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Friday, March 09, 2001 2:11:00 PM

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Our Best Golden State Hog Hunts


by Bill Lentz

Years of above-average rainfall in California and the wild hog's bent for prolific reproduction have combined to give us a healthy and expanding population of pigs, and in many areas an overabundance of the tusked beasts is causing major destruction to parks, playgrounds, private properties and so on. Many parks in Monterey County, for example, have pig-proof garbage bins, and depredation permits are at an all-time high throughout the state.

There's simply no reason for any California big-game hunter to have an empty freezer with all that wild pork running around.


Wild hog meat is excellent table fare. Generally, hogs weighing up to 150 pounds or so have a mild flavor and good texture. These are known as fleater" pigs for their steak quality. To me, however, every wild hog is an Ifeater" no matter how large it is; there are lots of ways to prepare the meat of even a tough old boar. Older hogs, especially boars, have a stronger flavor, and the steaks can be as tough as leather. You cannot, however, always tell by looking at the size of a pig or even by knowing its weight how good the meat will be.
My first hog, a 225-pound boar, was properly aged and processed, and the steaks from it were mild and tender. On the other side of that, I was fortunate to be on a hunt this past winter on which was taken the California Records of Big Game's new No. 2 recorded boar, which weighed only 160 pounds. It was promptly skinned, dressed, cooled and hung up to age for five days, but I still had my doubts. Before processing the entire hog, I sliced a steak from a back strap and cooked it. The tough old boar was as a result made into sausage and stew meat, and a slow-cooking Crockpot was put to good use.

If you've never hunted wild hogs, I recommend hiring a guide, or at least going with an experienced hog hunter, no matter how many years you've hunted other game. In fact, the absolute best places to hunt hogs right now are on private lands that typically only licensed guides have access to. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the central and southern parts of the state; there, wild hogs inhabit private agricultural lands in fall and winter until good amounts of precipitation and a 11green-up" occurs on the surrounding slopes.

The drought conditions of last fall and early winter kept hogs down in these agricultural lands, where guides such as Kyler Harmon of Boaring Experiences Unlimited - (805) 461-0294 - had them surrounded. Harmon hunts on 50,000 acres in southern Monterey and northern San Luis Obispo counties using the spot-and-stalk method, and he's optimistic that his year's hunting will be equal to or better than last year's.

Another highly recommended outfit in this same area (King City/Parkfield) is Hog Wild - (831) 385-6321 - whose guide offers spot-and-stalk opportunities in the mornings, and if you're unsuccessful, goes after them with dogs, which to me is the most exciting way to harvest a wild pig.

Generally, the guide unleashes the dogs near a well-used game trail, and you and the guide begin walking as the dogs put their noses down and go to work. As soon as they get on a hot scent or see the pig, they'll start chasing until the pig decides to stop. Usually one or all of the dogs will start barking as soon as the chase begins, and they'll continue to sound off until the hog is surrounded and finally taken. The activity requires that hunters be in good physical condition, as a hog may run for a while before being bayed up in the bottom of a deep draw, ravine or canyon. You can witness such a hunt with Hog Wild as well as hog hunts throughout the state in the video Hunting Wild Western Hogs by Guy Nixon.

Farther south, only 70 miles north of Los Angeles and just east of Interstate 5 in Kern County, is the Tejon Ranch - (661) 327-8481 - with over 270,000 acres offering all types of big-game hunting. The ranch encompasses a wide variety of terrain including forestlands to 6,000 feet and desert sands down low. Twenty-five to 100 pigs are seen daily in the oak-studded foothills here, making for excellent spot-and-stalk hunts. The Tejon Ranch's exploding population of wild hogs has game managers thinking of raising the quota from 460 pigs to 800 this winter. The ranch offers a $550 two-day wild boar hunt, including all meals and two nights lodging.


