Marketing Feral Hog Hunts on the Nail Ranch

JOHNNY HUDMAN, Wildlife Manager, Nail Ranch,
Rt. 1, Box 106, Albany, Tx. 76430.

The 56,000 acre Nail Ranch is located in northwestern Shackelford County. This area of the state has had hogs for many years, but only recently have some ranches begun to capitalize on the recreational value of hog hunting. Hog hunting can supplement a landowner’s income. If a ranch has a huntable hog population, the landowner can offer hog hunts with little or no operating expense. In 1993, we anticipate entertaining close to 100 hog hunters.

The popularity of hunting hogs is increasing at a rapid rate, and each year brings more hog hunters to the ranch. In the past, interest in hog hunting was primarily among locals, and certainly within Texas residents. More recently however, people are traveling across state lines to hunt. Outdoor magazines are picking up on this interest and more and more articles are appearing in national magazines. Hogs have graduated from being hunted incidentally to a deer hunt, to commanding their own spot as an animal offered on a commercial hunt.

Hog hunters come from all walks of life. We’ve entertained doctors, lawyers, CEOs, and hog farmers, and almost everything in between. About half of our hunters come from out of state. A breakdown of weapons choice reveals about 60% rifle, 30% archery, 4% pistol, and 6% blackpowder. The number of archery hunters in on the increase. Blackpowder boar hunting is also catching on.

For marketing purposes, word of mouth is probably the most effective. Hunters who have a good hunt tell their friends and the size of the group generally grows each tme the hunters return. The hunt is inexpensive and has a very high success rate. Most of our country is pretty open, and you can see by driving the pasture roads. Once a suitable hog is spotted, we have the hunter(s) stalk to within effective range for a suitable shot.

The hunts are exciting because there is an element of danger involved. Some boars have a down right mean temperament and sow with piglets can be even worse. This adds to the excitement and appeal of the hunt.

In addition to our satisfied customers, we do publish a newsletter that updates the ranch conditions, hunting opportunities, etc. We acquire some hog hunters as a result of this publication. We also attend several outdoor hunting shows. We generally try to display some mounted boars as well as pictures of successful hog hunts. Boars with good tusks stop a good deal of people. Most have never seen hogs with tusks before.

Another highly effective marketing technique is to invite an outdoor magazine writer or editor to the ranch for a hog hunt. The writer will usually write about his experience on the hunt and will usually include pictures of the terrain and what was harvested on the hunt. This is a very good way to find prospective hunters and put the name of the ranch in view of many hunters.

Hog management has been the subject of many coffee-table conversations. The management technique I hear most often from East Texas is “I’d like to see all wild hogs wiped out. The holes they put in my hay fields make it possible to cut hay.” Some hunters in the Hill Country of Texas don’t like hogs because they say that hogs run the deer away from feeders and are destructive to feeders and to netwire fences.

On the other hand, the hogs don’t really have an adverse impact on the area around the Nail Ranch. They can’t root up very much topsoil before they hit rock, so they really can’t dig deep holes like they can in sandy areas (for example, South Texas). We don’t have much netwire fence, so they are not a problem with fences. They do out-hustle the cattle sometimes and take a portion of the range cubes that are fed during winter months. However, the economic value of hunting hogs far outweighs the damage that the hogs do to fences, etc., at least in the area where I live, Shackelford County.

We try to plant food plots each year. The plots are designed to benefit most of the species of animals found on the Nail Ranch, both game and nongame animals. Normally, winter wheat is planted in these plots in late August or Early September. The plots range in size from 4 to 17 acres. The hogs use these plots in late fall and early winter. The outside edge of these plots will be planted in May, or at least after the last expected frost. Two or 3 drill-widths along the outside edge of the plots are planted with a mixture of Egyptian wheat (a sorghum actually), milo, cowpeas, and several varieties of millet. The hogs get a good share of these grains in the fall when they mature.

We are beginning to keep better records of hogs harvested. In the past, we have weighed some of the boars but haven’t kept good harvest records. Our intention is to keep better records to ensure future hunting opportunities in years to come. Hog numbers on the ranch seem to be on the increase. We feel the need to establish survey techniques and use incidental sightings to establish more dates relating to actual hog numbers.

Hog hunting complements the deer hunting on the Nail Ranch. If a hunter harvests his deer early into his 3-day hunt, he has the opportunity to hunt boar for the remainder of his hunt. Since we are a 1-buck county, if a hunter takes a buck the first day, his deer hunt is over. He can then hunt hogs for the remainder of his hunt. Some hunters seem to have more fun hunting boar than they do hunting bucks.

We don’t usually hunt dogs in areas where quail hunting is going on. We normally don’t book many hog hunts during the quail season, so as not to interfere with the quail hunting operation. We also try to work with the personnel in charge of the cattle operation so no conflicts will arise there. If cattle work is going on in an area, we conduct our hunts on another part of the ranch. The safety of ranch personnel and the hunters is of utmost concern at all times.

We have found that the cattle operation and the hunting operation can work well together. Good communication between the livestock manager and the wildlife manager can make for a successful operation designed both for fun and profit.