June 28, 2013
Wanna bet this post title sets new records for hits?
“There are no pigs on public land.”
If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that I could probably afford ammo for my hog rifle. But if you ask a lot of hunters, especially CA hunters, that’s a common refrain. Of course we know it’s not true, but looking at CA, there’s a whole lot of land, and a whole lot of hunters, but not much success. Still, when you think about those first two things, that last one makes sense.
Hogs are smart. Seriously, they’re pretty much on par with dogs, if not smarter. They learn… and they retain. It doesn’t take many run-ins with humans before they figure out where to go and when to go there. They’re also not afraid of logging some miles between dinner and bed, so if one place is a little too hot, they’ll find someplace else. So if you put a bunch of hunters in an area, the hogs are going to find another area… at least during shooting hours. And despite the fact that the place may be covered in sign, you never see a hog.
Very little is as frustrating as hitting the trail in the morning to find dozens of fresh tracks crisscrossing the ridges you just hunted all the previous day. They’ll poop in your footprints, and then trot off giggling their little piggy giggles. I’ve literally rousted myself out of camp to see fresh rooting less than 50 yards from my parked vehicle. I even heard grunting outside the camper in the wee, dark hours. But then you’ll spend the day busting your ass up and down over ridge and rill, glassing like a madman, only to find… well, nothing. No pigs, big or little.
So tip number one for public land hunters… hunt where no one else hunts.
If you’ve been hearing about a particular spot for years, don’t go there. Everyone else has been hearing about it too. And they beat you to it. Hogs like crowds of other hogs… not crowds of hunters. You’re going to find them in the place you never heard about.
Here’s a typical scenario. Joe hears about this spot where Jim saw a lot of sign. Bill told Jim that Sam shot a pig there six years, four months, and seven days ago. Joe asks Jim to ask Bill to ask Sam where he shot the pig. Sam tells Bill to tell Jim to let Joe know that the pig was in a clearing about 200 yards south of the big rock that’s just in the shadow of the forked oak tree. Joe takes off in search of that oak tree, finds it, sees no pigs, and comes back to tell Jim to tell Bill to let Sam know that there aren’t any more pigs there.
A couple of likely things have happened here.
The first possibility is that, by the time Joe heard the tale, odds are that a dozen other hunters also heard it. They all came to try their luck. The pigs said, “the heck with all this noise,” probably after Sam’s first shot, and they boogeyed on down the canyon to a new place. If Joe had persevered and covered some ground outside of that “comfort zone”, he might have found himself a hog to shoot. But instead, since the hot spot didn’t pan out, Joe declared the whole area a bust. Tomorrow, he’ll be asking Ralph to tell him where Ann told Sue that her boyfriend, Buck, shot that hog.
And that brings us to tip number two… never underestimate the value of hard work and perseverance.
What Joe should have done is spread out and work the area hard. Cover ground. Find sign. Locate key features such as water, bedding areas, and food. And then hunt the hell out of it. If you just drop by once a month or so when you’ve got nothing better to do, you might as well just be rolling the dice on success. It could happen, but it probably won’t. You need to be willing and able to hammer an area good and hard if you find good sign. Get out there before the sun rises, and don’t leave until it’s dark… or better yet, pack a tent and stay out there. Keep after it and then, maybe if the breezes of fortune are gentle across your fantail, you’ll have the same kind of luck that Sam had.
Of course, the more likely possibility is that Sam lied. Hunters do that. Successful public land hunters probably do it even more.
And this leads us to tip number three. If you find a good spot, don’t give it away.
It’s tempting, of course, to come off as the hero. We all want to be the nice guy, right? More importantly, we want to be perceived as the great hog hunter who found hogs on public land. So we share a little info about a hot spot, or pass along a tip to a friend. Maybe it’s texting someone a GPS coordinate, or maybe just circling a general area on the map with admonishments to, “keep this to yourself.”
“Oh, your secret’s safe with me,” your friend will assure you.
Sam’s secret was safe too… until he told Bill.
Look, it’s not some nefarious, ill-willed plot to ruin your honey hole. It’s just that people talk. You share that special info with a trusted friend who shares it with a trusted friend… it’s how things work. If you want a hot spot to stay hot, you have to keep it to yourself… at least until you have a new hot spot to replace it.
You don’t have to be unfriendly about it. In fact, be helpful. Just not too helpful. Give a few suggestions about other places you’ve seen hog sign. Give away someone else’s honey hole, like the place where you heard that Ann’s boyfriend, Buck, shot his public land hog. Even better, pass along the advice I’ve just shared here.
