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This article is not for Sunday morning only hunters. Stop reading right here if you go boar hunting once a year and want to be done by mid-morning. Hunting wild pigs on public land is not for the casual hunter. It takes a tough and serious hunter to bag a wild pig on public land. And it takes thorough preparation and quality equipment.
Free wild pigs live, indeed, on public land in California. They may be few and far between compared to stocked private ranches. Nevertheless, several regions of northern and southern California are home to populations of wild hogs on public land. A small number of experienced, elite boar hunters specialize in hunting boar on public land. And demonstrate consistent success. Read on to see how and where to hunt.
About 48 percent of all land in California is in private hands. By the same token, 52 percent of California land is public land and, therefore, open to the public. Public use of lands owned by the state and the federal government is not limited to hiking, camping, and for other recreational uses. These lands are also open to fishing, hunting, and hiking, camping and other recreational uses.
Public land the alternative to hunting on private land
To hunt on public land you only need the mandatory licenses (hunting and fishing), the required tags, if any, and possibly access permits to wildlife preserves and national parks.
These permits, such as the Land Pass, are easy to get. Often they are free or have only a nominal fee. In fact, the permits, if any, are a safety feature as much as anything else.
Another pass is the Interagency Annual Pass. It gives you access to over 2,000 recreation areas managed by five federal agencies.
And the best yet, seniors can purchase their pass for a total of $ 20.00, valid for the lifetime of the holder.
However, as a wild boar hunter on public land, you are most likely not a senior.
Hunters who hate exorbitant access and guide fees are left with public lands as alternative hunting grounds.
However, if you want to start a boar hunt at sunrise and be done by nine in the morning, your only option is to hire a guide. He will bring you straight to where the ‘wild’ pigs are and tell you where to aim and when to shoot. Not much of a challenge and of a hunt there. Nevertheless, you still get a few pictures of yourself in your trendy hunting outfit, awesome rifle or bow in hand, next to the boar you killed after a ‘hot pursuit and a mighty fight’.
Never mind that the wild boar may have been trapped a few days ago and penned for later release during a ‘hunt’. Ranchers and guides are rumored to have done just that. Personally, I have seen traps and holding pens on several private ranches I had the privilege to hunt. In each case, the guide or the ranchers greatly discouraged our hunting party from looking for wild hogs in that particular section of the ranch.
If you truly want to experience the thrill of the hunt and enjoy the great American wilderness to the fullest, you must hunt wild boar on public land.
So much public land, so few wild hogs?
California’s total land base is 101.3 million acres. The U. S. Forest controls 20.8 million acres. That’s 21 percent of the total. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages 15.5 million acres or 15 percent.
You will see more of these …
than of those guys
As mentioned in my previous article, the State of California owns 2 million acres. The balance goes to the U.S. Corps of Engineers, reclamation services, and various smaller agencies. The above numbers vary slightly depending on the source material.
As the most populous state, California has the lowest number of public acres per capita (1 acre per head). On the other hand, California also has one of the densest wild pig populations in the United States. Only Texas, of course, is bigger and “badder” when it comes to hogs gone wild. Florida is second with an estimated 2 million wild hogs. Georgia and Missouri are close contenders.
Public lands and designated wilderness areas in California are controlled by a small number of federal, state, and local agencies.
Listing the actors
Bureau of Land Management http://www.blm.gov
Bureau of Reclamation http://www.usbr.gov
Fish and Wildlife Service http://www.fws.gov
USDA Forest Service http://www.fs.fed.us
National Park Service http://www.nps.gov
US Army Corps of Engineers http://www.usace.army.mil
The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are the largest among them. All allow hunting on their lands. We do not have the space to list and explain hunting terms and conditions for each of them. However, they are quite generous. For detailed information on hunting follow the above links to their hunting, fishing, and shooting pages.
Commenting on the alternatives
- US Forest Service
National Forests are open to hunting. Many have populations of wild pigs. Here in the southern parts of California, the Los Padres National Forest has an established boar population. For a full list of the National Forests and for detailed maps go to their website.
