This is an example video of what it is like to encounter hogs on the ground “stalk hunting.” Not all hunts are what they appear to be, so ask some good questions of your guide about game management, just so you are on the same page.
Ed Lukehart shot this hog at 146 yards on Dwayne’s second ranch about an hour from Okeechobee, Florida this weekend. If you watch the video it will give a feel for what it is like to walk up on the hogs. Sometimes you jump them and they charge at you instead of running away. No video of that yet.
Wild hogs travel in groups, with some dominent boars and several sows and shoats, or piglets. There is also something called a “barr” or “barrow” hog that has been gelded. Barr hogs grow bigger than ungelded boar hogs, and you can eat them.
Check with your guide before book a hunt and ask if the land they hunt is fenced with hog fence or high fence. If you click this picture to make it larger you will see that this is three line barbed wire cattle fence, and that there are hog tracks running back and forth in and out of the ranch. When the animals are well kept and well fed, but free to leave, that is true open range hunting.
Feral hogs have become popular to hunt but they are an invasive nuisance animal species. This was a cow pasture but it has been destroyed by hog rooting. This is why ranchers and dairy farmers will often welcome you to rid them of their hog population.
Most guide services will replenish their hog population by trapping hogs on other farms or ranches. This is a hog transport trailer, and it requires a special license to transport wild livestock.
Not just small hogs get caught in traps. This monster has over 2 inch tusks and probably weighs upwards of 400 lbs.
Sometimes we take for granted some of the most obvious things, then when you find out that what you took for granted doesn’t actually exist anyway, it can be terribly disappointing. A lot of people have been asking our resident guide Dwayne Powell of Kissimmee River Hunt & Fish about “free range” game lately, as opposed to fenced in game. The guided hunt market exploded a couple years ago, and this far down the line some people are getting wise to the fact that a lot of guided “hunts” aren’t hunts at all. They make it feel like a hunt, but really what you are shooting are caged animals on very small parcels of land. There are guys selling “open range” hog hunts, turkey hunts, deer hunts, and even alligator hunts, on from 100 down to even 5 acres of land. Around the property is a high fence, and none of the game is native and wild on the property. it has all been deposited, to be caged and killed. On the smaller properties the “guide” will drive around in circles, then take you a feeder you would swear is deep in the woods, but is really only a couple hundred yards from where you started.
One recent client of Dwayne’s went so far as to check the Google maps on his ranch, just to see if he could find the “high fences” that would “prove” that the animals were fenced in. Not finding any fences (there isn’t even any hog fencing on the ranch), they booked the hunt with Dwayne and were shocked to find that all of the game is indeed free ranging, and they come and go as they please. But it led to us thinking, is there an informational article we could do on this subject? Dwayne is a wealth of information, as he has been hunting hogs, with and without dogs, his entire life. Since we began this series you guys have been booking hunts with Dwayne like crazy, and the hunting pressure on the original 8,000 ranch has taught us even more. Keeping the game fresh and available is a challenge when you have guns blasting several times a week, but here are some of the things we’ve learned. Because hog hunts are so available we’ll stick to hogs, but, within the bounds of legal game management, some of these principles apply to other species as well. Hogs have very few laws regarding them so you can pretty much do what you need to do to maintain a sustainable population.
Hunting Leases vs. Guided Hunts
In Florida it is a felony to hunt on land that you don’t have a legal right to hunt. Hunting is big business here, and the same is true for Texas, Wyoming, Montana and many other game rich states. In some cases the hunting leases on farm or ranchland produce more income for the landowner than the farm or ranch itself. Per-acre costs can run up into the triple digits, and for many people even a shared lease isn’t money well spent, because even if you have time to hunt it occasionally, finding the game in different seasons can be a challenge. Most people don’t have the time to stock feeders and monitor game cameras, and without these tools of the trade, you can find yourself paying for a hunting lease without a viable hunt. On a shared lease, you could prepare and scout a hunt, then get your game spooked or killed by another party the day before. Leases are great in theory, but they don’t always pan out to successful hunts.
Guided hunts, especially for wild feral hogs, are much more affordable, but if you want it to be a “hunt,” and not just a kill, you really need to do your homework in advance. Pounding the same half a dozen stands day in and day out takes a toll on the available game. Even with carefully aimed shots at single hogs in a group, the rest of that group gets spooked after a couple times at the same feeder. Once they are boogered, you can sit in the stand all night and they won’t come in. Instead they will linger near the feeder and sniff for a while, so that even if you have the wind right and you are using scent blocker, they will eventually get a whiff of you and run off.
