Packing for Pork Chops: Hog Hunting Basics
By Dustin Vaughn Warncke, The Hunting Channel Online Pro-Staff
One statement we often use at Mac & Prowler is to “use what you have”. This line of thinking can certainly be used in the realm of hog hunting. Most of the equipment you might already own for deer, predator, or even turkey hunting can very easily cross over to hunting for wild pork. Whether you look at the wild hog as a trophy quest for a huge long tusked boar or simply pest control, hog hunting is a fun sport that is welcomed and necessary in many areas of our country for population control. The meat is almost as lean as chicken and can be plentiful, depending on the area you are hunting.
First off, some quick facts you might already know. Believe it or not, pigs, goats, and cats are the most likely and adaptable animals to be able to survive and thrive in the wild after escaping domestic captivity. Centuries ago, back in the 1500’s , feral hogs started out as domestic pigs that were brought over by European settlers. in the early days of our country it was common practice for many homesteaders to let livestock roam free-range. Some never made it back home and it does not take a hog long to adapt to the wild and turn feral. In his earlier days, my Dad shot a hog that had escaped a farm only 6 months ago and it was already covered in a brown coat of fur, beginning to resembling what we know is a feral hog by definition. It does not take long at all and hogs are resourceful critters. By many accounts, a hog is the fourth smartest animal on the planet. They can reproduce about like rabbits. A sow is sexually mature at about 8 months of age, sometimes younger or older, and can produce two litters of piglets a year, averaging 4-8 piglets per litter. With very few natural predators, it does not take much before you have a thriving population of wild pork running around looking for natural food sources and becoming a major issue for landowners and native species of other animals in the area. I often suggest that hunting hogs is “Turning nature’s overpopulation problem into a tasty meal” as they are very tasty to eat. I often think releasing a sounder of wild pigs in some third-world countries could solve world hunger issues due to their rapid growth and reproduction potential. But that would probably lead to another set of problems with natural resource damage and, ironically, many people living in impoverished parts of our world subscribe to religions that prohibit eating pork. I have always thought of that as an irony. World hunger…Abundance of wild meat? But I digress. Back to hunting!
Depending on the state you live in, feral hogs can be viewed as a game animal (such as in states like California), where tags are required for harvesting one. Many other places, especially in the southern United States, they are often looked at as a nuisance and pest that does millions of dollars in annual crop damage to farms, ranches, golf courses, neighborhood landscaping, and more. In some parts of our country, both ends of the spectrum apply with some added factors. It all depends on where you are and the company you are in when you are talking about hog hunting. A trend that has developed over the past two decades has raised the bar on hunting the humble feral swine to the trophy-like status of whitetail deer hunting. Bagging a big trophy boar with 3” or larger lower tusks now comes with bragging rights alongside shooting a nice 8-point buck. This is certainly healthy for our sporting heritage and legacy of hunting in many regards.
I respect the feral hog and I have had more than a few encounters hunting them. There is a good reason why wild hogs are called “The Poor Man’s Grizzly Bear”. Out of all of my outdoor experiences, my hog hunting adventures certainly have generated some of my better hunting stories. One of the companies I work for has a national sales meeting where I convene with several non-hunters who love to hear what happened in some of my adventures in our Texas Hill Country woods. One guy in particular stands there with his eyes wide open when I tell him some of my close calls with an angry wild pigs. As I have written about before, I am turned off by blow-hards who brag about how tough they are and how many trophy animals they have harvested over their years so I never let my ego run wild as many hunters I encounter unfortunately do. There are some good stories though! More on that in a minute.
There are several ways to hunt hogs. Obviously the first rule is to check the area you are hunting in to make sure you are obeying the laws and regulations. What is legal here with hog dog hunting in my great state of Texas, for instance, is illegal in the state of California, and game wardens there pursue people who do some of the many other things we take for granted here in Texas for felony warrants there. So make sure you know what you are doing where you live and hunt. I often call my local game warden for clarification when I have questions about rules or laws and we are on a first name basis. You can hunt hogs with just about any legal means in Texas and that now include helicopter hunting with semi-automatic guns. I recently watched another TV show where the hunter used a crossbow to do some ariel pig shooting. That is a neat idea. Hog dog hunting (hunting hogs with dogs using a knife or handgun to dispatch the hog), spear hunting, bow hunting, handgun, and rifle hunting are about the most popular hunting methods for pursuing wild pork.
