Early European settlers first brought the ancestors of today’s pigs to the United States in the 1600s and let them roam free as a ready supply of fresh meat. Not surprisingly, some of the pigs wandered off and thrived in the wild.
For centuries, wild hogs caused headaches for landowners mainly in the southern United States, but the foragers’ small populations remained stable. In the past 30 years, though, their numbers have exploded and spread to at least 39 states. Now, it’s estimated that wild hog numbers are over 9 million strong and counting.
This extreme overpopulation, especially in Florida and Texas, has created a host of problems for hunters, farmers and landowners. They wreak havoc on turkey nests and compete with deer for food. Often, if enough hogs invade a parcel of woods, they will drive out deer altogether. For farmers, a group of hogs can be their worst nightmare, rooting up freshly plowed fields and tearing up crops. It’s the reason why many states with large populations have enacted year-round hunting with special provisions such as no bag limits and the option to hunt them at night.
Hunting hogs has become a lot more than just fresh meat. It’s become a method for hunters to work as conservation tools to keep the ecosystem in balance. After deer season ends, it’s also another excuse to be in the woods.
Here are a few hog hunting tips to help protect your property and do your part in helping control the overpopulation.
Hogs tend to travel through dense thickets that accommodate their short stature. One way to differentiate their tracks from deer is to look at the tips of the toes. A hog’s hoof print is generally more rounded, while a deer’s is pointy and more heart-shaped. A heavily used trail will often lead to food or a bedding area, which are normally in thickets or near logs and piles of brush.
Wild pigs converge near creeks and shallow, damp areas to roll around in the mud, called a wallow, to cool off and find relief from bugs. If you find a wallow, check for nearby trails. These locations can be great ambush spots.
Wild hogs aren’t picky eaters. They’re omnivores, browsing on acorns, cactus fruits, persimmons and commercial crops. They search for food by digging up soil with their snouts and feet, called rooting, consuming any insects, eggs, worms and small mammals they find. A rooting area is easy to spot – imagine a lawn that has had a bulldozer driving in circles. Bottomland hardwoods are productive ecosystems for wild hogs, as are agricultural properties with thick cover and creeks.
If you’ve been using a feeder during deer season and there are hogs on your property, keep it active. The hogs will continue visiting your feeders year round.
What hogs lack in eyesight, they make up for in smell and hearing. This means it’s not a bad idea to practice scent control whether stalking or hunting in a stand. A Banks Stump Blind offers a scent-proof, noise-dampening option that also helps keep you warm in winter and cool in summer.
A feral hog’s vitals are more forward and lower than a deer’s. If you’re using a rifle, aim at the front shoulders or behind the ear when the animal is broadside. A semi-automatic rifle is a good option, as you’ll often encounter more than one hog while hunting. It’s best to use penetrating .223 rounds or larger.
Bowhunters should use wide-cutting broadheads capable of punching through tough hide. For a broadside shot, aim near the edge of the front shoulder while the nearest leg is forward for a clear line to the lungs. A slightly quartering-away shot, with the nearest leg forward, is the best angle to penetrate the heart.
With the number of feral hogs in the country currently over 9 million hogs, that number is only expected to increase, as feral hogs reproduce multiple times a year. If they aren’t in your neck of the woods yet, they most likely will be soon. Pay attention to the signs and follow the tips above and you can do your part to help population control and bring home the bacon.