Wild pigs are rough on land but fun to hunt

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in April 2010. Wild pig overpopulation continues to be a problem in many parts of California, especially the Central Coast.

John Poswall has a problem. He lives on 50 acres in the hills of Lincoln. He has a beautiful house, beautiful landscaping and a beautiful view of the wildlife that parades across his land – deer, wild turkey, quail, waterfowl.

What could be wrong with that?

Pigs, that’s what. Wild hogs come up from the creek at night and root their way across the property, leaving a wake of landscaping so thoroughly turned that you’d think it had been rototilled.

The mere thought of such mayhem puts a big, inappropriate grin on my face. I am a pig hunter, and what Poswall sees as a problem sounds like dinner to me.

While deer is the No. 1 quarry of hunters in California, wild hogs occupy a special and sometimes maddening niche in the hunting world. They are abundant and prolific – sows can have three litters a year, producing up to eight piglets each time.

They are nonnative and destructive to landscaping and crops, which makes hunters feel they’re doing a public service when they kill one. They’re legal to hunt year-round. And the meat tastes fantastic, not as fatty as their domestic cousins.

But they are very hard to find on public land. Ninety-three percent of wild hogs killed in California are taken on private land. That leaves most pig hunters only two options: Pay a guide $200 to $1,000 for access to private land, or make friends with landowners like Poswall who have pig problems.

That’s particularly vexing for people like Will Sitch, a young electrical engineer from Santa Rosa who took up hunting in 2010 to get a little more connected with the food he eats.

Sitch and a friend hiked all over public land in search of wild hogs and came up with nothing. They decided to pay a guide to take them hunting on private land north of Lake Sonoma in February and got their pig – a 180-pound boar.

Between buying his rifle ($600 to $700), paying the guide ($300) and paying a butcher to process the meat ($150), though, the hunt broke the bank. Sitch said he needs to find a more affordable way to go about this.

“If anybody has a pig problem, I would be a good person to call,” he said, vowing to hunt ethically and show utmost respect for property. (He can be reached through his website, http : / / will . sitch . org.)

For hunters who have connections, such as Andy Donald of Woodland, the public-service approach to hunting can be quite successful.

Donald, managing editor of the online magazine Cooking Wild ( www . cookingwildmagazine . com), grew up in Davis and got to know quite a few farmers in the area.

“It started with a farmer who said, ‘Look, I’ve been managing this land in Capay, and we’ve got a horrible problem,’ ” Donald said.

Hogs were tearing up the land and making a mess during the harvest, so Donald spent about three weeks scouting the land to understand when and where the pigs were moving. Then he started hunting.

“We shot a lot of pigs off that property,” he said. “We set up a blind, went out at dusk and dawn, and we caught them coming in and out of a walnut orchard.”

His success led to referrals to other farmers who wanted help with their pig problems.

Without connections, though, getting permission to hunt private land for free can be nearly impossible.

“I have tried asking permission with zero success,” said Phillip Loughlin, a veteran hog hunter from Union City and proprietor of the Hog Blog ( www . hog - blog . com).

Many landowners have discovered they can get money for allowing people to hunt on their land. As a result, vast swaths of the pig-rich Central Coast region are leased by guides and outfitters who make a living taking people hog hunting.

Some landowners fear litigation, even though under state law they generally are free from liability when they give hunters permission to hunt on their land, as long as they don’t charge a fee.

“If something happens, you can still sue and people are terrified of that,” Loughlin said. “It costs money to go to court, even if you win.”

Poswall had no qualms when I asked if I could bring Loughlin out to his property one day last month to put his hog-hunting expertise to use.

The three of us took a tour of the property. Poswall pointed out the boundary between his land and the neighbors’ land, where hunters were not welcome, and showed us where the pigs had been rooting.

“Probably a big sow,” Loughlin said, examining tracks we found in one rooting area.

Mmmmm. Big sow. If we got her, we could easily split the meat and each take home plenty.

Poswall left us, and – armed with rifles and state-issued pig tags – Loughlin and I stalked the perimeter of the property, looking for footprints and scat to determine how recently pigs had been there and where they were moving.

It quickly became evident that the pigs hadn’t been there in weeks, at best. Their scat was dry, their tracks weather-worn. Loughlin surmised that with all the rain and abundant growth, there was little reason for the pigs to wander far from wherever they were bedding down.

“Have them give you a call next time they see fresh rooting,” Loughlin advised, “and get over here quick.”

In the meantime, if I want to put some wild pork in my freezer, I just might have to call a guide service.