An ATV navigated winding woods trails and dusty farm roads, stopping here and there so the hunters inside could check for tracks and wallows. They also checked for signs of animals feeding on piles of cabbage and onions, as well as beneath broadcast feeders filled with corn.
“Look, those tracks were made by a boar that weighed at least 120 pounds,” said Johnnie Dale, 54, a farmer and hunting guide who operates Buffalo Creek Guide Service . “The pigs should be moving well this afternoon.”
The day was a warm one for early February, with the temperature in the 50s following a week of rainy, windy cold weather. Dale said pigs move better when the weather is nice.
One of his hunters was Keith Brady, 65, a retired magistrate from Burlington. He hunts other game, mostly deer. However, he has a fondness for hunting feral pigs.
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Hunters call them wild boar or wild pigs, and some erroneously call them Russian wild boar. But, despite a few accidental releases of Eurasian boar in the U.S. long ago, the feral swine that inhabit hard-to-hunt areas across the swamps and mountains of the South are genetically the same. They are simply escaped domestic animals that have reverted to wild habits. In North Carolina, feral pigs are legal non-game animals. Their nuisance status, due to the damage they do to wildlife habitat and farm crops, has resulted in an open season for hunting them any time of year, day or night. However, on Sundays hunters must use archery gear.
“I hunt them mostly after the deer season ends,” Brady said. “I go to South Carolina with some friends and started hunting them about 20 years ago. I have killed several of them and given them away. I don’t shoot very many because I really just like being outside, communing with Nature. Before I take a shot, it has to feel right. I don’t shoot everything I see.”
Brady’s biggest pig weighed 300 pounds. But, Dale said the biggest taken on his 3,500-acre farm weighed 515 pounds.
“Back in the thick areas, we have game-camera photos of some hogs that might weigh as much as 700 to 750 pounds,” he said. “You aren’t going to see one that big during the day because pigs are much smarter than deer.”
Besides intelligence, a hog’s best defense against hunters is its sense of smell. Dale has 130 stands on his property that are used by deer hunters and pig hunters. He said he has to try to decide where to hunt based on the wind, as well as the footloose nature of pigs.
Dale lures the pigs close to his hunting stands with any manner of excess produce he can buy. He uses sweet potatoes, beans, onions and cabbage.
“A pig will eat anything,” he said.
Stopping at an elevated stand, Dale and his friend, Tommy Sullivan, a 50-year-old roofing contractor from Winnabow, helped Brady become situated. Once he was aloft, Sullivan handed Brady his .243-caliber rifle. Brady mentioned that the feeder, which was about 200 yards away, was a bit too far. So, after leaving him to his vigil, Dale and Sullivan sweetened up the area between the stand and the feeder by dumping a trail of shelled corn behind the ATV.
“I have hunted hogs for two years and killed six of them,” Sullivan said.
Dale and Sullivan picked up Brady after dark. He had seen a big, black boar but did not have a shot.
“He came out in the open,” he said. “I had my rifle in a corner of the stand. Before I could pick it up, he heard some other pigs squealing and moved off into the woods, heading in their direction. I would have shot, but I didn’t have time.”