Wild Hogs!

Cork Graham

Published in California issue of Game and Fish magazine Spring 2006

Long shadows marked the last hour of daylight on the steep, and rolling hills of southern Mendocino County before us. I told my hunting guests, Dr. James Swan, author of In Defense of Hunting, and TV and movie actor Patrick Kilpatrick and his sons, that we’d best make it over the ridge to another observation point, but something told me I should take one last look before we resumed our hike after an hour of glassing from our high vantage point.

Across the valley, back past the bowl the ranch owner and I call the “Dollar”, I noticed through my 10X binoculars a string of fleas a half-mile away, working their way down the ridge to the Dollar: “Look—Pigs!”

good optics
Use good optics!

We peeled off the ridge into the canyon, threading through light and heavy patches of poison oak, California oaks, and madrone, stopping short of the creek below, I drew a small “Smoke in a Bottle” from my tunic. A few puffs of fine talc from it and I knew that if we were noticed, it wouldn’t have been because we had sloppily let our scent betray us.

As we jogged, I made sure to hold a bit. Kilpatrick’s eldest was on his first big-game hunt and I wanted to make sure it would be remembered as his best. “Stay close, Ben. Your Mauser’s loaded, right?” I said, as we gained on the pigs in our angular path that would put us within easy arrow reach of the pigs—Swan carried a compound bow.

When we arrived at the Dollar we searched back and above the opposite ridge as we had lost the pigs in our dash. Was it the sound of feet as we scrambled? Or could it have been the strong and swirling breeze? The pigs that had been lazily working their down had about-faced and were quickly working their way back up the trail on which they’d traveled most of the way down. “Gotta run now, guys!”

Pig rub
Dry pig rub: good for telling pig size

Quite the trooper with enthusiasm and attention to detail, Ben held close with his antique 8mm Mauser, the rifle slung over his shoulder, muzzle pointed in the air, as had been counseled earlier. Not having spent due time at the gym or on the track and running up bleachers, my heart was pounding and reminding me that at age 40 I’m no longer the 20 year-old kid who kept up with various special forces units in the Central America War.

Kilpatrick took Sam with him to perhaps get a shot from below, while Ben, Swan, and I made our way up to a point almost at where I we’d last seen the pigs during our initial run from across the valley.

“There they are!” Swan whispered, pointing at the caravan of pigs eye-level with us, 65 yards across a small feeder canyon (checked with a laser rangefinder).

“Can you get a shot?” I asked Swan.

He shook his head—the difference between a sure kill at 30 yards and iffy at 60 for an archer shooting instinctively is not worth the risk. I looked to Ben and said, “Shoot.”

Ben brought up his rifle and I followed suit. The crosshairs of my scoped .300 Winchester Magnum leveled on the crease just behind the shoulder and a touch of my 3.5-pound trigger sent a 180 gr. Core Lokt through both lungs, stoning her. She rolled the sow into a tall stand of poison oak. Another pig drew my eye and I said, “Shoot the Calico!”

Magnified through my 3X-9X scope set to the lowest power was the explosive exit of my 180gr. bullet that gutted the pig, and also the shudder of the pig reacting to Ben’s 170 gr. bullet—and yet, the 140-pounder kept going…uphill!

Attempting a run we could only gingerly work our way along the steep hillside using an arm as a third leg in our move to the other side of the feeder creek. On the other side the 250-pound sow was flat on its back, legs pointing stiffly at the sky, cradled in a tall poison oak.

Patrick Kilpatrick
Kilpatrick and Graham Clan with big sow

“Five other pigs in the 100-pound range and you go and shoot this BEAST!” Swan and Kilpatrick said as we came upon her. I grinned.

We all fanned out in pursuit of the Calico. Ten yards up from where Ben and I hit it, was a slick that looked as though someone had dunked a sponge in blood, tied a string to it and dragged it through the grass. Following parallel to leave the sign undisturbed, we turned up hill after a short strip of horizon travel. Internal organs and the swath of blood petered out into drops, almost 80 yards up, and then all sign, except for tracks and bent grass, disappeared and we were in full bloodhound mode.

Kilpatrick, who had just completed a law enforcement man-tracking course for an upcoming episode he was to be on, either 24 or CSI I gathered, was delighted by the prospect of using his newly learned skills in a live exercise. He disappeared into a thicket of poison oak and yelled, “Here it is!”

