War Hogs

A sow in heat means the woods are about to erupt with battling boars. It’s your best chance to kill a giant tusked trophy.

Bobby Thompson | August 31, 2020

The situation may not have been hopeless, but I had given up all hope. My peaceful Saturday afternoon of sitting quietly in a ladder stand waiting for a delicious doe to stroll within bow range had been rudely interrupted by what could only be described as hog warfare. The racket they were making 200 yards or so behind me left no doubt there was a gang fight among boars going on in that part of the Oconee River swamp. Squeals, grunts, grumps, and deep-throated almost growls were continuously in the air.

I figured there was no way any self-respecting deer would step politely into my little food plot with that big ruckus going on so close by. The sun was still above the horizon when I decided to abandon my deer hunt and investigate the situation.

To quote Slim Pickens’ character in Blazing Saddles, “What in the wide, wide world of sports is a-goin’ on over there?” I was about to find out.

Hoyt in hand, and snake boots snugged to my feet, I set out through the late September swamp to see exactly what the deal was. Besides, I was pretty keen on the idea of slipping close enough to one of those battling boars to stick one with an arrow. Man, did I ever get close enough! But the results weren’t precisely what I envisioned.

The going was relatively smooth as I moved quietly through the open bottomland toward the continuous din. I had not been in this particular section of swamp before, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was much more open than the surrounding area, which had been clearcut several years previously. It had grown back into an impenetrable maze of hardwood saplings, briars and vines. Hog Heaven was somewhere in there. A human would find it closer to that other place where nobody seems to want to go.

The author with a magnum boar from Washington County. This one had to be pulled out of thick brush using a rope tied to a pickup.

Fifty yards ahead of me I could see bright sunlight shining on a large open area of tall sedge grass. I realized that I had come upon the back side of a round, shallow pond that had gone dry during the summer. A woods road ran just on the other side of the pond. It sounded like the hogs were in that road. Maybe I could get across the pond and get an open shot with my bow. Thankful for my snake boots, I eased into the shoulder-high sedge and started across. Senses keen and pulse quickening, I had gotten about halfway to the road when the situation soured—or maybe I should say ‘sow’erd.

With crashes and squeals and grunts and popping teeth, here came the whole gang straight at me through the tall grass. I drew my bow and stepped behind the only tree available—a 6-inch tupelo. Not much cover, but better than nothing, for sure.

I could see the grass waving as the hogs came directly at me. At a range of less than 10 yards I still couldn’t see hide nor hair of a hog. I felt a lot like a character in Michael Crighton’s Jurassic Park with the velociraptors coming through the tall grass. They were coming fast—too fast—and way too close! My confident anticipation was devolving into anxious trepidation.

An adult sow burst into view 10 feet from me travelling at a fast trot. She passed me literally at arm’s length. Nose to tail behind her was a whopper brindled boar. Snout covered with blood and slobber, mouth wide open from his exertions, long stout tusks on full display, he passed by, not in shooting range, but in touching range! No sooner had he disappeared in the long grass than here came a second big boar, and a third, and a fourth. None of them so much as glanced my way. They were too intent on winning that sow’s affections. Then they began to diminish in size, but they just kept coming. If the first four were 300-pounders (and they seemed even bigger at spitting range!), then the next ones were 200-pounders, and so it went until the last half dozen boar shoats came sashaying by me frolicking and crabbing sideways like over-eager racehorses. I am certain the whole parade had not lasted more than 15 seconds, but I was glad that it was over. I let down my bow and leaned thankfully against the little tupelo. Good thing it was not mature enough to bear berries, or I would have likely shaken them all off. Before I headed for my truck, deerless and hogless, I confess that I left one side of the trunk of that tupelo somewhat damp from the waist down. I was just thankful the inside of my boots were still dry.

A lot of water has made its way down the Oconee since that eventful autumn evening, but I haven’t forgotten the lessons I learned any more than Travis Coates forgot what transpired in the next few seconds after he fell off that limb while marking hogs in the movie/book, Ol’ Yeller. At least I didn’t get “hog cut,” as Little Arliss put it.

Let me be clear. I am not a real ‘hog hunter.’ At least I don’t qualify as one such as some other folks I know who live and breathe hunting wild hogs, mostly with dogs. In fact, I pretty much despise feral hogs, like most people I know who try to raise crops or feed wildlife or ride anything from a tricycle to an 8-row silage cutter across a snout-cratered field.

Devastating hog damage this summer on one of the author’s food plots.

