CANINES & SWINE: IF THE LAND YOU MANAGE IS THREATENED BY WILD PIGS AND/OR COYOTES, HERE'S HOW TO HELP RESTORE THE BALANCE.
My grandfather was the one who got me started in the outdoors. He taught me how to hunt white-tails, and since then I've always been an avid deer hunter. But I didn't grow up hunting hogs or coyotes. Nor did anyone else in my family. Becoming effective at killing both species really was a learning process.
As with many other deer hunters, my early attempts at coyote hunting basically involved emulating what I'd seen on TV hunts. And it wasn't until after I was married that I had my first run-in with feral hogs. It all started when someone illegally brought pigs into our area, hoping to introduce a new hunting opportunity. Our local farms quickly suffered heavy crop losses from those illegally released pigs.
You often hear about how destructive feral hogs can be, but I honestly had no clue how severe their impact is on agricultural land until I saw it firsthand. The rooting, wallowing and overall destruction of freshly planted fields can be unsettling, especially considering it's hard-working farmers and other landowners who are dealt the blow.
The latest survey I read showed that here in my home state of Georgia, feral hogs account for over $57 million in crop damage and another $20 million in non-crop damage annually. Predictions are that those figures will continue to rise.
Let that sink in for minute. A feral hog is the equivalent of a small bulldozer with an incredible appetite, and there isn't much it won't eat! That's a recipe for disaster for those folks who make their living growing food and working the land, as well as for hunters trying to manage deer and other wildlife.
WHAT WE DO
A few years back, a friend invited me to try nighttime hog hunting with thermal optics. On that trip that I met Eric Campbell, who soon became my main hunting partner. Together we now operate Boss Hawg Control, an eradication service providing crop and livestock protection to local farmers throughout central and southern Georgia.
What started out as little more than a hobby has turned into a mission. Eric and I now manage upwards of 40,000 acres of farmland stretching over a few hundred miles. The properties we hunt range in size from 10 to 5000 acres.
It's common for our phones to start ringing in spring, during planting season, and then again in late summer as crops are reaching maturity. The farmers we work with usually call us with information about recently noticed hog activity or fresh sign. We then react swiftly to eradicate the guilty parties.
On any given date throughout the year, you'll find us riding down a farm road under cover of darkness. To work a lot of ground quickly, we scan large crop fields with thermal optics to spot hogs or coyotes from afar. When we find looters feasting on a farmer's dime, we do our best to knock them out immediately.
Deer and turkey hunting is pretty big business around here, and that equates to tough access for free. However, hogs and coyotes are far less desirable to other hunters or property owners. So while not everyone will offer permission to hunt whitetails or turkeys on their land, many will welcome the hunter who is pursuing problem species.
I'm seldom turned away after knocking on a farmhouse door and asking for permission to hunt hogs and/or coyotes. Now, keep in mind that we don't get paid for our services directly by farmer or landowners. Instead, on certain properties we request permission to guide paying clients. With them we share the thermal-hunting experience, which is always a blast.
Fortunately, feral hogs and coyotes aren't considered game animals here in Georgia; the state has no seasonal restrictions as to when you can hunt either species on private land. Nor is there a daily or annual bag limit for either species. Shoot all you can. Of course, here and in most other places there are much tighter regulations on state game lands, so always check your local laws before heading afield.
HOW WE DO IT
Our hunting strategy is pretty simple: We run high-end thermal optics mounted on several weapons platforms. When it comes to piling up big numbers of hogs and 'yotes, it's hard to beat modern sporting rifles. We typically use AR-15 and AR-10 style rifles chambered in a wide variety of cartridges. (I won't start the debate here as to which is best.)
I'm thankful it's legal to own and hunt with suppressors in Georgia. Shooting suppressed has had a positive impact on our success. Better communication occurs between shooters when you don't have to use bulky hearing protection. That makes our shooting sequences much more effective. In addition, suppressors prevent us from waking up landowners in the middle of the night. Loud rifle reports aren't exactly conducive to good sleep. We like to keep it quiet when we can.
I've also discovered that pigs don't always run away from the sound of a suppressed rifle. Rather, they seem to run away from the sound of bullet impact, which can send them high-tailing it in my direction. That allows me to steer hogs where I want them to go and drastically increases the amount of time I have to shoot the last ones before they escape into cover.
While it's true feral hogs are incredibly intelligent creatures, you sometimes wouldn't think so as you watch them mill around in a crop field. In fact, many times it's relatively easy to stalk within good shooting distance of a sounder that's feeding in a wide-open location.
Unlike coyotes, which seem to tiptoe around every corner as if danger is always waiting for them, feral hogs have a much more confident demeanor. What you have to worry about most when hunting them is their sense of smell, especially if they've been heavily pressured. On every hog hunt, you need to pay close attention to the wind direction before starting a stalk or setting up on stand.
Our favorite way to hunt hogs is to stalk them in open crop fields. The farmers in our area grow a large variety of crops, but the mainstays are peanuts, pecans, corn and wheat. Each of these crops can be a dynamite hog attractant, but activity can vary depending on time of year and crop harvest times. To find pigs consistently. we use vehicles to scan thousands of acres of farmland each night.
Once we've located a group of pigs, the stalk begins. We stalk into the wind and try to close the distance to around 70-80 yards before shooting.
