Wild Hog Sign – What to Look For

Wild hogs are a wonderful nightmare. 

The Nightmare:  If Charles Dickens were describing wild hogs I’d like to think he would say, “they are the best of quadrupeds, and they are the worst of quadrupeds.”  If you’re a farmer, or landowner, you already know how destructive they can be.  If you’re a microbiologist, or or ecologist then you know the negative impact that they can have on an ecosystem.  They are the Viking hoard of the wildlife community.  They come into a habitat, and plunder its resources with no sense of remorse or conscience.  They spread disease, pestilence,  and parasites.  They unceremoniously destroy things in their seemingly endless hunger, and lust for caloric intake.  They quite simply take over whatever area they encroach upon, and consume more than nature can regulate.

The Wonderful: If you are a hunter, then you should love you some wild hogs.  They are quite simply the perfect thing to hunt.  They are challenging.  They are intelligent, and have the ability to learn quickly.  Their senses are quite keen.  They are as agile as any deer, yet built like a Sherman tank.  They leave the hunter with sign as subtle as a fart in church, making them relatively easy to locate.  They are plentiful, and the seasons, and regulations are lax.  Unlike members of the deer family, the wild hog can breed any time of year.  A single sow can breed twice a year, each time having up to twelve piglets.  Sows reach sexual maturity between 6 to 8 months, so generations between breeding are quite short.  It is easy to see why hogs are difficult to remove from an area once they have moved in.  So, there are plenty of them to hunt.  In nearly every state in the union, they are considered an invasive species (and/or a non-game animal), so they can be hunted with methods, and weapons that you couldn’t or wouldn’t use for other animals.  Most states’ departments of wildlife encourage hunters to eliminate as many of them as possible.  There are usually no bag limits and no season.  For a redneck like me…say no more.

They are scary looking, powerful, intimidating, and are more of an “in your face” style of hunting when compared to whitetail deer, and the like.  Hunting wild hogs has a long history dating back to ancient Greece and Rome.  The Greeks viewed the wild boar as a symbol of death, and all things dark.  I can see why.  They are considered crepuscular (moving primarily at dawn & dusk), but I find that they predominately move under the cover of darkness.  If you have ever been in thick cover at night with a sounder (group) of wild hogs grunting and growling in the dark, you would know in an instant why the Greeks associated them with morbid dark things.  I have not been shy about remarking to friends that I couldn’t imagine a monster sounding any more frightening.   And they sure do taste great!

Where I hunt in Louisiana, they are constantly taking over new territory.  Friends, and family have asked what sign to look for, as I did when they were first encountered.  This post will help to describe the sign left behind by our tasty little friends.  Depending on the type of habitat that you hunt, the sign mentioned in this post may differ, or have varying degrees of frequency.  The good news is that if you are looking for hogs, the sign they leave behind is not difficult to recognize, or diagnose as a hog problem.  They are not subtle beasts.

HOG TRACKS:

Hog tracks are one of the most difficult to distinguish when you first encounter them.  However, after a short time, you will be able to differentiate a hog from a deer track at a glance.  Even if you have difficulty, there is usually some other sign in the vicinity that will give away the correct quadruped that authored the impression.  The easiest way to tell the difference between a deer and a hog is the fact that a deer’s hooves are more pointed, and the tips of the toe is much closer together than a wild hog.  A hog hoof is usually not as dimensionally long as a deer.  Hog hooves are more rounded or blunt at its tip, and the dimensions have more width to comparative length than the dainty deer.  They resemble the nature of each animal.  The deer is more elongated, and thin.  The hog is more wide, and stubby.  Their tracks are no different than the animal that made them.

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Left: Deer Track     Right: Hog Track

When a deer steps in soft or muddy soil, their toes tend to push together most of the time.  A hog’s toes are naturally more open, so when they step in something soft, they tend to drift apart as they mash into the mud or sand. All in all the appearance of a hog track sometimes looks like a nearly round hole punched in the mud.

Usually the appearance of tracks is much more abundant than deer tracks are.  I don’t know if they have a shorter gait than a deer, or if it is the propensity of hogs to move in larger groups.  To be clear, wherever there are hogs there is no question that there is no shortage of tracks.  In the below photograph is the sign left from plain mud with no tracks to what you see in the below photo over a one week period.  Also note the roundish shape of the tracks, and how much leaf litter fell in a week coupled with how dry it became after the tracts were created (the newest tracts are 2 to 3 days old):

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Hog Tracks in the Cypress Needles

What can you tell from a wild hog’s tracks?  Well, you can tell anything that you could tell from any other track.

