Summertime Swine

Spring turkey seasons are long past. Most spring bear seasons are closed and if they’re still open the hides are sure to be rubbed. In southern Africa, this is peak safari season, and Tanzania’s hunting season opened on July first. That’s good news for the summer doldrums, but not all of us have safaris planned.

Fortunately, summer is a very good time for hog hunting! Just how good depends a lot on where you live, but with something like nine million feral hogs now occupying much of the United States, there’s lots of opportunity. And since those nine million hogs are rooting, eating crops, tearing up fences—and continuing to breed at an alarming pace—hog hunting is almost a public service. It’s also a lot of fun and, if handled right, the pork is really excellent. Just the other day Donna used a bone-in butt roast to make some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever tasted!

Byron Sadler and Boddington with an excellent summertime boar taken at Sadler’s Y.O. Ranch Headquarters. Although a small-bodied boar, but the tusks are exceptional…this pig really stood out in a crowd!

That came from a California wild hog. We’re in sort of a special situation here on the Central Coast. As with most areas that are blessed with feral hogs (or plagued by them, depending on your perspective), hogs are open year ’round, no bag limit. Unusually, though, our hogs are legally “big game animals,” which means every pig must be tagged, and also means that shooting hours and legal methods of take apply.

I think that evolved because in some areas, we’ve had feral hogs since the Spanish days, and in others, since the homesteading days. With proximity to big cities where hunting opportunity is limited and precious, our California wild hogs are a mini-industry for landowners, outfitters, meat processors and local services. Due to periodic drought, our California hogs are somewhat self-regulating. Populations go up and down. For sure a group of hogs can destroy a barley field overnight—but in our area they’re generally a manageable (or self-limiting) problem. Also, thanks to the hunting industry, our feral hogs have significant value!

Although feral hogs create hunting opportunity wherever they occur, things are different elsewhere. With year-’round water and food sources, feral hogs continue to multiply and expand their range. They are the most prolific of all hooved animals, and continue to increase even with an annual harvest in the 40 percent range! Texas, for example, has long had a major population, but when I was a young hunter, sightings were uncommon in the Hill Country (and points north) and almost unheard of in Oklahoma. Today, Texas has several million wild hogs, exact numbers uncertain, found statewide except the most arid western areas.

More ominous, Oklahoma is now estimated to have over 800,000 feral hogs, present in all counties! That suggests that my home state of Kansas is next to be invaded, but so far USDA officers are doing a heroic job holding the line at the Oklahoma border. That’s barely 15 miles south of my Kansas farm, but we haven’t seen any yet. I do my hog hunting on the Central Coast, and occasionally in Texas and the Southeast.

Perhaps surprisingly, in California summer is possibly the best time to hunt hogs. In the Central Coast, dry-land barley is a major crop. Depending on rains and planting times, the barley is ripe between about May and July and is irresistible to hogs. With more diverse food sources, summer may not be the very best time elsewhere. Also, combining warm weather and a bit of pressure, pigs quickly become nocturnal. In states where hogs are non-game animals (or considered pests), night hunting is common and a whole different deal. However, it’s also a numbers game. California’s long drought finally broke; our pigs are recovering, but it’s going to take a while. Today there are a lot more hogs in Texas and much of the Southeast than we have in California!

Wherever you go, summer hunting is different. Days are long, but it heats up early and cools down late so the primary opportunities when pigs are moving and feeding are a couple hours in the morning and the last hour of daylight. Everybody is different, but it suits me pretty well. I can do some writing, get in a good workout, catch a nap and not miss a minute of prime hunting time!

I like hunting hogs. I try to get out a couple times a year and make no apologies. In March, Donna and I hunted close to home on the Central Coast with Chad Wiebe’s Oak Stone Outfitters. The barley wasn’t yet ripe and, with good rains, the hogs were scattered, so we didn’t see as many as we probably could right now, but we saw enough and it was a great hunt.

In early June, I spent a couple of days at Y.O. Ranch Headquarters in the Texas Hill Country. There’s always hunting to be done in the Hill Country, but hogs used to be uncommon and now they’re plentiful. Also, they’re inexpensive, tasty, good practice for both hunting and shooting and you don’t need tags. (You do need, at a minimum, a basic hunting license or, for nonresidents, a five-day special license.) I was really looking for a meat hog, but we got lucky.

Big boars are never common; an older boar with good teeth is both an under-rated trophy and extremely difficult to judge: Body size can easily be seen, but it’s unusual to actually see the tusks. Byron Sadler and I were watching a big group of pigs, several of good size but no apparent monsters. He saw the glint of tusks before I did, and as the pig turned to us, I saw white on both sides of the lower jaw. I took the shot as soon as it was clear! In body size the boar was very average, but the tusks were exceptional — a real bonus on a summertime hog hunt!–Craig Boddington

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