Hog Dog Hunting
My deep respect for wild hogs comes from the fact that I have been charged, bitten, cut, and even trampled on by hogs in my hunting and trapping adventures although, of course, I make it a point to stay safe and out of harm’s way. It can be a gnarly sport when you get up close and personal with them and that can be the fun and adrenaline rush of it too. The first time I went hog dog hunting, I was with a group a back woods rednecks who charged me and a friend of mine, both new to this particular sport, a modest $25 to go out in a recently harvested corn field with their dogs. We got struck on a 300 pound boar hog within 30 minutes of hunting. The guys pulled the large hog out by the back legs, and asked me to dispatch the hog, up close and personal. At first, I was scared to death as I had never been this close to a beast like this before. I quickly realized the draw to hunting something that can hunt you back! After this hunt, I began to realize how much brute force a wild hog pinned down by a pack of dogs could be in the heat of the action and ever since that night, I have never been the same. Hog dog hunting is not for the faint of heart and can be a dangerous game but the adrenaline rush is like no other and there is no thrill on earth like it. Prospective hunters at the ranch I work for (DB Hunting Ranch -www.dbhunting.com) often ask if anyone has ever been hurt on the guided hog dog hunts we host. My answer has been no, knock on wood, not on our ranch. Accidents can and do happen but if you keep safety in mind, use a pack of experienced bay and catch dogs, and listen to the advice of the guide(s), all should go well but anything can and will happen. Expect the unexpected and be prepared for anything. Many hunters who have never been on a hunt like this before or only hunted hogs with dogs a couple of times talk a big “cowboy talk” (and I mean NO offense to cowboys) about pulling out high power handgun and shooting a boar that is charging at them, if it ever happened. I usually smile and suggest that they let me know how that works out for them when it happens. The truth? Chances are there is very little to no reaction time if you are ever charged by a hog in a hog dog hunting or wounded hog tracking scenario. I have been there and done that more than a few times. Get out of the way and try to find a tree to climb or some thick brush to step into if you have one coming straight towards you with a vengeance. Yes, I have shot hogs on the run and it can be done but the chances of getting run over and injured by an angry boar or sow defending her piglets are much greater. Guns are a last resort here – there is too much else around you at stake. Hog dog hunting is a hardcore sport but playing the part of the hero or “Mr. Macho” can be reserved for another sport. Killing a hog with a dog and a knife during the day or nighttime is about as rugged and tough as a sport gets. Many hunters ask me about what kind of knife I use for a “pig sticker”. A good bowie knife is recommended and does not have to be a $100 piece of art either. One of my friends lost a bowie knife that cost even more than that on one trip. I always hunt on a budget and you can buy a reasonable quality knife for under $50. I even own a few bowie knives that cost less than $20 each. If you lose one of those knives in the heat of the battle at that price range there is no huge loss or heartbreak. I always carry water in a canteen to avoid getting dehydrated since there is a lot of hiking and even running involved along with one or two dog leashes draped across my shoulder to help round up dogs after the hunt.
When I go hog dog hunting with friends, clients I work for, or hunting clients at the ranch, there are rules on weapons and who carries them. Most other guide services and ranches hosting hog dog hunts will agree with me here. There is too much at risk with the safety of the dogs and people in the middle of the woods, especially at night, if everyone is carrying a handgun and is ready to pull it out and open fire on a hog at the drop of a hat. This isn’t the OK Corral. When you are hunting with a knife, a gun is a last resort for the safety of those around you. Even if all of the hunters in your party are packing handguns for protection or even snake repellent, the ground rules for using them need to be clear for the obvious safety reasons.