Cork Graham cleaning small boar
Cork Graham working on a pig from a prior hunt

“Man it’s way in there—let’s see if we can pull it out of there!” I said, unslinging my rifle and working my way on my hands and knees to the pig laying on its belly on a trail deep in a giant patch of poison oak. We tried to pull it from its last stand. “This pig is not budging,” I said. “Got your knife? Mines down at the other pigs in my pack. I’ll bone it out right here.”

Handed a tactical knife more suited for cutting rope, I could barely cut more than a couple inches at a time.

“Jim, you got a straight blade? My skinning knife’s in my pack back with the other pig…”

Wedged in with the pig and almost completely stretched out on our sides in the pig tunnel, Kilpatrick and I made quick, though tricky work of the hog, peeling way the skin, removing the flesh starting at the spine with the back-strap, and then exposing the front and back legs, all the while unsuccessfully doing our best to keep from having too much direct skin contact with the poison oak.

Packing out a wild boar
Pig on a Pack

“Look how much fat there is on this pig!” I said, “All that rain this year has fattened up these guys up well—at least an inch and an half!”

We barely finished and started our hike before dark had overtaken us completely. Thankfully we had a headlamp.

During our long hike out under starlight, while also dreaming of fresh chops roasting over an open campfire, I relished the idea that once again I participated in passing an important tradition and tool of wildlife conservation to the next generation, and also enjoyed the knowledge that contrary to what PETA would have the public think, Hollywood still has that star quality I always admired of those like Gable and Lombard, Cooper, and Heston, whose love of the hunt Kilpatrick carries on so well into the next millennium.


Though I can say hog hunting is for everyone, I can’t say that every style of hog hunting is for everyone, or for that matter legal in California. While you can pull a Rambo or Lord of the Flies on pigs with a Bowie knife or spear in Southern States, in California, only those with a rifle, bow, crossbow, or pistol need apply—any cartridge more powerful than a .243 or bow with more than 50 pound draw weight. From there the options are tracking, hunting with hounds, tunnel-ratting, still-hunting, stand-hunting, and spot-and-stalk.

Because it harkens back to the leisurely “stalking” I imagine my Irish and Highland Scots ancestors enjoyed, the personal preference I describe in my pig hunting seminars and workshops is spot-and-stalk, or more accurately a variation which will include all four: tracking, still-hunting; broken up by hour to two events of glassing from high vantage, or an impromptu stand at a wallow or trail into a barley field with evidence of high traffic.

Along the way I’ll be tracking, looking for signs of recent pig activity such as fresh tracks, rooting or wallows. When the wild oats and grasses are tall, I’ll also check to see if the pigs have been feeding on them.

Mention “tunnel ratting” and an old Southeast Asian war comes to many minds, but at Hunter Liggett Military Base it’s the most successful tactic for those not satisfied with waiting patiently and being dealt the temperamental success of luck. It’s a very easy tactic for the strong-of-heart. Simply find fresh sign in a clearing or fresh patch of rooting near a stretch of brush. Take the freshest trail off that clearing into the brush and follow that tunnel in on your hands and knees, .44 or larger caliber pistol at the ready. This is fast and furious shooting, often at game no farther than ten feet away.

Cork Graham calling wild boar
Hog calls can be useful in high traffic areas

Remember that talc in a bottle to check your wind as you draw and crawl yourself along. And while all the other tactics are more effective for finding game during the early and late hours, tunnel-ratting gets you in for a shot where the pigs spend most of their daylight hours resting from a night’s foraging.

NOTE: The retired guide who taught me to tunnel rat caught Lyme disease from a tick in the Hunter Liggett area. To lessen the chances of this happening to you, rub an offending tick with olive oil and wait for it to dislodge; but, if the tick is accidentally broken off due to haphazard removal, the best tick-tweezers available, to get all pf it out and prevent infection, are the ones available in the compact “Grasshopper Kit” from Wilderness Medical http://www.wildernessmedical.com (800) 858-7430.

Collapsible Packs
Collapsible packs are sweet!

