Hunting Wild Pigs

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Wild pigs are one of the most adaptable and tenacious critters on the planet. They can thrive in just about any habitat, from the swamps or jungles of the south to the forests and mountains in the north. I have hunted them all over the world, from northern Russia, Austria and Africa to non-indigenous countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

But that is just half the story, as wild pigs have, in many instances, become a real threat to the land base right here in North America. The problem is that they can be very destructive to crops and native habitats that other wild species depend on for survival. And populations in many areas of the United States are exploding, thanks to the ability of sows to not only breed at a very early age, but to also have two litters of six or more piglets each year. It has been estimated that there could be as many as eight million wild or feral pigs across North America, up from only two million in 1990.

Canada is not exempt from this expansion, either. While they have been present in North America since the 16th century, they were for the most part confined to the southern US. Now, however, they are prevalent in 36 states and have been sighted in 47 states and in most Canadian provinces – albeit, in Canada, the majority of sightings have been in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In many areas, particularly in the southeastern US, they are now treated like vermin and hunting opportunities abound. I must admit, I truly find hunting wild hogs to be a blast.

The scoop on wild hogs

If anyone perceives that hunting wild pigs is akin to shooting fish in a barrel – they have either never hunted them or have not hunted them in a free-range environment. While their eyesight is not world renowned, their other senses, such as hearing and smell, are excellent and they use them very effectively. They are wary and, in many instances, have become all but nocturnal. Oh, I should also mention that they come equipped with a set of tusks that they can use very effectively, both defensively and offensively, which brings me to a very brief discussion on their potential aggressive nature. While most will make every effort to avoid you, a wounded hog or one caught in a defensive role can be very aggressive. The only wild critter to ever charge me was a wild boar and this despite having hunted some of the world’s most dangerous game. I had to drop that boar at full charge, quite literally at the end of my barrel. If that doesn’t get your attention, an outfitter in Australia, whom I hunted with a number of years back, was so badly gored by a wild boar that it almost cost him his life and his recovery time in the hospital was long and slow. He will carry the scars for the rest of his life. However, this added dimension makes hunting them just that much more challenging and rewarding.

Before I get into hunting strategies, I would like to talk a bit about subspecies and trophy quality. There are just too many subspecies to mention or describe them all, so I will separate them into just two categories: wild boar and feral pigs. Despite this simplification and while there seems to be an infinite variety that now apparently inhabit the four corners of the globe, those found in parts of Europe/Russia warrant special mention. The reason is that next to the giant forest hog, they are said to be the largest wild boar and are known to be somewhat more aggressive than many of their relatives. More than a few of these wild boars weigh in at 450 to 500 pounds, with the odd one tipping the scale at over 600 pounds. They are big, tough and can thrive in some of Russia’s harshest climates. No wonder they are noted as being more aggressive.

However, here in North America I will maintain the two way split, although these lines of separation are no doubt crossed all the time as wild boar and feral pigs interbreed to the point where quite often it is hard to tell exactly what you are hunting. So I will leave it at that, other than to add that wild boars tend to have longer, darker, denser bristly hair than feral pigs. Both can weigh 400 pounds or more, but most often they weigh in at less than 200 pounds.

When it comes to assessing trophy quality, if you are after meat it is best to stick to younger hogs that weigh in at 100 to 150 pounds.

However, if you are after those long tusks, it is the old boars you are seeking. And any boar that shows over two inches above the gum line is worth taking a hard look at, as those two inches could be seven or eight inches when the tusks are removed from the jaw. However, any boar carrying three inches above the gum line is a keeper.

 

The hunt

There are primarily five ways to hunt wild pigs: from a stand, spot and stalk, still-hunting, driven and with pursuit hounds.

Stand hunting: Here it takes a thorough knowledge of the area to be hunted in order to find the right location for your stand, which is most often near a feeding area. An outfitter or landowner can be a real asset, as they will have these areas well scouted. Hunting is often all but a nocturnal experience, as seldom do these pigs arrive until the last visages of light, so be prepared to stay until it is black out. One of the best pigs I took in Australia was from a stand and that big boar did not show until it was so dark that after the shot we dared not even go into the bush to look for it until the following morning. It was found dead within 50 metres or so, but I can assure you that we followed that blood trail with considerable caution.

Spot and stalk: This is all about traversing through known hog haunts and then glassing likely spots. Once spotted, it is just a matter of determining if it is the critter you are looking for, which is followed up by a silent stalk into the wind. My biggest wild boar, that had to push the scales to 350 pounds with two inches of tusk showing, was taken in New Zealand after it was spotted lumbering along a creek bed searching for dead fish. After a careful stalk, when that hog walked up out of the creek bed at less than 100 metres, I thought I was looking at a good-sized bear. Wow – what a pig and talk about an adrenalin rush hunt.

Still hunting: This is also a fun hunt. The same technique used for still-hunting deer can be applied here. Once again, an outfitter or landowner can either take you to a good location or point you in the right direction. This can be one of the most challenging ways to hunt wild hogs, as it often entails hunting in fairly heavy cover where shots are measured in feet rather than yards. While I have taken a number of hogs this way, most of my big boars have come from either a stand or spot-and-stalk hunts. Due in part to either my inability to still hunt for big boars or their increased wariness, I’m not sure which, but both no doubt are a factor.

Driven hunts: This is primarily a European-style hunt, which usually entails gillies and their dogs pushing boar by hunters that are set up on stands in forested areas. More often than not, the older boars, which have been hunted before, circle back behind the dogs and escape. However, if you happen to be lucky enough to have a big boar run by your stand, all you are going to get is a running shot at a fast moving target. I have been there and done it – exciting yes, but not easy.

Pursuit hounds: This is somewhat akin to hunting cougar with hounds. And while on a number of occasions I have hunted cougar with hounds, I have never hunted pigs with hounds. It is said to be one exciting hunt, where the dogs are frequently gored and hunters kill their hogs a close quarters with everything from spears to handguns. Typically, the dogs bring a pig to bay in heavy brush and then it is up to the hunters to close in and kill the hog before it kills a dog or two. Talk about a rush. No wonder hunters get hooked on a hound hunt.

I have hunted pigs with a variety of calibre choices, up to and including a .416 Remington Magnum. Most likely that was overkill, but these animals can be big and tough, and they have an armor-plated shoulder, so when hunting big boars a good bullet is required in at least in a .30 calibre, whereas for meat-sized hogs a .270 or its equivalent is often sufficient. If you have never hunted wild pigs, put them on your bucket list – they are an inexpensive, one-of-a-kind hunt.

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