Wild Hogs: Georgia’s Other Big Game
There are feral hog populations scattered all across the state providing Georgia deer hunters with a change of pace big game animal.
Hog hunting conjures up visions of large boars crashing through the woods with snapping jaws bristling with long tusks capable of tearing up dogs and hunters alike. Hog hunting, particularly with dogs, does have the potential for danger, while still hunting hogs can be as challenging as deer hunting. In addition, many people feel that the meat of a wild porker is better tasting than venison.
Feral hogs (domesticated hogs escaped to the wild) have been in the South, and in Georgia, for centuries. Early records show that Fernando De Soto first brought hogs to the southern United States in 1539. Some of those hogs escaped to establish wild populations. Additional hogs were introduced by other early explorers. No one knows exactly when the first wild hogs were established in Georgia, but in all likelihood it was during the mid 1500s. Some scientists believe the hogs currently found on Ossabaw Island off Georgia’s coast are direct descendants from Spanish hogs.
Georgia’s current hog population initiated from less exotic origins. Most of Georgia’s feral hogs originated either from the day when hogs ranged free, before fence laws or more recently from hogs escaping from farmer’s hog pens. In addition, there are a few sites in Georgia with a mixture of wild European or Russian hogs brought over from Europe.
Most of the feral hogs found in Georgia look much like their barnyard cousins, although they weigh less. Life in the wild obviously makes for a leaner pig. Most feral hogs will not weigh more than 250 pounds. Color patterns include the variations you find in domestic hogs: from the whites of Yorkshire to the Duroc red to the spotted Poland China. For whatever reason, however, black, seems to be the dominant color of feral hogs.
Feral hogs differ markedly from European hogs. The European hog has never been domesticated, therefore it never was selectively bred for large hams. They are reminiscent of the coal miner in the song “Big John.” “Tall at the shoulder and narrow at the hips,” which is the exact opposite of a domestic hog’s body structure. These hogs are grizzly in color, support a mane down the back of their neck and have a long, straight tail. Another primary difference between the European and feral hogs is that the European piglets are born striped and colored like chipmunks, and they become grizzled as they start to grow. Domestic or feral hogs are born with the same color patterns they will possess as adults. European hogs all weigh up to the 300- to 400-lb. range.
The hogs occurring on Ossabaw Island, which are presumably from early Spanish ancestors, have many of the characteristics of the European hogs. These hogs stand taller in the shoulders and have a mane and long tail. Color patterns, however, are widely varied, and the pigs seldom weigh much more than 100 pounds.
Most feral hogs in Georgia are located in the coastal counties, major river systems and in the mountains. The Southeastern Wildlife Disease Study Unit at the University of Georgia developed the included range map. The distribution and population levels found on this 1982 map are still reasonably accurate.
The abundance of food plus the inaccessibility of the coastal and river swamps allows for the higher populations. Some coastal counties have hog populations exceeding 10 or more per square mile. The Altamaha, Ocmulgee, Ogeechee and Savannah rivers also support healthy populations, while the Flint River has a somewhat more limited hog population.
Hogs are found only in a few areas in the Piedmont region of the state. In recent years, hogs have been released into the area by hog hunters. There now occurs a small population of hogs along the Flint River in Meriwether and Pike counties and along the Ocmulgee in Monroe, Jones and Bibb counties. Populations in the Piedmont area are much lower than the coastal areas.
Wild hogs are distributed through the Chattahoochee National Forest in relatively low numbers, but populations in the Cohutta and Rich Mountain WMAs tend to be higher than elsewhere in the mountains. The acorn crops directly impact mountain hog populations just as they affect mountain deer herds. Following years of good acorn crops, reproduction is good and hogs become abundant.
The mountain hog population reflects the influence of European hog ancestry. The European bloodline comes from hogs released at Tellico Plains, Tennessee in the early part of this century. Those hogs expanded their range into Georgia, but this population was also strongly influenced by the hogs allowed to freely range throughout the mountains. Therefore, the bloodline is now primarily of feral hog ancestry.
In contrast, the hog population found along the Ocmulgee River in Twiggs, Houston and Bleckley counties are more strongly European. European hogs were released in this area in the early 1970s at a time when the feral hog numbers were low. Therefore, European bloodline dominates this population.
Well how do you hunt hogs? Like deer hunting, there are three primary ways to hunt hogs: stand hunting, stalking and dog hunting. When hunting from a stand or when stalking, you’ll be searching for feeding areas. In the fall, hogs concentrate on acorns. Look for signs of fresh rooting along creek and river flood plains in the Coastal Plains or on hardwood ridges in the mountains. As acorns are depleted, hogs will move out of the flood plain and into the pines along the edges of the swamps. Here they root for tubers and roots of various plants.
In the late1960s, I spent a year radio-tracking feral hogs along the Savannah River in South Carolina. The hogs I studied were most active in the early mornings and the late evenings, with reduced activity between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. When still hunting, your best tool is your ears. Hogs tend to grunt and squeal as they forage, and they are seldom quiet.
Dog hunting for hogs is a real adventure. The catch dogs usually consist of a pit bull or some type of pit-bull mixture. Trail dogs are usually hounds or Airedale dogs. Many dog hunters actually capture hogs alive. The catch dog will grab the hog, often by the ear and hold on until the hunters can tie up the hog.
Some limited hog hunting is available on state WMAs. However, in most cases hogs can be taken only during deer hunts. On private property, feral hogs are not considered game animals by the state, and there is no firearm, bag limit or season restriction on hog hunting. Most farmers have little appreciation for hogs rooting up their crops. In areas with good populations of porkers, a call to the county extension agencies or to the Farm Bureau may provide you with a point of contact with a landowner who would like his pig population reduced.
In some areas, particularly in the mountains, hogs compete with deer, turkey and other native wildlife for a limited amount of food. But in the Coastal Plain, hogs, deer and turkey can all share an adequate food supply to provide good populations of game animal. In these areas, the hog is a welcome addition for the hunter.