PUBLIC LAND SOUTH
Los Padres National Forest/Monterey Ranger District
Located on the coast of Monterey County is the 325,000-acre Los Padres National Forest, which includes the Ventana Wilderness. It is a huge chunk of public land holding ancestors of the hogs first introduced into the South State. Here, the farther you move away from roads, the better your chances of spotting hogs will be. The area is hard to hunt because of its steep, brushy terrain.
Experienced houndsmen have the advantage here, but spot-and-stalk tactics produce early and late in the remote areas. Access to this area is 20 miles west from Highway 101 on Arroyo Seco Road, and look at Chew's Ridge, Upper San Antonio and Arroyo Seco drainages.


Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
Some 290,100 acres of this national forest are located in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties; it has good spotandstalk opportunities around Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County. Access is north of Santa Barbara off Highway 154. For more info, call the ranger district office at (805) 967-3481.

Los Padres National Forest/Santa Lucia Ranger District
The Santa Lucia Ranger District covers 538,100 acres located in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties and offers good spot-and-stalk opportunities, especially in forestlands around the town of Pozo. For more info, call the ranger district office at (805) 952-9538. You can witness hog hunts in this area in Guy Nixon's video.

Camp Roberts Wildlife Area
Occupying about 35,000 acres in southern Monterey and northern San Luis Obispo counties, Camp Roberts offers weekend hunters good spot-and-stalk opportunities for hogs in October, November and December. In the last few years, hunter success has increased. The East Garrison entrance is just off Highway 101, about 13 miles north of Paso Robles. Call (805) 2388167 for details.


NORTH STATE
Top producers of wild hogs in the North State are in southern Mendocino and northern Sonoma counties. Here you'll find descendants of hogs that Russian settlers brought to California around 1847. You'll encounter them in beautiful redwood, oak and pine forests with madrone and manzanita mixed in, and in the popcorn chaparral to the south.
Much of the habitat here is remote, rugged and steep, making the use of dogs essential in most parts. By law you may use up to three dogs per hunter in California for wild hogs, but there are certain times of the year when dogs cannot be used. Check the regulations. Though only experienced houndsmen should use this method, it is again a fun, exciting way to hunt and will test the endurance and stamina of most anyone.

Ken Whittaker of Wild Pig Hunting, Inc. - (707) 894-3280 - runs his dogs over 20,000 acres in southern Mendocino and northern Sonoma counties, where a client shot the No. 1 boar in the handgun category of the California Records of Big Game. (Check out Nixon's video for this exciting actionpacked hunt). Whittaker offers spot-and-stalk hunts as well and predicts an excellent harvest again this winter. He adds that if the acorn crop is as good as last year's, many boars in the 300-pound class should be taken.

Another excellent spot-and-stalk hunt awaits you farther north at the beautiful Fort Seward Ranch, 16 miles northeast of Garberville on the banks of the Eel River in Humboldt County. The 30,000-acre site holds an abundance of wild game and fish and is a favorite destination of outdoor writer, radio host and tackle manufacturer Sep Hendrickson. He and four others booked a hunt last winter, and they all shot the "eater" pigs they were looking for. Here, ATVs help hunters get around on the property, and good binoculars help in the selection of which hogs they will shoot. Get in touch with Pat Flaherty of California and Colorado Wild Sports at (530) 888-8660 to book a hog hunt here.

On the other side of the valley is the famous Dye Creek Preserve in Tehama County, which has recovered from the last drought. Hunters there report seeing over 100 pigs a day on this 3,000-acre foothill ranch. This hunt is totally spot-and-stalk. For more details, call 1-800-557-7087.


PUBLIC LAND NORTH
Mendocino National Forest
Wild hogs are taken throughout this huge chunk of public land, but the southern region holds the highest concentrations with Lake and Colusa counties your best bet. In Lake County, look for spot-andstalk opportunities southeast of Lake Pillsbury in the Deer Creek and Rice Fork Creek drainages. In Colusa County, try areas off of Goat Mountain Road and Fouts Spring Road west of East Park Reservoir.

