Advertisement

Small Arms for Big Pigs on Mountain WMAs

Load the freezer with public pork this small-game season.

Justin Raines | December 1, 2009

Last fall, a rainstorm came that kept the pigs pinned to the same sorghum plot Jeff McCrackin had seen them in the day before. When he and his 8-year-old stepson Lane returned at daybreak, the field was still full of pork. They scanned the black pack of feeding squealers for a few minutes, passing over lesser pigs before spotting a monster. It looked like a bear in the thick mountain brush, but when Jeff glimpsed its tusks, sausage bells began to ring.

From 12 yards away, Jeff dropped the boar with a well-placed .22 magnum round delivered between the eyes. He was handing the rifle to Lane, who wanted to trigger the final shot, when the pig leapt up and made a dash for the hills. Jeff quickly leveled the sights and cut the escape short with three fast blasts from the mag., dropping the beast in its tracks. The hog never made it to the scales, but Jeff estimated its weight to be about 275 pounds. Its tusks measured 3 1/2 inches long. It was the largest pig he has killed in a lifetime of hunting Warwoman WMA, and plenty of big pigs are still out there. He’s seen them.

“Both my daddy and my brother have taken hogs over 300 pounds from that area,” Jeff said. “There’s a lot of pigs up there. You’re more likely to shoot a pig than anything else.”

Jeff’s favorite time to stalk hogs on Warwoman and nearby public lands is during the cold half of small-game season after the deer guns have been put away. He said it’s a great way to keep still-hunting skills sharp throughout the winter, and the mountain scenery is hard to beat.

Northeast Georgia offers a wealth of public lands slap full of feral hogs. The region includes 15 WMAs, many of which are bordered by the Chattahoochee National Forest. Pig populations are well-established in the area, and a mountain hog hunt can be a great way to top off the meat freezer.

The catch, of course, is that once deer season ends in the north region on Jan. 1 until small-game season ends on Feb. 28, feral hogs may only be hunted with small-game arms. That limits pig hunters to firearms of .22-caliber and smaller. Muzzleloaders are also an option. When using such small ammunition on big, bony beasts like feral hogs it’s important to get in close for a good shot to the brains.

“Shoot it in the eyes or ears,” Jeff said. “Don’t shoot it in the shoulder. The shield on those things runs back to their ribs. If you’re going to shoot it in the body, it’s better if he’s quartering away. Then try to shoot him at an angle.”

Solid bullets are the best choice since hollow points expand too quickly to penetrate a hog’s skull. Magnum loads pack nearly twice the powder charge of standard long-rifle rounds and are most commonly used. Federal 50-grain Game Shocks, CCI Maxi-Mag 40-grain and Winchester Super-X 40-grain full-metal jacket are popular choices. Black-powder options include 195-245-grain bullets in calibers from .45 to .50. Bypass smaller .36s and .38s because they lack the power most people need for hogs. Connecticut Valley Arms offers a nickel alloy bullet that is harder than copper-jacketed rounds.

Still-hunting is the name of the game during late winter. Hunters should forget about setting up stands and prepare to cover a lot of ground. Mountain pigs move around even more than usual as food supplies dwindle. Locating them can be hit or miss. Some get lucky by setting up stands that overlook pig trails or well-used food plots, but success comes most quickly to those willing to walk for their sausage.

Start off with a little drive-by scouting. Most WMAs feature well-maintained access roads that parallel prime hog habitat. Use a map to locate areas that combine drainages and food plots planted with sorghum and clover. Drive the roads that lead to these areas, looking for places along the roadside and in ditches that hogs have rooted up. Hog sign is easily distinguished from deer and turkey sign. The ground will look freshly plowed where the pigs have rooted up turf. Edges of fields and pastures bordered by forests are good spots to check, and always keep an eye out for mud.

“Hogs are going to want to wallow,” Jeff said. “They’ll wallow in any place that will hold a little bit of water. Look for wet-weather springs and places along the roads that hold water after a rain.”

After a good mud bath, hogs will often rub themselves against trees and shrubs, leaving muddy scrub marks on the sides of trees. Boars also clean and hone their tusks on trees, which leaves distinctive marks on the bark. Always remember to keep moving. The trick to tracking mountain pigs is heading them off at the pass.

“If you see hog sign, that’s where they were, not where they’re going to be,” said Ken Riddleberger, WRD Region II supervisor. “The thing about hogs up here is they’re so mobile, it’s hard to predict where they’re going to be. You want to get around openings and look for sign and try to establish a pattern. Walk through the woods and listen. One thing about hogs is they’re not quiet.”

