Heating Up With The Hogs




The following appears in the May issue of California Sportsman:

By Tim E. Hovey

Our late start had us on the property well after sunrise, and the forecast was calling for temperatures in the high 80s, tolerable for those sitting in the shade sipping a cold one but a challenge for doing anything physical outside.

I knew that and so did Jose, but we didn’t care. We each had a pig tag in our packs and we had the rest of the day to fill them. After over a decade of friendship, Jose De Orta and I have had plenty of adventures in the outdoors. When I’m out hunting, I’m usually hunting with him and his son Adrian. They hunt as hard as I do, and I know when the De Ortas are at my side, we’ll hunt in any type of terrain, from sunup to sundown. This would be a big challenge. 

I DROVE TO THE north side of the property where we had planned to hunt. After five solid years of drought, the terrain looked bleak. The lush chaparral and oak woodlands were brown and the hills – covered with dead grass – looked depressing. Swirls of dust wafted across the plains and it seriously didn’t look at all inviting. 

We pulled to a familiar spot, grabbed the rifles and started the hunt. After hiking the hills and kicking through two pig beds, we returned to the truck an hour later, sweaty and empty handed. We sat on the tailgate and chugged ice-cold water from the cooler. I had parked in the only shade around and though the wind was warm, it felt good. 

I glanced further north and saw a huge lone oak near the base of a hill. Behind the oak and halfway up the slope was the only spot of green around. If you weren’t familiar with the area, you’d have no idea that a farm pond sat between the oak and the green patch. That’s where we were headed next.

I drove up slowly and parked below the pond levee. We looked the area over and decided on a quick plan. The dirt mound we were hiding behind formed one side of the shallow pond on the left. The massive oak tree sat near the right bank and provided the only shade around. 

A narrow strip of dark earth was very noticeable on the back bank, evidence of the spring that fed the pond. At the head of the spring and in stark contrast to the parched, brown terrain was the bright green stand of wild grape I had seen from over a mile away.

A year earlier, Jose and I had kicked up a large boar from the green bush, and for obvious reasons we had nicknamed the spot “the pond.” Despite five shots from Jose, that boar had escaped.

The plan was simple and familiar: Jose would set up under the huge oak at the right of the pond and I’d hike around to the top of the spring bush and kick through the bed. If pigs were bedded in the wild grape, hopefully they’d flee towards Jose.

I grabbed my lever-action .30-30 and slung it across my body so I could have my hands free to make the hike. Jose grabbed his rifle and a set of shooting sticks and set up in the shade of the giant oak. He nodded that he was set and I headed out to kick through the bed.

I circled around to the left of the pond. While I walked, I spotted two sets of fresh pig prints in the soft mud near the edge of the water. One set was huge and it looked like a boar had been at the pond earlier that day. 

It took me about 15 minutes to get into position. I was about 30 feet from the pig bed and getting ready to make some noise. The wind was barely moving but hitting me right in the face. I looked through the binoculars to make sure Jose was ready. I knew if we kicked pigs out of the brush, the action could happen quickly. Jose returned my wave.

I unslung my .30-30 and checked the action. While I wanted to push pigs towards Jose, I also wanted to be prepared for whatever was going to happen next.

AS I STOOD ABOVE the wild grape bush, I could see fresh pig sign around the edge. I grabbed a few small rocks and tossed them into the bushes, but nothing moved. The wind swirled and the smell it carried was pungent and undeniable. The musky odor of wild pigs hit me right in the face. Before I could do anything else, the bushes started to shake violently.

A huge boar exploded from a dirt bed deep in the green shrub. For a few seconds the pig bounced around the thick vines looking for an escape. I glanced down to Jose and yelled out the magic word, “Pig!” The huge boar busted through the vegetation and headed downhill towards the pond and Jose.

I took two steps to higher ground to watch the hunt. Instantly, I saw a problem. The pig was on a dead run and headed way left of where Jose was positioned and he wasn’t aiming his rifle. The weeds around the pond were high, so while he could hear the pig busting a path through the dead vegetation, he couldn’t see him. I knew he had no shot to kill this pig.

I pulled the hammer back on my .30-30 and shouldered it. I easily found the dark body of the retreating pig in the scope. Jose was well to my right and safely out of the line of fire. The crosshairs danced on the boar and I pulled the trigger. A puff of dust rose from the pig’s rear. This did nothing to slow him down.

As I kept the rifle shouldered, I ejected the shell and chambered a second. The boar was headed straight away from me and about 90 yards out, so I placed the crosshairs between his ears and again pulled the trigger. The shot felt perfect and the pig stiffened up, tumbled and cart-wheeled to a stop in a cloud of dust.

Jose quickly made his way to the downed pig. I cleared my rifle and took a deep breath. Kicking pigs out of their beds is definitely exciting, and I was happy we finally had meat for the cooler.

I pushed through the dead grass and followed the pig’s last steps. I found blood where I had first hit him. It wasn’t much and I knew the injury wasn’t lethal. The second shot hit the boar right between the shoulder blades, killing him instantly. 

I looked back to the bedding area and then over towards the pond. The tall grass made it hard to see the water. The dead vegetation surrounding Jose’s set-up spot made it impossible for him to have seen the escaping pig.

We dragged the large boar into the shade of the large oak and got things ready to part it out. The pig was a fighter and displayed deep scars on his back and a split ear. He had lengthy cutters, one of them chipped and jagged. Once boars reach their second year and start fighting other boars, they usually become solitary and bed up alone.

After I tagged the pig, we laid out a tarp and began parting out the boar. I pulled the truck close, and with the exception of dragging the large pig 40 feet into the shade of the oak, the field dressing and meat handling were very easy. It was a satisfying end. 

WE PACKED THE COOLERS full of wild pork and stowed the gear. With the temperature closing in on 90 degrees, we decided to call it a day. Back at our pickup spot, we split up the meat and, as always, talked about when we could get out again.

To me hunting is all about who I hunt with. I pay very little attention to filling tags or taking limits. When I think of trips past, I remember good times, camaraderie and great friends. I seriously doubt I would ever run the hills looking for pigs without Jose. 

Hunting wild pigs in California is challenging and exciting (not to mention open throughout the year). Seeking out bedding areas near watering holes when the weather heats up is a great place to start. If you decide to kick through their beds, be prepared for fast action and stay safe. Lone boars are alone for a reason – I never approach a pig bed without a loaded firearm and an escape plan.

The meat is lean and can be prepared a variety of ways. Above all, make sure you head out with good friends. I remember this particular trip for a number of reasons. However, the most vivid memory of this exciting pig hunt will always be having my good friend Jose there with me. CS