Crouching low to the ground, I strain to see through the tangled jungle of briars and pin oaks ahead. It is fairly easy crawling, as I make my way toward the commotion, barely 40 yards more.
I hear squeals and jostling bodies, and occasionally I see a black form through the vegetation. A slight breeze carries the unmistakable aroma to my nose.
I pick and crawl my way the remaining distance to a small opening while concentrating on the movement and sound of hogs jostling for choice resting places. Suddenly, I freeze as I spy a flicker of movement — a tail, attached to a very large grizzled body, laying a mere 15 feet to my left.
Intent on the restless hogs, I have involuntarily slipped to within feet of a 200-plus-pound boar. Other than the occasional swish of his tail, he moves not a muscle, and blends seamlessly with the brush.
Not wanting to miss the opportunity, I rise to one knee and manage to slip a shot through the tangled vines. The boar explodes with a loud grunt and tears through the seemingly impenetrable briars with brute force, sending waves of panic through the rest of the hogs.
Instantly, the air is inundated with the pungent odor and grunting of panicked hogs. Then silence.
Pondering the situation, I slip back out the way I had come, and make my way out to the two-track road.
Once back at the truck, I swap my weapon for a tracking box and three-element antenna. Flipping on the receiver, the familiar beep, beep, beep gets steadily stronger as the antenna sweeps in the direction the hog fled.
This tracking box isn’t Cabela’s latest in game recovery gadgets; it’s a receiver that picks up a signal from the tracking device with which I shot the hog.
The truth is I shot the hog with a small tranquilizer dart fitted with a tiny radio transmitter. Once the boar was unconscious, I followed the signal to find it, then fitted a radio collar around the animal’s neck so that I could keep track of him for the next year.
And so goes a day in the life of this aspiring wildlife biologist. Tough work, but somebody’s got to do it.
While conducting my graduate research with Mississippi State University, I spent a year practically living in the field, trapping and tracking wild hogs. I’ve trapped and darted around 50 wild hogs in and around Malmaison Wildlife Management Area near Greenwood, and followed some of them around, via radio telemetry, to document their habitat use, among other things.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year, it’s got to be that hogs are the perfect quarry for the ground-pounding bowhunter. Hogs have poor eyesight, fairly good hearing and a nose that is unmatched by any other wild game in North America. They are numerous in many parts of the country, especially here in the south, and are most often classified as a nuisance animal, resulting in very few restrictions on season or bag limits. On top of all that, they go great with coleslaw and baked beans.
With all these things coming together in one animal, who could think of a more suitable quarry for a stalk hunt?
Hogs are often found in droves or family groups that are usually composed of two or three large sows and their offspring. The large boars are frequently loners, occasionally attaching to one of these droves for a while and then seeking out some other conquest.
Hogs are habitually noisy when actively feeding in droves, so you shouldn’t be overly concerned about making a little noise during a stalk. I have walked to within a few feet of hogs feeding in heavy cover, never to be discovered.
The nose is the defense to concern yourself with. I’ve had many promising stalks come to a frustrating end due to a fickle wind or being in the wrong place. When a hog catches wind of you, it doesn’t hang around to see what’s in store.
When there’s a good number of hogs in an area, a little scouting will usually betray their presence. No matter where hogs are in the world, there is one similarity in habitat preference that consistently rises to the top — THICK!
No matter what time of the year, hogs like the thickest, nastiest, most uninviting places imaginable. There have been studies in California that show the thicker the vegetation, the more hogs like it.
My hogs often bedded in briar patches where tunnels and trails through the vegetation were clearly evident. During the hot, dry summer months, they spent most of the day resting in these places, becoming active only at night.
When the weather is hot, it’s been my experience that unless you know exactly where a hog is laying, don’t bother trying to find it, as they will often lay in their beds motionless, aware or perhaps unaware of your presence. Your best bet for hot weather is early morning, when it’s not so hot and pigs are returning from feeding the night before.
Pigs don’t sweat, so they have to rely on other means to keep themselves cool. One of these is to lay around in the shade during the hottest part of the day. Position yourself between active feeding areas and promising bedding spots, and try to intercept the pigs on their way into the thick cover.
Once the pigs make it into the thick vegetation, they are not likely to emerge again until dusk or dark.