  1. Location of animal:  I think it goes without saying (even though I’m saying it) that if I’m looking at hog tracks that a hog walked just above said tracks. So if you find tracks, then you have found where that animal has been.
  2. Direction of travel:  Whichever direction the pointed end of the track is facing is the direction of travel when the animal put its foot down.  You can use this along with wind direction, and a few other things to determine the best way to hunt, or trap that hog.
  3. Size of the animal:  You know what they say about a hog with big feet, huh?  They have a big tender loin…  The bigger the hoof, the bigger the hog.  It won’t take you long to recognize a large hog from a shoat.
  4. How long its been:  I can remember as a child, my dad would judge things by how many rains it had been since a particular bit of sign was left behind.  That always struck me as odd, but as I got older, and began to pay particular attention to the weather (as should any hunter), it became obvious why.  If you pay attention to when the last rain was in a particular area, it will help to determine the age of most sign left in that area.  If it has been dry, then the track will be much more shallow.  If it is dry & windy and you can see defined features on the track, then it is fresh.  If it has just stopped raining and you can see a clearly defined track then you know that the animal has moved through after the rain fell, and it is super fresh.  If it has been wet, but the track is not clearly defined, then you know if has been since the last rain.  Likewise, if the tracks are all pressed deeply into the soil as if they were made while the soil was wet, yet it hasn’t rained in a week, then you know that the tracks are at least a week old.  If there is vegetation in the track, and the small plant is still pushed flat and hasn’t corrected itself then that the plant has not yet had a chance to reach back for the light.  If you find this track in the afternoon, then it is relatively fresh.  If the plant has risen back to the sunlight, then depending on its condition, it is some degree older. Use common sense here and pay special attention to the conditions.  You would be pleasantly surprised what you can tell by tracks if you put your mind to it.
  5. Frequency of travel:  If you only see one set of tracks that look old, the you don’t have much.  If you see several ages of tracks, and lots of them, then you’ve got something reoccurring, which can easily be hunted or trapped.
  6. Demeanor:  If the track is deep and far apart, then the animal was bounding or running.  If there is an appropriate distance between tracks, then it is walking, and not freaked out. If all of the tracks are in line, and facing the same direction then obviously, this is a trail or travel corridor.  If they are facing different directions, are spread out over an area, and are the same age of track (usually coupled with other sign), then they are usually feeding.

RUBS:

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A Pine Tree (sap) Rub, with Cuts, and a Wallow all in One.

Random fact of the day: Hogs have no sweat glands…the human head weighs 8 pounds… & all women secretly love men who hunt.  The saying “I’m sweating like a pig” is curious to me, because hogs literally can’t sweat!  To compensate for this glandular deficiency in hot weather, they coat themselves in mud.  They also wallow in mud in order to keep their skin from sunburning, and to help keep biting insects off of them.  In Louisiana we have winged beasts with a sword for a face, who have the sweet disposition of a cape buffalo with a tooth ache, and are roughly the size of a freaking pterodactyl.  We call these devils of the sky “mosquitoes.”  To avoid the constant berating of mosquitoes, fleas and ticks, wild hogs will coat themselves in mud.  After they wallow in the mud, they scrape their body on the sides of trees and other objects as they move through the woods leaving a deposit of mud on things as they pass.  If it itches, then scratch it, right?

They are also quite fond of rubbing on utility poles, or any post that contains creosote.  They also like to rub on trees that contain sap.  It is common to have pine trees rubbed to the point that the tree dies from the repeated rubbing removing the outer cambium layer, even through to the xylem being girdled. The primary reason for rubbing on creosote poles, or sappy trees is that it helps to keeps the bugs off of the hog, and it must feel pretty good.

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You can see rubs on at least 3 trees in this photo.

You can tell more than a few things from a rub on a tree.

  1. Height of the hog:  The center of the rub is usually the center of the body cavity.  After a hog reaches a certain age, they don’t get much taller, but up to that point you can tell if you are dealing with a juvenile or mature hog.
  2. Direction of travel:  Occasionally, you can tell by the depositing of mud or other debris which direction the hog was traveling when it left the mud on the rub post. See photo below:
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    You can see the direction of travel (right to left) due to the depositing of mud and material as the hog rubbed itself on the sapling as it passed,

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    Expanded view of the Rub shown above. This hog was traveling roughly in the direction the camera is facing.

  3. Age of Travel:  Sometimes you can tell by how dry the conditions are how long ago the rub was made.  It has been unseasonably dry where I am hunting, and I know from frequenting this area that this rub where the cracked portion is on the bottom is exactly 6 days old (I’ve even named the pig “Boagrius” from the movie Troy).  I will kill Boagrius with my bow when the good Lord provides me with a West wind.

