High-fenced hunting operations, often called “preserves,” are a major force in the hog-hunting world. Some people have ethical concerns about any kind of hunting behind the confines of a high fence, but to do a complete treatise on hunting feral swine, discussing their pursuit on preserves is necessary.
These operations can be as large as 40,000 acres to as small as 50 acres with the average probably in the 300-500 range. The fences are put up to confine hogs to the acreage contained within and greatly increase a hunter’s chances of getting an opportunity to harvest one. With hogs, these ranches are typically stocked frequently in response to hunting pressure, which in some cases can be intense, and many also include exotic animals such as Corsican sheep, axis deer and aoudad. A growing trend is small to medium size ranches that specialize in hogs and cater mainly to bowhunters who will find this style of hunting much more challenging than with a rifle.
I have hunted high fenced operations for hogs a number of times and have always found the experience to be lots of fun and in some cases quite challenging. I have done all of my high fenced hog hunting with either a compound bow or crossbow and would like to use this chapter to give you an edge on taking hogs in these unique situations. As far as I know there has never been anything written on how to specifically target hogs in these kinds of ranches so I will gladly use this space to delve into this territory.
First, let us talk about feeders.
The number one way to hunt hogs on these ranches is to hunt in tree stands over feeders. It is an effective way to shoot eating-sized hogs that will gladly come in to a free offering of food. The problem is the hogs that have been on these preserves for a long time—in particular the really large boars—will avoid them during daylight hours.
On a number of occasions, I have watched young hogs come in and just out of bow range and seen big boars waiting until nightfall to feed. It does not take them long to figure out that something bad happens around the feeders and to avoid them during daylight hours if at all possible. There are several ways to overcome this problem.
The first is to look at a map (if there is one available) of the property and find the most remote feeder. Ask the rancher if there is one that receives little hunting pressure or that perhaps is difficult to get to and you can bet that will be the feeder that offers the best chance at taking a big hog over the feeder itself. Hunters are typically lazy and most will go to the first stand they can get to and will probably pull their four-wheeler right up under the stand and climb on up. When I have used four wheelers on these types of ranches, my mode of operation is to drive 150-200 yards away from the stand and then quietly walk in. When you have animals living in close quarters and they constantly hear motors in relation to hunting pressure it doesn’t take them long to figure out what is going on. In fact, I have in the past parked a four-wheeler at another stand that no one was hunting and walked to the others to fake out the hogs. I cannot say for sure that it worked but I did take nice hogs on those occasions.
The second viable option is to ask the rancher if you can bring your own climbing tree stand or ground blind to set up and to avoid the feeders themselves.
Hogs are not shy about making trails and you can usually find where the big ones are coming up and staging behind the feeders so a good method to use is to set up 20 yards from one of these trails, throw out some corn yourself and wait it out.
The worst-case scenario is that you will have a shot at some smaller hogs moving through and the best is the monster hog no one has been able to kill will fall to you. The difficult part of this is figuring out where to set up. If you the wind is blowing from a major trail to a feeder, you could endanger your hunt by blowing your scent to the hogs coming to the feeder, them winding you and retreating. What that does is that it tells the other hogs that the feeder is not safe and you will not get a shot.
If, however, you are extremely careful with your scent, wash your clothes in scent free detergent, use scent killer and clothes that have a silver or charcoal lining, are mindful of your boot scent and even use scent-killing gum, you can do this without spooking the hog. This might seem extreme but these mature preserve hogs are extremely smart and anything that can send them packing will.
One thing to keep in mind is not to set up on the trail itself. Most of the time these preserve hog trails will be well defined so make sure and set up within shooting distance off of the trail and get at least 15 feet into the air if you are hunting from a tree stand. I know hogs are not supposed to look up but they do. I guess they did not read the rulebook.
The other option is to avoid hunting anywhere near the feeders and locate trails between them. Some of these places will set up feeders pretty close to one another and the hogs will make the rounds. You can get into some serious action by setting up along these trails and waiting to see what comes along. A helping of corn on the ground will help to stop them in their tracks and you to get a shot.
Some proponents of high fenced operations will tell you that fences never come into play in hunting but that is simply not true. Think about any kind of hunting you do for hogs or deer and how often fences lines come into play.
Animals follow fence lines as travel routes whether they are on a low fence 100,000-acre ranch, in a city park or a 100-acre hog hunting preserve. The difference with high fenced ranches, particularly smaller ones fences literally surround a location and they create a frequent travel route. Most ranches clear a good 30-yards out from a fence so that falling trees cause no problems so when this happens they create an instant “edge” effect that animals are drawn to due to the diversity of plant matter that will grow there and access to feeding in relation to thicker areas.
If you have the opportunity to scout one of these places before you hunt it, take a walk down the fence lines and pay close attention to hog rooting activity on the edge of the fence clearing and also trails just inside the tree lines. You can bait up the smaller hogs quite easily by putting corn out upwind of your location and using a tree stand or a natural brush blind. They will gladly come out into the open to feed. The bigger ones however are much more shy and tend to travel the inside of the tree lines much more frequently and will often make a route around smaller ranches or at least stake out a territory along some of the thicker zones near fence corridors. The wise hunter takes advantage of this and will check these zones out carefully.
If there are major water sources on the ranch like a pond or a creek, make sure to check those areas out thoroughly. Hogs have to be near a water source and during hot weather in particular stalking or setting up around water is extremely productive. If hunters are stalking the animals and pushing them around they are going to get overheated and come for water throughout the day so you can score big by simply claiming a water hole as your spot. A problem can be deciding where to set up over a waterhole. Obviously, the wind can be an issue but so can shooting distance if you are hunting with a bow or crossbow. One ingenious hunter I spoke with set up a 15-foot tall tripod in a shallow tank with a hard bottom wore his hip boots and climbed up into it to hunt. He said his friends thought he was crazy but he saw hogs all day and they did not mind their being something in the middle of the tank and ended up shooting a fat 225-pound white/black boar.
A great option for hunting preserves is to find the thickest part of the property, slowly enter with the wind in your face and bring along some brush clippers.
If you sit on a stand all day on these properties, you will often hear hog activity in the thickets and the reason is they feel safe moving around in there because hunters seldom dare enter. I would take the shears and make a natural ground blind along some of these trails particularly if you find an opening in a thicket and wait. You might be surprised what you run into.