60 Days Of Extreme WMA Hog Hunting
Most Georgia WMAs are open to small-game hunters in January and February. For Glen Solomon this means two months of intense hog hunting.
Deer season has about run out. It turned into a job — slapping 4 a.m. alarm clocks and lugging climbers around — didn’t it? Ready to get that predatory surge of adrenaline pumping through those hunting veins again? It’s time to hunt hogs. If you love to hunt and have never stalked hogs, you are missing out on some exciting adventures. If you are unsure about how to locate and then properly hunt for hogs, read on!
I only hunt WMAs, which receive some pretty high hunter pressure, so to be successful I have to enact my tactics to the extreme. I walk long distances, hunt all day, do whatever it takes to find and kill hogs.
For the next 60 days — which ends February 28 on the last day of small-game season — I’ll spend nearly 100 percent of my hunting time on WMAs. Get in the game; the number of hog-hunting opportunities abound in January and February.
To become a successful WMA hog hunter, you must possess confidence and the willingness to walk your tail off. Read the article “Walking Miles for Chickasawhatchee Hogs” that was published in GON’s January 2006 issue. GON editor Brad Gill and I walked more than 10 miles before we found hogs, but it resulted in two dead pigs one morning.
With confidence and a good pair of walking boots, you’re now ready to hunt. I’m going to provide you some tips and physical maneuvers to engage your WMA hog-hunting battle plan.
1. Own a handheld GPS and know how to mark, locate and project waypoints. If you don’t have one, get one. It’s one of the most helpful hunting investments you can own.
2. Acquire a WMA map from the check station or Internet. Make sure the map has a compass and a distance gauge on it. The compass and distance readings in accordance with your GPS will be important to finding hogs.
Study how all the roads and drainages (creeks and rivers) or any isolated swamps are positioned on the map. Hogs and drainages go hand in hand like antlers and rubs. Pay special attention to the most remote sections, meaning the farthest from any road or access trail. This is your optimum chance for finding a hog sanctuary on a pressured WMA. Also, look for sharp turns in creeks or rivers which may create a peninsula-type area surrounded by water. Hogs feel safe in these type areas (if thick cover is present), in which water provides several avenues of escape. A lot of hunters tend to stick to a fixed course along a waterway, failing to swing out to check these small hotspots.
You’ll also want to check the perimeters on the WMA. Are there any natural barriers (busy highways, rivers, lakes, populated areas, etc.), cropfields or hunting clubs? Hunting clubs will be magnets because of feeders and food plots, and cropfields speak for themselves. These sites will be raided at night, and hopefully the hogs are using security cover on the WMA.
3. When I start cold on a WMA, I start eliminating ground. I’ll drive all the roads and become familiar with them in relation to the map. I exclude parking areas, open fields or pastures and any areas showing clues of hunter frequency (boot tracks, tire treads, toilet paper in the nearby brush, etc). Eliminate the “pretty spots’’ you see from the road; everyone else sees them, too. I eliminate hunter-access trails for at least a quarter mile in and all land within a quarter mile of a driveable road.
4. While driving the roads, look for fresh hog tracks crossing the road or fresh rootings on or near the ditches or shoulders. Most of this sign will be night traffic, since hogs can range for many miles each night; however, it’s a starting point for finding hogs. Mark this sign on your GPS.
On the map look for the nearest swamp or security cover. This cover will range from bottomland swamps, clearcuts (new or overgrown), big open pinelands, or young pine plantations. Overgrown swamp clearcuts and young pine plantations interwoven with tall grass, briars, bamboo and vines are a staple for a good hog hideout.
If you think the nearest cover is a good ways from the sign you’re seeing from the road, you can look at your WMA map and project which direction to travel. Using the map’s distance gauge and compass you can read how far you must travel to reach the bedding area. Log that waypoint into your GPS and strike a trail.
You won’t always find hog sign while driving WMA roads. When this happens, park the truck, put on your hiking boots and get to work.
5. Follow drainages. Hogs will always relate to drainage systems. Wet-weather ponds or backup water from flooded lakes are good, too.
When I find fresh sign, I slow my OTG (on-the-ground) hunting way down — and pay close attention to wind direction as I put on a slow stalk following the fresh sign.
Look for fresh rootings and tracks. If you see rooted areas with new and old sign mixed, that’s good news because hogs are returning with regularity. If you see a wallow with muddy water in it, hogs have just left and may be nearby. At wallow sites, “itchy” hogs make mud rubs on surrounding trees, (especially on outgoing trails) which is a definite indicator of what size hogs are in the area. Also look for worn and polished pine trees (tar rubs) which indicate frequent use in a core area. Mark all fresh sign on your GPS.
