Ham on the Hoof
hen deer, elk, waterfowl and upland game bird seasons have come and gone, put some pork in the crosshairs.
We were climbing a steep gravel ranch road in Charlie’s Toyota when we saw it, as big as a full-grown bear and on a dead run. Charlie hit the brakes and switched off the engine. There was no time to load the rifle. The shaggy, gray boar had disappeared into the chemise brush, 200 yards away.
“Listen,” Charlie whispered. I heard it, that snorting, wheezing, guttural grunting a sounder of hogs makes on the feed. Trouble was, they’d moved into the tall brush for the day.
The Spanish brought the first domestic pigs to California in the 16th century. Hogs were easily managed and bred fast enough to provide a ready source of meat for their masters. Every large group of Europeans arriving from the Old Country brought more. Herds were allowed to graze in the oak uplands. Escapees soon reverted to the wild.
In the early 1900s, several landowners brought in small herds of wild-strain European hogs. These razorbacks lost little time mixing with the resident swine. Today, their descendants can be hunted from the vicinity of Palm Springs in southern California to the Siskiyous on the Oregon border.
This was my first hunt for hogs in California; on Wilderness Unlimited land, a club that allows access to ranches in both Oregon and California.
As the first morning wore on, I walked a closed road and circled a large hog-backed hill. A lone boar crested a knife-edge ridge 500 yards away. Too far for a shot. A few minutes later, I spotted a 2x3 blacktail buck feeding toward me. Behind him was a magnificent buck. There were no more pigs to be found, though there was sign everywhere I looked.
When I rejoined my partner, he said he’d spotted a herd of a dozen sows and piglets not too far from camp. Wrong place at the wrong time. But tomorrow was a new day. And I knew right where I wanted to be, watching that canyon, with my Winchester Model 70 7mm WSM across my lap.
Instead of driving the road in the morning, I walked up as dawn’s first rays lit the sky. Every few steps, I stopped, raised the binoculars and peered through the oaks, listening. From my vantage point one-third of the way up the hill, I heard a pig in the canyon below, but couldn’t spot it.
Then my radio crackled. It was Charlie. “Turn around and look up the hill behind you,” he said. “They’ve just crossed the road and are running through the trees, a whole herd of sows. Probably twenty of them.”
As I turned, I heard the thunder of hooves on the hillside and saw black shadows in the trees. I scrambled up the slope and focused on a spot ahead of where I’d seen them last. If I figured right, they’d appear in a window in the oaks. I steadied my rifle against a tree.
The first hog into the open was a big sow. The rest were a blur of black bodies, flashing single-file through the trunks of the oaks that grew thicker than cloves on a Christmas ham.
With my crosshairs bracketed one-third of the way up the body on the biggest animals, I waited for a good shot. A dozen pigs passed, then two small oinkers flashed into and out of sight. The next was bigger, its nose now in view. My brain told my trigger finger, ‘Now!’ The rifle bucked and a 160-grain Nosler AccuBond found its mark 85 yards up the hill. Five more pigs rumbled by, then all was quiet.
I found the pig ten yards farther on, a 110-pound sow, probably six months old, packing plenty of lean, organic pork loin and chops.
These aren’t your average agricultural oinkers. Adult wild hogs tip the scales between 100 and 200 pounds. Boars can reach 375. Most European/feral crosses have a coat of long, coarse, dark hair. Boars grow wicked tusks and are not the kind of critters you’d like to run into on a narrow trail.
They feed mainly at night. At dawn, they head for the deepest, darkest cover they can find.
They eat everything from acorns to alfalfa, to rattlesnakes and bird eggs. And they multiply. Starting at six months old, a sow can produce piglets at the rate of two litters per year.
Spot and Stalk for Swine
I call it sneaking and peeking. If you’ve got a good vantage point, a spotting scope can help you locate hogs, but often, binoculars are all you’ll need. You can watch from one vantage point or move from hill to hill. Your best bet will be in the first hour and the last hour of the day. Generally, the herd will bed down for the day, but may get up to move around a little at noon.
Unlike deer, feeding swine don’t stay in one place very long. If you spot animals a long way out, watch them long enough to get an idea where they’re headed. Then meet them there.
