INTRODUCTION TO PIG HUNTING
I have titled this blog “Introduction to Pig Hunting” because I plan on providing the average person, who has never hunted hogs, with the basic information to find areas to hunt hogs on both public and private land, and the tactics you will need to master to be a successful hog hunter. We will also cover food, habitat and the habits of wild hogs.
Pig Hunting in California
Hunting wild hogs in California can difficult to say the least, more often than not it’s a game of chance. Once you find them in an area you are allowed to hunt either public or private land most of your work is over. But in California we have to face the fact that pigs are big money to ranchers.
We hear stories all the time about how pigs are terrible on the environment and how they destroy crops and damage the land and all those stories are true to a certain extent. But you have to look at it from the farmer’s point of view. If your raising grain crops like corn or barley or have a an orchard of fruit trees, a small group of pigs can come into the field at night and pick and choose what to eat and in many cases the farmer will come by the next morning and find that the heads of his barley have been eaten or their corn has been picked over and the stalks broken. Not only will pigs go through and eat the fallen fruit and nuts but they will root around tearing up irrigation furrow, chewing up sprinkler lines and rubbing against trees and using their tusks to strip the bark off the tree mortally wounding the trees.
The pigs will often root around in the fields destroying irrigation ditches and rice checks and lay up all day in the field. Pigs will also contaminate an entire crop by entering the area where the crop is being grown like tomatoes or lettuce and urinating and defecating in and around the crop ruining an entire crop.
A few years ago in the agricultural areas around San Francisco there was a large amount of people who got food poisoning from eating lettuce. It was determined that the lettuce was harvested from a field where pigs had been entering at night. They had contaminated the crop and the farmer did not realize it and the crop was picked and sent to market. To understand how this could happen you have to understand how lettuce is harvested. Lettuce is not washed in the field it is actually handpicked and put into boxes and sent directly to market, the farmers have a legitimate complaint and often wish to eradicate the pigs in their area. It is often difficult to obtain permission to hunt their property but not because they don’t want you to shoot them but because of liability. If they allowed you to hunt their property and you got injured or injured someone else they could get sued and lose everything they own. And yes the DWF does have a permission to hunt form that is actually called “Entry Permit for hunting FG994” but that does not release the land owner of all liability if you are injured or if someone else is injured by you (Example, neighbor or someone working on his property) so truth be told land owners are afraid they will get sued.
Then there is the ever growing profit from wild hogs. Ranchers who lease their hunting rights to guides make money off the pigs. Sometimes it’s an annual lease fee they receive and often it’s a fee for each pig killed by the guide’s clients. One thing is for sure, letting wild hogs invade your large cattle ranch can increase your profit margin and or cash in your pocket and it’s a lot easier and cheaper than raising cattle.
From a hunters point of view it’s difficult to agree with the cattle ranchers in California who complain to fish and wildlife about the pigs on their property and ask for depredation permits but don’t allow hunting but each rancher’s situation is different in some way and like I said it’s a “Liability” thing. We could debate these issues over and but the truth is, public land is easier to locate and easier to hunt because you don’t need to obtain permission to hunt. But we will cover some interesting private property access that you may not be aware of.
Myths about Pig Hunting
Myth #1; There are so many pigs in California that the farmers will let you in to hunt them for free because they are destroying their crops, FALSE.
This could not be farther from the truth. I hear this on television shows and read it over and over in hunting magazines, and it’s one of the major reason I started this blog. That is just plain misinformation to sell magazines and increase viewership on television shows. Anyone who lives and hunts in California knows this is not true. By writing this blog I am hoping to help hunters save money and enjoy their hunting experience more and not send them the wrong direction. Remember when you’re watching that television show and the star of the show is on some nice pig hunting ranch with a guide and he shoots a little 125 pound meat hog then they high five each other and he goes over in the last half of the show and shoots a nice boar and they high five and he says “you can do it to, there’s all kind of pigs just running all over California and the farmers will let anyone hunt them for free all you have to do is ask” I have to ask myself, “If that’s the case why did you use a guide?” also remember those two hogs most likely cost him about $600.00 to $1200 .00 each, and the likely hood of a person walking up to a rancher in California and getting permission to hunt for free is just not likely.
For the before mentioned reasons and several other reasons farmers and ranchers are just making too much money off the hogs so they will not let you hunt them for free. If you are willing to pay anywhere from $400.00 to $1200.00 a day to hunt hogs there is plenty of ranchers willing to let you onto their property but you will find very few big ranches willing to let you hunt without a fee.
Myth #2; Pigs are nasty creatures and eat worms and bugs and garbage and dead animals including other dead pigs so they must taste terrible, FALSE.
Wild hogs between 0 to 150 pounds both male and female taste just like the pork you buy at the store. You can cook it up the exact same way you would any other pork only there is significantly less fat. Female hogs between 150 to about 200 pounds start to get a stronger flavor but are still good to eat. Boar hogs over about 150 pounds tend to start having a distinct smell to their flesh. It’s almost a urine smell, like if you walked into a bathroom that needs to be cleaned. As the hogs get older both males and females the smell gets so strong that most wild hogs over 200 pounds are completely turned into sausage especially the big Boars. When you get into boars in the 250 pound class and larger they are just too strong tasting for anything but sausage. They make good sausage however there is no bacon on a wild hog, even the large ones. Bacon comes from the belly section of a hog and there is not enough fat on a wild hog to have any bacon. I have heard people say that they got bacon from their hog when they took it to the butcher, maybe that's true, but I have shot a bunch of hogs and never had enough belly fat to make bacon. Most likely when the butcher asked you if you wanted some of it turned into bacon, he was just adding his own butcher shop bacon into the package and charging you a significant amount extra for "curing and smoking the bacon".