NESTS:

I know that people will call you crazy if you tell them that hogs will build nests, or beds, but I have seen it for myself (see below).  I hunt in an area that is common only to Florida and the wonderful state of Louisiana in that we have palmetto swamps.  In those areas, the hogs will flatten or sometimes cut the palmetto fronds and construct a nest on which to lay. They will do something similar in cane or bamboo thickets.

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Hog Nest or Bed

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Hog Bed or Nest

For those that think I’m crazy, you’re right.  However, because I think hogs make nests out of vegetation is not the reason I’m crazy.  There are plenty of other reasons for a legitimate claim on my lunacy.  But it seems like every time I bring this up with other hunters, someone looks at me like I’ve been sipping on some of grandmaw’s cough syrup.

Deer make beds, and so do hogs…they just do it a little differently.  Sometimes they leave a depression in vegetation just like a whitetail, albeit a larger, stinkier depression.  But other times, they actively cut and pile up vegetation much like you would if you were sleeping on wet ground with bugs crawling around (again, they ain’t stupid).

HOG CUTTING OR SCRAPING:

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Cutters

Mature hogs will use there freakish teeth (aka cutters) to cut into trees (or sometimes other objects) as they rub them.  For instance they will sometimes cut on a creosote utility pole, as they rub it.  They don’t know that the utility pole won’t leak more sap like a tree would if they cut it.  They will cut on trees, often one that they have been rubbing to release the sap (in the utility pole’s case creosote), so that they can coat their body with it.

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You can see from this photograph several examples of cutting (teeth) and rubbing (body) on a utility pole over time.

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Example of Hog Cutting on Sapling

Usually when you find cutting then you are dealing with a mature boar hog.  They cut to either release the sap from whatever tree they are cutting, to mark territory, or to sharpen their knife-like cutters.

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You can see the sap running down the tree from the cutting as well as the indentation in this pine tree from the rubbing.  Also note the wallow underneath showing more than one form of sign.

HOG WALLOW:

I have not taken many pictures of hog wallows over the years because it’s such an obvious form of hog sign.  However it is basically where a hog rolls around in the mud and/or water to cool itself off, and coat itself in mud in order to prevent insect bites as well as prevent sunburn.  Usually you will see a large volume of hog tracks accompanying the hog wallow.

As you can see, many times a hog wallow, and rooting activity go hand in hand.  Wallows generally pretty easy to recognize.  Unless you have elk in your area, then there aren’t too many animals in North America that will leave this kind of sign.

ROOTING:

Rooting activity is when a hog buries its snout in the subsoil, and pushes in a plow type motion churning up the soil, and exposing roots, invertebrates, and whatever other food it can expose.  Obviously, this is a feeding activity.  The power of these animals is revealed by the sign left behind after their rooting activity.  The soil in the picture below is what is referred to as blackjack clay herein in Louisiana.  When it is wet, you could sink a tank in it.  When it is dry, it is almost as hard as concrete, and forms cracks.  I poured corn in the cracks, and the hogs used their powerful bodies to bust up the hardened ground to get to the corn.  When the ground is moist, this activity is among the most obvious sign of hog activity that can be found.  It is unmistakable.  They will root up road ways, fields, pastures, woodland, etc.  Below is an example of rooting in dry weather:

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Notice the rooting, and golden acorns poured out for the return of the swine plow.

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In the foreground notice the rooting sign left by hogs from dumping out corn.  In the background, notice my bow stand in the oak tree.  This is not a coincidence.

The Video above shows the wrecking crew responsible for the rooting in front of my bow stand as shown in the pictures above.  If you turn up the volume you can hear them grunting a little.

POOP:

I gotta be honest with you.  I’ve never taken a picture of hog poop in my life (I’m just strange like that), so I don’t have an example to show you.   However, it looks like a cross between human poop, and bear poop.  I don’t often find hog doodie in my area.  The vast majority of the time, I find all of the other forms of sign mentioned in this article before I find hog dookie present.  I’m not sure if it is the propensity of hogs to eat other hogs’ poop, or if coyotes and other animals eat the poop, but I don’t often see poop from hogs.  Maybe they just need more roughage.

CONCLUSION:

In conclusion, when it comes to the sign left behind, if you aren’t sure if a hog did it, then it probably isn’t a hog.  They aren’t shy, or subtle, so you should be able to easily recognize if a hog or more often hogs are in your area by any one of the examples given in this post.

99.9% of the pictures shown as examples in this post were taken on the same day, on the same trail leading to my bow stand.  Sometimes all of these bits of sign show up in one place, and sometimes you may only see one or two examples.  Experience and your gut will tell you what sign to hunt over or set your trap near in order to be more successful.  Use your good judgment, and you’ll do fine.  If you don’t have good judgement, then don’t worry about hog hunting because you won’t do fine…

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