Bow Hunting – Skewering your Pork
There is no huge special considerations needed for hunting hogs with archery equipment. If you have a bow or crossbow already, it will most likely fit the bill for pig hunting. Many hunters have told me that fixed blade broadheads are the only way to go for hunting hogs but I disagree. As long as you have enough kinetic energy in your bow (mainly draw weight and draw length) paired with the correct size diameter of broadhead for maximum penetration potential, a good mechanical broadhead will work just as well. If you are shooting a lighter weight bow or short draw length, consider a smaller cut diameter. What you want to achieve, as is the case with any archery hunting set up, is a good pass-through shot or at least enough penetration to get the arrow and broadhead into the vital organs and put the animal down fast. I am a big fan of Grim Reaper broadheads and have seen some great results using them in the field. Every hog I have shot has gone down within 10 seconds of a well-placed shot and not run more than 100 yards. Another product I am a fan of is a bow light if you are hunting at night. VarmintLights.com has the VBL light that can easily mount on a bow stabilizer set up and comes in White, Green, and Red LED color modules. Red and Green lights tend to be less detectible by hogs and my preference for hogs is the Red light. Having a pressure switch mounting by your grip allows you to turn the light on after you draw back and lower the light on your target, which allows you to remain undetected in most cases. Another must-have for me, especially, in low-light or night hunting situations, is the Lumenok, lighted arrow nock. These are available at most sporting goods stores and at http://www.lumenok.com and you can get the lighted nocks by themselves or in the new Lumen Arrows and crossbow bolts, where they are already integrated. These help you see your shot placement immediately and also aid in retrieving your arrow after the hunt. Now that I am filming my own hunts, they are an indispensable part of my gear!
Aim behind the shoulder as you would any other game animal but keep in mind the vitals on a hog are lower than most people think and most 3D wild boar targets on the market today are not anatomically correct in the location of the heart and lungs. Since I have a 65 pound draw weight and 30” draw length, I use the larger cut diameter in broadhead as I can count on the penetration with the speed of the arrow out of that set up. My personal favorite is the 1 ¾” Razortip Grim Reaper Broadhead with expander cups (AKA “The Whitetail Special”) for a 2” total cut radius. They produce a blood trail Ray Charles could find.
Rifle Hunting – Loaded for BOAR
I get a lot of questions in my sales and marketing work I do for DB Hunting Ranch about caliber selection for hunting hogs. The basic rule is that most common calibers used for other big game hunting will work. Use what you have. Asking and answering the question of the “perfect caliber” for hog hunting can be controversial so I will base what I will write here from my experience with the countless number of hunters at our ranch as well as my own experiences in the field. If you want to hunt with a small caliber rifle, such as the .223 or 22-250, my suggestion would be to use premium factory ammunition and heavier bullet grains such as Winchester’s Razorback XT ammunition in 64 grain. Alternatively, if you reload your own ammunition or know someone willing to do so for you, the choices are even more diverse than what is available in factory loads. In any case, with small caliber rounds, I only recommend taking neck and head shots. Right behind the ear is always a good spot to focus on when squeezing the trigger. Aside from that, most any gun caliber that is adequate for deer should be fine for hogs. Keep in mind though that hogs are a dense animal. They are not built like a deer and can prove to be tougher to take down as a result. My personal favorite guns are chambered and loaded with the following: .270 Win. with 150 grain Sierra Game Kings (handload), .308 with 165 grain Sierra Game Kings (handload), and the venerable 7.62x54r Silver Bear in 203 grain (factory ammo) from my Mosin Nagant military surplus rifles. Prior to handloading my hunting ammunition, I was a fan, and still am, of the Winchester Supreme Elite ammo, as I mentioned before. Performance, accuracy, and reliability is second to none in our opinion with this factory ammo and our Mac & Prowler team has used several different calibers of this ammo as well as shotgun ammo with great results.
Okay, time to get on my proverbial soap box for a minute. As I have written about in other articles, accuracy is often more important than many other factors on a hunt. Another way of saying it, as a law of general success in life, “Direction is always more important than Speed.” It astounds me how many hunters I run in to who take this for granted. We always owe ourselves and the animals we hunt the utmost in integrity when it comes to clean kills and effective and accurate shot placement. There is no excuse for anything less. Every shot counts. I often tell the story of a neighbor who used to live next to me that I took on a hunt with his brand new Ruger rifle chambered in. 458 Lott, an large African game caliber. He took a questionable low-light shot with iron sights and gut-shot a big sow at 75 yards. To this day I think the only reason we ever found this hog after a long tracking job with a very sparse blood trail was the sheer shock wave and power from that massive round, not the merit of the hunter. Many people take hog hunting for granted and blow off the fact they made a bad shot saying, “It was just a hog”. I think this is a problem. On that note, it amazes me how many hunters who email or call me wanting to come and “test out” a new gun they just acquired on an inexpensive hog hunt before going deer or elk hunting. A hog is no different than a deer, elk, coyote, exotic animal or other four-legged species in my opinion. Yes, there are more of them to hunt and they have presented many areas with an overpopulation problem but the species still deserves more respect than “spray and pray” style hunting and sloppy ethics in the field. Remember always that we are the ambassadors of our sport and having a respectful attitude and behavior in the field sends a positive image to non-hunters and anti-hunters who might otherwise view us as blood thirsty savages. Perception is reality to those around us.
