Self-reliant living requires many skills, including the ability to draw sustenance from natural sources. As deer populations have gone into decline over the last decade, a new source of animal protein has increased rapidly. That source is the estimated 5 million wild hogs that live in 39 states. I recently hunted hogs on Bill Wilson’s Circle WC ranch in Texas, and found that successful hog hunting requires modifications to time-honored deer hunting practices.
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Before heading off into the woods with grandpa’s .30-30 to go hog hunting, it’s important to understand the differences between deer and hogs, because it requires changes in equipment and tactics if a hunter is regularly going to bring home the bacon. For example, hogs don’t live everywhere deer are found. States with the largest hog populations are those with warmer climates and the thickest vegetation. The largest hog populations are in the Deep South, Texas and Central California.
With respect to biology, hogs and deer differ quite a bit. Hogs are omnivores. They eat a variety of vegetation and small animals. Deer are herbivores and primarily eat shrubs, lichen, clover, nuts and fruits. Hogs also have a different reproductive cycle. Does come into rut once a year and usually produce one or two fawns, while healthy sows come into heat about twice a year and can have litters of up to a dozen piglets. That’s one reason why hog populations are soaring in many states.
Both species also differ in the acuity of their senses. Deer have good hearing, an acute sense of smell and reasonably good eyesight. According to Bill Wilson, hogs don’t see too well, tend to ignore all but the most unnatural sounds and rely much more on their highly developed sense of smell to detect threats. In addition, hogs are shorter and more heavily built than deer.
Truly Wild Game
Hogs behave differently than deer. Given that they eat meat, hogs are aggressive hunters. They prefer small wildlife but big hogs are known to attack people. Because sows come into heat at various times throughout the year, boars are perpetually looking for mates and should always be approached as cautiously as a buck in rut.
Hogs also cause more environmental damage. They use their tusks to turn over the ground in search of food. Grazing hogs leave the ground looking like it was plowed with a disk harrow. In addition, hogs are quite intelligent. They are more cautious than deer when they approach feeders and food plots. I’ve seen hogs move in and out of cover watching a feeder for a full half-hour before finally deciding to come out and start eating. Even then, they often stop to sniff deeply, double-checking to be sure that no hunters are present.
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Finally, there are significant legal differences between deer hunting and hog hunting. Deer are highly managed by state fish and wildlife departments. A hunting license is usually required and hunting seasons are relatively brief. There are also strict limits on the number of deer that can be taken and/or possessed by a hunter. When it comes to hogs, game management is minimal. Because of their high reproductive rates and their destructive feeding habits, hogs are usually classified as pests. Some states require licenses to hunt them, but others don’t. The season is usually year-round and hog hunting at night is usually allowed. State and local laws and regulations differ so be sure to check them before hunting.
There are a number of ways to hunt hogs, but the three most common ones are hunting from blinds, spotting and stalking, and using dogs to run them to ground. One technique that doesn’t work is still hunting. It is great for hunting deer in open woods, but the forest and swamps inhabited by hogs are usually too thick, giving hogs plenty of opportunity to escape.
There are only a couple of ways to hunt hogs that are truly compatible with living a self-reliant lifestyle. Training and maintaining a pack of dogs isn’t one of them because it takes too much time. Most people just want to put meat on the table or in cold storage efficiently. That leaves two methods that fit well with a self-sufficient family lifestyle—hunting from a blind over a feeder and spotting and stalking. As for blinds, elevated ones work best. They don’t have to be fancy, but they do need shooting rests to steady a rifle for precise bullet placement. Stands should be placed between 75 to 100 yards from the feeder. Automated feeders range in price from $40 to over $300.
One thing to remember is that hogs quickly associate feeders with hunters, so it’s best to have more than one feeder. Bill Wilson spreads his feeders out and hunts them in rotation. Also, try not to overfeed; just use enough corn to keep the hogs returning. Clear a 75- to 100-yard shooting lane between the blind and the feeder, and leave some foliage on the other side so the hogs will feel comfortable approaching it. One can also put in a food plot, but hogs do a lot of damage to plots and the time it takes to regrow forage reduces productivity.
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The other successful hog-hunting method is spot and stalk. Mule deer hunters out west will often glass to spot their game and then use their feet to do the stalking. At Wilson’s 10,000-acre ranch, vehicles are utilized to drive between two or more feeders. The technique requires driving to a feeder about an hour before dawn or dusk and parking about 200 yards from it. The hunter then stalks in about 100 yards and takes a concealed position with a clear view of the feeder. From there a firm rest can be taken on a tree or on a set of shooting sticks. If there’s no luck at the first feeder, one can drive to other feeders and stalk in to see if hogs are present. Most hogs come to a feeder within an hour after it has spread corn, but I’ve also seen groups of hogs make the rounds of different feeders throughout the day and night.
