Wild boar are awesome animals to hunt. They’re dangerous, alert, smart, vicious and challenging. They have an attitude and can run both fast and far when threatened. Without warning, they may quickly and easily turn and charge an unsuspecting challenger and it’s a tragic mistake to underestimate their instinct to survive. Awkward in appearance, they are deceiving. Brawny, with well built legs, massive chests and shielded shoulders that cover powerful muscles, they bound effortlessly up and down the steep, rugged terrain of their chosen habitat.
Wild pigs are not native to California. The animals we hunt are a result of imports brought to this country by and for farmers prior to the 1900’s. Released to feed upon the abundant forage available, much of the domestic population became undomesticated or “feral”. Domestic stock that escaped or wandered from farms and ranches mingled freely with imported dark-haired European and Russian pigs of both feral and domestic stocks. This created the hearty strain of pigs we now hunt as wild boar in a wide variety of color combinations, from tan to solid black.
Most of California’s mature pig population is between 100-150 pounds, but they are available in excess of 300 pounds and are documented over 500 pounds. Trophyhunters search for the larger,darker European boar with fearsome tusks in the two to four inch range and longer,but meat hunters find that sows and smaller pigs make much better table fare. Shooting an animal from 75 to 150 pounds is the goal of most hunters as they yield from 25-50 pounds of high quality great tasting hams, chops, bacon and sausage.
Without question, the Golden State’s top opportunity for big game is pig hunting.
The hunting of wild boar has become extremely popular in California and is steadily on the rise, and it’s no wonder. Open year-round and with no daily possession or seasonal bag limit, boar hunters see game more often and have an opportunity to shoot with greater frequency.
When acorns begin to drop in the fall, wild pigs go on the “root”, ripping up the ground like a cheap rototiller, foraging acorns and building up fat reserves for the upcoming winter. By spring they feed on new growth grasses and roots. As summer arrives many natural water sources begin to dry up and pigs are forced to move around more, and that’s when odds of success increase.
Water is the key to locating wild boar. It is the single most important geological feature to keep in mind when pursuing these animals. A boar will normally water twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. It’s quite common for a boar to eat, drink and then wallow in the mud before heading to bed. When wild pigs find areas with adequate water supplies, food and cover, they want to stay until conditions change.
Nocturnal feeders for the most part, the best opportunity for spotting hogs is during their “commute”. In the early morning hours prior to and immediately after dawn, they can be spotted departing from their feeding and watering zones and heading with premeditated abandon to safe zones and bedding areas where they can relax, digest and sleep during the daylight hours. The opposite holds true in the evenings, as the well-rested pigs head back to their feeding range sometimes eagerly trotting in small family groups of 6 to15 animals. It is possible to spot as many as 30 to 40 pigs moving at a time. They are not picky feeders and eat roots, lizards, rodents, animal meat, insects, plants and among their favorites are grains, berries and of course, acorns.
Wild pigs are smart. Their intelligence has been compared to that of the family dog. While their vision may not be the sharpest (they can easily detect movement), they make up for their visual deficiency with acute hearing and a tremendous sense of smell. They can hear you coming, if they’re not making too much noise themselves. They may smell you before you see or smell them, and yes they do have a distinctive odor about them. Either way, wild pigs won’t hang around long when they feel threatened.
When you’re looking for California’s best opportunity, look to private property first. Private lands have several advantages; chief among these are much less hunting pressure, better forage, dependable water supplies and easier vehicle access. The attraction of planted crops is impossible for wild pigs to ignore. Water and food are the key ingredients to attracting a population of wild pigs and on private ranches these resources are plentiful. Hogs will “invade” farms and eat voraciously on crops when forage in the wild becomes hard to find. Many ranchers have built small dams to hold water through the long dry season. Once established porky and friends will not leave until the abundance of food and water are depleted.
Many farmers welcome hunters to assist in controlling the population of wild or feral pigs that damage or destroy thousands of dollars in crops each season. Hay, oats, grapes and many other food crops are tremendous sources of nutrient for hogs and are destroyed by marauding packs of porkers heading to the valleys to feed during the cover of darkness.
Most cattle ranchers don’t want wild pigs roaming their range, grazing on their livestock’s fodder, rooting up and destroying irrigation lines and turning watering ponds and troughs into personal swine spas and mud baths.
On private land, access is easier and you can cover miles in the comfort of your vehicle. Quad-runners may be used for the tougher, less traveled roads and trails and spotting pig and pig “sign” becomes easier. Packing your pork out is a much easier proposition when your vehicle is closer to your downed animal.
Guided trips on private land can run anywhere from $350 to $1000 per hunt and at some of the private ranches that price includes guide, field dressing and cleaning, transportation to the butcher, accommodations and meals. There’s no lotto or drawing to hunt a particular zone and you need only a valid California hunting license and pig tags to hire a guide.
