The growing popularity of organic meat has led many people afield—people who ordinarily wouldn’t otherwise hunt—in search of 100-percent free-range protein. Not surprisingly, many of these new hunters have focused on hunting for whitetail deer to provide this meat.
Yet that focus on deer focus has left one readily available source of nutritious, organic meat generally unheralded: the feral hog.
Wild hogs can not only fill your freezer with meat that’s hormone- and chemical-free (and hasn’t been run through a factory processing facility). By hunting hogs, which have been unintentionally introduced to North America, you will also be helping native wildlife and local landowners. And this time of the year is a great time to hunt hogs, too, as the cooler early spring temperatures have them traveling more frequently during the day.
Need more specific reasons to hunt free-ranging hogs? Read on:
1. It’s the best pork around. Compared to that from factory-farmed hogs, meat from feral brethren actually has more protein, calcium, zinc and Vitamin B-6—and less fat. That’s according to the USDA’s National Nutrient Database. And it’s a flavorful meat, with a taste that can range from almost nutty to similar to lamb.
Here’s what Krissie Mason, chef, novice hunter, and wild game blogger at outdoorlife.com, has to say about eating free-ranging swine: “From a culinary point of view, wild pig can best be described as ‘porkier’ pork. It’s lean, and very good eating. It’s how domestic pork used to be 100 years ago before we started dramatically altering a hog’s caloric and chemical intake.”
Hogs can weigh up to 400-plus-pounds (though a few have been known to reach 1000 pounds). From a culinary standpoint, the best eating hogs tend to be in the 75- to 150-pound range. Meat-wise, figure on about a 40 percent return in your hog hunting investment. (If that doesn’t seem like a lot of meat per pig, consider that most states don’t have a bag limit for hogs.)
2. Hog populations have grown at an astounding rate. A couple of decades ago, most populations were confined to the deep south and Texas, and population estimates were maybe 2 million hogs nationwide. Today, most calculations place that number at 6 million wild hogs or better.
But here’s the thing many people don’t realize: under most state game laws, wild hogs are not considered wildlife. Legally, they are usually defined as “feral animals” or “invasive species.”
For the hunter, that means hog hunting is open all year-round on most private lands, and there are no bag limits. In a number of states, you don’t even need a license to hunt hogs on private lands, though you almost always need one to pursue wild pigs on public lands and conservation areas. Check with your state game laws before heading out..
3. They cause staggering amounts of damage. Surging populations of feral hogs are doing tens of millions of dollars in damage to agricultural land and crops. These four-legged roto-tillers dig up cropfields, pastures and vegetable gardens with their hard, probing snouts. They can also spread a number of diseases to farmed hogs.
All this translates into additional hunting opportunities. Landowners who’d laugh in your face if you asked if you could hunt deer or turkeys on their lands will often let you hunt feral pigs on their property. But be prepared for the most common demand such landowners often make: Promise me you’ll kill every hog you see.
4. They’re widespread. Hogs inhabit a wide (and growing) swath of public lands across the South, west into New Mexico, and up into the Midwest. Sections of the Bankhead National Forest in north-central Alabama, for example, are fairly overrun with feral hogs. These hogs are seen as an ecological disaster in the making as they uproot native foliage, compete with native wildlife for food and habitat, and wallow in ecologically sensitive streams and creeks.
5. There’s plenty of help available if you need it. There are hundreds of hog hunting outfitters and guides across the country. While these outfitters do charge a fee for their services, the cost to hunt hogs is usually a fraction of what they charge for hunting deer or other big game.
Consider the Chain Ranch in western Oklahoma. A basic deer hunt here will run you $4,000, including food and lodging. But you can hunt hogs on over 20,000 acres of the Chain Ranch for $200 a day per hunter, with lodging, transportation around the ranch, and a hunting guide provided. There’s also a $100 fee charged for every hog you take.
6. You have a lot of hunting options. There are many legal ways to hunt hogs: from waiting for them in traditional and blinds over bait to spotting them from afar with binoculars and then putting on a stalk. Night hunting for wild hogs is legal in many states, too.
7. You don’t need fancy or expensive gear. Hog hunting gear can be very basic, and will be usable for other hunting too.
What type of gun? There’s some debate in hog hunting circles over the suitability of the .223 Remington as a hog hunting round. I have taken a good number of wild hogs with rifles chambered in .223 Rem, but doing so does require very accurate placement of a relatively small bullet.
New hunters would be better served to step up to a rifle chambered in .243 Winchester at minimum, shooting a 100-grain or heavier bullet. Compared to a .223 Rem, the additional power of the .243 Win provides a much better chance to drop that hog with one shot. Rifles in even larger calibers can be even more effective, but as you go up in caliber you also add more recoil.
For shotgunners, 12, 16 and 20 gauge slugs will do the job just fine. If you’re a handgunner, the .357 Magnum round is the minimum for tough hogs. In both cases, of course, the effective range is considerably shorter than that of a rifle.
If you want some background about what a hog hunt is like, check out [Outdoor Life blogger Krissie Mason’s multi-part story](http://www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/hunting/quest-wild-bacon-prepping-my-first-hunt-39-years” http://www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/hunting/quest-wild-bacon-prepping-my-first-hunt-39-years) about her “field-to-table pork experience” that started with her quest to take a hog—her first hunt in 39 years.
What are you waiting for? Your hog hunt and your organic pork await!