Here’s the good news: you’re about to learn everything you need to go on a California pig hunt.
And here’s the better news: pound-for-pound and dollar-for-dollar, you’ll struggle to find a hunt anywhere in the US that’s a better value.
In one day of hunting you’re going to spend very little money, do some incredible hiking through the landscapes that made California famous, and quite possibly go home with 50-150 lbs of meat so good that two whole religions made their people stop eating it.
What is a Wild Boar?
First, let’s define what we’re hunting. Any unmarked free-roaming pig is legally “wild”. But when you think of wild boar (often an interchangeable term with wild pig or wild hog), you probably think of something like the picture below.
Surprisingly, that’s the same species as the pink pigs in a barnyard — they’re all variants of Sus scrofa.
If you had come to California before the 1700s, you’d have had a bad time hunting them — the species didn’t exist here until Spanish and Russian explorers brought them in.
Over time, as pigs escaped, a wild population developed. That population eventually merged with the Eurasian wild boars introduced in the 1920s, and that produced the wild pigs we see today.
In contrast to domestic pigs, the wild variants have tusks, thicker hair, and powerful shoulders that taper to a smaller back half. Amazingly, domestic pigs that escape to the wild will look just like their feral cousins within a few generations.
What To Bring On Your Hunt
It’s always nice to have an excuse to break out the fancy equipment, so let’s start with the fun stuff: your gun!
But I should mention that for pig hunting, a rifle isn’t required. Archery and 12-gauge shotgun slugs are popular too, and very effective. Even handguns are suitable, as long as you can confidently make clean, ethical shots at range (even though pigs are often viewed as pests, we shouldn’t just be winging shots at them).
Suitable handgun calibers are .44 Magnum or bigger, although for mature pigs, it’s better to stick to .454 Casull or similarly bonkers cartridges.
All that said, rifles are ideal for most hunters. W
ith a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to use a scoped rifle to confidently take shots at 200-300 yards. A scope with 3-9x adjustable zoom is a good all-around choice, and there are plenty of solid entry-level options around $200. The Vortex Diamondback, Leupold VX-1, and Nikon ProStaff are particularly popular.
Check out our How to Choose a Rifle Scope article for more!
For the rifle itself, you’ll get the most bang for your buck with a bolt-action gun.
No need to spend more than about $700. The popular Tikka T3, for example, will do everything you need for that price. As far as rifle caliber, you can get away with .243 Winchester or similar cartridges on smaller pigs, but a bigger gun will give you the flexibility to go after any size hog you see.
Ideal all-around calibers are 7mm-08 Remington, .270 Winchester, and .308 Winchester — all are versatile, accurate, and carry enough power out to several hundred yards. Within that range, a well-placed shot with any of those cartridges will make a clean kill. And you’ll be able to use the same gun to hunt more or less anything up to the size of an elk.
Other things to bring: look at what hunting guides spend money on — boots and binoculars.
It’s common to see a guide wearing $30 jeans, $500 boots, and $2000 binoculars. There’s no need to spend that much, but you can count on a few miles of hiking — it’s important that your clothes and footwear be very comfortable, broken-in, and weather-appropriate. Bring layers that you can add and remove as the weather shifts. And good binoculars will let you do the walking with your eyes instead of your feet.
Spend a few hundred dollars on a pair with tough construction and crystal clear glass. Treat them well and you can count on decades of use. High-quality glass will pull pigs out of distant shadows that would just look like a blur in an inferior pair of binoculars.
Lastly, you’ll need a California hunting license ($47.01 for residents, $163.65 for nonresidents) and a wild pig tag ($22.42 for residents, $77.34).
There’s no limit on the number of pigs you shoot, but you do need to buy one pig tag ahead of time for each pig. (If you think of it in terms of dollars-per-pound-of-meat, it’s an incredible deal.) You can buy your license and tags online here. Also bring a sharp knife, cooler, water, snacks, and backpack for transporting supplies and meat.
The Hunt Itself
You have two choices up front: private land vs. public land, and guided vs. unguided.
While California does have plenty of public land hunting opportunities, they aren’t quite as plentiful as in the mountain states and you’ll likely find more success (and less competition from other hunters) on high-quality private land.
If you’re hunting unguided, make sure you’re authorized to hunt any private land that you step onto.
On a guided hunt, your guide will be sure to arrange those permissions ahead of time. Guided hunts cost more, typically $600-1200 per hunter per day (plus a tip for your guide).
In exchange, you get a guide who’s familiar with the area and the behavior of the pigs that inhabit it, pre-arranged access to any private land you’ll be hunting, the guide’s keen eye in spotting and tracking animals, and field dressing and transport out of the field of any pigs you shoot. I t sounds expensive until you consider that if you shoot two pigs, you could be going home with 150+ lbs. of top-quality wild meat. That quickly pays for itself with all the money you won’t have to spend at the butcher.
