Hog Hunting Basics by Randy Rowley


It is well known that I much prefer to hunt hogs over deer because I find hogs more challenging.

Experts claim that hogs are smarter than dogs.  I can attest to that and have seen hogs do some amazing things that a deer would never do.

In 1995, Eddy Chance, Larry Dowden, Ken Farmer, and I were bow hunting in a 40-acre hog pen (the hogs could get into the pen via doors with springs on them, but couldn’t leave).  We had been chasing a medium-sized black hog for over an hour.  It ran to the opposite side of the pen (which was very heavily wooded).  Eddy finally found it in a tank with only its nose above the water.  It was submerged like a submarine!  He scared it out.  It stopped (probably to see what had scared it), which enabled Eddy to put it down.

In 1997, David Chalmers, Tim Price, Jason Behm, Tom Grass, and I were bow hunting a 35-acre hog pen.  I was at one end of the rectangular-shaped pen.  Suddenly I saw about 30 hogs running down the far fence line.  David was chasing them from about 75 yards behind.  The hogs got to the corner and then ran to the corner near me.  I was in head to toe camo (including face mask and gloves).  I had not moved a muscle, yet they knew that I was there.  They started to mill around and then got into the most amazing formation (quicker than most groups of humans could do).  The big hogs went to the back of the formation. The medium-sized hogs were between the big ones and me, and the small hogs were between the medium-sized ones and me.  They then ran right down the fence line in that formation.  I had a 20-yard shot, but if I wanted to shoot a big hog, I would have to shoot through a medium-sized one (we were only allowed to shoot one hog)!  I aimed at the big hog’s backs and let loose. My arrow stuck harmlessly in the trunk of a cedar tree.

In addition to being smart, they have incredible senses of hearing and smell (although you would think that they couldn’t smell a thing because they stink so badly).  They are predominantly nocturnal animals, so they see better at night than during the day.  They have a reputation for poor vision, but that has not been my experience.  They also spot movement well.  However, we can nullify these advantages with standard deer hunting tactics – wearing full camo, making as little movement as possible, noise control, using the wind to your favor, and scent control.

Hogs are color blind, so it doesn’t matter if you chose an “Early Fall” or “Late Fall” camo pattern.  Just pick one that matches the foliage where you hunt.  If you’re hunting an area that is dominated by mesquite trees and cactus, then don’t choose Real Tree Treebark or Advantage Wetlands.  The most significant things that are neglected when choosing camo clothes are coverings for the hands and face.  It always amazes me to see hunters in full camo except for those two areas.  I’ll spot them a mile away – their faces and hands glowing white like the moon.

You can have on the best camo in the world, but if you make a lot of movement, you’ll still be spotted.  Make slow and deliberate movements.  Use your binoculars for spotting game instead of your riflescope, but don’t jerk them around.  If you hear a hog behind you, turn around very slowly.  It is not the time to bring up your rifle or draw your bow when a hog is looking straight at you.

Regarding noise, make as few unnatural noises as possible. If you have to cough, do so into your arm or your hog grunt call.  Put carpet on the bottom of your blinds so that if you drop your binoculars, rangefinder, etc. the sound will be muffled.  It will also keep your feet warmer.  Put your cell phone on vibrate and don’t listen to music or a football game.  Hogs have at least four times better hearing than we do.

Regarding scent control, having no scent at all is best.  Before I hunt, I shower with a no-scent soap and shampoo (Scent Killer liquid soap is available at Academy and sometimes Walmart).  I use unscented deodorant (Scent Killer makes an expensive one; various companies such as Speed Stick make cheaper ones) and spray my outer clothing with Scent Killer odor eliminator (available at Academy and Walmart).  I also wash my hunting clothes in Scent Killer clothing wash or unscented soap (HEB sells an unscented version of Tide).  Unless it’s warm or hot, I wear rubber boots.

Cover scents (cedar, pine, apple, etc.) don’t work that great, especially the ones that are not native to the area you’re hunting.  For example, using a pine cover scent in West Texas is almost as bad as playing heavy metal music on a loud boom box!  The hogs know it’s not native to the area and won’t go anywhere near it.  I’d also avoid cover scents like fox urine or skunk musk for obvious reasons.  Instead of using a commercial cover scent, I’ll take a cedar branch and rub it on my clothes and boots or step on a wet cow patty, as each step will say “cow” and not “human.”

If mosquitos are a problem use a Thermacell.  Don’t use bug sprays – hogs will smell it and won’t come anywhere near you.