If you’re hunting as a party, it’s often better to split up to cover more ground. But hunting should be conducted in a low-impact manner. Stay on roads and established trails, and out of bedding areas. Spook the herd and they’re likely to leave the area or go nocturnal.
Hogs aren’t hard to spot. Binoculars should be worn on a shoulder strap or around the neck for easy access. When you crest a hill, go easy. Take a few steps, then glass the habitat that has just opened up to view.
Hogs aren’t known for superior visual acuity, but too often hunters don’t give a hog’s eyes much credit. As much as possible, use the terrain and the cover of the trees to get in close enough for a shot.
Wind direction is the biggest consideration. Let them smell you and those hogs will be heading for cover in a hurry. Better to constantly check the way the breeze is blowing and plan your hunt and your stalks to keep the wind in your face.
Hogs are creatures of habit. The same trails are used day after day, season after season, dependent on the food sources. In ranchland, you’ll see dozens of broad trails leading from bedding areas to feeding areas.
In periods between rains, you can scout for fresh wallows. Such places will be visited by hogs at least once a day. A word of warning: bag your boar before he’s all covered with fresh mud.
Guns and Loads
Each year, rifle hunters bag their hogs with everything from the 223 up to the 45-70. Handgunners have bagged boars with the 38 Special and 357 Magnum on up to the 454 Casull and beyond. But many of the lighter calibers are marginal performers at best.
The wild boar is not easy to kill. It has a tough shoulder hide called a shield that protects it from thorns. Your bullet must penetrate this armor and retain enough energy to destroy the heart or lungs.
Most shots taken will be between 30 and 100 yards, but in open country, you may have the opportunity to kill a pig at 200 yards or more. For this reason, as a minimum I’d pick something along the lines of a 260 Remington or a 7mm Magnum, a flat shooting round with a well-constructed bullet that will pass all the way through.
Many shots have to be taken on the run. A well-balanced rifle can help you get on target fast. Keep your scope dialed down to 3x for quick acquisition of the target.
Often the hog won’t drop at the first shot. You want a blood trail and the bigger the hole, the better. That’s why many hunters choose a 30-caliber like the .308 or the .30-06 while handgun hunters prefer the 44 Magnum.
Bringing Home the Bacon
Like other wild game, hogs carry ticks and fleas. These creepy crawlers will be looking for a new home once the pig assumes room temperature. Don’t let it be you.
It’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves. Many hogs carry brucellosis or other diseases. Most aren’t fatal to humans, but why take a chance? If you have a nick or a cut on your hand and the hog’s blood mixes with yours, you could catch undulant fever or something worse.
It’s best to gut and skin a hog on the spot. Bring a rope and a block and tackle to lift the animal up off the ground.
However you prepare it, wild pork is outstanding table fare. Lean and natural, it is healthier than domestic pork. Bacon, pork chops, loin and ham are just some of the cuts you can get from it. A wild hog in the cooler can also be turned into hot dogs, summer sausage, pepperoni or breakfast links.
The great food is a reminder of a hunt like no other on this continent. When fall big game and game bird seasons have come and gone, put some pork in the crosshairs.Gary Lewis is published in dozens of hunting and fishing publications in the United States and around the world, as well as in his weekly newspaper columns. These hunting and fishing articles cover a wide range of topics from small game and fish to big game and predators. While he has searched the globe for these exciting adventures, Gary especially likes to spend his time in and write about the state that he calls home – Oregon. To order a signed copy of his book,“Gary Lewis’s Hunting Oregon,” send $$19.50 (includes S&H) to Gary Lewis Outdoors, PO Box 1364, Bend, OR 97709.
More Outdoor News
Wildlife conservation board funds projects11/23/14 -- At its November 20 quarterly meeting, the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) approved approximately $26 million in grants to help restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California. Some of the 16 funded... Full Story
Turtle Bay welcomes new pond turtles
End of the Drought: A glimmer of hope
11/21/14 -- Chances for a below normal, normal or above normal level of precipitation in Northern California are all about the same according to NOAA author, Mike Halbert. The map provided by Halpert in a NOAA release yesterday...Full Story
Rogue Aquatics: Mark the date…Nov. 2911/20/14 -- After you have your "big box store" shopping done Rogue Aquatics of Central Point is inviting MyOutdoorBuddy readers to come into their store on Saturday November 29 for a cup of coffee and a special... Full Story
NPS: Spend Black Friday at Lava Beds!11/20/14 -- For those looking for a more refreshing experience the day after Thanksgiving, Lava Beds National Monument has a solution. On Friday, November 28 ranger led programs will be offered at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.. Full Story
Water: Can’t store what isn’t there11/20/14 -- California’s approval of a $7.5 billion water bond has bolstered prospects for expanding reservoirs and groundwater storage, but the drought-prone state can effectively use no more than a 15 percent increase... Full Story
‘Old Time Holiday’ returns to Shasta County11/20/14 -- The National Park Service and California State Parks are gearing up for their annual “Old Time Holiday” celebration on Saturday, December 6 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Follow in the footsteps of miners who in 1849... Full Story
How are sturgeon weathering the drought?
