There are plenty of ways to kill a pig. As a Texan, I’ve heard them all, ranging from guns and bows to explosives (not recommended) and stone-age spears (also not recommended). In many ways, these creative pursuits were born out of necessity—to thin out the ever-growing population of wild swine across a similarly growing range.
But, the tide is turning from pest control to noble pursuit. And, when I first realized how accessible bowhunting for hogs is to just about any hunter, it was more than a lightbulb moment. It was a miracle.
Any cursory search across hunting media and you’ll find all sorts of complaints about the cost of gear, scarcity of land, and overcrowding from other hunters. But, when you look at bow hunting for hogs, you’ll find a minimal amount of gear, animals to hunt in just about every wooded area below the Mason-Dixon, and plenty of space for all of us. Oh, and there’s also the fact that you can hunt them year-round. What’s not to love?
Before you say something about hogs being inedible and parasite-ridden, just read my interview with Jessie Griffiths or peruse any number of hog recipes on this very site. The whole “can’t eat a pig” argument is getting a little stale. They’re tasty, it’s just a fact.
I bring this up to say that if you’re a hunter who likes to eat, isn’t independently wealthy, and also enjoys a challenge, bowhunting for hogs may be your Holy Grail. It’s just a matter of learning how to do it. In this article, I’m going to focus on the strategic side over the gear side for a few reasons. First, you’re probably not here to read a novel. Second, the archery community never agrees on anything, particularly when it comes to grains, FOC, broadheads, and which way the wind is blowing at any given time. So, I’m going to spare myself the wrath of the comment section and just say, “I’d go for a sharp broadhead.”
Starting at the 30,000-foot view, hog hunting is generally a southern affair, with approximately 8 million of the 9 million estimated pigs in the U.S. residing in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, New Mexico, South Carolina, California, and Alabama. And, if you’re lucky enough to live in Hawaii, you’re facing a population of around 400,000. So, if you live in one of those states or runners-up like Missouri and Arkansas, you don’t have to go too far to find pigs.
From a ground-level perspective, they need the same thing that just about any other animal needs—cover, water, and food. So, once again, it’s not too hard to track down a sounder or two if there’s public land in your vicinity.
The real strategy comes into play when you look at the day-by-day differences. First, try to get an estimate of how much hunting pressure the area receives—even if it’s not necessarily for pigs as the main target. Just like deer, pressured pigs will tend to be more nocturnal and wary of any noise or disturbance, which will affect your tactics a bit.
Next, you’ll want to get a gauge for water sources. We are talking about pigs, after all, and we all know they love to roll around in some mud and need copious amounts of water. Hunting areas with large bodies of water will be a safe bet. To me, the most surefire areas are low-elevation areas that have a tendency to experience varying amounts of flooding. For example, many of the reservoirs around Texas are prime hog habitats because high water levels recede and then rise throughout the year, giving pigs soft ground to root in for food. Any sort of marsh, bayou, or river system will be a safe bet as well.
Lastly, you’ll want a basic understanding of the natural forage available. Just like deer, pigs love to key in on acorns, pecans, and just about any nut-bearing tree. Also, be on the lookout for any wooded landboarding agricultural fields. If you can find pigs that are feeding, you’ve nearly won the battle, but we’ll get to that in a minute. As for bedding, pigs love to hold up in the thickest, nastiest brush you can imagine and particularly love it when, you guessed it, mud is in the mix. This will also be an integral part of your approach.
Now that you’ve nailed down the terrain, it’s time to develop a strategy. As the title of this article suggests, we’re going to be on the move. This doesn’t mean that methods like tree stands, saddle hunting, and ground blinds can’t work, but that’s another article for another day.
Let’s start with a specific example. I hunt public land in Texas—about 1,500 acres—that is heavily wooded with a river system running alongside it. It’s also a fairly isolated area, bordered either by a major river or major highways. It receives a light-to-moderate amount of hunting pressure. The biggest challenge, however, is reading the water. Besides the major river, there are dozens of small creeks, low-lying mud pits, and ponds littering the area, which makes it difficult to pinpoint a specific location—it all looks good.
So, based on this specific area, I generally choose to cover ground. Yes, I may occasionally bump a rogue hog, but they’re either there or they aren’t, and you can’t tip-toe across several miles of thick brush. You’ve got to move. Sounders will most likely stick together and that’s what you’ll want to aim for.
If you’re hunting an area with heavy pressure, you’ll probably have to be more strategic and take your time. Pigs have a keen sense of smell and decent hearing, so they’ll spook well before you see them, particularly in heavy brush. When in doubt, however, I think moving quickly and casually is the best way to go. We’ve all heard the saying, “There’s nothing louder than someone trying to be quiet in the woods,” and I agree. Just move with intentionality, a good amount of speed, and try not to sound like a predator.
I’ll make this short. It’s better to hunt pigs that are up and feeding. When a sounder is actively feeding and they have their face stuck a foot in the ground, your job just got a whole lot easier. While you still need to employ a good amount of stealth, a feeding sounder generates quite a bit of noise and you can close the gap fairly quickly. Obviously, stay downwind, use cover wisely, and move slowly. And just like most other targets, they’re going to be most active during first light and last light—or on particularly cold and/or cloudy days.