Avoid bringing smelly snacks like jerky or barbecue potato chips into the stand with you.  Instead, eat apples, carrots, or muffins before you hunt and/or bring them to your stand.  Also, avoid eating eat right before you hunt as it’s easy to drip meat grease and food crumbs onto your clothes.   Also, avoid smelly drinks like orange or strawberry sodas, Gatorade, tea, or coffee. Instead, bring water.  Avoid peeing near your blind.  Rather than walk 100 yards away to pee, bring something with you (such as a bottle with a big lid) that you can pee in and then carry out when you leave.  (This won’t be a factor if you’re blind is 100 yards from your bait, but it will if it’s 20.)  Don’t smoke before or while hunting.  If you smoke after your morning hunt, you’ll need to change clothes before your evening hunt or the next day’s hunt.  The same applies to sitting around campfires.

If you’re hunting from a stand where the wind is blowing your scent away from the feeder, then being scent-free isn’t as big of a deal, but you never know when the wind will choose to shift.  If the hogs smell you, I guarantee they won’t come near you.

For baiting, I use hog bait.”  Here’s my recipe.  It’s best if it has been “cooking” in the sun awhile; however, I’ve had them come to freshly made bait more than once.  Place it in a bathtub-sized circle under a feeder.  Deer, dove, and other critters won’t touch it.

You often won’t see hogs until dusk, at the earliest.  Therefore, I highly recommend constant-on red or green lights.  The Moultrie Feeder Hog Light retails for $60, uses four C cell batteries, and attaches to a 5-gallon feeder using a big nut.  The Elusive Wildlife Technologies Kill Light Feeder Light retails for $70, uses four C cell batteries, and attaches to a feeder via built-in magnets or attaches to varmint cages using rings and clips.  Both lights have motion-activated switches if you prefer that over constant-on.

A less expensive option is a solar-powered landscape spotlight ($15 at home improvement stores) that comes on when it gets dark and goes off when it gets light.  Their drawbacks are they have weak light output compared to the above two lights and they don’t have motion-activated switches.  Ken Miller and I used one once.  We attached it to a feeder using wire and set up 50 yards away.  We had a herd of hogs come in 30 minutes later, but we could barely see our crosshairs, especially on the dark hogs.  If you go this route, I recommend that you set up no more than 25 yards away from your bait.

The significant advantage to a light system like these is there is no need for one hunter to be the spotlight holder and the other the shooter, or, in other words, both hunters can pick out a pig (hopefully a different one) and shoot at the same time.  The significant additional advantage is a constant-on light will preclude any possibility of hogs running as they often do when a spotlight beam hits them (even a red one).  I’ve heard that it takes hogs a few days to get used to constant-on lights, but as I mentioned above, Ken and I had a herd of pigs come in 30 minutes after we set one up, and it was a white light.  Therefore, I don’t think that there is any validity to that theory.

An inexpensive solution to not being able to see your scope reticles at night while hog hunting with a regular scope is the GOT Reticle, developed by FCS member Mike Calio.  It attaches to your scope via a Velcro strap and can be easily adjusted to fit over scope flip-up covers (although it’s best to flip up the cover before attaching the GOT Reticle).  The copper conductor is easy to bend and the power switch is easy to operate.  Best of all, it has a dimmer switch.  It really lights up reticles.  The GOT Reticle sells for $25, but FCS members receive a $5 discount.  Contact Mike at michael_calio@yahoo.com.

Another alternative (or addition) is a handheld flashlight (most include mounts that attach to scopes.  I like the Odepro KL52Plus Zoomable Hunting Flashlight.  It includes red, green, white, and IR850 infrared (invisible to the eye – must be used with night vision) lenses and adjustable focus.  It’s shockproof and has a rechargeable battery.  It’s water-resistant and has a Smart Remote Switch with a button that makes no noise.  It shines out to 417 yards.  It includes two weapons mounts.  Best of all they’re $102 ($18 cheaper than my former favorite – the Elusive Wildlife Technologies Kill Light XLR 250), which as the name implies will shine out to 250 yards!  Use the green light for hogs.  You can get the Nitecore P30 1000 Lumens 676 Yards light for $43 more than the Odepro.  The Orion M30C also shines to 700 yards but you have to choose between green or red lenses (and I haven’t been able to find anyone who sells spare lenses), it’s $25 more than the Nitecore P30, and weighs two ounces more.

