Just after sunset we came around a bend in the trail. The pig was standing in deep shadow under an oak, good-sized, solitary, probably a boar. That’s about all we could tell, and that was enough. Donna’s shot looked good, but the pig rolled into a little depression just out of sight. Donna and our rancher friend, Tony Lombardo approached and immediately backed up…fast!
The first shot was fine, but the pig didn’t accept that and was almost on top of them before it dropped to a quick second shot. It was not exactly a close call, but several exciting seconds! In fading light, we hadn’t appreciated that this was a really good boar, burly and heavy, with four inches of thick, sharp tusk showing above the gum line.
Yeah, I know, I’ve written about hog hunting before…and I probably will again. I like to hunt hogs, and even a smelly boar makes great sausage. In my opinion, a boar with good tusks is a greatly under-rated prize. Pigs are often plentiful, but mature boars make up a small percentage of any population! All pigs are smart, and older boars tend to be nocturnal, almost like Count Dracula, never letting sunlight touch them.
These days, hogs are available, offering a genuine big-game hunting opportunity literally year-around. Just how available depends, of course, on where you call home. At least one of America’s nine million feral hogs has been spotted in every U.S. state except Alaska. Random sightings could be a wandering boar in search of company or domestic escapees.
Hogs are among the most prolific of all large mammals and quickly adapt to living wild and free. It doesn’t take long for just a few pigs to establish a breeding population and, once established, it’s the very Devil to get rid of them!
In the U.S., primary hog country probably runs from Texas and Oklahoma across the Southeast, where feral hogs are now part of the hunting culture and, for many, a serious pursuit. In much of this region, hogs are a serious enough problem to be considered a nuisance, often dealt with on a “no holds barred” basis. Texas, with by far the largest population (and biggest problem) has legalized helicopter gunning, and no license at all is required.
California also has a large feral hog population. Hogs have been identified in every county, but the Central Coast, around my town of Paso Robles, is probably the epicenter. You can’t say that our pigs aren’t a problem; a sounder can ravage a barley field or wreck a vineyard overnight. However, to some extent our pig population is self-limiting, breeding up quickly in good years, with periodic drought knocking them back. I hesitate to suggest that California ever does anything right, but out there the hogs are considered a resource. Local outfitters derive much of their livelihood from hog hunters, along with meat processors, taxidermists, and all the other businesses that rely on out-of-town customers.
Feral hogs were declared a bona fide big-game animal decades ago, and surpass deer in terms of hunter interest and participation. The season is year-around with no bag limit. There’s a catch: Every hog has to be tagged and reported! When they started tagging, we bought them in books of five. Today, we buy them one at a time. Surprise, the price has gone up!
Today, I’m a Kansas resident, so I purchase a nonresident California license and pig tag, frightful! But I buy them because I can’t help myself: I love our Central Coast hog hunting…and I have a serious addiction to the jalapeno-cheddar sausage, a local specialty!
As game animals, all local big-game rules apply: Shooting hours, methods of take, no baiting. Without question this has colored the way I feel about hogs, how I hunt them, and what I like to use. Make no mistake, I have no problem with baiting where legal; we use deer feeders in Kansas! I also have no issue with hound hunting. However, few Central Coast hunters use dogs because, once you run hogs out of bedding areas, it may be quite a while before they come back. Also, our terrain is ideal for glassing and stalking.
So, I tend to think of them as big-game animals, and even where a nuisance, they aren’t my nuisance. Mind you, I have no issue with any legal methods, but I have no desire to use night vision devices and no interest in helicopter gunning. I like to hunt hogs one at a time, sometimes hoping for a big boar, more often a nice meat hog.
Although I don’t regard hogs as “dangerous,” they can quickly turn the tables—like Donna’s boar almost did. It’s important to hit them right…and, with body shots, hit them hard. A big boar is quite a different animal from a meat sow, bigger in the body, with heavier bones and a thick gristle plate on neck and shoulders. Size varies tremendously, depending largely on food sources.
Our Central Coast hogs rarely get huge, probably because they have a hard time during our hot, dry summers. On a good scale, Donna’s boar was a bit over 200 pounds, in our area a big hog. Over the years we’ve taken a few that were heavier, but I’ve never personally seen a Central Coast hog that honestly topped 300 pounds, although they occur.
In areas with better year-around food they get bigger, and I suppose the stories you hear about 500-pound hogs may be true…but I’ve never seen one. In any case, a 200-pound boar is bigger and tougher than a 100-pound meat hog…and a 300-pounder is a different order of business.
Our Central Coast hogs have sort of been my rifle and bullet-testing laboratory for 40 years, and I’ve also hunted them a lot in Texas and the Gulf Coast states. I’ve used a lot of different stuff, including handguns, slug guns, and archery tackle…but I’m primarily a rifle hunter. Lots of combinations work! I have great respect for hogs, especially sharp-tusked boars, but cannons are not needed. I’ve shot a lot of pigs with big rifles…but that’s because I have them and like to use them, not because they’re essential!
To some extent, methodology drives equipment. With hound hunting, you know you’re gonna get close, and a powerful handgun makes a good choice. My favorite is an old S&W .44 Magnum. That’s not the only sensible handgun, but I shoot it well, and it has enough power if things get Western (which happens with hound hunting).
Stand hunting, especially over bait, changes the game. To some extent, you can control shooting distance, so this is a situation where careful, deliberate head shots are practical. Executed properly, they are final and dramatic, and not an ounce of good pork is wasted.
However, you can must anticipate a last-light shot, especially if you’re looking for a big boar. Optical sights, whether a magnifying scope or red-dot (reflex) sight are almost essential. Magnification isn’t needed because shots are fairly close, but you need optics for precise shot placement and because of low light.
I do a lot of hog hunting with iron sights, especially with the old lever-actions that I love (and love to use), but I can’t resolve iron sights as well as I once did, so unless I’m very close, head shots are out of the question. And there are times when I have to quit early because I’m losing light…often just about the time hogs are starting to move!
Spot and stalk hunting, as we do it on the Central Coast, changes the game again. Provided you can get the wind right, you can often get fairly close. Long shots are rarely needed, but in all stalking terrain and vegetation dictate the shot, so the best setup is a conventional and versatile deer rifle with a medium-power scope.
A lot of folks hunt hogs with .22 centerfires. They work okay if head shots are practical, but even with heavy bullets I don’t think they’re enough gun for body shots. On the Central Coast, the .243 is the most popular choice for our small-bodied deer.
Although also often used for hogs, I don’t think the 6mms or .25s are enough gun, either…especially for body shots on big boars. To my thinking the 6.5mm Creedmoor or .260 Remington, either with 140-grain bullets, are a good starting point. Beyond that there are many good options. Donna was using a 7mm-08 on that big boar, a wonderful choice, but the .270 Winchester is also ideal. Both are plenty powerful for any hog, and versatile enough for any shot. The .308 Winchester is another near-perfect choice.
Like I said, I love my lever-actions and often carry them but, if iron-sighted, I’m accepting a bit of a handicap. The great old .30-30 is very effective on hogs, plenty of gun. Large-caliber “brush guns” like the .35 Remington, .348 Winchester, and .45-70 are even more dramatic. But when we’re serious about pork for the freezer we’re likely to carry versatile rifles with optical sights!