If you haven’t noticed, attitudes toward feral pigs are changing in the US. They’ve always been a popular species with hunters, and the drive to hunt them has resulted in many new populations being established. In some cases, new populations escape from fenced shooting preserves. In others, pigs are intentionally released with the idea of establishing a free-range population that can be hunted year-round. Feral hog populations have been documented in 36 states.
The dilemma is that feral hogs are an invasive species, and they can be incredibly destructive. They impact virtually every part of any ecosystem. Nationwide, damage is valued at $1.5 billion.
Though it seems as if hunters could contribute to the solution, it appears that the opposite occurs: opening hunting opportunities has repeatedly led to the proliferation of hogs as people continue to liberate pigs for hunting. Several states with moderate to low populations have initiated eradication programs, and the US government operates a National Feral Swine Damage Management Program through USDA.
In some states, the problem is just beginning, and it still can be controlled or eliminated. In other states, like Texas, California and Florida, populations have been established for centuries.
California, in particular, has embraced the feral hog, long ago giving it game status and requiring licenses and tags. Feral hogs are nearly as popular as deer with over 58,000 tags sold. But California DFW reported only 3,844 pigs were harvested during the 2015–2016 season. With even a conservative estimate of populations in the state, it’s clear that hunting is not controlling the pig population.
In the crop-producing areas in and around Central Valley, farmers practice pig control to prevent crop damage and contamination with E. coli bacteria. More pigs are probably removed under depredation permits than are killed by sport hunters.
Southern California (SoCal) traditionally has been a popular hunting area. San Diego County has mounted eradication efforts to minimize the chances of disease along the Mexican border. Otherwise, the pig populations in CA are doing well. Incentives to maintain pig populations for hunting have led many landowners to lease hunting opportunities to hunters and outfitters.
Over the past decade or so, SoCal pig hunting has not been in the limelight as pigs have proliferated elsewhere. Are pigs and pig hunts still available in California? If so, where do you look?
The short answer to the first question is clearly yes. Pigs in California have expanded their range over the past decade. Some landowners still embrace them as game animals, but many have simply adopted a begrudging tolerance for pigs even while aggressively hunting them. They’re here, and they aren’t going away. In some areas, pigs are welcomed as an abundant alternative prey species for California’s out-of-control mountain lion population. Without pigs, lions would surely kill more deer and elk, so pigs can have a positive role even while doing damage.
The SoCal hunting industry has developed a couple of unique features and hunt offerings. With so many people living within easy driving distance, many of the outfitters offer short (one- or two-day) hunts that do not include accommodations or meals. Obviously, a large population of pigs is required to ensure hunter success in a short time frame. The hunt is over once you’ve harvested your hog.
Because feral hogs have a large home range and move frequently in response to food or water availability, predation, and hunting pressure and because California real estate is so valuable that few ranches are large enough to consistently hold pigs, outfitters often lease multiple properties and rotate them based on hunting pressure and pig populations.
A quick look at some specific hunting opportunities shows how this plays out.
In the Paso Robles area, 2M Hunting (831-601-5228; http://2mhunting.com) hunts private land and provides several pig hunt options. Their “trophy boar hunt” package is a three-day hunt with meals and lodging for one trophy boar offered at $2,250. They have a two-day, non-trophy hunt (also including meals and lodging) for $1,150 and a one-day “standard hunt” that includes field transportation and carcass handling for $800.
Near Atascadero, Boaring Experiences (805-461-0294; www.boaring.com) hunts a large ranch in Parkfield and offers one-day hunts (two days or more also can be arranged) with no meals or lodging for $300 per hunter per day with a minimum two hunters per day during the week. Two-day weekend hunts with three hunters are $300 per day per hunter. Single hunters are $600 per day. Hunters pay a set fee of $350 per pig, which includes field dressing and skinning. There’s no limit and no extra fee for large pigs or long tusks. Editor Tim Jones has hunted this outfit with Craig Boddington, who hunts there frequently.
Bitterwater Outfitters (805-610-4521; www.bitterwateroutfitters.com) offers hunts on 23 different ranches throughout the state covering more than 250,000 acres. They offer an “up to two-day” hunt without accommodations or meals at $750 per hunter. If the hunter has an extra tag and wants to continue hunting after harvesting a hog, it’s another $750.
On the other end of the spectrum, Tejon Ranch (661-663-4210; http://hunt.tejonranch.com) is over 270,000 acres of perfect pig habitat, with year-round pig populations and plenty of them. Located between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, they offer three-day packages with accommodations in one of the ranch’s hunting lodges. Meals include supper the first day, all meals the second and a continental breakfast on the third day. The weekday package is priced at $1,800 for a single or $1,200 each for two or more hunters. The weekend package is also $1,800 for a single hunter, but $1,400 each for two or more hunters. Tejon Ranch also has a three-day package for groups of hunters (up to eight) priced at $6,000 for the group. Lodging is provided, and each group is assigned a “hunt steward” who assists the hunters but does not actually accompany them in the field.
Because California treats feral pigs as game animals, licenses and tags are required. Nonresident licenses are $164.16 and pig tags are $75.60. Licenses are available online and at license vendors, but your outfitter can help you find one in his area. I know from personal experience that not all license vendors are accustomed to selling nonresident licenses.
A unique feature of California is that non-lead ammo is required (to protect the endangered California condor). There are lots of high quality, non-lead bullets available in loaded ammo, including Barnes Triple Shock and Hornady’s GMX. However, non-lead bullets don’t always fly to the same point of impact as lead rounds of the same weight, and you’ll do well to sight your rifle with California-compliant ammo before the hunt. Big pigs can be tough customers, and the shoulder shield on a pig will disrupt light caliber bullets. I can personally recommend both GMX and Barnes Triple Shock in an appropriate caliber for wild pigs
One other note: Although a big, old, tough-looking boar with big tusks may be a great hunting trophy, the meat may not be edible. In the meat industry, the term “boar taint” refers to the strong odor/taste found in adult male pigs. If you take a big boar (100-plus pounds) for a trophy, consider having it made into sausage. The stronger the spices, the more likely you’ll be able to eat it!
A younger male or a fat sow makes better eating, but even here there is an important consideration. Wild pigs have several meat-borne pathogens not found in domestic pork and you need to handle the meat differently. Trichinella and toxoplasmosis are found in wild pigs and can be transmitted through the meat. To kill these pathogens, always cook wild pork to 160˚F internally. There’s some indication that prolonged freezing (28 days at 0˚ F) also will kill the pathogens, but it’s safer to cook the meat well. Another pathogen—brucella bacteria—can be transmitted during field dressing through contact with contaminated fluids (milk, blood, etc.). Although most guides will do the gutting for you, be sure to wear rubber gloves if you assist.
Finally, almost every outfitter offers “complimentary delivery of your pig to a taxidermist or butcher shop.” It might be perpetuating a stereotype to suggest that SoCal hunters don’t want to put dead pigs in their Beamers, but you’ve got to wonder. . . .