11/20/14 -- I have a question about sturgeon. Are they being negatively affected by the drought? Since sturgeon have been around millions of years, they must have endured many droughts and so hopefully this drought will... Full Story
Oregon Weekly Recreation Report11/19/14 -- Yes, many rivers and streams closed to trout fishing after Oct. 31, but don’t put away the trout gear quite yet. Lots of water bodies are open for trout year-round, and this time of year the fish are feeding heavily in...Full Story
Chemical contamination up in CA streams11/19/14 -- Detections and concentrations of pyrethroid pesticides are increasing in California stream sediments, according to a new report by the Stream Pollution Trends Monitoring Program of the State Water Resources...Full Story
Splashing Salmon and Giant Sycamores
11/16/14 -- I’m sometimes asked if I had any favorite places to work during my twenty-one years supervising the warden force in western Shasta County. Lower Battle Creek immediately comes to mind--especially the tree...Full Story
F&G Commission Agenda needs scrutinyBy Frank Galusha
11/15/14 -- When the California Fish and Game Commission holds a meeting it is important for all potentially impacted stakeholders to be informed. There are 36 major items on the F&GC’s December 3 meeting starting at 8 a.m. at... Full Story
Tule Lake Unit to receive facelift
Disaster Preparedness Strategies – Part I
ODFW: Do not to feed brown pelicans11/12/14 -- The brown pelican, with its famous large throat pouch and gregarious personality is one of the most distinctive birds on the Oregon coast. Under normal circumstances, brown pelicans sustain themselves by scooping... Full Story
RV Collision Repair Requires Multiple Skills
11/10/14 -- I do not know of any other vehicles that require as many multiple occupational skills to repair than a collision damaged RV, specifically motor homes and travel trailers. Steel and aluminum are used in the structural ...Full Story
Redding vacation planning guide available
Lassen/Whiskeytown fee increases loom
3 locals plead guilty to illegal woodcutting
Passing on the Tradition essay contest10/29/14 -- The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and California Wildlife Officer Foundation are again co-sponsoring the annual “Passing on the Tradition” essay contest for young hunters...Full Story
CDFW November 2014 Calendar10/24/14 -- Docent-led walks at the Elkhorn Slough Ecological Reserve are scheduled every Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Binoculars and bird books are available for the public to borrow at no cost. The visitor center...Full Story
Oregon State Police: Watch for wildlife
Contest for CA Upland Game stamp begins10/19/14 -- The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is conducting an art contest to select the design for the state’s 2014-2015 upland game bird stamp. The California Upland Game Bird Stamp... Full Story
USFWS re-opens comment on Cuckoo
10/15/14 -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Oct. 14, 2014, will re-open the public comment period on its proposal to designate 546,335 acres of critical habitat for the western population of yellow... Full Story
Making Friends With The Neighbors
10/14/14 -- There are few animals in nature that match the majestic beauty of a stallion running wild and free. They rule their territory by day and by night. Recently, my wife Laura and I decided to change adventures...Full Story
10/08/14 -- Southwest of Mt. Lassen lies a remote and largely forgotten piece of Cascade foothill region. Dark basaltic cliffs and pinnacles adorn inhospitable river canyons, carved by what is now Mill and Deer Creeks, through bad...Full Story
USFWS to list West Coast Fisher
Tall Trees and Emerald Waters
10/06/14 -- Kathy and I recently attended the Outdoor Writers Association of California (OWAC) fall conference on the aptly-named Wild Rivers Coast. Stretching from Port Orford, Oregon to Klamath, California, the Wild.... Full Story
Five Mile Point Caves predate 'Clovis'10/03/14 -- The National Park Service has added the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves to the United States’ listing of the nation’s most important archaeological and historic sites. Situated near the town of Paisley in south...Full Story
Ringing in a New Water Year