When hogs come to your bait, don’t shine a spotlight straight on them because they’ll bolt. Point it skyward and gradually bring it down onto them, like moonlight.  If you’re hunting by yourself, you can only do this from a tripod with a rail or a box blind with one hand and shoot your rifle with your other hand.  Some guys hunt as a team with a shooter and a light handler. After one of them shoots a pig, they usually switch jobs.

If you choose to use a rifle, bolt actions are king due to their accuracy. However, there are several very accurate semi-autos, pumps, and lever actions on the market.  The latter three are the best choices for stalk hunting.

Use at least a 100 grain .243/6mm. If you have a .243 and a .30-06, take the later.  Likewise, if you have 150 grain .30-06 bullets and 180 grain, take the latter.  You just never know when you might run into a 400 lb. monster.  It’s better to have too much gun than not enough. Leave your .223’s and similar at home!  Yes, you can kill a hog with a .223 with the right bullet, but the odds are much more in your favor if you use a larger caliber.  Use a quality bullet designed for deer, such as a Federal or Hornady Boat Tail Soft Point (BTSP), Nosler Partition, Barnes X Bullet, Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, or Federal Fusion.

Boar hogs have a “shield” around their shoulders of very thick skin, gristle, and bone that covers their vitals that can deflect or even stop bullets.  The shields of some big hogs have stopped bullets from even a .30-06!  A hog’s heart and lungs are between his shoulders. If you shoot behind his shoulder, you’re going to hit his liver or gut, and you could be in for a very long track.  For this reason, I prefer to shoot hogs in the head.

As for scopes, ones with large objective lenses are preferable.  50mm lenses gather light 55% better than their 40mm cousins and allow you to see hogs better in low light.  However, there is a significant trade off with 50mm objective lenses – because the front bell is so large, they have to be mounted higher than 40mm objective lens scopes.  That causes the shooter to have to raise his head higher on the stock, which takes some getting used to and often affects accuracy. Leupold solved this problem with their “Light Optimization Profile” that enables their 50mm and 56mm objective lens VX-L models to be mounted as low to the bore as 36mm objective lens scopes.  Their major drawback is the price – they start at $700.

Another popular scope feature that is beneficial to hog hunters is lighted reticle scopes. Usually, just the inner reticle of a Duplex reticle is lighted, but some manufacturers light the whole thing.  Burris, Vortex, Leupold, and others also make an “Electro-dot” (a red dot at the intersection of the crosshairs).  You can get these features on 40mm and 50mm objective lens scopes.  Of course, you have to pay more for them.

I recommend the following lighted scopes that are less expensive than the above mentioned Leupold or a lighted Nikon Monarch: Burris Fullfield II 3-9X 40mm with Electro-Dot for $300, Burris Signature Select 3-10X40 with Electro Dot for $450 or with Illuminated Ballistic Plex for $480, and Sightron SII 3-9X42 with Illuminated Plex for $325.

I bought a Trijicon Reflex II sight (for $350) and was very disappointed in its 50-yard performance at Eagle Peak (it was shooting 4″ groups at the bench). That may be good enough for some hunters, but not me (I sold it on eBay).  Another alternative to red dots or reflex scopes is to put a regular scope on a quick shooting rifle but install it using see-through mounts.  This allows for using iron sights on running hogs and using the scope for hogs that are standing still. Trying to find a running hog in a regular riflescope is not easy (neither is hitting it once you see it).

Shotguns are often better choices for stalking; however, their limitation is their range. Shooting slugs beyond 100 yards is iffy unless you have a specialized slug gun that includes a fully rifled barrel, a shotgun scope, and sabot slugs.  The maximum range for shooting slugs out of a smoothbore shotgun barrel with a regular bead is about 50 yards, as such barrels are designed for shooting fast-moving targets and not for precise aim.  The maximum range for buckshot is also about 60 yards.  If you decide to shoot slugs out of a regular barrel, the best choke to use is cylinder, followed by skeet, and then improved cylinder.  Don’t shoot slugs out of a choke tighter than improved cylinder!

If you plan to use a shotgun for stalking,  I recommend a semi-automatic 12 gauge with 3 1/2″ shells filled with 00 Buckshot and a full choke.  Eighteen .33 00 Buck pellets per shot at a running hog give the hunter a much better chance of a hit than one rifle bullet or a slug.  If you don’t have a semi-automatic then a pump is the next best thing, followed by a double-barrel.  If your shotgun is not chambered for 3 1/2″ then 3″ is then next best thing, followed by 2 3/4″.  000 or 0 Buckshot are also acceptable.  Don’t shoot buckshot or anything bigger than steel shot BBB or lead 4 shot out of turkey chokes!  To do so can destroy the choke, barrel, and maybe you too.

