Another Look At Wild Pig Populations In California
Months ago one of our readers reported in a comment to one of my articles that wild pigs were essentially absent from his customary hunting spots. He had hunted that area for many years and always harvested a wild pig. Not so last year.
One of my hunting buddies coincidentally complained that despite frequent trips to Fort Hunter Liggett and to a private ranch in the vicinity, he had only seen about three boar in over a year. He also found only few signs of wild pigs.
Curious about the discrepancies between glowing reports of burgeoning wild pig populations on their properties by some ranchers and guides and the reader’s remarks about the ‘missing’ boar, I sent out a few, simple questionnaires asking about the status of pig populations in certain areas.
The results were slow in coming. They also easily grouped into two somewhat incompatible categories:
On one side we found guides and landowners with a reported abundance of wild pigs on their properties. On the other were boar hunters who hunt wild pigs either on semi-public properties (FHL,etc. BLM) or pay access fees to hunt on private land.
The second group is the one that complains about the lack of huntable pigs.
Most boar in California occur on private lands. DFG estimates put the number at over 90 percent. Only few wild pigs live on public property because of the intense hunting pressure. However, Fort Hunter Liggett, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Camp Roberts and similar properties can be considered at least semi-private because access is limited or controlled in some way.
Yet these properties reportedly also have few boar sightings and kills.
Considering the previous wet winter and the ample mast fall, we should have lots of wild pigs. In fact , early surveys spoke about the increasing number of wild pigs. Some put it at around 20 percent. Among them the manager of Bryson Resort not too far from Fort Hunter Liggett. Vandenberg reported a solid and growing boar population and so did the management of the Tejon Ranch in Kern County. Rancho San Fernando Rey also had a good, expanding boar population.
So, why are so many hunters now complaining about the lack of wild pigs?
Could it be a lack of skills on the part of the hunter? Or bad timing? Strong hunting pressure? Or simply bad luck shared by many?
Maybe it is a combination of all of the above. Furthermore, the complaints were made during the hot season in California. I stop considering wild pig hunts after April. Instead I wait for the weather to cool in fall and early winter before thinking about boar hunting again.
Don’t we all know that wild pigs and boar are quite heat sensitive? They need water, great quantities of it, twice a day in order to tolerate high temperatures. They also need mud wallows and shady resting places during the hottest times of the day. Moreover, wild pigs frequently move to cooler areas to avoid local hot spots. They find cool habitats at higher elevations. And up the hills they go . . .
The manger of Bryson Resort mentioned that in her response to my questions:
“They probably just moved out of the area he was counting, duh, they do that.”
The most detailed and informative response came from Marc Kenyon, the Statewide Coordinator Bear, Mountain Lion & Wild Pig Programs, for DFG in California. He summed it up nicely:
“According to some of our field staff, they were seeing more pigs this spring, but that has seemed to have tapered off over the summer. I’m not too sure why, however. I presume that reproduction was higher this spring than in the past couple years, but maybe piglet survival declined as the summer went on. This could be attributed to disease issues (e.g. trichinosis) or possibly hunting success. The data are still being compiled from the 2010-2011 hunting season, and I hope to have last year’s pig take report on-line soon . . .
I am also almost finished digitizing spotkill information for tag returns since 1993, so I can update this map: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/hunting/pig/pigmap.html. Some preliminary reports furnished to me show that pig take (and therefore hunters) are distributing more evenly across the Central Valley Foothills and the North Valley. That map should be finalized sometime toward the end of November, if all goes according to plan. . .
In a nutshell, I remain confident that pigs are well distributed across California and we are seeing relatively stable populations, maybe with a little growth. As such, pig hunting success should remain stable, if folks can find access to lands holding pigs. Look for more SHARE Program pig hunting opportunities coming on-line soon . . .
Remember, pigs are our second most popular big game mammal, second only to deer, if you go by tag sales statistics . . .”
The map referenced above is an old map representing pig take reports to 2001. Not much new to see there. We really need a new map.
The California Department of Fish and Game, Wildlife Branch, prepared a comprehensive report on the take of wild pigs in the 2010/2011 hunting season.
Statewide 3,574 pigs were taken. The previous year saw a take of 3,836. Measured against the total sales of pig tags (29,714) this equals a success rate of 12.03% . Please note that these figures are not final yet.
In past years more pig tags were sold (55,000 and 60,000); the success rate was only 5 and 8% respectively.
Kern County (591, 16.5%), Monterey (505, 14.1%), Tehama (348, 9.7%) and Mendocino (303, 8.5%) were the counties with the highest reported pig take.
Statewide “the Central Region (coming mainly from Kern, Monterey, San Luis Obispo and San Benito
counties), the Northern Region (from Tehama and Mendocino counties), and a few counties in the North-Central Region (Colusa and Lake) “ had the highest number of pigs taken.
Because wild pigs require certain habitat conditions (such as ample vegetation, tubers, acorn, water, shelter trees among others) 93% of all pigs taken came from private lands “along the Coast Range, the Central Valley and the Klamath Mountains. Only a small percentage of pigs were taken in the higher Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges and the drier southern deserts.”
Looking at the following map one can see that the annual pig take has been declining over the past decade.
(DFG Wildlife Branch)
As you can see wild pig takes started to decline statewide again in 2010 after reaching a temporary peak in 2009. The following table allows hunters to select the county of their hunting choice based on harvest numbers from 2010/2011.
(DFG Wildlife Branch)
I noted one inconsistency: Kern County, which is essentially the Tejon Ranch as far as boar are concerned, had a kill rate of 591 wild pigs. This conflicts with statements from Tejon officials that their harvest goal is 800 to 1,000 boar per year. They claimed at least for one year to have shot close to 1,000 wild pigs.
It is known that some guides are stricter than others in enforcing the reporting requirement for pig take. Maybe that accounts for the discrepancy.
Male wild pigs made up 51 percent of all harvested and reported boar in the 2010/2011 season. The gender composition of wild pigs is just about 50:50. It is unknown whether more boar were shot than sows because of gender preferences on the part of hunters or because of random factors. The survival rate of male and female piglets is about the same.
Hunters who check the above table should be able to select the best county in which to hunt wild pigs.
There might be some minor changes in the updated date as of the year end 2011, but no major changes should be expected. I will report on any significant changes as soon as I become aware of them.
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