Myth#3, Pigs have terrible eyesight? True.
But their eyesight is not as bad as you may think. I have seen several people who thought that pigs had poor eyesight and have attempted a half hazard or poor stalk up to one and had the pig bolt. Treat them as if you are hunting a deer and you will fare better. Pigs are notoriously a nighttime critter so they rely primarily on their sense of smell and hearing. If they see you sneaking in and they think you’re a cow or something harmless they will just keep feeding but if they think you’re a coyote or a dog they’re gone. They won’t wait around. Keep something between you and them and you can get right up on one.
Myth#4, You can trick a pig’s nose with cover-up scent? False.
Maybe on TV shows where they want you to buy their cover-up scent and they are hunting next to a feeder where the hog’s better judgment is clouded by the desire to eat, but not in the real world that you and I hunt in. It is futile to attempt to trick a hogs nose if they know you are there they will be gone as fast as they can. You may however cloud their judgment with other smells that play on either their desire to eat or breed and this causes them to hesitate, misjudge or ignore you in an attempt to fill their stomachs or their desire to breed but trust me if you’re up wind they can smell you no matter how much you try to cover it up.
Myth#4, You need a big gun powerful gun to kill big hogs? False.
You do not need a big gun to kill hogs, but it does help! I have killed hogs with a bow a .300 win mag, 30-06, .270, 30-30, 8 mm, .44 magnum a .357 magnum and a few other guns. It’s about bullet placement and performance. A well-placed round beats a big round. That said, a well-placed big powerful round is the right medicine for hogs.
I actually witnessed a big boar about 250 pounds shot with a .44 magnum from about 15 feet away. It was standing broadside and shot in the chest with a perfectly placed round. All the hog did was kind of jerk or jump slightly. The second bullet hit it about 2 inches away from the first round. The hog dropped like a bag of hammers.
The truth be told the hog would have eventually died from the first bullet, but between the first shot and the second shot the hog did $1,500.00 worth of vet bills on a dog so it needed the second bullet and it needed it right away. I also shot a big sow in the chest broadside with a 7mm Remington Magnum, twice, the first shot went right through her chest and out the other side, she was dead from this first shot, just not dead yet, she continued running and I shot her again right in her middle at the back of her ribs. This shot blew her guts out the bottom of her stomach and they were dragging the ground as she ran and eventually died about 80 yards away. The fist shot was well placed and she should have died on the spot, but I guess no one told her that. A hogs "will to survive" is amazingly strong. So, when hunting hogs, any deer rifle .243 and larger and any handgun .357 magnum and larger will work but it has to be a well-placed bullet and be prepared for a follow up shot with any weapon on a wild hog.
What type of Wild Pig are you Hunting?
One thing you need to take into consideration when attempting to hunt wild hogs is: What type of hog are you hunting?
There are three different types of hogs in California. Truly wild hogs on public land, wild hogs on private property, and hogs alleged to be wild hogs but are actually “planters”.
I’m going to upset allot of guides when I say this but there are no “Pure Strains” of Russian Boars in California! If you are a guide and you have actual Russian Boars (European wild hogs) let me know I would like to come out and shoot one and Fish and Wildlife would love to know how you imported that strain and where your permit is? (not that I would say anything)
In California all your wild pigs are feral pigs or at the most a hybrid European with some slight connection to its European ancestors but no truly pure Russian or European pigs.
The feral pigs below has a long narrow snout, pointed ears and a less curly tail than a domestic pig
These pigs we have in California now are pigs whose ancestors were once owned by a farmer and those hogs eventually got away or were ranched and allowed to run wild. In the early days Spanish and Russian explorers came to the west coast of California and they brought with them, chickens, goats, pigs and some awesome spicy food.
They developed missions along the coast and farmed the fertile fields. The human population was not what it is now. Land was somewhat free, and you would raise your livestock either in pens and corrals or you would let them roam freely. The farmers would brand or “ear notch” their cattle and they would “ear notch” their pigs. They would let their pigs roam freely in a canyon and periodically check on them. When they found new piglets, they would trap them and notch their ears (remember the scene from Old Yeller when the boy was sent out to notch hogs and fell into the herd of pigs) Other farmers respected each other’s property and pigs and cattle grazed and ate where ever they wanted, this was called “Free Grazing”. This is also the reason why in some areas in Southern California in the mountains near the old missions in Ventura and Santa Barbara you will spot wild Corsican Sheep. If your wondering where they are between Hwy 150 on the east, Hwy 33 on the west, Hwy 126 on the south and Sulfur Mountain on the north.
Over a period of time, things changed, and the pigs began to spread out. DFW did not start making people buy pig tags until 1992 and so there are not accurate records prior to the 1950s but there are some reports of hogs in DFW records indicating less than 10,000 in the state in the 1950s, but you will notice that most these hogs were killed on the coast and in areas where the Spanish and Russian explorers decided to set up missions or trading camps.
What does all this have to do with learning how to hunt wild pigs? You have to know what your hunting. Truly wild feral pigs on public land are difficult to hunt and will sneak around and hide in brush patches draws and anywhere cool dark and damp. They have pointed ears a long snout and their tails are longer than a domestic pig and usually strait and not curly. A domestic hog is generally long, thick and its butt is as wide as its shoulders or wider. They have fatter stomachs than wild pigs because they eat better and will almost let you walk right up to them and shoot them in the head. Wild pigs will haul butt when they see you or smell you and if your corner them they will charge you. Again, what does all this matter?