If the woods aren’t ringing with the squeals of feeding hogs, park the truck and lace up the hiking boots. Start by scouting the high ridges, and work down the mountains. Habitat that combines red and white oak trees with springs or creek drainages is ideal. By January, hogs will be concentrated in areas where acorns are still available. Find the food, and find the hogs. Most mast surveys in north Georgia reveal red oaks to be the predominant acorn producer this season. White oaks and chestnut oaks have been less productive in 2009, but there should still be some acorns in the higher elevations.

If the acorns are wiped out, focus on food plots. Late-season plantings of sorghum and clover should still be around. Find areas that still have some green and scout for sign. Once the nuts are gone, pigs will hit the remaining clover fields hard. Also, many WMA food plots are located close to access roads. Using a topographic map, start with those fields closest to the roads. Even if hog sign is not immediately obvious, continue to move through the fields. Jeff and Lane shot their 275-pounder near the middle of a food plot. Since feral hogs are virtually nocturnal during winter months, late evening and early morning are the most productive times to hunt.

North Georgia hog hunters have a lot of land to choose from. For still-hunting during small-game season, Warwoman and Swallow Creek WMAs are good spots to try. Both areas combine challenging, but beautiful mountain scenery with booming hog populations.

Warwoman covers 15,800 acres in Rabun County. From Clayton, take Highway 441 north. Turn right onto Warwoman Road, and proceed 3.5 miles to Finney Creek Road. Turn left and proceed 0.2 mile to the check station. During late winter, the area is open to small-game hunters from Dec. 1-8, Dec. 14-Jan. 5 and from Jan. 11 through Feb. 28. Since hog hunters aren’t required to check in their kills, it’s difficult to get an accurate estimate on annual harvests, but Area Manager Brandon Walls said the feral hog population at Warwoman is doing well, almost too well.

“There’s definitely a lot of hogs, and the population seems to be growing,” Brandon said. “It would be nice if more hogs were taken. They can be real rough on food plots.”

Hunters new to the area should obtain a topo map from the DNR website or the USFS. A good place to start hunting is on Tuckaluge Creek Road near the south end of the WMA. Several newly planted clover plots are located near the road. Head north on Tuckaluge Creek, looking for hog sign along the roadside and on field edges. The road will lead up to Wilson Gap, which is another of the area’s hog hotspots. Search for red-oak stands in lower elevations, and seek out white oaks on higher mountain ridges. Hale Ridge road on the eastern side of Warwoman features several boggy areas popular with wallowing pigs. If the hogs aren’t moving, make sure to bring some squirrel loads to keep the game bag full.

Located in Towns County, the 19,000-acre Swallow Creek WMA includes Trey Mountain, the second highest peak in Georgia. It is also home to a thriving population of high-country hogs. From Cleveland, take Highway 75 north 20 miles to Ga. 180. Continue on Highway 75 for one mile, and turn left at check station sign. Late-season, small-game dates are Nov. 23- Dec. 14 and Dec. 21- Feb. 28.

Scott Bardenwerper, Swallow Creek area manager, said about 20 to 25 pigs are harvested at the WMA each season. With the closure of Lake Burton WMA last year, lands adjacent to Swallow Creek are now included under federal jurisdiction, making it legal to hunt hogs with dogs. Bardenwerper said the added dog-hunting pressure has driven even more pigs into Swallow Creek.

Scarlet oaks and northern red oaks are the area’s top acorn producers this season. Hunters should first check the food plots for hogs before searching for acorn caches. The WMA features well-maintained roads perfect for cruising around scouting pigs. Corbin Creek Road, Grapevine Road and Swallow Creek Road are good starting points. Drop in from Highway 17, and head into the heart of the refuge where food plots and creek drainages are located.

After Jan. 1, the USFS closes some of the roads in the WMA, so be sure to get an updated road map from the check station after Jan. 1. Snow is not uncommon in the high elevations, and winter conditions in the mountains can be notoriously fickle. Good weather information is as crucial as bringing bullets.

Bringing home the bacon gets a lot easier if the truck in parked nearby. If it’s not possible to shoot a pig within dragging distance of the tailgate, hunters should plan on doing some field cleaning. Many hunters include a bone saw, knife and sharpening stone as essential parts of their pig-hunting equipment. Most quarter the animal deep in the mountains and hike the meat out with backpacks. Also, bring a couple pairs of rubber gloves to reduce the risk of blood-borne disease. As with any excursion into the mountains, always bring plenty of water and food, dress warmly in layers and always make someone else aware of the trip.

When the last golden leaves have fallen and Old Man Winter tightens his grip on the land, many hunters trade a trip in the woods for a warm seat on the home hearth. But don’t hang up the camo quite yet. Diehard hunters reluctant to call it a season can still shine up the squirrel guns and head to the hills for some exciting late-season action. North Georgia public lands are packed with pork, and for hunters willing to do a little walking, the chances of bagging big pigs are good.

Become a GON subscriber and enjoy full access to ALL of our content.

New monthly payment option available!

Advertisement

Advertisement