If your main interest is a tusker instead of a meat pig, hunting over dogs is the way to go considering the big and mean always prefer to stand and fight, and the “catch-n-release” quality of being able to pull dogs off a hog and look for another improves the odds. My introduction to hunting over dogs was with Jack Clark and Steve Sweets, true masters of the game in the Hollister area. Since they’ve retired, my number one guide is Tracy Norton, Boars 'n' More cell phone 530-941-6807 with access to 60,000 acres: I’d never consider hunting with a dog guide with less than 3,000 acres due to the range dogs will run for a hog. Hit the track and run up and down the stadium bleachers to get ready for your chase, though Norton has impressed me with accommodating clients from 12 years old to 75: choosing his properties wisely, he has delivered 100 percent success over the last six years in some amazingly flat land for hunting pigs around the Cottonwood area of Northern California.


What exactly is hog heaven?

Hog Heaven

A hog is happy when he has water, food, shelter and protection. For hogs water comes in many forms…those that are easily seen, like open creeks, ponds, lakes and reservoirs; and non-apparent, like willows, cottonwoods, and cattails indicating undergrounds sources for which they’re more than capable to root down to.

This year, there was such a deluge of rain that pigs normally concentrated around year-round water sources spread out everywhere. Because of this public land hunters who knew what they were doing and had put in the time, knowing as much about a particular plot of public land were doing better than normal: getting pigs every second or third trip as compared to the normal four to five trips the average hog hunter goes through.

Favorite foods for pigs are fresh grasses, grains, and nuts and acorns, along with carrion, slow ground squirrels, rabbits and even young calves, and fawns. Friend and colleague Paul McHugh, outdoor writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, hunted the birthing area of a sheep ranch west of Cloverdale and took a 200-plus sow that had been preying on lambs.

Choke Cherry
Choke cherry patches are prime places to look for pig in centrl and southern California

Wild hogs concentrate on private ranches and around farmlands, sometimes resting in peripheral public lands, often BLM land. Look on any public land in the Monterey, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo Counties, put the time in, and you’re sure to have an encounter. The USFS and BLM have maps for findings sites with water, feed and protection. The Bureau of Land Management offers a central California hog hunting map package for just $4. Contact them at 20 Hamilton Ct., Hollister, CA 95023; phone 831-630-5000.

The well-known CA Wild Pig Hunting Packet is available through Big Game Hunting Maps; 6288 Marlborough Drive; Goleta, CA 93117; tel. (805) 967-4482; online at www.biggamehuntingmaps.com One caveat: You may find that some areas not noted as populated by hogs will have an influx of fresh sign. Use other hunters’ activity to your advantage—let their pressure push the game to you!

One of the best public land hunts is the Lake Sonoma archery hunt from November to March, through the US Army Corps of Engineers (707) 433-9483.


Wild boar is definitely not “the other whites meat” and needs to be cooked just like your grandparents were taught to cook all pork: all the way through. My preference is low and slow cooking like Hawaiian kahlua and Southern BBQ.

Good Knives
Sharp blades and good gloves to keep from getting brucelosis

Be extra careful while skinning, gutting and butchering your hog, as they’re susceptible to the following: trichinosis, swine brucellosis, and pseudorabies. I use commercial-grade, elbow-length rubber gloves and sharp knife.


To get on my international hunting e-mail list and be notified of my latest seminars, equipment, books and DVDs for hunting, along with the updated and downloadable information on hunting guides and areas in California, visit my official website: www.corkgraham.com. A download of the latest Lake Sonoma wild pig hunt information e-packet is available through there every fall.

The Department of Fish and Game’s Hunting Guide For Wild Pigs In California is online at www.dfg.ca.gov/coned/pigguide.pdf . Or call for a printed copy (916) 653-2225. Required resident and non-resident licenses are $33.35 and $115.75 respectively, while a pig tag is $16 and $53.30—one the best big-game deals in the west for a non-resident hunter!

Bob Robb has offered an excellent book on hunting hogs for years, titled Hunting Wild Boar In California: Volume II

Jim Matthews publishes the California Hog Hunter quarterly newsletter with the latest on pig hunting throughout the state. To subscribe or purchase an initial copy, contact them at P.O. Box 9007, San Bernardino, CA 92427; phone 909-887-3444; e-mail cahoghunter@earthlink.net.

For the unattached hunter interested in reasonably priced private land access throughout the state, Golden Ram www.goldenramhunting.com (916) 941-7880 and Wilderness Unlimited www.wildernessunlimited.com (510) 785-HUNT (4868) provide worthwhile hog hunting opportunities. Closest to the Los Angeles area, the best option is the Tejon Ranch www.hunttejon.com (661) 663-4288.