Wild pigs are feral pigs, meaning they have been allowed to roam free and breed at will with whoever will hold still long enough. They are super crossbred over and over until the resemblance of any specific breed of domestic hog is washed out of there system. According to biologists you can take any three breeds of domestic hog and put them is the wild (not in a pen) and allow them to breed on their own and in three generations they will revert back to a totally feral looking and acting pig and with each following generation they only become more feral.
Ranchers have caught on to this, and in many areas where there were not and wild pigs years ago there are now wild pigs. If a rancher wants to increase his profits when cattle or other agricultural crops are down, he can buy captured wild pigs from other ranchers who have them and transplant them on to his property (probably illegal). Or he can simply go to a livestock auction and buy a bunch of mixed up weaner pigs (young piglets recently weaned from there mother) or some bred sows and a boar and pen them up on his property and allow them to breed at will until he develops a heard of domestically raised “wild pigs” that he eventually allows to run free on his property and charges people to hunt them.
These pigs are still somewhat hard to hunt and as generations progress these pigs become completely wild, developing a strait snout and pointed ears long hair and tusks that continue to grow throughout their lives but are worn down through rooting.
I spotted this photo online. Hunters proud of the wild hog they killed. But note the snout on this pig, it is not a long strait snout. This boars snout is short and concave. Notice the tusks are small for its size and its hooves are not worn down from walking on rocks and scrambling through brush. If you look close you can even see the ear notches.
Notice the hog below has a long pointed snout and pointed ears. No ear notches and a bad attitude. This is truly a wild hog.
A lot of people see a picture of a wild hog someone killed, and they think it must be wild just because it has tusks, and this is not true. Domestic hogs also grow tusks but slower than wild hogs. When domestic hogs are born within a few days they develop sharp little tusks. The farmer actually takes a pair of wire cutters and clips off the tusks, so they won’t tear up the mother’s nipples. Most hogs are sent to market at 6 months to a year depending on the breed and they don’t really live long enough to develop tusks except for the old stud boars and some older sow’s. If either one develops tusks that will cause damage to humans or other hogs during breeding the farmer will put them in a squeeze shoot and take a set of bolt cutters to them and clip them off.
We have covered two varieties of “Wild Hogs” the truly wild public land and private land hogs, the wild hogs that were transplanted and then raised and propagated to be hunting hogs but we haven’t covered “Planters”.
Hogs are big money to ranchers in California. Imagine if every hog you see on a ranch put $100.00 to $300.00 in your pocket. Well that’s what it is for ranchers depending on the deal they have worked out with the guide or outfitter. I’m sure you didn’t think the rancher did it for free did you?
Some guides advertise “100%” success rates, and they may have a place that is just that good, pigs everywhere grazing like cattle and you can just pick your pork and go home. But I know of some guides who have a secret stash of pigs, in a separate area of the ranch usually penned up or in a very large fenced in area where they will take you at the end of the hunt and allow you to shoot a hog if you haven’t been able to connect by the end of the hunt. I also knew of one who would find out what kind of “wild pig” you wanted, trophy or meat hog and then he would make sure that pig (taken from his stash) was in the area that morning or afternoon “Planted” just like pheasants.
If you are going on a guided hunt ask what you will be hunting, especially on a guided hunt that boasts “100% success rates”. Some guides are just that good, others are planting, and the truth be told I’m not against any of these types of hog hunts we just mentioned, and sometimes the guide needs to get his client a pig so I’m not against planters either.
If you know what type of hog you are hunting, you can better prepare yourself and understand a few factors. If they are truly wild hogs, you are going to hike your rear-end off and treat them like you are hunting deer, deer that can ruin your day if you wound them. If they are somewhat wild then still treat them the same way, don’t take a chance. If they are planters, that’s okay too, but still be careful. even a fully domestic hog can ruin your day if its wounded or cornered.
This is a true European Wild Pig. Notice the long stout, short wheel base for its height and an excessively arched back.
Now after saying all of this, please allow a disclaimer: Although it is my opinion that there are no “True Russian Boars” in California I would like to point out that with the invention of the internet a person who wants Russian wild boar semen to impregnate sows on his property could probably order it online through Amazon so who knows, maybe there are a few Russian Boars in California and I just haven’t seen them yet.
Seeking Public Land for Hogs
There are hogs on public land in California but they are hard to find and you will burn up some gas and wear out some boots finding them but they are out there. Every year a magazine recycles an article about hunting pigs on public land. I have read this article over and over every year and basically it says that you can hunt military installations and wildlife areas and points you towards the foothills of the west coast. It also advertises lots of ads for pig hunting guides in the same mag. The truth is this is some of that old information I was talking about in my introduction, it may be factually right but lacks in research. Most the pigs in California are on private property plain and simple with a few exceptions.
I will attempt to cover as much of the public land that holds pigs as I can. Please remember although you’re reading it here always check the local regulations before you go. Property changed hands all the time and you should always know exactly whose property you are on and how the law applies to that property.
In Northern California there is an area of public BLM land I can walk into almost any time of the year and spot pigs either on public land or adjacent private land. I have killed a bunch of pigs here and so have my friends it’s not a secret place but it is truly the most difficult place to hunt pigs that I have ever hunted in my life. After a day of hunting here you need to plan a couple days to sit on the sofa and recuperate. The place you seek is Inks Creek and the southwest side of the Towers on Spring Branch in Tehama County.