On unfenced land, if you have a booming guide business, eventually you will figure out that successful hunts get harder and harder, and eventually you run out of decent sized hogs unless you replenish your stock. Every guide deals with these issues in their own ways. Getting them to come clean with the details on how they do it will tell you if they are guiding hunts, and running a kill your own supermarket, or, worst case scenario, charging people full prices for hunts while delivering an ever sinking success rate. Whether your hunting guide is on leased land or owned land, unless they have a way to keep the game fresh and the pressure down, the quality of the hunts will go downhill.
Trapping & Fencing
There is no “best practices” book for running a hunting guide service , so you really have to develop your own methodology. As things started to take off for Dwayne at KRH&F, he was fortunate enough that some of the calls ringing the phone off the hook were from local ranchers in the Okeechobee, Florida area. The dairy farms especially are not generally able to sell hunting leases on their ranches, so they get over-run by an unmanaged hog population. The dairy farmers contacted Dwayne to see if he had the ability to trap the hogs on their dairy farm land and bring the hogs to Dwayne’s land. Fortunately Dwayne has been trapping hogs since he was a kid, and it was just a matter of buying some traps and trailers, so it worked out great for both parties. Even some ranches that had expensive hunting leases contracted on their land have asked Dwayne to come get their hogs, because the leases were purchased just for Osceola turkeys and whitetail deer, and the hogs have gotten out of control.
Can you keep game fresh without bringing in trapped hogs? Our experience so far has been that the answer is no, and this was not lightly researched. The main ranch on which Dwayne guides is a private lease on 8,000 acres of virgin cattle ranch. There is artesian water on ranch in 4 locations, making it the only water during the dry seasons for the entire surrounding area. Dwayne runs only three full time feeders on this entire acreage, and there are active hunters on the land 3 to 5 days per week, with occasional short lulls due to weather. For the most part there has been a steady and available supply of both meat and trophy hogs, but sometimes, because the land is not fenced, the hogs just disappear. The same feeder can have a dozen large hogs on the cameras every night for two weeks straight, then poof, they are gone. Sometimes it is because of natural food sources, like acorns, which the hogs like better than feeder corn. But other times the only explanation is that they got spooked and wandered off. Such is life. Hogs tend to wander.
At some point Dwayne does plan to make a 60 to 100 acre fenced in area using low hog fence for hunters who are looking for both a hunt and a somewhat guaranteed shot at some hogs, but for now nothing is fenced and the success rate has been over 90%. His methodology is to pen the trapped hogs in for a few days with a feeder, then open then open the gate and let them go. If they wander off they wander off, but many of them stay, and that has kept a good crop of fresh hogs that visit the feeders at specific times. If your guide either doesn’t want to tell you what they do, or attempts to convince you that he can have guns going off several nights a week without some kind of management plan, you may want to bring up the Google map to see just how much land he is guiding, and if he is running a zoo, not a guiding business.
Basic Management Plans
On a sizeable piece of property, at least in the thousand acre range, rotating feeders and stands may be enough if the guiding operation is small. In areas where hogs are nuisance animals, your guide will probably be able to buy hogs from locals who trap problem hog populations. Hogs are rangy animals. If they have what they need for food, water and basic nutrients, they will hang around. Otherwise they just shuffle along until they find something new. This is what makes them serious nuisance animals in many parts of Texas, Florida and some of the Southern states. Hogs don’t just stay in one place. They bounce around, rooting everything in their path, until they hit a fence. Then they walk the other way.
Fencing hogs, or the absence of it, isn’t the Holy Grail of guided hog hunts. For most people, hunting is supposed to be hunting. Otherwise it would be called killing instead of hunting. The probability of failure goes way down when you fence in a specific amount of acres and trap the hogs in a giant cage, but don’t feel too bad if you prefer to success to being a purist. These animals are food, not just trophies. The important thing is to get what you are paying for, and to be on the same page with the guide so that you are not disappointed later when someone at the shooting range says “oh yea he fences in 5 acres and pretends it is a 5,000 acre ranch.” Don’t laugh. It happens, and more than you think. But that isn’t to say that you shouldn’t expect some kind of management plan, with some level of trapped or purchased hogs. Pheasant hunting in New England is the same way, with nearly 100% of the birds farm raised. You have to expect that at some point, 100% wild game can only go so far. It’s ok to cheat a little to make your clients successful, so you should expect that going in.