Some guys alternate between rifled slugs and buckshot in their magazines.  The idea is the first shot will be at a hog that is standing still.  For such a case, a slug would be the better choice due to its knockdown power.  If you don’t kill it, you’ll probably have to make quick follow-up shots at a running hog.  This would best be accomplished by putting lots of buckshot pellets in the air.  The best choke to use if you put both slugs and buckshot in your gun (at the same time) is improved cylinder, followed by skeet, and then cylinder.  If you are only going to use slugs the best choke is cylinder, then skeet, then improved cylinder and tighter chokes.

The 16 gauge option is 1 Buck (.30 inches), but they are only made in 2 3/4″ shells.  This shell contains only 12 pellets.

A 3″ 20 gauge filled with buckshot is iffy.  The largest buckshot available for a 20 gauge (Federal Vital-Shok and Power-Shok) is 2 Buck (.27 inches).  Compare that to 000 Buck (.36 inches), 00 Buck (.33 inches), or 0 Buck (.32 inches), which are all available in 12 gauge.  I shot an eight pointer with 3 Buck (.25 inches) at 40 yards with a solid rest but did not recover it.

If you have no other choice than to use a 16 or 20 gauge, then go with a rifled slug.  Federal even makes slugs for the .410 (1/4 ounce, 109 grain), which should kill a hog at close range (if you hit it in the kill zone).  As I previously indicated, I would rather have too much gun than not enough.  There is no reason to pull a .410 out of your gun cabinet to chase after hogs when you have a 12 gauge leaning right beside it.

My present hog/deer rifle is a Remington Model 700 BDL bolt action in .25-06.  It is topped with a Vortex Crossfire II 3-9X50 scope with a red dot in the reticles.  It has Leupold see-through scope mounts.  For stalks, I prefer my Browning Gold Hunter semi-automatic 12 gauge.  It has a glowing light pipe (with tritium).

After a few shots have been fired on the property, the hogs know that trouble’s afoot and will usually stop coming to the feeders.  When this happens, it’s sometimes productive to do group stalks.  Form a line of hunters around 25 yards apart and walk slowly through the woods.  Wear blaze orange caps to spot each other easily and use two-way radios.  Hogs will often stay put until they feel that they don’t have any alternative other than to run.  I had one bolt two feet from me (I thought that it was dead).

As with all big game hunting, patience is paramount.  Be prepared to stay in your stand for a long time.  Bring food, drinks, a comfy chair, and something to pee in, unless you’re 100 yards or so away from your bait (as was previously mentioned).  Good things often come to those who wait.  Hunting with a buddy helps keep you awake.  You can also take turns napping, and, as previously mentioned, one of you can operate a spotlight while the other shoots.

Hogs are potentially dangerous, especially the big boars and sows protecting their young.  If you only wound one at night, it’s wise to wait to track it until morning (with well-armed friends).  It’s also tough to shoot a running animal at night.

So you’ve managed to put down a pig – now what do you do?   On the question of whether to wear gloves – Texas Parks and Wildlife recommends that hunters wear them, but I never have.  I probably discount the danger too much and am too stubborn to change.  Should you gut then skin or skin then gut?  I used to gut first and then skin, but since 2001 I’ve skinned first and then gutted.  It seems to be a cleaner process that way.  A lot of guys don’t bother with field dressing (Jim McGee for one).  I usually field dress them because I like the tenderloins, and it’s impossible to get to them if you don’t at least partially field dress them.  What about the question of whether a hog is too big?  I once killed a more than 310 lb. boar (I don’t know exactly how much he weighed as my scale only goes to 310 lbs.) at the Frank Hamilton’s property near Trickham.  I field dressed it and had the meat made into sausage.  It tasted fine.

I let my nose be my guide.  Boars have a musty, often rancid smell, but when you skin them, the meat often doesn’t retain what was on their skin.  However you decide to clean them, you’ll need a good sharp knife with a 4 – 5″ long blade.  Knives with serrated blades often are worth their weight in gold.  If you use a conventional knife, you’ll also probably need a sharpener.  This is especially true with big hogs.  My record is having to sharpen my knife four times while skinning a 300 lb. hog.

As I don’t believe in luck, I wish you, “Good Hunting!”

P.S. Let me know if you need a “consultant” to go on your next hog hunt!

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Bible Verse of the Day

The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverse mouth I hate.