Now I can guarantee that there are many people who will read this article and just shake their head and say I am full of it because they have hunted the same area and not seen any pigs. That may be true for them but not for me. This area is rugged and rocky and no matter what time of year you hunt it you will experience an uncooperative wind. You will need good boots, a pack frame, top of the line binoculars and a long range rifle. There are two ways to hunt this area walk in from the bottom (west) walk in from the top (north) or walk in from the south (South). The Top (north) is the best route, first go to a BLM Office and obtain their most current BLM map sheet titled “Red Bluff”. Locate Spring Branch Road. Travel that dirt road from Spring Branch and Jelly Ferry east across a cattle guard and up a steep hill. Stay on it for about a mile traveling past the rifle range, you can’t miss it just look for all the trash, once you pass the rifle range look south and you will see two towers a very tall one on the top of the hill and to the west a shorter one about half way up the hill. Once you are clear of the rifle range you will see a dirt road that follows some wood power poles. If you miss this road you will arrive at a gate, if so you have gone too far. Park your rig anywhere east of the rifle range or anywhere west of the rifle range and walk east towards the ridge with the tower staying clear of any potential shots that might come flying out from the range. Walk southward down the road and up to the top of the hill anywhere west of that top tower and then turn to the west and walk the ridge west, you will have covered about 2 or miles by this time. You will see a cattle ranch to the south this is private property do not enter it. Stay on the ridge there is a nice road to walk. After about another half mile you will be dropping down the west side of the mountain stop in this location.
You will have a cattle operation, large pasture on your south on your northwest you will have another ranch full of cattle. Both of these ranches are loaded with hogs especially the one on the south side. On your BLM map locate Inks Creek where is meets the Sacramento River, this is your target area. Between your location and Inks Creek the pigs hold up along that hillside and often use the narrow hillside you are standing on as a place to bed up. As you can imagine when the pigs get pressured from either ranch they often use the low saddle area between the two ranches to maneuver from ranch to ranch.
This hill is also an excellent bet during C zone deer season and the G1 late season hunt for bucks. The second and more common approach is to come in from the west. On Jelly’s Ferry road where Jelly’s Ferry and Sharon Fruit Colony roads meet you will see a parking lot on the east. You can park at this location and head east or you can park at the Jelly Ferry Bridge and head east into the BLM lands. I do not like parking at either of these locations and entering the BLM lands. It is shorter to get into the Inks Creek area and there are bicycle trails and places to park your trailers but unfortunately there have been several vehicles broke into in both of these parking areas.
What I prefer to do is to have someone drop me off and pick me up at a designated time. I don’t have to worry about the truck and can enjoy my hunt. If I need to take another way out I can just call my person and have them pick me up somewhere else. But this is a good access point for Inks creek. And there is a lot of human activity for the first couple miles, horse people mountain bikers and geo trekkers.
Follow the Sacramento River east out of the Jelly Ferry bridge parking lot to the mouth of Inks Creek or travel east out of the Jelly’s Ferry/ Sharron Fruit Colony Parking lot. Travel at a southeasterly angle to the Sacramento River. These two trails basically come together and both travel the along the river to Inks Creek. If you pass by a rock that has been dug out creating a small cave like area you are on the higher trail if you’re on the lower trail you will be very close to the edge of the river. When you arrive at the mouth of Inks Creek you are definitely in pig country. Continue east until you reach the private property boundary. You will find rooting along the edges of Inks Creek and the areas North, West and east of Inks Creek. This is a prime location to hunt. In the summer, the hogs like to lay up in the water and mud along the creek. Primarily the hogs are on the private property east of this location.
They will travel along the edges of the creek staying cool in the summer but often cross the fence onto public land. You can also access this area from the south through the public BLM lands in the Bend area but I do not suggest it because of the distance. This is rough country and it is a long walk to Inks from here if you travel along the river. If you decided to enter from this direction travel to the last parking lot east along the Sacramento River. Leave that parking lot traveling east and north along the river and just follow along to Inks Creek but you would be better served to swing your route wide and stay high along the river about 200 yards off the river until you get to Inks Creek. And then give yourself plenty of time to hike out. The walk along the river is brutal and at night it can be especially brutal due to all the small boulders about the size of a softball that like to reach up and grab your foot when you least expect it.
There is a fourth option to hunting this area, a boat! You can take a boat out of Jelly Ferry South in the Sacramento River and actually tie up at Inks creek and hike in. Or you can take a boat out of the Bend launch ramp and travel east and north to Inks Creek and tie up. Whatever way you take to get into this area please take a map and a GPS and mark way points, don’t trespass no matter how tempting and please give yourself plenty of time to get out. If you access the area by boat leave the area early enough that you can be back to your vehicle before dark. The Sacramento River in this area is dark at night and there are snags and boulders up and down it, you don’t want to be on the river in a boat at night, not here.
This sign was posted on September 4th, 2018 in Bend. There were several of these signs posted by the caretaker.
The Tehama Wildlife Area offers limited pig hunting during the G1 deer season. This wildlife area is located east of Red Bluff off Hwy 36. The pigs on this wildlife area are transient at best. The pigs are located on the extreme southwest portion of the wildlife area. Southwest of the wildlife area there is a hunting ranch. The ranch pretty much specializing in pigs, deer and birds. So it’s my belief that the pigs in this area are on this ranch and really have no reason to leave and move up into the dry rocky and steep canyons on the southwest border of the wildlife area. I drew a pig hunting permit here a long time ago back when the pig hunting was held separate from the G1 deer season. The biologist suggested I hunt above antelope creek and dye creek in the wildlife area. After driving in to this location I hiked and hiked and the only pigs I spotted were on private property on the hunt ranch way down below. That was before they issued the pig hunting permit concurrently with the G1 tag like they do now. I can’t imagine what the hunting pressure is like during that short little season but I can imagine that it’s fairly heavy and all the hogs would push down on to the ranch. So honestly I think I would avoid hunting the Tehama Wildlife Area all together. I have also been drawn for the Tehama Wildlife Area for the G1 deer season. In my opinion they allow way too many hunters in and it turns into a war zone. When I was there we were traveling down a road on a somewhat open hillside when a deer ran across the open hillside down below us traveling in the opposite direction. All hell broke loose and there were bullets flying everywhere. After the shooting stopped we actually got out and checked our vehicle for bullet holes. The deer was not hit and we decided to leave and never hunt the wildlife area again. I think your time is better spent hunting pigs elsewhere.