Meat Hogs. vs. Trophy Hogs
Sport hunting, or trophy hunting, is demonized by a lot of the shooting world who don’t hunt. But this is mostly from ignorance, because the last generation was so decimated by divorce and family breakups that hunting traditions were not passed down. In many ways the tables have turned on hunters in the last 20 years. It used to be that the shooters and self defense gun owners depended on hunters to back up the pro-gun vote, because they outnumbered us. These days, however, hunters account for under 20% of gun owners and it is now the shooters organizations, NRA included, out there fighting for hunting rights. The 2nd Amendment was not written to protect sporting arms, but as shooting sports enthusiasts we are all in this together and we should all have each other’s backs when it comes to enjoying our firearms.
Hog hunting has become a great, low cost, re-entry for a lot of people who skipped a generation learning how to hunt. You can easily kill hogs with a .223/5.56 if you use the right bullet and have good shot placement, so entry level “tactical” gun enthusiasts have flocked to go try to shoot a hog, mainly because they are good to eat. We all eat meat, which means that someone is killing an animal at some point on our behalf. It is somewhat hypocritical to cry foul on “sport hunting” when it amounts to no more than what the slaughterhouse did for your dinner tonight in the case of hunting hogs. But you have to shoot the right type of hog if you intend the eat them.
You may not know this, but a very high percentage of the beef and pork you eat comes from gelded male animals. Dwayne is actually a licensed butcher and worked as a supermarket butcher for many years. Over 80% of the cows and pigs were gelded males. This is why you have to make a decision, before you go hog hunting. Are you hunting for a meat animal or a trophy animal, because most wild male hogs are not gelded, and they taste terrible. You may find some ranches that capture and geld their hogs, then turn them back out. They are called “barr hogs” or more correctly “barrow hogs.” Again, this is something you need to ask your guide. If you want a 400 pound trophy hog with two inch tusks for your wall, don’t plan to eat him unless he is is a barr hog, gelded before puberty. Otherwise plan to shoot a female “meat hog” in the 200-300 pound range. Hogs are much heavier than they look, and the yield in meat is surprisingly small, so settle yourself on what you want before you go out hunting so there is no disappointment.
Rotating Ranches & Stalk Hunting
The best management plan answer you can get from a guide will be that they rotate hunting leases and let the stands go “fallow” for lack of a better word, the same way a smart farmer does with farm fields. There are people who get into guiding hunts because they don’t have a job, and there are hunting guides, born and bred. If you have a chance to hunt with the latter you will know it, and most likely your first clue will be that they have some kind of stewardship plan for the land they are managing. Real hunters love and respect the animals they hunt, and even though hogs may officially be a nuisance animal, they are no different. Dwayne has already been asked to manage the hog populations on two other large ranches, so he is able to let the original 8,000 acre ranch go fallow for several weeks at a time. This allows the regular hog population to un-booger themselves from gunfire, and it allows the newly trapped and released hogs to establish patterns there on the ranch.
A side benefit is that proper management allows you to “stalk hunt.” Hogs are not by nature entirely nocturnal. If you think of pigs on a farm, they are up and around during the day, and the same is true of wild hogs if they are not under hunting pressure. The real fun hog hunting is to stay on the ground and attempt to walk up on hogs that are rooting either early morning or just before dusk. On a piece of land that is overpopulated with hogs you can even find them out in the middle of the day. Sitting in a stand shooting a hog that walks up to a feeder is fun, and probably a best bet for a new hunter, but it just can’t compare to “tactical hog hunting” on the ground with the animals. The only caveot to this is that it can actually be dangerous, or even deadly. These wild hogs will eat you. If you jump them when they are lying in one of their “wallow” holes, the boars will almost 100% of the time charge you. Be prepared to take a shot at 10 to 100 yards plus. The shot right in front of you may be at a hog charging at full steam, and the 100 yard shot may be running toward you or away from you. depending on the mood of the hog. These animals have great noses, and if they start to notice you before you get close, you may have to take a long shot.
An Inexpensive First Hunt
For all the trouble you would think that hog hunting would be expensive, but it isn’t, because there are a ton of hogs in Florida, Texas and other places. The key is managing them on the land you hunt, without bringing down your overall success rates, on real, honest, hunts. If your guide service has a website or a Facebook, look on their for references from other clients. Be careful of the paid results in Google search. Many of those are in Texas and they use bait and switch to get you to pay for more than you initially agreed upon. There are some charlatans out there and there are some honest guides with a love for hunting and for continuing the great American hunting tradition. If you live in an area where the farmland is tied up with expensive hunting leases, ask if they need help managing their hogs. Sometimes you can get lucky, but even if you have to pay for a hunt, there are a lot worse ways to spend a few hundred bucks in a day. Hog hunting is a lot of fun.