Think of it like the old aphorism about teaching a man to fish…
If you give a friend your honey hole and he goes there and kills a hog, you’ve lost a friend and a honey hole. If you teach a friend to find his own honey hole… well, you’ve probably still lost a friend because if he’s smart, he isn’t going to tell you how to find his honey hole.
It’s a vicious circle, this public land hog hunting. Vicious.
June 27, 2013
Thought ya’ll might like a break from the lead ban discussion. Let’s see if this one is any less controversial…
While running through my Facebook feed the other day, I saw yet another post where someone was looking for “cheap” hog hunting opportunities in California. I read through the comments/responses, and through it all ran the same old thread I’ve been seeing for years. There were a few helpful suggestions. There were a couple of guide services plugging their own operations. And there were the guys, stubbornly mired in a fantasy world, who insist that no one should pay more than $XXX for a hog hunt. Some of what I read bothered me a little bit, so I figure it’s worth sticking my two cents in on the topic.
I’ll start by saying that I haven’t done extensive research lately. I used to be pretty diligent in researching outfitters and guides, both to get some ideas on new hunting locations as well as to keep a competitive eye on the market. But I don’t live or guide in CA anymore, and my research down here in TX is really just getting started. I think that, between what I’m finding now and what I knew before, I can make some pretty solid extrapolations.
The truth is, for a quality, guided hog hunt you need to plan on paying upwards of $500 (this appears to be true no matter where you’re hunting… CA, TX, GA, SC., etc.). In most cases, you’re going to pay significantly more. I was looking at a couple of operations here in TX recently, and found that their hog hunts were running in the neighborhood of $400/day… with a two or three day minimum. A guided, weekend hunt at a nice place in SC will set you back around $900-$1200. Day hunts in the “Brush Country” area of west-central TX are showing up from $450 to $600, which is pretty much identical to what a hunter will pay in the central coast region of CA. (There are also cheaper hunts advertised, often $100-$200/day… but when you read the fine print, you find that those include “kill fees”, and even mandatory field-dressing/skinning fees.)
Are there cheaper options? Definitely. I suppose that some folks will even luck into a real deal for half that amount. It’s not really a regulated industry, so prices are entirely up to the operator. Of course, the flip side of that is that the quality of the hunt can also be entirely up to the operator, and if you didn’t pay very much in the first place, the incentive to offer real value isn’t going to be very high.
So how do you decide?
It really comes down to your expectations. What do you want to get from your hunt? What are you willing to accept? Are you out for the guaranteed kill, are you hoping to get an education, or do you just want to experience a good hunt in some beautiful country? Do you need a skilled guide who can help you with everything from finding game to skinning and butchering? What do you want in regards to accommodation?
So let’s say you have an operator who says he offers a guided hunt in CA for $450. He tells you that the pigs they kill average 200 to 300 lbs. Sounds pretty good, no?
Well, as a novice hunter you may not be aware that a 200 lb feral hog isn’t necessarily rare, but let me tell you that a 200 pounder is a really big pig in the wild. And 300 lbs? That is a true monster among feral swine. Do such hogs exist in the wild? Absolutely. But as a hunter and guide with a reasonable amount of experience, I can tell you that I’d question anyone who told you their average kill was that large.
The operative word here is “question”. Don’t be afraid to ask. Maybe the outfitter has a solid explanation. For example, if he’s running hunts inside an enclosure, a high-fence ranch, it’s entirely possible that they have a good stock of large hogs. Maybe they manage their hunters and their herd to keep a ready supply of trophy-sized animals. Or maybe they run hunts on tens of thousands of acres with a lot of pigs, and only allow the hunters to shoot really large hogs. But the only way to find out is to ask.
By asking, you’ll know if you’re about to show up and hunt inside a fence. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that… but some folks do. When I was guiding out at Native Hunt, I saw more than one client get upset when they found out that their hunt would be in an enclosure. Newsflash, people… when this happens, it isn’t the outfitter’s fault, it’s the customer’s. You’ve got to do your homework! (Native Hunt offered both high fence and free-range hunts, but unless specified otherwise by the hunter, we put them where they would find pigs.)
Asking questions is also a two-way communication. Maybe you’re not really interested in killing a 200 lb. hog, but would be perfectly happy with a 100-pounder for the luau pit. Are you opposed to hunting with dogs? Are you able to hump up and down steep canyons? You give the guide a chance to find out what you want, and you get to find out what the guide expects.
So that’s the $450 guided hunt. What about these cheap hunts you hear about for $250 – $300/day?