Now, back to hunting pressure. If you’re lucky enough to hunt an area with light to moderate hunting pressure, you can get away with hunting just about any time of day. The sounder will most likely be bedded, but I’ve noticed that “soft bumps” are fairly common if you move slowly and quietly. Pigs don’t have great sight, and if they haven’t been trained to fear every noise or movement, there’s a solid chance they’ll flush, run 50 to 100 yards, and calm down. In fact, I’ve pushed a sounder of pigs off of their bed and they got up and started feeding less than 100 yards away, making the perfect chance for a stalk. I’ve also seen my brother bump a pig only for her to turn broadside at 10 yards to get a second look, opening her up for the perfect shot.
One of the hardest aspects of still hunting for pigs is finding the proper path. As I mentioned before, pigs love thick, nasty brush, and it’s no coincidence that it’s also extremely difficult to move through unnoticed. Any time I spook pigs, it’s generally because I’ve read the terrain poorly and gotten into a thicket where I sound like bigfoot trudging through the brush. You can hear the pigs running away well before you see them.
My advice is this: if you have to choose between prime pig habitat and huntable areas, choose huntable areas. Especially when it comes to bowhunting, you have to get close and you need space to draw, so there’s no point in getting tangled up in locust thorns and poison ivy, even if there are pigs around. Pick an old trail, oak flat, or wide game trail that’s near prime cover so you can cover ground and find the pigs that aren’t safely nestled behind 20 yards of pure hell.
Pig hunting is a great way to get new hunters accustomed to reading sign because there’s a lot of it. Be on the lookout for fresh pig tracks and rooting, and you’ll be sure to run into some pigs. Tracks are easy to distinguish from deer because the hoof runs parallel or even slightly outward, whereas deer tracks narrow to a tight point in the middle. Also, hog tracks have a wider, more oval shape than a deer’s track.
Rooting, to me, is the sign you should be looking for. If there’s fresh rooting, there are pigs around—it’s just a matter of finding them. You may be tempted to confuse deer rooting with pig rooting, but you’ll know the difference when you see it. First, deer generally don’t feed in as compact of a group as a sounder, so the rooting will be more spread out. Mainly, however, pig rooting is going to be deep and dramatic. I’ve seen rooting that looks like someone set off two or three grenades. They can do some damage, which is why farmers hate them.
Once you find the rooting, take a closer look to see how fresh it is. Rooting that’s a few days old will look caked and rounded on the edges, while fresh rooting will look like someone’s just turned over a shovel full of dirt and mud. Also, look at the tracks coming to and from the rooting area to see if they look fresh and track down the potential bedding area.
If you feel like you’re in the right general vicinity, it’s time to slow it down and employ the “still” part of still hunting. As I mentioned before, a feeding sounder is relatively loud and you may be able to hear them. Or, if you’ve played the wind correctly and are downwind from pigs, you may actually be able to smell them well before you can see them.
If there’s fresh rooting and you’re not seeing pigs, however, just mark the location on your onX app and quietly move away. I find that if you bump a sounder off of a rooting area, they tend to move on pretty quickly. Unlike deer, there doesn’t seem to be as much territorial behavior and this indifference means they’ll vacate an area if threatened, so you need to catch them in the act.
I did mention that getting close to feeding sounder was relatively easy, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to kill. I can’t tell you how many pigs I’ve shot—bow or rifle—only to see them roll, get up, and tear off into the woods. Mr. Steven Rinella has already written about shot placement for pigs, so be sure to check out his article. But in general, it’s best to aim lower than you think. A pig’s vitals are just a few inches up from its stomach behind the shoulder and can be tough to hit. An ideal placement is quartering away, so you can sneak an arrow behind the shoulder blade—this is particularly important for large boars that typically have a shield along their side. It can be up to an inch thick and very dense, making for a tough shot.
If you do make contact—either good or bad—immediately nock another arrow if you have time because there’s a solid chance that pig is getting up. Lastly, always be sure a pig is actually dead before approaching. Look for any movement and make sure to give it ample time. While I’m never afraid of a pig attack in normal scenarios, I wouldn’t want to test a 250-pound boar that has an arrow-sized hole in its side. Proceed with caution.
The beauty of hog hunting is that they’re always surprising. They can be ghosts one minute and be everywhere the next. I’ve walked up on large boars literally eating by the side of a dirt road and had others flush from 100 yards away, never to be seen again. Also, it’s low-pressure. For better or worse, there’s a lot of cultural (and economical) weight put onto most other big game animals, which means those hunts can be a high-pressure pursuit—and an expensive one.
Pigs, on the other hand, are the people’s pursuit. Many hunters look down on them, which thankfully means that they don’t command the same amount of attention. Plus, there’s no pig shortage. If you spook that big boar or bounce an arrow off its back because you don’t know what 20 yards looks like in the brush (guilty), it’s going to be fine. There’s a lot more where that came from.