Other Hunting Methods
Some other hunting methods include black powder/muzzleloader guns, air rifles, and handguns. For handguns, my recommendation is anything from a .357 magnum on up. For black powder guns, a .45 or .50 caliber smoke pole will get the job done. For air rifles, my favorite choices are from the folks at Crosman with the Benjamin Marauder in .25 caliber and the Benjamin Rouge in .357 caliber (www.crosman.com). These are serious hunting rifles and they use some of the latest and greatest technology to maximum performance. For the Maurader, which is excellent for predator and small game hunting as well, I would recommend a head or neck shot. With the .357 Rouge, a behind the shoulder shot is a good option as well. I am a recent fan of air rifles now that I own the Marauder. It is a quiet but deadly and very accurate weapon for hunting. The joy of hunting with in integrally suppressed rifle like the Marauder is that the chances of spooking the hogs are less and you have a better chance of getting a second shot on another hog in the same sitting. To that point, suppressors are now legal here in Texas for all types of hunting and I am planning on getting one for one of my high power rifle “pig rigs” in the future!
Accessories and Attractants
I always make it a point to caution new hunters to the multitude of calls, scents, and other attractants out there. Back when I was heavy into fishing, I would often laugh at the many catfish baits that warned against broken rods (from huge fish) and bass lures that would be irresistible to fish and guarantee huge trophies. My thinking is that more fisherman are hooked on the sales hype than fish are caught with the products. The hunting market is really not that different in comparison. You never see small wimpy looking game animals portrayed on the packaging of most hunting products after all. Hogs are known to have poor eyesight but great abilities for smell. A good camo pattern is all you need for this reason but do not take for granted that a hog can’t see movement or see reasonably well within close ranges, especially at bowhunting ranges. Use a good scent eliminator and don’t take chances or be bashful about using it on all of your clothing and gear in the field with you. I have been busted more than a few times by groups of hogs coming in to a feeder, even when I thought the wind was in my favor and I was doing everything else right. For attractants, deer corn is about the best bet. There are a ton of “Dominate Boar” or “Sow in Heat” scents out there but you never know what you might bring in or possibly turn away by using them. Pigs are pigs after all and food is always one of the best attractants. One scent/attractant I will give an independent and unbiased review for is Black Gold Hog Attractant from Wild Boar USA. I used to run traps with a professional hog trapper and we used this along with corn with great results. Pouring it on the ground, the trunk of a tree, or even on a pile of corn is a good strategy. My recommendation is to stay away from the grunt calls on the market. I have not found one that I like or that works well enough to suggest. If you have had good results with a scent, attractant, or call that has worked for you, please e-mail me at my e-mail address below. I would love to hear from you and what your experience in the field has been.
In the realm of night hunting, I am a big fan of compact hunting lights versus the alternative expensive night vision equipment. Cost is the main reason but if you are into night vision optics, more power to you. One of my favorite hunting light products on the market today for rifle hunting is the VRL-1 from VarmintLights.com. It has a green and red LED and can reach out to over 250 yards. It is only 7 inches long and very light. I am a pro-staffer with this company and am a huge fan of the range and distance of this light along with the multiple mounting applications and rechargeable battery system. These are carried in Cabela’s online and retail stores as well as other retail outlets. Another idea is to have feeder mounting lights to see what is coming in under your feeder at night. Most lights are usually white LED panel lights or independent directional lights that work from a 6 or 12 volt battery and most even come outfitted with solar chargers or an option to add one. If you are doing a lot of night hunting or even wanting to crack down on some of the raccoons stealing your corn when you feeder goes off in the evening hours, feeder lights are a good investment.