To be honest, there aren’t that many places doing this anymore, but when you can find them it can be a really great opportunity… for a great hunt or a flat-out bust. For this kind of money, you should know you’ll get a bare bones hunt with minimal extras. Usually, at this price you’re getting access to someone’s property or lease. You won’t be guided (although some outfits, like Bryson Hesperia, will give you a ton of good intel if you ask), and you won’t have anyone packing your game out or processing it for you. This can be a good opportunity for an experienced hunter, but you still need to do the homework. What are success rates? Is there a time of year that’s better than others? If you don’t do some serious homework on this kind of hunt, you are setting yourself up for frustration.
Doing your homework is just as important when you’re looking at the higher-priced hunts. In fact, it might even be more important. Just because you’re paying a lot, doesn’t mean you’ll get a lot. I’ve seen hunts advertised at $1000 for a weekend where the hunters stay in run-down farm buildings and have to provide their own food. The “guided hunt” consists of taking the group of six to eight hunters out to tree stands and bait piles, and leaving them there for a few hours. In other cases, I’ve seen weekend hunts for $650 where the hunters stay in a beautiful lodge with quality meals provided and the guiding is two hunters per guide. Either way can be perfectly fine, as long as you know what to expect. The only way to find out is to ask.
So what does this all boil down to?
Basically this… the days of the cheap hog hunt are pretty much over. Not only that, but prices are going up. Even in states like TX where hogs have become such a nuisance that the state has pulled out all the stops to reduce them, landowners and hunt operators are capitalizing on the popularity of hog hunting. There are still bargains available, but never has caveat emptor meant more than it does today. Remember that whenever a deal seems too good to be true… well, you know the rest.
At risk of redundancy (I know I’ve written about this many times before), I’ll offer these recommendations for getting the most out of your hunting dollar:
- Define your expectations clearly before you ever contact an outfitter or guide. You need to know what you want before you can tell someone else.
- Communicate these expectations to the outfitter or guide. Don’t be afraid to be specific about what you’re hoping to get for your money. You don’t have to be a jerk, but be upfront and honest.
- Be completely clear about what you will accept, and what you will not (e.g. high fence, hounds, road hunting, etc.).
- Be prepared to be flexible. These are wild animals. They don’t always do what the guide expects them to do. Sometimes you have to be willing to adjust if you want success.
- Verify what is included in the price of the hunt (guides, accommodation, food, skinning/field dressing, etc.). The more you pay, the more important this is. You may find that what one outfitter offers for $1200 can be had from another at half that price.
- Ask about success rates. Guided hog hunts usually have high success rates, but if anyone advertises 100%, then question them. Also note that some outfitters advertise “shot opportunity” instead of actual success. Be sure you understand and agree about the definition of “shot opportunity” before you book the hunt.
- Ask for referrals AND THEN CALL THEM. (Be sure to ask for successful as well as unsuccessful referrals.)
- Oh… and ask about tips. The outfitter may hedge, but it’s always good to feel out the expectation.
The bottom line is that you are responsible for ensuring that your hunting experience is everything you want it to be. It’s true that part of hunting is the unexpected twists of nature (human and wild), and that sometimes stuff happens beyond your control. But the more proactive you can be, the more likely you are to have the experience and success you’re looking for.
May 21, 2013
I’ve had my hot and cold attitudes about Tejon Ranch over the years, as they writhed and contorted to appease the environmentalists, to get approval for construction and development projects, and to get ahead of the lead ammo issue. But the truth is, it’s still a magical place and one of my favorite hunting locations of all time.
And it’s in California. I am not.
A California-based hunting magazine, Relentless 365, has started cranking out some really cool web videos on YouTube, and the other day I had the chance to view this newest release… Tejon Ranch Hogs. It’s about 21 minutes of footage of bow hunts all over the ranch, and it gives you a pretty good idea of what the dedicated hunter can find on this place. What made it particularly special to me was that I’ve hiked and crawled a lot of the same places you see here. It really got the old memories going, I can say that much!
Anyway, here’s the video. 21 minutes is a long time, in web terms, but this is SO worth sitting still for. Check it out.
May 15, 2013
While we’re on a run here, this is one of my favorite vids (and one of my prouder moments). The video tells the tale…
May 1, 2013
This isn’t a new video, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never put it here.
February 28, 2013
The Hog Blog went to Mississippi, he was lookin’ for a hog to kill
He was in a bind, ’cause he was way behind, and he was lookin’ to make a deal
He came across a young boar rubbin’ on a fence post and making a mess
The Hog Blog jumped up on a hickory stump, he said, hog, let me tell you this.
