In Europe, the term “stalking” is used to describe the art of approaching game while on foot. Here in the U.S., we often refer to this method of getting within shooting range of game as “still hunting.” In Texas, where I live, we call it “spot and stalk.” Regardless of the term used, stalking game is an exciting way to hunt, especially if you’re after wild hogs.
Hogs are much easier to approach on foot than deer are, and I have often wondered why. Studies have proven that swine are highly intelligent animals. I’ve hunted and trapped them for many years, and I believe that to be true. They have the ability to figure out situations and react accordingly. In comparison, Whitetail deer are hard-wired to throw their tail in the air and run when danger approaches.
I often read that a hog’s eyesight is poor. Yet, I have seen wild hogs spook from my approach at several hundred yards. Several years ago, I was hunting on my friend Mark Balette’s ranch in eastern Texas. We were at the camp house when a small sounder of hogs appeared on the banks of his 30-acre lake. They were a good 200 yards away. Mark asked if I thought the hogs could see us at this distance, then began waving his hunting coat in the air. In a matter of seconds, the hogs stared our way for an instant, then spooked, ran over the dam and were out of sight. I’ve been busted by hogs many times while still hunting in the woods or attempting to close the distance on hogs in open country. Granted, hogs don’t have eagle eyes, but they do see quite well. I think the first time you attempt to stalk within crossbow range of a sounder of hogs in open terrain, you’ll agree. Because of how their eyes are positioned, hogs have binocular vision directly in front of 35 degrees. Their lateral vision is much greater, at 310 degrees. These are factors a hunter on foot needs to know. Rule number one about stalking hogs is to be aware that they can see quite well, and that if they see you first, you won’t see them for very long.
A hog’s nose is its primary defense, and I believe the only way for a hunter attempting to stalk within bow range is to hunt into the wind. According to studies at Texas A&M, hogs can detect odors five to seven miles away and underground as much as 25 feet. It’s hard to imagine any animal with such a keen sense of smell, but a wild hog surpasses a bloodhound’s abilities when it comes to detecting odors.
When a wild hog gets your scent, it’s game over. You will likely hear that little warning grunt they give when they are alarmed. Next, you’ll hear leaves rustling and sticks breaking as your quarry high-tails it out of the area. On many occasions when I have hunted from a stand, I’ve had hogs walk across the route I used to approach the stand, then pick up my scent and spook. So, always hunt with your face into the wind when you’re attempting to close the distance between hogs you have sighted or when you’re in an area where you hope to find hogs. Hogs sighted in open country will often stand for long distance shots with a rifle. However, inside 50 yards, the crossbow hunter has to do everything right in order to close the distance. That can mean moving very slowly and staying downwind.
When you are stalking within bow range of stationary hogs when they are feeding or bedded, always approach from downwind, but use every bit of cover. Hogs that are intent on feeding often have their nose to the ground so are a bit less aware of what’s going on around them in that instance. However, their nose is always working to alert them to possible danger. When hogs are moving through the woods feeding, I like to make a circle ahead and downwind of their direction of travel. Then I position myself behind a tree or cover of some sort and wait for them to come to me.
I’ll never forget the largest boar I’ve taken with a bow. It happened several years ago when I spotted what I honestly thought was a light-colored calf walking a well-beaten trail toward the pin oak flat I was hunting. An oak flat stands water much of the year, and there is usually very little ground vegetation. I positioned myself behind a giant oak downwind of the trail the boar was traveling. The tree was about 15 feet adjacent to the trail. When the boar reached my position, he stopped on the opposite side of the giant oak. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him breathing; that’s how close he was. I aimed my crossbow just outside the edge of the tree. When the boar stepped into the scope, I nudged the trigger. My shot at almost point-blank range came in just in front of the shoulder. It hit the spine and anchored the boar in its tracks. After a quick follow-up shot, I had a “biggun” for the meat pole. Something I’ll never forget is that millisecond after I took the shot when I wondered what was going to happen next! Stalking hogs can be an adrenaline-pumping situation, especially when the target is a big boar and the range is within spitting distance!
When stalking, it’s not uncommon to hear wild hogs before you can see them, especially when hunting in the woods with heavy cover. Once, while stalk hunting a creek bottom, I was easing along. I saw hog sign such as wallows, rooting and rubbed trees every few yards. I knew I was in “hog country” and my senses were on high alert. Then, a sound I had never heard before stopped me in my tracks. It was the sound of dripping water. However, I was in flat country, and I thought the sound was totally foreign. I remember wondering if water could be dripping off Spanish moss from rainfall, but that made no sense. And it had been 24 hours since the last rain.
I slowly closed the distance when I sighted a big, good-eating sow sticking her nose into standing water and grabbing a mouth full of wild onions. She would pick her head up high and eat the onions, with water dripping from her mouth. That was what created the sound I was hearing. I waited until her head went down again and closed to about 25 yards. A well-placed shot low and tight to the front shoulder provided more great-eating pork for the smoker!
So, when you stalk hunt hogs, move very slowly and keep an ear peeled. They are very vocal critters and regardless of whether you are stalking or hunting over feeding areas, you can usually hear their approach before you can see them. Bigger hogs will whack pigs around with their snout. That often results in a sharp squeal that can be heard for quite some distance. If a boar is courting a sow in estrus, the grunts and squeals can be heard from a great distance. On many occasions, I have stalked within bow range of a sounder of hogs because of the noise created by boars.
I do a lot of my hog hunting here in Texas on private ranches or farms, most of which have corn feeders. One of my favorite ways to hunt hogs is to get in the woods an hour or so before dark and using the wind to my advantage, stalk from feeder to feeder. It’s anyone’s guess which feeder the hogs might be frequenting on a day-to-day basis. They will probably hit them all after dark, but hogs like to get up and move just before dark. Stalk hunting around feeders is a high-percentage method of collecting pork chops from the wild.
Hunting at night with a crossbow-mounted thermal scope is a very exciting way to hunt, assuming you know your way around in the woods where you are hunting. There are basic thermal units available that cost around a thousand dollars that are perfectly suited for night hunting with a crossbow. I use the AGM Global “Rattler” for night hunting with my little .223 centerfire, and I have found it to work perfectly. One last tip: always pack some lightweight shooting sticks to help steady the shot.
Now, get out there, have some fun, and hopefully, you’ll harvest some wild pork ribs for a summer barbeque.