Food is also a major factor in where hogs will be at different times of the year. In the area where I worked, there were a lot of acres in corn and soybeans, as well as countless small food plots planted with everything from millet and oats to clover and ryegrass.
Once a group of hogs finds a good source of food, they will usually come back day after day, or night after night, until the resource is gone, unless disturbed.
During my field season, I watched a group of hogs literally destroy a patch of millet intended to be flooded for waterfowl. Every evening at the same time, they would make their way over the levee into the dry pond and feed on the millet all night. With the coming of dawn, they would retreat back into the thick cover to pass away the hottest part of the day.
This particular pond was situated adjacent to an old field with lots of nasty cover. There were several heavily used trails coming from the thick brush into the pond, and there was hog sign everywhere. Although there were other millet patches around, this one provided a good source of food within easy reach of their bedding area.
I’ve often seen hogs feed in a food plot or some other food source until satiated, then stagger their way to the nearest thick cover and lay around all day. When evening approaches, they come back to repeat the assault.
This tends to bring about a rise in blood pressure for the land managers, but can be a huge asset to hunters. Once I find an active feeding area, I’ll immediately begin looking for the closest good cover.
In areas where there are many hogs, there are often clearly defined trails leading from feeding areas to thick cover. As long as the wind is right, I would normally set up along these trails in the evening to wait for them to emerge from the thick stuff.
If you are fortunate enough to find them in an area open enough for a stalk, hold onto your socks. Stalking wild hogs is one of the most exciting and achievable things a bowhunter can undertake.
If legal in your area, baiting can be a particularly effective tactic. After trying nearly everything imaginable to bring hogs to my traps, I can say that soured corn or wheat is undoubtedly the most effective. Fill a couple of 5-gallon buckets with corn, leaving about 5 inches of space at the top for the grain to expand, and then fill with water. Cover with a top, set it in the sun for a couple of weeks and you will have the precursor to sourmash whiskey.
If you take this revoltingly smelly stuff and dump it in an area with hogs nearby, you can bet it won’t last long. Before hunting it, give a couple of days for the hogs to get accustomed to coming to the bait, checking periodically to make sure it’s not all gone.
I’ve read and heard countless stories of boars with temperaments bordering on sadistic. I’ve heard tales of fearless tuskers treeing hunters and charging upon first sight.
Well, I’m here to tell you that most of that is just a bunch of crap. I’ve spent immeasurable hours within spitting distance of wild, unimpeded boar hogs, and have never felt unsafe.
I think a lot of these tales spawn from trapped or otherwise cornered hogs. If given the opportunity, hogs will flee, but when they feel trapped, they become very aggressive. The only time I have ever seen a hog act aggressive toward a human is when it’s in a trap.
When a hog feels trapped, cornered or otherwise detained, it can be one of the foulest beasts on earth. Trapped hogs commonly charge and hit the fence, creating quite a ruckus that would probably scare the heck out of the uninitiated.
Although this may sound like I’m downplaying the danger factor associated with bowhunting hogs, I would not underestimate the unpredictability of a wounded or surprised hog.
Wild hogs are among my favorite animals to hunt, and they taste great too. If I had my choice, I would like a nice young hog for the table. Although I’ve killed some large boars that were palatable, I’ve also killed some that were so rank that one whiff of backstrap in a hot skillet would turn a skunk green with envy.
One way I’ve found to test the edibility of a boar is to cut a small piece of meat off of the carcass and throw it in a hot skillet. If the meat is too strong, the stench will be quite evident.
If you want your family to ever dine on wild swine, don’t do this while they’re around. On second thought, it might be best if you do it outside, as it tends to stink up the house. I’ve never found a sow to have this sour stench of a large boar.
Don’t let all this talk of stinking boars keep you from sampling wild pork; it may just be the best you’ve ever had. Just remember sows and young boars are your safest bet.
So back to bowhunting. I’ve hunted hogs in Florida, Alabama, Texas and, of course, Mississippi, and I never lose interest. There’s always something new.
With sight and hearing less keen than a whitetail’s, hogs are just plain fun to sneak up on. I’ve even heard of one guy sporting a black coat and crawling on all fours to within bowshot of a group of hogs feeding in a wide-open corn field. Apparently the pigs thought he was just another porker coming to join the feast. Try that with a whitetail!
If you haven’t tried stalking wild hogs, you’re really missing out. They are truly the perfect quarry for the bow shooter.