A quick note must be said here if you have never hunted a group of hogs under a feeder or other stationary food source before. As you can see in our hunting videos, wild hogs are lean, mean machines and will move every three seconds or less in many cases to vacuum up food. This presents some of the more challenging aspects of hunting these critters with a bow or rifle as they will jockey for position in a sort of “pecking order” around a food source and always seem to be on the move. My advice is simple. Watch what is behind your target at all times, especially when rifle or handgun hunting. We have had more than one hunter who has shot a trophy exotic or, more commonly, more than one hog on our ranch after setting his crosshairs on one hog and not watching what was beyond his target. This is a rule taught the first hour in most hunter safety classes but I run into plenty of hunters who have taken that course but who disregard this very important and basic code of hunting. Single out a hog and wait for a clean shot. In a large group, also known as a sounder, they will stack up in front of each other so I will usually aim for a hog on the outside of the group. Be ready to squeeze the trigger when the hog is turned in the optimal position at a seconds notice but make a calm and cool trigger pull as you have practiced with good shooting fundamentals. Chances are he will not stay in that position for long if he is feeding but there is no reason rush your shot make a bad point of impact either.
Scoring Systems and Trophy Designations
There are several scoring systems for wild hogs. Most of them have different scoring considerations from weight, upper and lower tusk length and circumference, and more. My favorite trophy scoring system is Weiser Weight and Tusk. I have been a scorer for WWT for the past 6 years or so and, at one time, scored the #1 ranked trophy boars on record in both the high-fence and low-fence categories. The general classification for trophy boars is weight and tusk length. In most cases 300 pounds or more and bottom tusks, also referred to as “cutters” or “ivory”, is 2 ½” or more is considered a trophy-sized hog. One of the record hogs I scored had a tusk that actually grew out and straight back into the gum line in the rear part of his mouth. That tusk was over 4 inches in exposed length! European (skull) mounts are always least expensive to do and most folks can do them at home easy enough. It is a dirty job though.
A taxidermist actually taught me that there is some extra length you can extract by pulling out the bottom tusks from under the gum line on smaller hogs where a European mount is desired but the tusks are not that large. This will make for a more impressive trophy for sure, even if you are fibbing a little on the actual size of the hog’s tusks when he was alive. That will just be our little secret!
Tasty Table Fare
Wild hogs are delicious to eat if cleaned and cooked properly. A few products in my freezer alone are summer sausage/salami, link sausage, breakfast pan sausage, scrapple (an old beakfast food made of pork, flour, and cornmeal), tamales, and more. I have even cured and smoked hams and made Canadian bacon and pork jerky before. Yes, pork jerky! I try to use everything but the squeal! Whole quarters of pork can be injected with marinade and/or dry rubbed and slow smoked on the pit. Pork chops and whole loins are great. An easy option is to buy some regular Italian dressing, the “store brand” is fine, which makes a pretty inexpensive but delicious marinade. Cook larger pieces slow and low like you would a brisket. One thing to keep in mind is that wild hogs can transmit Brucellosis and Trichinosis along with other diseases to humans or other animals. That being said, there is no threat of any of these as long as care is taken during the field dressing/cleaning process (always wear gloves!) and the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. So cook the meat thoroughly. Since wild pork is so much leaner that its commercial “store bought” farm raised counterpart, wrapping your pork in bacon or basting it often will keep the meat from drying out. Pulled pork or Mexican Carnitas are easy to make in a crock pot and using that method is about the safest bet to ensure that the meat does not dry out and cooks thoroughly as it braises in liquid as it cooks. Happiness is a warm tortilla!
Many hunters think that older mature boars are not any good to eat because of their strong musky smell. If you have had the chance to experience this scent, you will not soon forget it as it is strong. A trick I learned for making just about any nasty smelling boar smell and taste like normal pork is to take your quartered and iced down meat and mix one large bottle of lemon juice with one cup of white vinegar for about 3 days in your ice chest. Let that mixture soak as the ice thaws, adding more ice as needed. If you go too heavy on the vinegar, the meat might turn a shade of purple. Do not despair though, it’s just discoloration and it will not affect the taste of the meat at all. Worst case scenario for big boars is always the sausage grinder. I have a meat processor that can make shoe leather taste good and with the right seasonings, you can make just about any kind of meat taste great. So don’t discount the 300 pound plus hogs as good table fare as they certainly yield a lot of meat. We have yet to let one hog that size go to waste at our ranch and I have never met a large boar I couldn’t turn into pork everyone could enjoy.
Hog hunting is a fast growing sport in our country and I am happy to see it growing that direction. We certainly need hunters to keep the hog population numbers down as un-regulated populations can and will spiral out of control in the amount of damage they can do and the invasive threat they pose to native species where natural resources are in limited supply. But remember to respect the hog. They are a tough and formidable animal to hunt, make a tasty entrée for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the thrill in hunting them, however you choose, is a year round pork-a-polza celebration!