Black Butte Reservoir
Black butte reservoir is located west Orland California in Northern California. This is a reservoir that is owned or operated by the California Army Corp of Engineers but for some reason the county is involved. All that aside there is a small population of pigs that move in and out of the lake area from the surrounding land. Most the pigs that I have seen are in the creek area near Grizzly Flats on the west side of the lake. This area is all Archery or Shotgun only! No rifles!
If you decide to check this lake out, go to the Grizzly Flats area and drive a 1/2 mile till you get close to the lake. You will start noticing old rooting and trails going in and out of the property from the private property. It goes without saying but stay out of the private property they watch that place pretty close. The jungle near the creek is your best bet. The hogs will lay up in there in the summertime and they move out at night. You may have to step on them to get them out, but you will find them eventually.
Seeking Private Property to Hunt Hogs
It is difficult to find private property with an owner willing to let you hunt hogs. I can only tell you some of the areas I have seen hogs or know where hogs are and give you some leads to help you get in. There are many areas of private property where you can hunt hogs for a fee. I am not going to list all of these properties because I don’t know where all these properties are but pick up any hunting newspaper or magazine and you will see multiple ads for hog hunting guides. Occasionally you will find a ranch that will just charge you a trespass fee to hunt. Be leery of guides who promise a quality hunt without a partial refund if you’re not successful (see Guide Reviews). Trespass fees are a good way to go if you can get the owner to tell you exactly where the hogs are hiding or you may be paying more money over a period of a few days than if you would have just hired a guide.
In southern California your options are limited. South of Ventura County I just don’t know of any wild hog populations. The Tejon Ranch in Northern Los Angeles County has an incredible amount of pigs on it. The majority are on the southern area of the ranch and I have heard some reports of hogs entering these BLM lands coming off the Tejon Ranch at night to feed and eventually staying in the area and getting shot by hunters. I can confirm that there have been some pigs killed this way in the past but now depending on the drought and water supply on the ranch this may not be the case.
So starting around the Ventura County and Santa Barbara County area I can tell you a few places where I know hogs are located but it is up to you to get permission to hunt them. In the mountains North of Santa Paula the canyons going north and south by the names of Wheeler, Aliso and Adams Canyons all hold significant numbers of wild feral hogs. These canyons and Canada Larga canyon north of Ventura all join into the Sulfur Mountain Area on their North ends. These canyons all hold lots of pigs in their lower areas not the area up high but they are private property. The orchards in Adams and Aliso in the lower section all have pigs. The higher areas of Wheeler and Aliso actually hold a large number of wild Corsican rams as well. I grew up working for ranchers in the Ventura area and I know for a fact that pigs exist in these areas it’s just getting permission to hunt them that is the problem.
Now with all this in mind things have changes significantly in this area due to the wildfires in the fall of 2017. All of this area and I mean almost all of it burned during the fires. This is both good and bad news for hunters. The bad news is that I am sure we lost a lost of hogs in these fires. The good news is that mother nature has a way of reproducing an incredible amount of piglets when there is an abundance of new forage like after a wildfire. This area was so overgrown that you just wouldn’t believe it unless you seen it yourself. Now that the fires have cleaned it out even if there is just a small amount of hogs left they will start throwing out some babies and it may be possible for a hunter to get permission to hunt some of these ranches if he offered to help out with clean up and repairs after the fires.
North of Santa Barbara and Into Santa Maria you will find pigs here and there from Hwy 154 to Hwy 101. You will also find hog between Hwy 101 and the mountains west of Interstate 5 from Paso Robles to Morgan Hill unfortunately this area is predominantly private property and the big ranches are usually leased by guides. I would say that most of your pig hunting guides in California are headquartered in this area of central California. The areas around King City and Hwy 198 are polluted with pigs and once you read my section on “Location Wild Hogs” you will be able to spot their areas by locating their rooting areas. Then it’s up to you to spot the hogs and get permission to hunt.
In the Northern California areas most your pigs are located on private ground between the area north of San Francisco bay area and Tehama County. The Mendocino area and Clear Lake areas also have a pig problem unfortunately not only are they on private property and it’s hard to get permission but the people in these areas with their 40 acre ranchettes and high dollar SUVs are not usually too friendly towards hunters and in some cases downright nasty towards hunters so you may want to pick your battles and opt for public land.
I cant cover all the public and private land areas to hunt pigs in one post so come back soon and check this blog. Later on in this blog I will also be covering a section on locating pigs and the habits of wild hogs. It’s easy to drive through an area and assume that there are no hogs in the area because you don’t see the actual animal but when you learn to spot rooting and pig trails and other sign you will find more areas to hunt hogs on both public and private property.
Locating Wild Pigs
If hogs are in the area they are really not that hard to find. To tell the truth finding an area to hunt such as getting permission to hunt on private land or finding a probable area on public land is about the most difficult task you will have when it comes to hunting hogs. So for simplicity purposes let’s assume that you have found a secret little chunk of BLM land or some public land that you know has pigs or you can reasonable conclude that there are pigs wondering through the area from time to time.
