If I had to pick a month to go hog hunting, it would be January. The cold weather makes it conducive to long walks in the woods.
On several occasions in recent years, I’ve marked the truck on my GPS and struck out for new territories in search of a WMA hog. Quite a few times I’ve found success doing that, but it’s not the shed blood that I first think back to when I think of those hunts. My mind first remembers the day-long journeys into new places looking at woods I’d never seen.
Quite a few Georgia WMAs have huntable populations of wild hogs. Let me recommend a January adventure to you. Strike out for a place you’ve never been, and search for bacon. Mark your GPS coordinates, pack a lunch and make a day-long hunt out of your journey. It could create a memory you’ll smile about for a long time.
A few weeks ago I spoke with WRD folks in all seven regions to get the latest news on the whereabouts of hogs on their WMAs. Below is what they had to say.
Northwest: When you look at overall hog populations along with steep terrain, killing a public-land pig in northwest Georgia is a challenge. However, there are three WMAs where traditional populations still offer hunters the chance.
“On John’s Mountain, there’s never been a real abundance, but there’s certainly some hogs around,” said Adam Hammond, wildlife biologist. “I haven’t seen the sign as much lately as in the past.
“The Hidden Creek area is one area hogs have traditionally been. It’s a big block of the southern part of the WMA. In fact, the south end of the WMA has traditionally had more hogs than other parts of the area.”
If you’re willing to put in the legwork, Cohutta WMA probably offers the best chance to kill a WMA hog in this part of the state.
“We didn’t kill very many in our (deer) hunts this year, but I’m sure there’s no shortage of hogs on Cohutta,” said Adam. “It’s been a pretty good year for red oaks, so the hogs will probably be in them if hunters can find them. Also, any creek drains, they’ll still be rooting around on roads, same stuff they’re always doing up here, but acorns are not going to be exempt if you can find them.”
When comparing Cohutta to John’s Mountain, Adam said, “There are a lot of places on John’s where I’ve never seen a hog, but there’s not many places on Cohutta where you’re never going to see a hog. However, there are traditional places (at Cohutta) that have higher densities of hogs — Sumac Creek and some places around Lake Conasauga come to mind.”
On many of the state’s WMAs, where hogs are more easily accessed, hog-hunter pressure gets high. However, Cohutta is so large that hunters willing to walk have a good chance at finding some fairly unpressured hogs.
“When you have 96,000 acres — that’s larger than three of Georgia’s counties — it’s a huge place,” said Adam. “I don’t know if the pressure drives hogs on Cohutta that often. There are places that get a lot of hikers, but this time of year it’s not going to be as bad. However, finding a hog may be like finding a needle in a haystack at times, but they’re there.”
At Cohutta, nothing beats on-the-ground scouting because hogs can move so much as food sources change.
“Just getting out and finding some fresh sign is going to be the best bet,” said Adam. “Somebody may have seen sign during deer season, and they go back, and there may not be a hog anywhere around.”
In addition to hunting them with small-game weapons through Feb. 29, there is a special March 3-9 firearms hunt on Cohutta that is sign-in.
Pine Log Mountain WMA has some hogs, and the population is stable.
“They kill them around Oak Street, at the dove fields, up East Valley or kill them on top of the mountain. Hogs are more of a luck kill than anything. They move so much it’s hard to pattern them,” said Brent Womack, wildlife biologist.
Brent said hogs will be eating acorns for the next month or two.
“They’re not like a deer, they’ll continue to eat acorns once they sprout,” said Brent. “If you have chestnut acorns they wouldn’t have preferred at earlier times, they still may be working on them, or if you have water oaks that are going to drop periodically for a long period of time. They’re also going to be rooting up roots and grubs.”
When you find fresh sign, it doesn’t mean the hogs are feeding there in daylight. Try backtracking to where you believe the hogs are bedded.
“Find somewhere between some water and a bedding area, and catch them coming in or out,” said Brent. “A lot of times it seems like they’re going to go get a drink of water before they move out for the night. There’s a lot of thick areas on Pine Log. I’d try to find some good trails going into some bedding areas and hunt it tight with the wind in my favor.”
Northeast: “As far as the best population of pigs, Warwoman, Swallow Creek, Coopers Creek and Chestatee, they have established populations. But this year, good luck finding them,” said Kevin Lowery, wildlife biologist. “It’s probably the worse year I’ve seen it in the mountains — as far as in the mountain-mountains (up high). Dawson Forest WMA did fine, there are red oaks there, and the lower part Blue Ridge did OK with red oaks, but all the high mountains, there are just no acorns, and the (deer) harvest has shown that. The rut activity is none, they’re not scraping or hooking bushes. I’ve seen it bad, and this is bad.”