09/29/14 -- It's time to make some water-related resolutions, because October 1 marks the beginning of a new water year. A "water year" is a term used by the U.S. Geological Survey and hydrologists to describe...Full Story
CA DFW has swan tours through January
How to Comply with Tow Chain LawsBy Don Stec
09/13/14 -- One of the most common mistakes trailer owners make is: Failure to properly attach a safety chain between a trailer and the towing vehicle. There seems to be a consensus by the general public that simply...Full Story
Above the CanopyArticle and photos by Steven T. Callan
09/06/14 -- Having had the pleasure and privilege of diving in California’s kelp forests from San Diego to Monterey, I would describe it as a surreal, almost religious experience -- witnessing underwater cathedrals rising...Full Story
Turtle Bay to showcase Toytopia
Trinidad Sea Kayaking
09/03/14 -- The thing I love most about guiding and coaching sea kayaking is sharing unique experience with others. The ocean is dynamic. It’s full of life and energy. One hundred yards from shore and you’re...Full Story
Light Your Way
07/25/14 -- Okay, I was lost, or at least in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a long time ago and I was in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness Area following what I thought was the trail back to camp, only it was a path used primarily...Full Story
Lassen National Volcanic Park
07/21/14 -- Lassen National Park is one of the best kept secrets in the National Park system. It may be hard to call a place that has over 400,000 visitors a year a secret but compared to Yosemite’s 2.5 million and the 9.4...Full Story
Honey, Bees Can Make You Bumble!
07/21/14 -- It was a warm, sunny day in July, many, many years ago. In two months, I would officially be a teenager. As I recall, it was a Saturday, and our entire family had piled into two cars and we were headed...Full Story
Peak Bagging in WinterBy Jim Broshears
02/11/13 -- Peak bagging, according to peakbagging.com/ refers to climbing mountains. When a summit is reached, it is “bagged”. You don’t have to go to exotic locations to enjoy this sport, or even be an elite mountain climber...Full Story
Roaring Camp 1; Grumpy old man 0
05/31/14 – For a full seven day stretch last week, I was not a grumpy old man. I slipped into a happy trance. My wife, Antonnette and I spent the time at Roaring Camp Gold Mining Company in Pine Grove, California. I have... Full Story
The Mystery of the Middle Fork – Part III
04/09/14 -- Our search for Tuck’s lost meadow continued in 2013. After three previous trips and multiple days of searching, you might be wondering why we don’t just call it a day. Or possibly question why we have not... Full Story
Extreme Beam FlashlightsBy Gary Heffley
04/08/14 -- Let’s get right to the point Extreme Beam Flashlights are durable, dependable, have great tactical applications and outshines most of the competition. What’s that you say, you have looked at some of the competition...Full Story
The 'Death Wobble' -- Be Safe Not Sorry!
03/31/14 -- Death Wobble is not to be confused with a front-end shimmy or a wheel balance problem. A Death Wobble (DW) is very common on vehicles with a solid front axle. It has earned its name, not from mechanics but by vehicle... Full Story
The Mystery of the Middle Fork -- Part II
03/10/14 -- Our return to the Middle Fork of Feather River would take place in August of 2012. Having nearly 10 months to plan the next exploration, we, of course, waited until the last minute decide our course of action... Full Story
The Mystery of the Middle Fork -- Part I
02/15/14 -- Part #1 Exploring the Middle Fork of the Feather River -- Stories about hidden valleys, waterfalls, canyons and fishing are part of outdoor folklore. Most of these tales begin with “When I was a kid we went to this place” and...Full Story
Mendocino Weekend: Cave & Wave Kayaking
10/30/13 -- My first day paddle (Thursday October 24) from Russian Gulch to the town of Mendocino was calming after being in my truck for so long. The sun came out and warmed me up just enough so I wanted to land on... Full Story
BLM seeks input on use of OR public lands01/30/13 – Resource Management Plans or RMPs are a process in which the BLM is working with communities, to gain innovative ideas and to identify the latest natural resource research on how your Oregon public lands will...Full Story