Generally, a guided hunt is the way to go for beginners or anybody who wants to maximize the odds of finding pigs. If you’re on a very tight budget, are an experienced hunter, or just want to figure it out on your own, an unguided hunt is a better fit for you.
Full disclosure: I run a company that makes it easy to book guided hunts in California online, with no fees or extra charges. [EDIT: OutpostHunting has moved to Texas and are no longer booking hunts in California. If you’re down in Texas, check them out!] The pig season is open year-round, and you can find a hunt near you at https://outposthunting.com)
Unless you’re using dogs, pig hunting is generally spot-and-stalk.
That means walking slowly through the land — watching for pig sign, trails, or any matted-down grass that would indicate a bedding area — and working your way to a high point where you can use your binoculars to scan miles of country (known as “glassing”).
Often your guide will know places that pigs like to eat or travel through, and he’ll pick a glassing spot that overlooks those areas. If a spot hasn’t turned up any signs of pigs after a couple hours, you’ll move to a different spot and repeat the process. In areas with thriving pig populations, it shouldn’t be too long before this turns up good shot opportunities.
Aim at the red dot in the picture above.
Some people advocate head or neck shots, and those are instantly deadly if well-aimed. B ut the margin of error on them is small — if you’re off by a few inches, you could miss entirely or worse, wound the pig badly without killing it.
The lung/heart shot depicted by the red dot will drop the pig and kill it cleanly within a couple seconds. It also gives you a nice, big target.
A pig’s heart and lungs are farther forward than a deer’s.
Whereas you shoot a deer just behind the shoulder, on a pig you should shoot straight through the shoulder. That will put the bullet through both shoulders, both lungs, and the blood vessels at the top of the heart — a quick, nearly instant kill that will do the best job of preventing a wounding or a miss.
Processing Your Pig
Once the pig is down, approach it carefully, watching for any breathing or movement. A wounded boar is very dangerous, so you should be sure it’s dead before you get close. Once you’re positive, go up to it, take a minute to reflect on the hunt so far, and take some pictures if you’d like. Using the tag you bought, tag the carcass before moving it.
When you’re ready to clean the pig, ideally you’ll want to hang it from a stand or a tree. You can do the field dressing on the ground if hanging isn’t an option, but just be careful not to let the meat get dirty. Make a shallow cut from just above the anus to the base of the sternum. Be careful to go around the genitals and not to nick the bladder, any organs, or any part of the digestive system — slip the knife under the skin and then turn it so that as you cut, the blade is facing out of the pig, not down into it. With a sharp knife, the skin should zip right open.
Carefully open the abdomen and scoop the guts out onto the ground. You can use a saw to split the sternum if you’d like, which will give you more space to work with. Discard the innards in a place that the guide or landowner says is ok. On public land, move them away from any trails, bedding areas, or rest areas. They’ll disappear to scavengers within a couple days.
Now skin the pig (just pull the skin hard to separate it from the carcass, making small cuts to the connective tissue as needed), remove the hooves and head, and start bagging the meat! Keep it dry and dirt-free as you handle it. You’ll want to take all four limbs (the top part of the back legs is the ham, and the top part of the front legs is the pork shoulder or butt), as well as the backstraps (long strips of meat running down the outside of the spine, equivalent to the New York strip on a cow) and the tenderloins (long, thinner strips running along the inside of the spine). Just don’t take any meat that has visible bullet damage.
Adventurous eaters are sure to save the heart, liver, and head — a slow-cooked pig head turns up several pounds of the softest, most flavorful pulled pork you’ll find anywhere.
I’d need a few sets of new fingers to get even halfway through writing about how you can cook pig meat. YouTube is a great resource for specific recipes, and you can treat wild pig mostly the same as store-bought pig, with two exceptions:
- To protect against any diseases like trichinosis that a wild pig might have, it’s important to cook it well-done. Be sure to take it beyond 160 ºF, which most slow-cooking method will do.
- Compared to farm-raised animals, wild pigs are pro athletes. That means leaner meat that’s easier to dry out — wet and/or slow cooking methods will work best and keep the meat tender. Smoking, barbecuing, braising, slow-cooking, and stews will all produce awesome results for you. You can also grind the meat with some fat (bacon, for example) and make burgers that you’ll eat so fast you might lose a hand. Just avoid quick, dry methods like searing or fast grilling.
If you’re still wondering whether pig hunting is for you, I can help: it is. It’s some of the highest-value, most fun hunting you can do anywhere, and it works well for people of any experience level. And California is one of the best places in the country to do it.
It’s normal to have lots of questions. You’ll still have some even after your hunt. Lean on YouTube, Google, and your guide to answer them, and go out expecting a memorable experience.