Now it’s time to do the work. I really enjoy this part of hunting. The “Scouting” part of hunting, I sometimes get way too into it. I start with a Photo Reconnaissance of the area. Google Earth is a great tool for this. First check your property lines and make sure you are legal. Then with a completely open mind begin looking at the property impartially. By this I mean don’t look at it and say that there are no pigs in a certain canyon because you just don’t like the looks of it. Remember the pigs aren’t looking at Google Earth, they don’t really know what‘s three or four miles away unless they have been there. So imagine you’re a pig and you require certain things in your life in order to live. Those things are Food, Water, Shelter and Escape.
Pigs require a lot of water, but at the same time they are masters at finding water and will drink the nastiest water you can imagine so although you may not see any water holes they can find water where humans can’t. The average person would think that finding water is easy, but actually in a state that has been suffering through several years of drought it can be rather difficult.
Use the Google Earth map and look at the most current satellite images and then look at the bottom of the App and you will see a slide bar that allows you to go back in time and look at old satellite images. Look at all of them and establish the most possible locations where water is present. Locate springs, low spots and green areas that stay green even into late summer. Irrigated fields, water pumps, drain ditches watering troughs and of course large groups of green trees that stick out from the others. Also locate cracks and crevices or deep open cuts in the side of the hills or earth. These areas all hold water if water is present.
Another way to locate water on a Photo Recon is to look at animal trails. Most of the public land in California that holds pigs also holds cattle. Look at the cattle trails. Zoom in and out and determine where they are intersecting on the map. Cattle require a significant amount of water. They will water a minimum of twice a day and when they drink, it is a couple gallons at a time. Ranchers will usually only keep cattle on a piece of land until the food runs out or the water dries up. The only exception to this is when they haul hay in to feed the cattle but I have never seen any rancher haul water in because it is just too much work. Instead they haul the cattle out to a different area or to slaughter. But what the cattle leave are these trails in the land that tell you where they have been going to water for the past few years. When looking at the map also try to locate water sources on nearby private property. Often times the private property has way to much activity on it in the daytime hours so hogs will sit off the property on quieter property away from the hustle and bustle of the farm equipment and just lay up until dark then move down to feed. Hilltops on public land near irrigated land can really pay off.
If locating the watering areas through technology does not work for you then your next option is to put your boots on and start walking. Take your gun and pack frame with plenty of water and some snacks and walk the area in a pattern so you don’t miss anything. If you locate quail but can't seem to find an actual water source your close to water. Quail also require water and will not stay in an area without water. Also if you are seeing deer, not deer tracks but actual living breathing deer you know there is a water source nearby. Tracks of any animal can be misleading unless you know how to identify the track age the track and determine when it was left. From the last rain of the spring to the next rain in the fall tracks can be made on a trail that will last an entire summer. By the time fall comes around one or two deer or pigs walking on the same trails can make you think that there are hundreds of them in the area when it's just a few (more on Tracks and Tracking later).
The requirement for food is the second most important thing for hogs. They eat a lot but not as much as a person thinks because there is a lot of bulk to their diets. Most people know that wild pigs eat acorns and fresh and rotten fruit and they root around for things under the surface of the ground like roots from plants like tubers and bulbs like onion bulbs and earthworms. But there are other things that pigs eat that most people are not aware of, this includes any bugs and grubs you can think of, fruit from trees and plants, berries including blackberries and Manzanita berries, live snakes, bird eggs, anything dead and I mean anything, a stinky old dead skunk is just as tasty to a pig as perfectly ripe peach, they just don’t care. When all the good food dries up I have even seen hogs eating the old dried up cow pies. When you think about it they are just tightly compresses bundles of half digested food so why not.
In the spring they love to eat the fresh green grasses and will stand in a field all night just eating the tops off the grass and flowers. During tough dry years I have seen pigs eating the dry flowers of starthistle in the fall when there was trees with acorns nearby and a plowed field about 100 yards away that had turned up pasture grass and roots. The feeding habits of any wild animal can be hard to hard to figure out but well worth the effort.
Pigs really do love to eat dead stuff and live stuff if they can grab it in their mouths. They will feast on a dead cow eating meat guts bones and hide. In an area where there are a good number of pigs they have no problem eating other dead pigs and boars have even been known to kill and eat baby pigs both for food and to bring the sow back in heat sooner.
I have killed pigs and quartered them up and then packed out the edible portions only to return the next morning and find absolutely nothing left of the carcass but hair! No bones no hide flesh or guts, just a big dirt area where the hogs had dragged the dead hog parts around and eventually devoured the entire hog.
Another time I was with a friend of mine his name is John, and a guy who had never hunted pigs before. This guy was as green as a greenhorn gets. We packed in one day about noon and hiked over a hill to watch a valley about 400 yards away. In the bottom of the valley we spotted a large group of adult hogs and babies. There were at least 40 adult hogs and countless babies. They were in the bottom of the valley and they would suddenly run together in a tight group and then suddenly they would all spread apart in a big circle pattern like the group was opening and closing. We kept watching and we were able to spot two coyotes outside the group of pigs. Whenever the coyotes would charge in to get a baby the hogs would all run together into a tight protective group like what you see herd animals do in Africa or how Muskox do in the Arctic when a predator is approaching.
Then they would all separate chasing the coyotes away when they got too close. This went on for a few minutes and then as if someone called a play, one of the hogs took off running and the coyotes took off after it. This was easy for us to see because this hog was running right towards us but still in the valley below us. As the hog ran it got about 100 yards from the main group with one coyote still on its tail the other coyote peeled off and ran away to watch as if he had seen this play before. The hog suddenly turned around and the coyote was now right in the hogs face. What the coyote didn’t know is that as soon as he started chasing the single hog the mob of about 40 adult hogs and little pigs began running behind him. When he met the single hog the rest of the group overtook him from the rear and they converged on him.