On every stalk, our goal is to kill every hog in the sounder. So when engaging a large group, we pay close attention to our surroundings. We need to maximize the amount of safe shooting room we have to work with. Open fields are your friend when you're shooting at groups of 30-plus pigs, as it can take some time to knock down that many. If the pigs are close to cover when the shooting starts, there's a good chance some will escape.
Bright moonlight, swirling winds and terrain are all factors to consider when determining how close to try to get to a sounder. However, we've found that large groups are much easier to approach. Multiple pigs feeding together generate a lot of noise, which helps conceal the sounds of human movement. By contrast, a lone boar feeding in a field can sometimes be very difficult to get within shooting range of.
A DIFFERENT CRITTER
We kill plenty of coyotes as we're chasing pigs, but our strategies for targeting elusive song dogs are a bit different. In our experience, feral hog control is a never-ending process that only works when you exert continuous heavy hunting pressure on an area. Hunting coyotes to that same extent will do little more than educate them to human presence.
There's more than one way to kill a coyote. You can shoot a mess of them in areas where crops are in season, as it's common for them to target small mammals that are dining on the abundant grain. If you've ever used thermal optics to look at a freshly picked corn or wheat field teeming with field mice, you know exactly what I mean.
However, to better our chances of encountering coyotes, we stay mobile and cover a lot of ground in a hurry. We set up in strategic areas and call, using coyote vocalizations almost exclusively. These are very territorial animals, and I believe our aggressive approach to calling invokes that response from them. Simply put, we like to move in on their turf and present a challenge. Most often, coyotes will accept that challenge and investigate the call.
We start each set with an invitation howl. If there's no response, we'll switch to a challenge howl and an immediate coyote distress. Usually, we won't use prey distress sounds unless we've already spotted a coyote. However, we've had good luck using fawn distress sounds during fawning season.
We'll spend 15 minutes tops at each hunting location. If there hasn't been a sighting or a vocal response by then, we'll pack up and move to another spot to call. To decrease hunting pressure, we typically move several miles before setting up again.
I've found that wind is one of the most important factors for determining where to set up for coyotes--and not just to hide human scent. It wasn't until I started hunting large agricultural fields and big pastures with thermal optics that I realized just how far an approaching coyote will swing downwind of a call. I've often watched them circle 300 yards or more before approaching closer.
With this in mind, I won't hunt an area that doesn't allow me to see at least 300 yards in all directions. I know that isn't realistic for everyone, but in the farm country we hunt, it's not hard to find a suitable area. You'll need to adjust your strategy based on native terrain, but it's an advantage to be able to see as far as possible.
Wind speed is a huge factor, as well. I don't like calling in high winds, as it severely limits the distance the call will carry. Coyotes also are less likely to move on a night with high winds.
The moon's phase doesn't seem to be as big a factor as its position in the sky. We have the most success calling coyotes when the moon is either rising above the trees or just prior to its setting. But again, those aren't absolutes. Do we kill coyotes on windy nights when the moon is high? Of course. However, if given a choice, I'll pass on those conditions.
When we call coyotes, we try not to frequent the same areas more than once every few weeks. These are extremely intelligent animals. Despite the fact they have no natural predators in much of North America, they're very cautious and leave little to chance.
I've always believed that even if you kill every coyote you think you've called in, you'll always have plenty of them left to hunt. The survivors become educated quickly. Once they've smelled a rat, those dogs most likely won't be tricked by the same routine again. This Is definitely a business in which you don't want to deal with repeat customers! Instead, you want to cater to a new audience every time you turn the "music" on.
From a management standpoint, timing your coyote-hunting efforts is critically important. If increasing fawn recruitment and/or game bird production on your land is the goal, targeting your coyote population when those fawns and poults start to drop/hatch will yield the best results. A pair of coyotes killed in November will be replaced by new tenants within weeks, so be sure to target your efforts to the spring months if possible.
By creating a gap in the coyote presence on your hunting property, you can help those fawns and poults make it through their first few weeks of life. That's when they're most vulnerable and really need whatever help they can get in avoiding predators.
Eradication should always be the goal when dealing with feral hogs and coyotes. That's right--you should try your best to wipe them out! You won't actually remove them all, because as we've learned, that's impossible. But once you adopt an eradication mindset, you'll hunt harder and ultimately will be much more successful in your control efforts.
It's important to remember that effective control isn't a realistic goal without 100 percent landowner participation. In order to properly manage our natural resources and protect native wildlife, outdoorsmen and landowners must work together to develop management strategies. Hunters and trappers can seriously reduce hog and coyote populations, but we must always be respectful of one another's properties and rules.
Also, I feel we need to raise awareness to stop the illegal transport and release of feral hogs. It's frustrating that some people willingly release hogs just to Increase their hunting opportunities. Trust me, there are plenty of feral hogs as is; there's zero need for anyone to unleash more. Eric and I are harvesting upwards of 700 hogs each year, and we're not putting ourselves out of business.
So I'd encourage everyone to remove coyotes and feral hogs by any means legal and feasible. Not only are these animals extremely challenging and fun to hunt, but by killing them you'll also benefit a number of native species. The hunting is affordable, access isn't usually a problem, and success rates are high. This year, please grab a rifle and do your part to help manage these destructive pests.
BY MARK WOOLEY
FYI | ON NEWSSTANDS NOW |
This feature was adapted from the latest issue of Hog Hunting magazine, which is currently on sale in many areas that are experiencing feral hog problems. To learn more about tactics and gear for effective control of wild pigs, check it out.