When hunting hogs, I’m always trying to stay with the freshest sign possible. I’ve found fresh hog sign in some areas as small as just a couple of acres, but I’ve also followed sign for more than a mile. I’ll try to unweave the direction the fresh sign is going, hopefully closing in on some mini-dozers while their noses are still buried. If I feel I’m in an area that’s so fresh that I’m seeing wet leaves or I can smell the hogs, I start zig-zagging or making figure eights until I find them.
If I don’t see hogs, and the fresh feeding sign plays out, the hogs are likely in another area bedded up.
6. Once I’ve covered all the fresh sign and I’ve seen no hogs, I’ll look for a narrow, well-trodden trail leaving the area. These trails will have a direct destination to the hogs’ feeding or bedding area. Mark the trail with your GPS.
When hunting down these trails you won’t always be able to play the wind. You can’t circle around if you don’t know the destination. You may have to bust these hogs this time to know where to be next time.
When following hog trails for the first time, I enter into speed-trolling mode. If the breeze is light, you may get to settle those crosshairs before you are detected. Keep that head spinning and eyes scanning. Hunted animals have learned that most humans walk constantly, STOP IT! If you can, in noisy cover, emit low yelps like a turkey hen. I’ve literally almost stepped on hogs when crashing through noisy cover by making brief pauses and “friends of the forest’’ vocalizations. Since hogs usually feed in groups, they must have thought I was one of their own. Be prepared to shoot quickly, in case they are waiting on your debut to be sure. If you barely see them first or make eye contact simultaneously, squat or drop to your knees quickly to break your profile. Humans are the only predators that tall in the woods, and you will be surprised as to how many animals will stick around for a shot.
7. If the trail you are following leads into an area of water, you can bet those hogs are bedding on small islands or tussocks. That’s when I don some hip waders or plan to drip dry on the other side. Like I said, I hunt extreme!
Oh yeah, mark this on the GPS.
I’ll enter a bedding area only after I’ve tried to catch them in their feeding areas. If you bust them here, you may have to wait a spell for them to return. Sometimes the hogs will be primarily nocturnal in their feeding jaunts, and you will have no other choice. Find trails going into these “jungles” and ease in, working the wind. Some of these areas, once inside, will have more open pockets to stalk more quietly. If it is a primary bedding area, there will be a maze of narrow “rabbit-like” trails. Likely, these will be your only avenues to traverse through it with any reasonable attempts for success. Be prepared for stinging briars and body-snaring vines. Limb shears will come in real handy. Some places you may even have to crawl for quite a ways. It’s extreme hunting — you’re in their world now.
8. I’ve been telling you to keep marking all areas with the GPS. When you get done hunting for the day, mark fresh sign, bedding areas, travel routes and any hog sightings on the map. With all these key elements marked, a “battle plan” should unfold beneath your eyes making you a more prepared and confident hunter on your next hunt.
On my first return trip I’ll head to all the feeding areas, which is every place I found fresh sign. A critical step to my success is that on my return hunt I always take a different route to the sign than the ones I have previously taken. Your GPS will be very useful here. By taking a different route, you’ll often discover that hogs are utilizing a different stretch of woods, one where you can catch them up feeding in the middle of the day. The trick is to leave no stone unturned.
In August 2004, me and fellow hog slayer, Don Wood, of Waynesville, while “Hunting on the Fly,” hunted for two weeks on a local WMA and killed 11 hogs. We marked all bedding and feeding, travel and kill areas and created a where-to hog map. This August we returned with our mapped-out battle plan. Even two years later the hogs were using the same areas. We hunted four mornings, and we approached all our marked areas on the map from different directions. We killed 13 hogs and passed up others thus proving how marking areas on a map and accessing them from a different area can prove successful time and time again.
With the GPS, you will be more efficient and productive in your search, hitting only proven and probable areas instead of burning time on wasted ground. By going directly from one “hog waypoint” to another, you will remain in the strike zone longer, making crossing paths with Porky inevitable.
On most WMAs, hogs may be hunted in January and February with small-game weapons if small-game season is open. Along with .22s, you can hunt WMA hogs with muzzleloaders and archery equipment. Before hunting hogs on any WMA, refer to the hunting regulations to make sure the area is open to hog hunting.
Take the WMA challenge. You will become a better hunter while enjoying an endless amount of hunting land. Thank God for we are blessed with an abundance of outdoor opportunities in Georgia.