From 400 yards away we could hear the mayhem, it didn’t last long and the coyote was killed and eaten within minutes. The other coyote just stood about 100 yards away and stared in disbelief. After it was over the lone coyote loped away and out of view. John and I decided to go shoot a couple pigs out of the group but the new hunter would have nothing to do with it. He was so absolutely scared to walk down that hill he ended up packing up his gear and walking over the hill and away from us and actually beat us back to the truck. We had to follow him out and not hunt because we didn’t want him to leave without us. We didn’t get a hog that day but still it was something amazing to watch.
When you’re looking for food for hogs be open minded. Don’t think of just acorns and the obvious food. In Europe they use hogs to find truffles. These domestic hogs can smell truffles as deep as three feet underground. So if there is food around they can find it. It makes a person wonder if a deer could smell a truffle 3 feet underground. I am no biologist and I make no claim to be an expert, but I really do believe that a hog’s sense of smell is equal to any species of deer.
Hogs root like chicken peck, they do it out of habit as well as to search for food. If a hog stands still in one place long enough it will root up the ground just to root. Once you learn to spot rooting you will learn to find hogs. Above all things in hog hunting, rooting is the primary way guides and hunters locate hogs. You can drive down a dirt road and quickly spot old rooting recent rooting and fresh new rooting and be able to tell if you should get on them now or just keep driving.
Rooting looks like someone took a shovel and turned over small amounts of soil. In the spring when the grass is green its easy to spot.
Rooting is usually in large patches especially if the pigs are staying in the area and not just passing through.
From a distance it just looks like large patches of dirt where there shouldn't be any
Fresh rooting will look clear, the edges will be crisp, the dirt that has been flipped over will be moist and the tiny little grass roots will be soft and pliable not brittle. If the dirt or mud has dried tips or edges the rooting is older from a few hours to a few days. If the green grass where the hog was standing (not rooting but standing) is flat and not popped up and the rooting has crisp edges and the roots of the flipped-up grass are soft you may have fresh rooting. If in doubt get on your hands and knees and stick your nose to the ground and put it in the hog track and/or the rooting. Hogs stink, once you smell a wild hog you will always know that smell. Hogs also have a scent gland called Metacarpal Glands on the back of their front legs. These glands seep and ooze down the back of the leg and on to the ground as they walk. If you are in doubt about the tracks as to whether they are 15 minutes or 2 hours it is kind of hard to tell. But pigs stink and wherever they go smells like pigs for a few minutes after they root through. If you have ever hunted elk you know what I mean. They have their own special funk that lingers in the air. If you smell it they are close and you better be ready.
When a hog roots it sticks its nose to the ground and presses down digging a divot the width of their nose and from a ½ inch deep to as deep as his face and head. As a pig walks along, it will root and keep going and then root again on down the trail creating a series of rooting marks pointing in the same general direction it was going. If it is calm and wondering, you will be able to see this in the pattern. A small pig makes small rooting marks but can root up an acre of land in one night. If your hiking along looking for rooting its actually very easy to spot once you learn how to stop it and how to differentiate between root and what I call “tromp”. Cattle standing in one area, under a tree for example or milling around in the mud will “tromp” down an area and their tracks and the way they tear the ground up it looks like hog rooting, but it can be distinguished rather quickly with field experience.
Tromp looking like a cow’s hoof print only because there are several of them they are all together and create a flat stomped down dirt area. When it is raining the hoof, impressions are deeper, and it looks like rooting because as the cow takes a step forward it flops a small handful of mud in front of the track. I have seen many a new hog hunter waste hours and days tracking what they thought was a wonder hog only to never see a hog or realize that it was actually a cow.
Rooting takes place all year even in the summer when the ground is hard as a rock, the rooting just looks different. In the winter the ground is soft, and the hogs easily root up the ground. From a distance it will look like someone took a shovel and turned over the ground. Big patches of rooting look like someone took a rototiller and turned over the ground somewhat half-hazard with no rhyme or reason.
You will spot it under trees or out in fields. Wet shady areas seem to attract rooting and south facing hillsides where the ground may stay moist even in late spring or summer. Oak trees are the big targets. They drop a significant number of acorns usually all within a few week and the acorns pile up and eventually work their way into the ground. Deer will come by and prefer to eat the freshest acorn and pass on the rest. Hogs will come by and gorge themselves on the remaining acorns, digging up the ground around the tree and under all the limbs. If there are any dead tree limbs lying on the ground the hogs will flip them over and search under them for bugs, termites, snakes and just about anything that it can swallow. Hogs will really tear up the ground under oak trees and these patches of rooting are easy to see from the road of with binoculars from a distance. I have see rooting so deep I could stand in it up to my knees. This creates a soft turned up area under the trees and the next year the acorns fall again, and some get past the pigs and mold or grow and the pigs come back a few months later and eat them.
A tip for you, is to remember which trees in a given area seem to get rooted under the most. I have learned that pigs in a given area if undisturbed will often return to the same trees the next year and usually around the same time of year and re-root the same area.
Shelter and escape are somewhat similar. Pigs can tolerate heat but they can't tolerate extreme heat combined with direct sunlight. It's just too much for them and they will over heat and die. In areas where the temperature gets above about 70 degrees and direct sun the pigs will have to find a place to lay up for the day. Pigs don’t really sweat. They have a few sweat glands but to say they actually sweat would be a stretch. So when it's hot they have to find some way to cool down. So shade is a must for hogs in the summer. But don’t get hung up on trees providing shade. Brush patches that are on the north sides of hills within a reasonable distance of water are also good hides for pigs. It offers a break from the direct sunlight and usually you will find some taller brush there and a breeze. In areas where you find ravines winding through a big flat and there are no pigs in sight try hoping down in the ravine and taking a walk though the ravine. It doesn’t take much of an overhang to create a little shade. This combined with some the moister from the cool damp ground and an old boar has a place to hide. If there is water in the ravine and hogs are in the area this is a good place to start.