The California Department of Fish and Game, US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are all public landowners. Some of the lands have restricted areas or limited access such as preserves, wildlife areas and military bases, but they all allow public access to hunting areas.
Public lands are very difficult to hunt successfully. Hunter success in national forests, DFG properties and BLM lands and other public access areas that are good wild boar environs is limited, and heavy hunting pressure will push the animals off the land to less disturbed areas. With hunters visiting public lands almost daily, and pigs being smarter than you may expect, the odds of a successful hunt on public lands drop dramatically.
Public properties are not hopeless. Hunters need to be prepared to put in more time, do more research, scout out hog holding areas, water supplies and in general, work harder than those on private lands. Some areas allow 4X4’s and quad-runners on trails but that means more hunters and fewer animals due to easier access and subsequent increase in hunting pressure. Anyway you look at it, public lands mean plenty of hiking while you scout, spot and stalk. Just spotting a pig can be a challenge.
WHERE TO HUNT
As is the case every year, the Central Coast Region had the highest percentage of the total take. Made up of the coastal mountain range and mostly cooler climes, it contains the preferred habitat for wild pigs. Nearly 70 percent of the total take over the past ten years has come from this region, extending from Napa to Santa Barbara County. The Central Coast and San Joaquin /Southern Sierra regions are the top producers by far and are unquestionably the areas to hunt.
Whether it’s public or private lands you hunt, watch for pig “sign”. Scouting an area for indications of wild pigs will tell you much about the area you are planning to hunt and the abundance of hogs in that area.
Some of the easiest signs are all clear indications of the presence of wild pig.
Tilled Turf - Boars do a fine job of tilling up turf or “rooting”,
looking for buried acorns, roots and worms.
Pig Highways – Well-traveled trails or tunnels through thick cover. The more used, the more distinct the trail. A good place to set up and wait.
Wallows- Muddy areas usually next to small pools or ponds where pigs can cake themselves with mud prior to bedding down.
Rubs – Trees near watering holes with a caking of mud (rubbed off by pigs) point to the presence of wild boar. Height off ground can help indicate size of boar.
Scarred Trees – Trees carved in slashes by tusks while cleaning and sharpening teeth. Height off ground can help indicate size of boar.
Beds- Cleared area with slight depression where wild pigs rest.
GUIDES AND OUTFITTERS
It’s a simple fact that hunting on private land with a guide is as close to a sure thing as you can get. There is not a better way to learn how to hunt than in the company of a skilled licensed, bonded and insured professional guide or outfitter. You can learn more spending one day with an experienced guide than you can in years of hunting on your own. They have patterned their quarry, know where wild pigs live and know where they will be at any given time. A good guide will assess your abilities and hunt accordingly.
Basically there are three styles of hunting used by guides in California: hunting from stand or cover, spot and stalk, and using dogs.
Stand or cover hunting is profitable early and late in the day when hogs head for watering holes for a drink and a wallow in the mud. On public and private lands guides know where pigs will water and will set-up hunters accordingly. They also set up on trails to and from food and water supplies, waiting in ambush. A clear field of vision is a must and you’ll need to be in place about an hour before sunrise.
Spot and stalk takes over where stand hunting leaves off. It is without question the most exciting, challenging and popular style of hunting and certainly the most rewarding. Using binoculars, glass areas where wild boar will be heading through to feed or bed down. Spot the quarry and pursue, using stealth, with the wind in your face until you are close enough to take a shot.
Dogs are primarily a tactic used during the heat of the day when pigs are bedded down. Dogs will flush ‘em out of thickets, often giving hunters a quick chance at a shot or hold them at bay until you arrive.
STOPPING POWER - SELECTING THE RIGHT FIREARM
Whether your choice is rifle or pistol, you’ll want sufficient power and reach to drop your pig with a single shot.
Rifle: The calibers of .243, .260, .270, .280, 30-30, 30-06, .300 or 7mm rifles all have the knock-down power required for big game. It is imperative to have accurately sighted-in scopes and quality ammunition to ensure an accurate, quick, clean kill. Always check the rifle’s sights before leaving on a hunt and be sure to shoot the same ammunition at the range you intend to shoot in the field. Be comfortable shooting the high-powered rifle of your choice. Open sights are acceptable on rifles but they’re best used in close-in shooting situations of 50 yards or less.
Pistol: The same holds true with pistols. .357 and .44 and .45 calibers have the knock down power needed, but properly sighted-in scopes are recommended for accuracy.
Loads: High quality ammunition is recommended with jacketed, soft tip expansion heads. Deep penetration and controlled expansion will guarantee a quick clean kill by rifle or pistol.