You’re a mighty fine specimen, but give the Hog Blog his due
I got a bullet of gold, against your soul, says I got more friends than you
The hog said, my name’s Wilbur, and it it might be a sin,
but I’ll take your bet and you’re gonna regret, ’cause I’m the most popular that’s ever been.
Then the Hog Blog opened up his case, and he said I’ll start this show.
And fire flew from the muzzle as he zeroed in his scope.
He tossed the empty in the creek, and it made an evil hiss.
But no one came to see the show, something was amiss.
When he finished, Wilbur laughed, well you’re pretty good old son.
But look around, you’re all alone, nobody didn’t come.
Then he played..
Corn on the mountain run boys run
Apples and berries gotta gitcha some!
Punkins and taters and watermelon too
And here came the hogs, two by two
And when he finished the Hog Blog smiled, grinned from ear to ear
and as those hogs came trotting in, he shot them far and near
Wilbur screamed, “you sonofabitch”, what did you just do?
But then the Hog Blog grinned, took careful aim, and then shot Wilbur too.
February 22, 2013
Now Rex, from the Deer Camp blog has been inviting me to come out and enjoy some of that Mississippi hospitality for several years now, but I’ve always had to decline for one reason or another. But every time, I struggle to balance responsibility against my desire to get out there and meet another blogger… and to hog hunt in another state.
Well, this year it’s all working out. The invitation found me between work travel, and with no hunting trips to organize. Of course, there’s a lot of work to be done around the ranch, but it’s nothing that can’t wait another week or two.
Besides, I hear there’s going to be a “world famous hog hunter” at the event this year. I can’t wait to meet this guy. I’d sure like to pick his brain!
February 15, 2013
Ian, one of the proud and few Hog Blog readers sent me a few photos from some game cams he’s been following in Sonoma County. I thought they’d be good incentive for some of us to get out of the house and into the woods this weekend. If this were my game cams, I know exactly where I’d be!
February 5, 2013
This is the kind of thing I go for, and one of the reasons I hate that I missed it this year… new ammunition, targeted for hog hunters and for the lead-free market.
I had to hear about it on YouTube…
What the hell am I talking about? The Remington Hog Hammer ammo was announced at SHOT 2013. It features the Barnes triple-shock (TSX) bullet, and will be available in seven calibers, from .223 Rem to .450 Bushmaster.
The new round appears to follow on the concepts introduced the year before last with Winchester’s Razorback XT, including a special propellant to reduce muzzle flash (for night time or low-light shooting) and nickle-plated cases to ensure clean feeding through the popular semi-automatic rifles (black rifles, modern sporting rifles, ARs, or whatever you want to call them).
Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to establish a relationship with Remington in order to get samples of their ammo. As a result, it’s not likely that I’ll be testing any of these personally to let you guys know what I think of them. If any of you readers gets a chance to put these things through their paces, though, I’d love to hear what you thought.
In the meantime, I do have a pretty good relationship at Winchester, so I will be trying out their latest Razorback XT offerings in my .44mag. I’ll let ya’ll know more about that one fairly soon!
February 4, 2013
Well, the Stupor Bowl is over. Traditionally, at least to me, that means we’re heading into the winter doldrums.
Waterfowl seasons wrapped up (or are wrapping up now) with the last of the youth hunts. Upland birds and small game are pretty much done (except here in TX, I guess, where there’s no closed season for squirrels or rabbits). Elk seasons are long gone, as are the seasons for whitetail, blacktail, and mule deer. Alas! What’s a hunter to do?
This is the time of year that always used to really get me down. The guns are put away. It’s too cold to fish (nothing personal to my readers who do this, but ice fishing is for crazy people). And, unlike a bear, I can’t even hibernate until these next tedious months have passed.
But then, for me, one thing changed all of that.
With year-round seasons, generally liberal limits, and huntable populations across several states (including Hawaii), there’s a reason these are my favorite animals to hunt. They can be a great challenge to hunt, especially in places like CA where you have to get out into the backcountry to chase them, and they’re awesome on the table.
They became my preferred game, and are also the raison d’etre of this blog. So…
If you haven’t tried it yet, and cabin fever is already setting in, then there’s no better time than now. And if you’d like to learn a little more about it, shoot me a line right here in the comments. I may not have every answer, but I’m pretty handy at finding the resources to help you get what you need. On top of that, there are a bunch of pretty experienced hog hunters reading this blog, and I expect they will have some thoughts and suggestions as well.
So pull the guns out of the safe, or the bows off the rack, and let’s get ready to do some hog hunting!