The following appears in the September issue of California Sportsman:
By Nancy Rodriguez
As the shadows lengthen across the golden grass-covered hillsides of California, I am perched on my chosen spot and glassing the valley below. The endless oak trees dotting the landscape are a parched palette of brownish and mottled green colors, and the foliage seems to be clinging to the promise of moisture sure to arrive.
I sit with my binos glued to my eyes and scan every shadow on the hills looking for a dark spot moving along, like a hungry ant searching for leftover picnic crumbs. And soon I spot it – the horizontal line of a spotted feral pig’s back above the screen of brush below.
I notice the straight tail and unmistakable pointy ears of the pig bouncing along as it tills the ground with reckless abandon. I scan the area around it and pick up several others feeding and my adrenaline starts to surge. The hunt is on!
I grab my crossbow and take a moment to plan my stalk. My greatest enemy at this moment is the wind, so I squeeze the bottle of wind check and send a wisp of powder spiraling into the air. I can see about a dozen pigs feeding alongside an oak tree and I begin my stalk.
Ever so slowly I creep along “pulling” the group into my effective shooting range. They are grunting and snorting along their own way, letting me know they are completely consumed with their dinner buffet.
With my binos raised to my eyes I spot a medium-sized dry sow and I adjust my course. As I creep closer my rangefinder reads 62, 48 and finally 23 yards. The wind is perfect and I am moving like molasses so the group has no idea there is a predator lurking in their midst.
The spotted sow I am after is quartering to me and I float my crosshairs over the desired point of impact. My heart is pounding and with steady tension on the trigger the bolt is on its way. I hear a solid impact and watch as the sounder explodes in all directions. I have finally taken my first public-land pig with a crossbow. What a rush!
NORTH AMERICA NEVER HAD native pigs and they did not exist in California until Russian and Spanish explorers introduced them. They were originally domesticated, but after free foraging they became feral. European wild boars were introduced to California by a Monterey County landowner in the 1920s. These two species bred and became a hybrid wild boar/feral domestic pig (as noted by California Department of Fish and Wildlife). Currently 56 of California’s 58 counties hold wild pigs; you just have to find them.
A great bonus is that wild pig hunting is open year-round in California, so they are a great species to hunt during the lull between other seasons. In addition, their abundance makes them a good animal for a new hunter to start with.
When conditions are favorable, the wild pig population can explode and even triple every year and with limited eyesight and healthy populations, they create plenty of stalking and shot opportunities – especially for new bowhunters.
WILD PIGS CONSUME A wide variety of foods and are classified as omnivores. If you can find what pigs are eating, you will likely find them. Depending on the season they may eat grasses, fruits, roots, acorns and even animal carcasses.
When we’re not employing spot-and-stalk techniques, we’ve had good luck listening for them in the dense forest while still-hunting. Occasionally you will hear them rooting, grunting and squealing while they are feeding along.
They are always moving and jockeying for position as they feed, which creates plenty of noise in dry conditions. They are fairly social and there tends to be groups of sows, yearlings and piglets running together. Once boars mature they tend to run solo. The boars that I have shot have all been running solo and the sows have been in groups.
Depending on the time of year we are hunting, we will focus on a few things. We first have to find the areas pigs are frequenting. We look for rooting (primarily in winter and spring), tracks, droppings, rubs and bedding areas. Game trails that run up and down hillsides are a good indication there are (or were) pigs in the area as well. Since pigs need water, water sources and wallows are a great area to focus on especially during warmer months. If you are lucky enough to find a wallow, check for tracks in the mud and rubs on surrounding trees. If the water in the wallow is cloudy and the mud on the rub trees is wet, pigs have been there recently.
This may be a good spot to take a stand and let a few hours pass, especially on a hot summer day. The last two boars I have shot have been taken while glassing/sitting near water holes in the evening.
Pigs love to spend the majority of the day in bed. If you find them, often they will be sound asleep or wrestling for a better spot amongst the group. Pigs usually have several bedding areas, so when we come across a bed we mark it on our GPS.
On slow afternoons, we will sneak from bedding area to bedding area until we find a bed with the pig we are looking for. Wild pig bedding areas are very distinct and usually will be a large rooted-out area of solid dirt the size of a house hot tub or Jacuzzi.
They are usually tucked tight to the base of a large tree, fallen log or in dense brush. You will often notice a lone trail going into dense brush but not coming out the other side. If you find this, sneak in quietly and get ready for some quick action.
BETWEEN MY HUSBAND JOE and I, we have taken wild pigs with compound bows, crossbows, and centerfire rifles. Feral pigs are a bit tougher to take down than deer, so make sure you have adequate firepower.
Big boars have a thick shoulder shield that can be very hard to penetrate. The last boar I shot had a shield that was well over an inch thick.
Once down, we process wild pigs the same as any big game animal. Cooling it down as quickly as possible is key, especially in warmer conditions. We always take great care of the meat we take and wild pork is some of our favorite table fare.
In my opinion, this represents very underrated wild game meat. We will usually have roasts, cured/smoked ham, stew meat and sausage made from our harvest. Carnitas, tamales, pork chops, grilled tenderloin and amazing stews are some of our favorite pork meals. We’ve even served wild pig smoked ham for our family’s Christmas dinner.
Like most wild game, wild pig hunting can be challenging and frustrating at times. They can live in extremely steep, hot and rugged terrain and can vanish at a moment’s notice. But since the season is open year-round, you have a lot of time to sharpen your skills and get one down.
Editor’s note: Nancy Rodriguez lives in Cool (El Dorado County) with her husband Joe. She is on the field staff for Prois Hunting Apparel and a brand rep for Rockstarlette Outdoors and enjoys inspiring women to get outdoors.