A mixture of heavy hunting pressure on mountain WMAs and no mast crop may have driven most of these higher-elevation hogs onto surrounding private lands where they’re subject to find food plots or fields.
“If hunting pressure is keeping them off right now, they may come back and start hitting those plots. All the WMAs have some sort of food plots on them,” said Kevin.
While the WMA food plots may become productive toward the end of small-game season, there is a silver lining if you want to hunt a public-land pig now.
“Lake Russell would be my best bet,” said Kevin. “There are still a few acorns, and apparently now we have bunches of hogs. They came in 2009, and they’ve taken off pretty good.”
Kevin pointed to the Farmer Bottom area and Kelly Mountain behind it as good places to look.
“We have a big field there where they have been rolling like crazy,” said Kevin. “Also, the drainage that runs below Stone Grave Ridge Road, that whole drainage is a good one. I would love for somebody to go over there and wear out some pigs. There were actually some pigs at the Georgia Mountain Orchard, too.”
East Central: Tuckahoe WMA along the Savannah River is the only WMA in this region where hunters can go and halfway expect to see some hog signs.
“We don’t have any really, really good ones, places where it’s a sure bet,” said I.B. Parnell, wildlife biologist. “I’ve seen a little bit of sign on Di-Lane, and I know they’ve been on and off of Yuchi. Phinizy Swamp has a few, but access is very limited; Big Dukes Pond is the same way. Periodically we’ll get some on Oconee, Redlands, Clarks Hill, and there’s been a little bit of sign on the Vaughter Tract in Elbert County.
“If I were going to make a special trip to go hog hunting, it would have to be to Tuckahoe. It’s our best one overall. I’d say on an average big-game hunt, we might kill 10 or 15.”
I.B. said to concentrate Tuckahoe WMA hunting efforts around the Savannah River bottom, the oxbow lakes and the main slough that runs through the area. The bottom end of this slough is just above Miller Lake, and it heads northwest, staying between one-half and three-quarters of a mile from the Savannah River. Look for acorns and fresh rooting.
West Central: Charlie Killmaster, wildlife biologist, said the top-two choices for WMA hogs in his region are easy — Oaky Woods and Ocmuglee WMAs.
“You can kill hogs on some of the other WMAs, but I would be squirrel hunting with the chances of seeing a hog on most of the other places,” said Charlie. “B.F. Grant used to be pretty good, but they have hammered them. There’s only a handful there. There’s a few on Clybel, but they’re inconsistent there as well. Flat Creek PFA, they kill some hogs out there on occasion. Nothing on Cedar Creek, nothing on Rum Creek, and that’s about it for us.”
You can spend weeks hunting the combined 30,000 acres that make up Oaky Woods and Ocmulgee WMAs.
“Anywhere on the river is going to be good,” said Charlie. “On Oaky Woods, the Big Grocery Creek drain right in the middle of the property and some of the property that goes down along the river is going to be your best bet over there.
“I would get in one of those creek drains and get the wind in my face and start creeping, cover some ground. If I saw some fresh sign, I might sit in a spot.”
Charlie said there’s still a lot of good acorns left that’ll be feeding the hogs throughout the winter.
“They’re going to eat an acorn gone bad a lot longer than deer will,” said Charlie. “We had such a good mast crop this year that I have no doubts that there’s plenty of food. There’s a lot of different types of mushrooms that are coming in this time of year. This is not really a food source you can pinpoint, but they’re going to be eating a lot of those. Anywhere the ground is soft they are going to be.”
Charlie said the WMAs in Region IV just don’t compare to some of the other places a hunter could go in the state.
“Oaky Woods and Ocmulgee are the best in our region, but I don’t know if they could compare in any way to a place like Chickasawhatchee or some place like that.”
Southwest: Julie Robbins, region supervisor, said the No. 1 choice in her region for pigs is Chickasawhatchee WMA.
“The best place to find the hogs is in thick cover adjacent to water,” said Julie. “The cover can be young pines, young hardwoods or thick scrub/saw palmetto.”
Julie said this year’s plentiful acorn crop had the hogs spread out during the fall hunting season.