Some of the military bases with wild hog hunting are close enough to the Forest for game animals to transition between the Forest and adjacent private lands. Fort Hunter Liggett and the Tejon Ranch come to mind. The Cleveland National Forest also had a small number of feral pigs. They were, however, eradicated in a multi-million dollar campaign.
They are a mixed bag. Some have good to moderate hunting, others look more like your local trash dump than a wildlife area. Nevertheless, I have hunted on BLM land with plenty of game. BLM parcels are often relatively small. One of the major problems with hunting on BLM land is accessibility. Some parcels are landlocked by private land. The classic example is the BLM parcel on the Tejon Ranch in Kern County. The ranch does net let hunters pass through on their way to the BLM land.
If you found a way to get to it, please let me know. But you won’t do that, would you? Keep out the competition.
Contact BLM for information on BLM lands in your area and maps.
The Corps of Engineers and the military offer undoubtedly the best hunting on public land. The privilege comes with restrictions and limitations. Good things often come with a price. Most of the limitations are common sense safety features and precautions because of the ‘explosive’ nature or the environment. Fort Hunter Liggett, Camp Roberts, and the Vandenberg Air Force Base consistently rank very high among all public lands. In fact, around 35% of all returned pig tags come from feral pigs harvested on these bases.
Bureau of Reclamation
Many of their properties are related to water management. Feral pigs need water, lots of it. Thus, reclamation properties can offer good boar hunting. A good example is the SHARE wild pig hunts on reclamation properties in northern California.
But remember, SHARE hunts are generally held on private lands where the property owner allows free public access for hunting. How hunters conduct themselves determines to a great extend the permanent success of the SHARE program.
National Park Service
Not to be confused with National Forests. The National Park Service is not exactly hunter friendly. Only 70 out of a total of over 300 national parks allow hunting. California has 10 national parks. To my knowledge, none of them are hunter friendly. On the other hand, how many wild pigs do you think are running around in the Death Valley National Park?
Consider one of the minor players
Surprisingly, the California Department of Parks and Recreation allows hunting for small game under the auspices of the Department of Fish and Game, now CDFW, I presume. Shotguns only. No feral pigs.
Local agencies and jurisdictions
In addition to the big players, there is a large number of local agencies that control public lands. Some of them allow hunting, others are vehemently opposed to it. If you live in an area where wild pigs are present, you need to find out who controls the local public land with wild boar on it and whether they allow hunting or not.
Where to hunt wild pigs on public land in California?
There is no simple answer to this question. Existing wild pig populations are dispersed widely over vast public lands. Wild hogs are almost always on the move. Therefore, it is even more difficult to pin down the whereabouts of wild pigs at any given moment.
They also follow seasonal food sources. And that is a good way to narrow down their location.
For starters, I strongly suggest that you get a copy of the excellent introduction to boar hunting published over a decade ago by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).This small brochure “Guide to hunting wild pigs in California” has very good information on wild pig populations on public land in California. Much of the location information is still valid today.
Sample hot spots
To get you started in your search for wild pigs on public land, here are a few of the known hot spots in no particular order. Some of them are BLM lands.
Cache Creek Management Area
Cow Mountain Recreation Area
Lake Sonoma Wildlife Area
Coalinga Area on BLM lands off of Coalinga Road
Cottonwood Creek Wildlife Area
King City, Hollister, Heraldsberg, Booneville – check with BLM for public lands there.
The following CDFW graphics gives you an overview of wild pig locations in California.
Known locations of public pigs (CDFW)
If you scan the Internet, you will find reports from hunters who have bagged a free wild pig in one of the above locations on a more or less regular basis. However, the wild boar are often transitory. They do not necessarily stay near these wild pig hot spots on public land.
Hunting wild boar on public land is challenging and hard work. Success comes only with outstanding knowledge of the habits and habitat preferences of feral pigs, superb research and scouting skills, and with the use of legal high-tech widgets and equipment.
I will explain, hence, in the last part of this article series how to search for promising locations before yew head out into the wilderness.
Don’t miss it.