The creek bed below is an excellent place to find pigs on a hot summer morning. They will lay up in the mud and up under the brush.
You can stand 30 yards from the waterhole and not see it. I followed the cow tracks and found the water. It was down in a deep crack in a creek bed.
This is the same watering hole. Note the hog wallow where a pig has been hanging out in the middle of the day. Wallows are golden when you pig hunting in hot weather. Mark them on your GPS or map and check them on hot mornings.
Shade or shelter is a must for almost all animals in some way or another. When we think of shade we think of trees and such but animals are different. Remember Wylie Coyote when he would lay down in the shade of a cactus, and he would conform himself to the shape of the shade, well that’s what I am talking about. Trees and cool summer breezes are nice, but a mud hole and some thick brush works just fine some of the times, not always but sometimes. Most of the time when I locate a bedding area where hogs have been laying up, it's usually within a about 200 yards of water, and a thick patch of brush usually located either on the north side of a hill not facing that southern sun or on top of a hill.
We have covered food, water and shelter or shade but we haven’t covered Escape. Pigs are masters of escape and if you know the general area where they run you can head them off. I use to hunt an area in C-Zone and on opening day of deer season I would go to the far eastern edge of the property because I knew that when everyone came over the hill in the morning the hogs would all head east and cut through this particular area and under the fence to private land. I don’t know how they knew they were safe but when I would sit there watching this area I would either get a hog or have an opportunity at one.
If you can figure out where they are going to go when they are being chased off of the property you are hunting or if they are getting chased from an adjoining property to your hunting area you can figure out a game plan and be set to ambush them as they make their escape. Then there is the other problem, pigs sometimes take off in a line and run away as a group and sometime they all scatter and run in a dozen different directions so herding pigs is like herding cats, you just never know.
In the summer pigs also become covered in a parasite called swine lice. They look like ticks but they are actually lice and these mean chewing little critters feed on the pig’s blood. You will find them on almost every wild pig, sometimes there is only a couple and sometimes they are just infected with them. If they are real bad the pig will have lost a lot of its hair and have yellow patches of dry flaky stuff in what little hair it does have. These are tiny dries up egg sacks.
I think every hog has them, some more than others. They wont attach to humans or your dog, they just want hog blood. They cause the hogs to itch something terrible and during all times of the year even in winter hogs will rub against a tree to scrape them off.
While in hog country, if you look at the lower portion of an oak tree you might see a mud stain, this mud stain is a “hog rub” they are usually in areas where the pigs are relaxed and sleeping or just laid up during the day. The hogs get itchy and stand up to scrape their sides off causing this dirty stain. In areas where railroad tracks cross through pig country pigs will come up to the tracks at night and rub on the new railroad ties. These ties have been soaked in creosote and the pigs can smell fresh creosote for miles, so they work their way to the new ties and rub on them and even chew them up, but not enough to cause any damage.
Hog trappers in Texas use creosote in their pig traps to attract pigs when other baits won’t work. They hang rags soaked in the stuff above the traps and the pigs try to get to the rags and eventually get trapped. Oddly enough pigs also don’t mind the taste of diesel fuel. The trapper will take rolled corn and mix it with a small amount the diesel fuel. Other animals like turkeys, deer and especially raccoons will not eat the corn, but the pigs will.
In summary, you must first find land to hunt, once you find land to legally hunt, you need to locate the pigs by locating their food, water, shelter and escape locations. Once you locate food and water you have to determine what time they are feeding and watering, or if they are just seeking shelter on the property or are they traveling through the property to escape or to feed and water.
I am working on a long section for my Tracking section and it is going to take up a significant amount of time for me to write, but in the mean time I will cover a short section on Identifying pig tracks.
Pig tracks are easily distinguished from deer or cattle. All pigs even the small ones have somewhat blunt tracks compared to deer who have very sharp tracks where the individual hooves or toes come to a point. They are generally longer and narrow in comparison to a hog and look like a heart. A doe’s tracks look dainty and sleek while a bucks tracks look big wide and heavy.
Buck tracks and even some doe tracks are accompanied by due claw marks behind the forward movement of the track, but not always. I have seen some major bucks tippy toeing across a dirt road and then drove up and looked at the tracks and they did not leave a due claw mark. It all depends on the way they are walking or creeping trough an area and how old they are (bucks and does).
Allow me to explain further, take a look at your dog, when rover was a youngster he light weight ,fast on his feet and carried his weight on his toes and the forward area of his paws. As he got older and heavier he began to shift his weight to the rear and is now walking on the entire foot rather than just the front portion. Sound familiar? When you were young and still had your “jump shot” you never ran on your heels but now that your older, things change, and you use the entire foot. Deer are the same way, at least that is my opinion, but it is the general consensus that “all buck tracks have due claws”. The best way to determine if it is true is to get out and look at a deer’s tracks after it crosses a dirt road and come to your own opinion.
Pig tracks are blunt and have a space between the toes and are not pointed like a heart. Little pigs make little tracks and big pigs make big tracks but no pig that I know of that is truly living in the wild makes a track the size of a cow track.
Both boars and sows have due claws, sometimes they make a due claw print and sometimes they don't it depends on their weight but they don’t make a track print. But when the due claws do make a track it is usually behind the toe print s and slightly to the sides. But most the time pigs under 150 pounds barely leave a noticeable due claw print