Wild hogs eat anything and everything and have no respect whatsoever for anything or anybody when it comes to creating problems. If you spend any time at all in our woods and fields here in Georgia, I don’t need to preach to you about them. You know the deal. A special thanks to every one of you is in order here for your willingness to help control the feral hog population by shooting every one you see. I realize that this happens mostly during deer season when you have a gun in your hand, but a dead hog is a good hog as far as I am concerned. Some may find that offensive. I understand your feelings. Once upon a time I’d have felt the same, but hard experience has helped me get over it. Hungry hogs will eat anything, and I do mean anything, that has any food value at all. It especially concerns me that they will eat every egg, snake, hatchling bird and infant fawn that they can catch.

Neglecting to shoot them while deer hunting for several years cost my family and I dearly in the early 2000s in terms of wildlife lost and habitat damaged. There was practically no place on 3,000 acres that you could place a peanut that it wouldn’t be resting in hog rootings. The entire swamp was literally turned upside down. Every other form of wildlife we had suffered greatly for lack of sustenance and sanctuary. When we finally declared war on them that January it was not until we had killed more than 700 that we began to get a handle on the situation. Let me give you some unasked-for advice. When it comes to feral hogs, kill’em. Kill ‘em all. Kill ‘em now. Declare war on them because they have declared war on you. They just don’t talk about it much. You’re free to disagree, but experience has taught me different. If you need persuading, let me show you this year’s game plots on our properties. Many hours of hard work and a sizable amount of money has been destroyed by dozens of hogs in just a few nights. It is absolutely heartbreaking.

Huge tusks from a wild Georgia boar.

I have already stated I am not a hog hunter. I guess you could say I am more of a hog killer. I kill them at every possible opportunity, and I guess I do take a certain perverse pleasure in being the reason for their demise. I also have a great many friends who appreciate having a nice fat gilt delivered to their doorstep every so often. Free range pork is as good as any from the market if it’s from the right hog at the right time. But I also admit that my pulse jumps into overdrive when I see a big old rank boar come into gun or bow range. Adult boars are a trophy in that they are highly intelligent, hard to see, hard to kill, and they fight and bite when cornered, wounded or otherwise aggravated.

I get pictures of big boars all the time on my game cameras—at 1:30 in the morning—almost never in daylight. They are very much like big bucks in that they live like ghosts. They are also very much like old bucks because the time to kill them is when they are distracted by the business of courtship.

When Miss Piggy sends out scent signals that she is ready for some ‘boaring’ company, the big boys will gather from miles around. The little fellows may join the festivities, too, but just to watch the show. And what a show it is as they grump, grumble, squeal and fight in all-out warfare for the honor of siring Miss Piggy’s next brood of rooters!

So when you are trying to enjoy a peaceful afternoon in your precious patch of woods, and all heck breaks loose right over yonder, you might want to ease over thatta way and see if you can’t keep the next Travis Coates out of trouble. But keep a tree between you and the action if it heads your way. Then you won’t have to ask the missus to launder your shorts when you get home.

When’s That Hog Rut?

The answer to when wild hogs breed is that they do it pretty much anytime of the year. However, research in South Carolina on the timing of wild hog sows being bred (see chart) shows that September and October saw quite a bit more breeding activity than most months.

Breeding took place every month of the year, but more than a third of the 323 wild hogs sows in the study were bred in September and October.

According to the study notes, “Reproduction in feral hog populations can occur during any month, with both sows and boars being capable of breeding year-round. Typically there are one to two seasonal peaks in breeding. However, annual patterns with one or two seasonal peaks can occur within the same population, varying from year to year. Regional photo-period, rainfall and nutrition all influence the breeding season in a feral hog population. Feral sows are capable of producing more than one litter per year. The production of a second litter was observed to be common when sows lost the entire first litters; however, sows have been breeding while still nursing a litter of piglets. Normally, sows do not conceive when still nursing a litter of piglets. In eastern Tennessee, numerous wild sows were observed to have bred within a month of farrowing; however, very seldom did these females conceive. In addition, when these sows did conceive, only very small litters were produced. Production of multiple litters is more common when food resources are abundant. It is also more common among adult wild sows than younger sows.“

About The Author: Bobby Thompson is a veteran guide, land and wildlife manager with more than 50 years of experience in the swamps and Lowcountry of South Carolina, as well as in Montgomery and Washington counties in Georgia. He resides in Vidalia with Susan, his wife of 42 years, and a black Labrador retriever named Sapelo.

Two of the author’s young friends with a big boar caught with dogs on his property in Montgomery County. This boar is now at a taxidermist.

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