Before buying any equipment, it’s important to know something about hog anatomy and about the environment in which the shot will be taken. Hog anatomy presents a couple of significant challenges to a hunter. First, hogs have heavy bones and a thick “gristle plate” of scar tissue on their sides. These can play havoc with lightly constructed bullets. Ammunition that has monolithic metal expanding “X” type bullets like those from Barnes, Nosler and Hornady or partition bullets like the ones from Nosler and Swift are the best for ensuring straight, deep penetration. New polymer/copper “Power Vane” bullets from PolyCase also show promise for the future.
The toughness of the target also argues for larger caliber bullets. It’s possible to kill a hog with a headshot from a .223; however headshots are difficult so I prefer a shoulder shot. The best placement results from taking a quartering shot that hits just in front of the middle of the near shoulder, about one-third of the way down from the hog’s back. This places the heart, great vessels, lungs and spine in the bullet’s path.
The calibers I like best are .338 Federal and .358 Winchester. A .308 Win. or .458 SOCOM will also do well. Smaller hogs under 150 pounds can also be taken with a .30-30 Win., .35 Rem., 7.62x39mm and even a 300 BLK when proper bullets are used along with good bullet placement. However, I prefer to use enough gun to drop hogs in their tracks, because wounded hogs are dangerous and often run in a very erratic path through thickets and swamps where rattlers and water moccasins are common. [Editor’s note: Remington has received some great feedback from hunters on its newest fodder called Hog Hammer, which is said to penetrate even the thickest-skinned pigs with a Barnes TSX Bullet at its heart. Hog Hammer loads sport all-copper construction for what Remington claims offers 28 percent deeper penetration than standard lead-core bullets. Hog Hammer utilizes a flash-suppressed propellant for nighttime or low-light hunts, and uses nickel-plated cases. Hog Hammer is available in seven calibers, including the hard-hitting .450 Bushmaster.]
Gun & Glass Up
Just about any type of rifle can be used to hunt hogs, but I personally prefer bolt actions and ARs. High-end AK-style guns also work well, provided they have a good scope and can shoot a 2-inch group at 100 yards with hunting ammunition. My personal hog gun is a Remington 700 Mountain rifle that was re-bored and re-chambered to .338 Federal by JES Rifle Reboring. I’m also fond of AR-style rifles by Wilson Combat, Armalite, Ruger, DPMS and Rock River Arms. Semi-autos are generally heavier than bolt-action rifles, but they offer very rapid follow-up shots.
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Since hogs are most active in the twilight hours around dusk and dawn, precise bullet placement is greatly facilitated by using a telescopic sight with an illuminated reticle. A red LED hunting light also helps. Bill Wilson recommends a good-quality variable scope with a top power of 8x or better, prominent crosshairs, an illuminated reticle and an objective lens of at least 40mm. Leupold’s VX-R scopes and variables with illuminated reticles by Weaver and Bushnell all do the job well. Red LED lights can be mounted on blinds or directly on a riflescope. Hogs don’t see either red or green colors in the dark, and green light is very popular because green is easier for a hunter to see than red.
Bill tried green lights and lasers for a while and found neither to be very useful. Evidently, the hogs don’t see green, but green light stands out enough that it can spook them. Red is much more stealthy. My personal hog rifle has a 200-lumen red light from varmintlights.com. It mounts on the scope and adds 8 ounces to the weight of the rifle, but the increase in weight doesn’t make much difference when shooting from a rest.
Blinds and feeders come in a variety of styles and prices. Those who have carpentry skills can try to build one like J. Wayne Fears did for sister publication American Frontiersman (Summer 2015 #174). Those less mechanically inclined can buy pre-fabricated blinds and stands for prices that range between $100 to $3,000. Feeders are offered by American Hunter, Moultrie, Wildlife Innovations and others. There are a variety of styles that cost from under $50 to over $300. At least two feeders and two blinds will be needed so hunting can be rotated between two suitable areas. Expect to pay at least $500 to set up two locations.
Most folks who live a self-sufficient lifestyle know that there are startup costs. But with pork costing usually at least $5 per pound at the local grocery, hunting gear can pay for itself in a matter of a year or so. In addition, checking your state game laws before buying hog-hunting equipment can help in selecting guns, ammo and gear that may also be useful for other big game or for controlling predators and larger varmints that damage crops and livestock.
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This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Winter 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.