February 28, 2020
By Terry Madewell
Hunters and landowners have a love/hate relationship with wild hogs. As an invasive species with a taste for planted crops, hogs can be problematic for farmers counting on a harvest and for hunters hoping to lure species such as deer and turkeys to food plots or feeders.
But the good news is hogs are an exciting species to hunt and are a formidable quarry. They’re present in huge numbers in many areas and are extremely prolific.
Most states have very liberal hunting regulations on hogs. For hunters, old boars provide trophy hunting opportunities, while the smaller hogs under 125 pounds can provide great table fare.
And right now, perhaps the best news for hunters is winter becomes prime time to hunt these complicated, highly intelligent animals. Cold weather is relative depending on where you live, but February is usually a cold month across the South. Lower temperatures benefit hog hunters.
First, hogs are food-driven creatures. They are never far from food. Their favored habitat is wet, swampy, thick vegetative areas that are full of food choices in warm weather. But during February that habitat is typically low in viable food options: green vegetation, acorns, insects and other favored foods are mostly gone. Hogs and the hunters after them must pay particular attention to the remaining food sources in the area at this time of year.
Hogs are also quite nocturnal by nature, and when food choices are abundant that’s their basic pattern. But winter’s cold temperatures tend to make hogs move more during daylight hours and thus they are more available to hunters. Diminished natural food supplies keep hogs on the move—another advantage for hunters, as a hog forced to move from cover during daylight hours to get food is a hog you can get a shot at.
Targeting food sources becomes priority one for hunters. But with hogs constantly moving you’ll need multiple options for consistent success.
A hog’s primary weakness is food, so exploit that trait. Agricultural fields with any grain or other crops remaining are high priority targets. Hogs are not picky; they’ll eat almost anything they can swallow, and many of their dietary preferences vanish at this time of the year. They’ll eat what they can find as soon as they find it.
They still prefer to use wet areas because in the wet soil they can scour any plant growth, grubs and leftover acorns covered by debris. No other animal in the woods is as good at finding buried food as hogs.
But they also travel to high ground to find food. You’ll need to conduct a forage analysis on the property you hunt to determine where the best potential food sources for hogs exist.
Since hogs are an invasive species and often destructive to habitat and crops, baiting is legal in most states and is highly effective for attracting hogs to a specific spot. Obviously, you should check the specific laws/regulations where you hunt, but where legal, baiting is a great method in cold weather.
The number-one bait hunters prefer is corn. Use either cob corn or grain and the hogs will come, they don’t care. Some hunters have a preference and some prefer one over the other. Do what makes you happy because corn in any form makes hogs happy. This does give hunters a unique advantage because the use of bait enables you to concentrate hogs in a specific area where you control the situation.
Winter is probably the easiest time of the year to bait hogs to corn. Even so, baiting is most effective when you put the bait in places the hogs want to be. Find areas that hogs are already using, then use the corn to funnel them to the exact place you want them to go.
Like most wild animals, hogs avoid open, high-visibility areas when they can. They will come to food sources more readily when they feel comfortably close to cover. A good example is the back corner of a field, or a narrow open strip, where cover is close on three sides. Those sites are preferable baiting locations over the middle of an open 50-acre field.
Dirt roads on private property where you control ingress and egress are prime locations to bait. They are narrow and you can select areas with cover on both sides, giving hogs a false sense of protection while providing protective cover for their approach.
Yes, they are smart like that.
Also you can pick a site near where they’ll typically bed when not scouring for food. These areas are usually excellent for attracting large boars and larger, highly edible sows into the open during prime shooting hours.
Hogs can be effectively hunted with a bow this time of the year because they will be focused on food. Find a hot food source or employ bait, and bowhunting can be lethal.
But hogs are highly sensitive to scent. Their sense of smell is their No. 1 defense. They don’t always believe what they see, but they always believe their noses. While they literally make pigs of themselves when feeding, they’re gone in an instant if they get a whiff of human or any danger scent.
Set bow stands where the prevailing wind works in your favor and don’t hunt a stand unless the wind is right. My experience has been that hogs have an elephant-sized memory of human intrusion and of places where their kin have been killed. They are highly intelligent creatures.
For firearm hunters, a long-range setup is a good idea for a couple of reasons.
First, long range significantly decreases the chance that the hogs will smell you. Set up to have the prevailing wind in your favor, but by distancing yourself from the food source, the odds of you getting away with marginal winds improve. Distance also helps with disguising movement.
The second advantage to a long-range set up is that you can scan a large area to spot pigs on the move. With hogs inclined to move around this time of year, being in a spot where you can see them move significantly increases the odds you’ll get a shot. An auxiliary advantage is that if you kill a pig away from a food source, you haven’t sullied that spot. If a group of pigs is on a food source and you kill one of them, you won’t see the rest of those pigs for a long time.
Timing of stand hunting is crucial. Hogs move in daylight this time of year, but like many animals they prefer low-light conditions. Typically, the coldest times of the day are early and late, and hogs will move further and more often when cold (preferably freezing) temperatures chill the morning or evening air.
Also if you’re trophy hunting for a big boar, remember they likely got to that ripe (literally) old age because they learned valuable life lessons. They’re very cautious and prefer low light if they have tomove into open areas to feed. They don’t like being hungry, but they also don’t like being vulnerable.
Be set up well before dawn or stay to last light in the evening because as with deer, the bigger hogs often move in the lowest light.
Hogs don’t shy away from rain and neither should hunters. They’ll move and feed in the rain and often rainy conditions will have them moving throughout the day more than normal. Remember their preferred habitat centers around water, so wading and rooting in mud and muck, or walking in the rain, are perfectly natural for a wild hog. Rain will also help hide your scent and sound from a hog.
Too much wind can be a hog-killing deterrent because it diminishes their sense of smell by simple dilution. Hogs get nervous in places where their sense of smell cannot protect them. If the wind is howling, then hunt areas in bottoms or areas protected from the wind.
Remember to treat this quarry with respect, particularly regarding sense of smell. Hogs are to many wild game species what bloodhounds are to humans: Their sense of smell is vastly superior. Defeat their sense of smell, especially near a food source, and you may find you’re in hog heaven this winter.
Trail Cameras Are Ideal for Hogs
Trail cameras are highly effective for hunters pursing deer, and they are no less effective when tracking hog movements. Hogs are going to travel more during daylight hours during the winter, and they’re going to follow routines and patterns.
When they locate a good food source they’ll return frequently. You can use trail cameras to monitor several potentially productive areas where hogs are feeding on natural forage, leftovers from agriculture fields or bait.
Hogs do follow travel routes and as long as food holds out, they tend to move at the same time each day. Use this trait to your advantage.
Targeting hogs doesn’t have to be all about food. If you do your scouting properly, you’ll find wallows, rooting and bedding areas that hogs routinely use. Trail cameras will provide helpful information such as time of day and current use patterns to take advantage of these situations. If you can hunt hogs effectively at places other than food sources, you’ve improved your production potential significantly.
During the winter it’s best to employ multiple cameras because sometimes hogs move from one area to another on a whim (or when they use up a food source and move to a new one). When you see activity on a trail camera, you need to seize the moment and make a move quickly as well.