fill it with kernels of soured corn. Hogs will practically stand on their heads in the hole to get at the corn.
To make soured corn, pour kernels into a 5-gallon bucket until it’s about half-full. Then, cover the corn with water or a mixture of beer/water and put the lid on the bucket (it doesn’t have to be tight). A tablespoon of baker’s yeast can be substituted for the beer, depending on how you feel about supplying hogs with your beer. Within a few days, the concoction will have transformed into terrible, stinking mess—just the right treat to tempt some pressured pigs within range.
Groundblinds are an excellent option for mobile hunters.
If the terrain allows, a ground blind can provide the perfect concealment for a hunter who has to move around in deep cover to find wary wild pigs. Here are some budget-priced blinds that can pull double-duty in turkey and deer seasons.
- Primos Double Bull Surround View Stake Out Hunting Blind
The Double Bull Stakeout allows you to see out without critters seeing in. The two-hub, two-panel blind is 37 inches tall and measures 59 inches from corner to corner, with three windows that open and close. Swathed in Mossy Oak Greenleaf camo, the blind weighs just 4 1/2 pounds. ($124.99; primos.com)
- Bass Pro Shops Pursuit Spring Steel Ground Blind
This blind is bargain-priced but roomy enough for a solo hunter (58 by 58 inches and 5 feet high). The Pursuit is made of a 150-denier material and has three large, zippered windows with mesh coverings. ($69.99; basspro.com)
This is a robust blind (13 1/2 pounds) that’s designed for prolonged sets. Featuring nine mesh windows, the Care Taker provides plenty of visibility. All of the closures are quiet, and the Mossy Oak Break-Up Country camo keeps you concealed. ($109.99; ameristep.com)