In my over two decades as an outdoors writer, I have had many opportunities to hunt wild hogs on many different ranches, using hunting tools that varied from knives to flintlock rifles to longbows. Many of these hunts took place on preserves where truly wild hogs were contained under fence in an area with plenty of heavy cover. I have also hunted free ranging hogs a great deal. I am proud to say that out of these many hunting operations, I have never been exposed to what, in current day nomenclature, could be described as a “canned hunt”.

 Whether to hunt “preserve” hogs or free- ranging hogs is a personal choice and one that each hunter must make for himself. The term “canned hunt” became popular a few years ago when some morons turned a caged big cat loose in a small enclosure with no cover and a “hunter” used a big bore rifle to kill the tame animal. This stupid and ego driven act is in no way hunting but because of a great deal of national exposure, it has done a great deal of harm for those of us that truly enjoy hunting game under challenging conditions. The term “canned hunt” should be fully understood by everyone that calls themselves a hunter and its use should be used carefully and thoughtfully.  

  My desire to write this feature was driven by a group of three hunters we recently hosted on our hog- hunting ranch in eastern Texas. My intent is to help hunters planning hog hunts decide whether they wish to hunt hogs on open lands or on a preserve.  Anyone that knows anything about a wild hog knows full well that a wild hog is a wild hog and trapping then transporting it to a fenced area does nothing to take the “wild” out of the critter. If anything, the process makes the hog a bit more difficult to hunt. Once released into an area of heavy cover, trapped hogs quickly learn their new territory, often moving only under the cover of darkness until they become familiar with their new habitat.

 Now, back to the three hunters we hosted this summer. The leader of this small group called a month or so in advance of the hunt and was thoroughly briefed on the amount of land he and his buddies would be hunting (about fifty acres of heavy cover fenced on a 450 acre ranch) and given some tips that should help make the hunt successful. Most of our hunters come during the cooler weather months but we do occasionally have folks come during the heat of the summer. I always advise them to hunt early and late and spend the heat of the day around the air conditioned cabin or in the shade relaxing and shooting their bows.  Hogs will definitely be “cooling it” themselves when the sun is high overhead and the temperature approaching triple digits.

  The leader of this group had a couple of friends that he invited to hunt free ranging hogs on his ranch a few times without success. He wanted them to hunt a spot where the hogs were truly wild but not five miles down the creek. In essence, he had a couple days to hunt and wanted everyone to at least see hogs and have a shot opportunity.  I met my client and gave him a tour of the hunting area. We have a total of six stands with feeders but because it was summer and we had not had hunters for a couple weeks, I had only four feeders throwing corn. I knew this would increase the three hunter’s chances of seeing hogs from their stands. I instructed the hunters to hunt ONLY the stands I had shown them, the other feeders were shut down.  We went to each stand and noted the ground was heavily rooted up by porkers that fed at each location on a daily basis. Hog tracks of all sizes were readily visible at each feeder and trails that a blind man could follow could be seen coming out of the heavy cover to each feeder. It was obvious, even to a first time hunter, that there were plenty of hogs on this piece of land. My client even spotted a hog running through the brush that we spooked.

  This hunt was to be self-guided. I had plans for the weekend and would be leaving the ranch but my partner lives on the ranch and would be available during the evening hours in case the hunters needed anything.  With a good skinning rack, walk in cooler, dependable feeders that hogs were frequenting on a daily basis and comfortable air conditioned cabin and ATV to use to get their hogs out of the woods, I felt our clients would be in for a couple of very exciting and enjoyable days in the woods. DID I EVER READ THIS GROUP WRONG!

  I checked in with my partner later the next week and he said he stopped by the evening the group arrived and all seemed well. They paid him the remaining amount for the hunt and appeared to be ready for some good times in the great outdoors. After all, we had turned the place over to what I judged to be three very ethical bow hunters, their leader seemed to be well briefed with plenty of experience to help his buddies enjoy a couple days hunting.  We had trusted them to harvest only their quota of hogs and no more. They were left on their own to hunt as they wished and when they wished.  When I left the group that Friday afternoon, I must admit I was a bit envious of the fun they would be having.  My partner went on to say that he never saw the hunters again after meeting them that first evening. I told him they had planned on hunting through Sunday evening.

  Afraid something might have gone wrong during their hunt, I gave the leader of the group a follow-up call.  It was the following conservation that prompted this article. The conversation went something like this: “I thought I would check in and see if y’all have been eating fresh pork chops since your hunt,” I kidded. “NO!” came the reply. “We hunted that Friday afternoon and decided the operation was a canned hunt. I think we should have our money refunded.”  Knowing full well there was absolutely nothing “canned” about our hunting operation, I managed to keep my cool and asked him to explain. “We had some shots at smaller hogs just before dark and one of the guys had some bigger hogs come by but they never came to the feeder, these hogs had obviously been hunted hard just before we arrived at the ranch” was his reply. In a state of shock over the negative comments that greatly surprised me, I came back with something like, “CANNED HUNT?? It sounds like the hunting was anything but canned. If you had been patient, those bigger hogs would probably have come on in to the feeders during the last couple minutes of daylight. If they did not, you could have stalked the brush along the creek bottom the next morning and possibly harvested one of them.” I ended the conservation without loosing my cool but with the feeling that these guys would forever “talk down” our hunting operation as a “canned hunt.”

  We have hosted many bow hunters during the last couple of years on our operation and, with the exception of one so called “bow hunter” that I allowed to take a pistol into the hunting area for “protection,” everyone had a great time and most had the opportunity to harvest hogs. We later learned that the pistol packing bow hunter killed a couple of hogs with his pistol rather than his bow; a mistake on my part for allowing him to hunt unguided with the pistol as “protection.”

  Hopefully my “outfitter” accounts will help you when choosing a spot when you decide to book a hunt. I can say that the vast majority of my experiences as a hunting outfitter have been extremely rewarding, especially when a youngster or newcomer to the sport of hog hunting takes his or her first wild hog. I get a great deal of satisfaction in little things such as knowing the stands and feeders are in good places and ready for hunters that choose to hunt with us. I refuse to let the negative comments of two hunters deter from the enjoyment I get of providing a quality hunting experience. Because of many factors beyond the control of an outfitter, every hunter may not be successful in harvesting a trophy boar or even a good eating meat hog, for that matter. But hunting outfitters do owe it to their clients to provide the opportunity to hunt truly wild hogs under truly challenging conditions. If the outfitter accomplishes this, he has done his job and fulfilled his obligations. 

  In retrospect, I truly believe had I or another experienced hog hunting guide been on hand to assist these disgruntled “self-guided” hunters, they might have left with a different outlook on the experience.  These “do it yourself” hunts are obviously not suited for everybody. I see some changes coming up on the way we run our hunts this fall and winter. It has become quiet obvious to me that no matter how much pre-hunt time is spent on the telephone visiting with clients, you never really know a hunters experience or skill level until some time is spent with them in the woods. It’s an outfitters responsibility to make every effort to insure a safe, productive and fun hunt for his clients. That just might entail being on the premises as a full-time guide and not trusting a telephone conservation as a means of judging a prospective hunters experience level.

  One last bit of advice: Be very careful what you dub as a “canned hunt.” Heavy cover and wild hogs certainly make for a challenging hunt, regardless if the hunt takes place on a preserve or free range!