“I would hunt areas away from the open roads,” said Julie. “This late in the season, the hogs have learned to avoid easily accessible areas. The WMA is drier than normal as well, so water holes are good places to start searching. We usually send folks to the dove field and the powerline to look for sign. I would also recommend walking the banks of Chickasawhatchee Creek and Spring Creek (just south of Hwy 62).”
Flint River (Dec. 19-Feb. 29) and Hannahatchee (Jan. 16-Feb. 29) WMAs are Julie’s next two choices for hog hunting in January and February.
“Hunters reported seeing and killed a few hogs during the deer hunts on both WMAs,” said Julie. “Again, the key for these areas is thick cover adjacent to water and areas away from open roads. Food isn’t so much a factor right now.”
South-Central: Chris Baumann, WRD region supervisor, said it’s an off year for hogs on south-central Georgia WMAs.
“It’s so dry down here that the usual WMAs I’d tell you to go you aren’t seeing hog sign,” said Chris. “The hottest is probably Big Hammock WMA. We just had a buck-only hunt, and they killed eight hogs.
“It’s pretty much all river bottom. We’ve done some small clearcuts trying to get some early successional habitat, and most of them have hog sign around them right now. I’m sure they’re looking for acorns now. I think there was a pretty decent crop of water oak acorns there.”
Hot spot No. 2 for Chris would be River Bend WMA.
“It’s always got some (hogs) down in those river bottoms. It’s thick,” said Chris. “It’s basically cutover river bottom. It’s got sloughs that run through it that they really didn’t cut the timber off of, so there’s opportunities for some large swamp chestnut oaks where you can find hog sign. I did see some (sign) back in there behind Troup Lake a week ago.
“If you want hot, that’s as hot as we got. Again, this is a non-typical year for us because it’s so dry. We’re really not seeing as much sign as usual.”
Beaverdam has reported very few hogs, and Dixon Memorial has only a handful.
Coast: The information we got from WRD Region Supervisor David Mixon indicates that his region is the place to go if you want the best chance for a wintertime, public-land hog.
“As always, the Altamaha River, that’s the place. Sansavilla, Clayhole and Penholoway on the south side (of the river), and on the north side you got all that Townsend area and Altamaha WMA,” said David.
“Of those, Altamaha (WMA) is going to probably roll up toward the top. Then Townsend and Sansavilla would be pretty close together. There’s a lot better access on Townsend than there is on Altamaha, and because of that the hogs feel a little more pressure, but at the same time they are a lot easier to get to. On Altamaha, if you put the walking time in, you’ll probably find a hog.”
David said Altamaha WMA has a new tract on the upper end that has hogs. Called the McGowan Lake Tract, it’s slightly larger than 1,000 acres and connects to the north end of the WMA. Its southwest boundary is the river. In the middle of the tract is a 45-acre lake.
“The only access point is off Barrington Road,” said David. “That one little piece on the northeast corner is the only point that comes out to the road. You can drive about halfway into it, and once you hit the bottomland hardwood part, you have to walk all of that. It goes to the river.”
Once the acorns run out in the hardwood bottoms, hogs in the winter will head toward the freshwater marshes, which can make for some difficult hunting.
“We had a pretty good bit of acorns this year, so they may still be hanging around in there,” said David. “A lot of times in the winter they’re having to dig deep for food. Since they don’t have the acorns to eat off they ground, they’ll start rooting, digging up roots and eating them or older acorns.”
On Altamaha WMA, there are two special firearms hunts for hogs: March 1-15 and May 19-June 3. Hunter orange is required. Dogs may be used to hunt hogs during these two special firearms hog hunts. Hogs may not be removed from the WMA alive. This hunt will take place on the Buffalo Swamp, Lewis Island and McGowan Lake portions of the WMA — not the Waterfowl Management Area. A hog hunt, which will allow dogs, will also take place on Townsend WMA March 1-10.
Even though the coastal region of Georgia is full of hogs, expect to put in some leg work to be successful.
“Pull in and head toward the swamp, toward softer ground,” said David. “The hard places, the places people haven’t been to, is where you’ll find them a lot of times. People have been pressuring them all season deer hunting, so if you can get to a hard-to-reach place, a lot of times you’ll find hogs.”
Pinpointing these coastal WMA hogs will become easier once the river reaches flood stage and pushes the hogs up. However, the river has been low all fall. Still, the hogs are there.
“They haven’t left,” said David. “They are on the area, it’s just a matter of finding what they’re using and where they’re at.”