Indian Valley Management Area
(Lake & Colusa Counties)
Open year 'round, Indian Valley holds lots of pigs, but much of the area is steep and brushy, making the use of dogs essential. Experienced houndsmen take wild hogs on this public land every year. The Walker Ridge area is the top producer.
There are, however, a few spot-andstalk opportunities available. Indian Valley Reservoir sits right in the middle of the 50,000-acre management area and offers a spot-and-stalk opportunity by boat. As in the Lake Sonoma hog hunt, boat owners use binoculars to spot hogs and then beach their craft to begin a stalk. Try the area west of the lake as well. Opportunity for the big kokanee salmon inhabiting the lake and proximity to the north valley make this area worth a trip.

Take 1-5 to Highway 20 west at Williams and go about 27 miles to Walker Ridge Road. (Note: You can access the north section of the lake and management area more quickly by taking the Bear Valley Road exit if it's open.)


Tehama Wildlife Area
(Tehama County)
Going back across the valley, there sits in the lower Sierra foothills the 46,900-acre Tehama Wildlife Area.
One of the best spot-and-stalk opportunities in the entire state is located here, and pig numbers are increasing. Limited-entry weekend hunts occur in the spring, when wild flowers dot the lush, green, oak-studded ridges, creeks run full, and descendants of the European boar run wild.

From Red Bluff go northeast on Highway 36 for about 23 miles to the town of Paynes Creek. Turn right on Plum Creek Road and follow south to Hogsback Road. Turn right and follow the road to the wildlife area gate. Once inside the gate, continue until you see the old rock fence that comes up on your left (south side of the road) and park. From that point, hunt south. The farther you get from the road, the better your chances of seeing hogs, so be prepared to hike. Camping is found along Hogsback Road; getting a trailer in is no problem.

No dogs are allowed for hunting here. Pick up applications at DFG region offices for a permit by drawing.


BOWHUNTING
It has been established that the best wild hog hunting occurs on private land, and some of the most successful hunts come to those who ask ranchers and landowners if they can hunt their property. It won't surprise you to know that many landowners are glad to see fewer hogs on their property, given the pigs' destructive habits. Some landowners, however, may not want firearms to be used on the property, especially if dwellings are nearby. That is why bowhunters may get the OK to hunt before firearms hunters will. It pays to be flexible!
Remember: For hogs, it is best to take a quartering away shot aiming for the lung area behind their cartilage plate.


HEAVYWEIGHTS & TROPHIES
The heaviest hogs on average come from the North State, with boars there commonly reaching 300 pounds. The hogs here are heavier in fat, hide and hair, and have longer hair than do those down south. A few boars reaching the 300-pound mark are taken each year, however, in Monterey County around the King City/Parkfield area. Boars of this size are usually made into ground pork, sausage and stew meat. Larger cuts such as roasts can be made tender by slow cooking at low temperatures.
For record-keeping purposes, a boar's tusks must be completely removed from the jawbone, because about 60 percent of a tusles total length is below the gum line, imbedded in the lower jawbone, and can't be seen or measured in its entirety until extraction. Length and width measurements for both tusks are added together for a final score.

Trophy boars can be taken throughout the state, but most have come from the north, with Shasta and Tehama counties the top producers. The No. I recorded boar in the California Records of Big Game's rifle category was taken in Tehama County by Mario Pereira and scored 23 5/16.

The new No. 2 boar was taken Jan. 15, 2000, by first-time hog hunter Carolyn Lawson on private land in Stanislaus County; it scores 20 3/16. It was Carolyn's first big-game animal ever.

Guy Nixon shot the No. I boar in the handgun category in Sonoma County; it scored 17 10/16. Mike Bradeen killed the No. I boar in the archery category in Colusa County, scoring 13 15116. No muzzleloader entries have been recorded.

Editor's Note: To order Guy Nixon's Hunting Wild Western Hogs video, send $15 to P.O. Box 851, Garden Valley, CA 95633. For more info on the California Records of Big Game, write to 3450 Palmer Dr., No. 4-150, Cameron Park, CA 95682, or call (530) 676-2287.





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