I got an email recently from a newer hog hunter, and he asked a question that I’ve heard a few times now.  I thought I’d share his letter, along with my thoughts.  

Here goes:

I’m a new hunter (at 40 yrs old!) and have had the opportunity to hunt pigs on a friend’s land a few times this winter west of Lake Sonoma. It’s been amazing. No pigs taken yet, but we’ve seen a bunch.

We even got a few shots off a few weeks ago, but they were bad shots– we got surprised by bedded-down pigs as we dropped into a gully.

Just went again this weekend and I think we’ve created a little too much hunting pressure. Wallows are not being used, maybe a couple fresh tracks, but not much activity.

Brings me to my question — baiting for pigs. I ask this bec my buddy’s land is 170 acres, and while we wish we could roam onto the neighboring properties, we can’t. This past trip we discussed digging a bait hole with a post-hole digger, tossing some corn and water and sugar in and seeing if we can’t get the pigs to come to us. Is this legal in California?

All in all, I’m hooked. Even if we never get a pig, I’ll go as many times as my friend (the landowner) wants. I’ve spent a long time hiking, camping and fishing, but hunting is definitely the best way to spent time outdoors in my opinion.

Thanks for your blog. I really enjoy reading it!

First, the short and clear answer… baiting game animals is NOT LEGAL in CA.  Technically, even feeding big game is illegal in this state. 

You can find the regulations and laws on the DFG website for details.  (This prohibition does not apply to fenced preserves, such as those operated by Native Hunt, Big Horn Ranch, Cedar Canyon Ranch, and others.  On fenced preserves, animals are considered hoofstock, and regulated by the Department of Agriculture, not the DFG.)

And a note: In some cases, like this one, the law is quite clearly spelled out.  However, any time you have a question about the details or interpretation of a law, the best place to get your answer is right from the source… the DFG (or applicable law enforcement agency).  I know I do my best to be as accurate and specific as I can when answering questions like this, but I’ve seen some insane interpretations of Fish and Game Law out here on the Internet.  And I wouldn’t blame anyone for validating the information I offer as well.  I’m no lawyer. Going off half-cocked on bad info can land you in a world of trouble.

Now the longer response…  I’m gonna ramble here.  

In CA, baiting, as in setting out food attractants for big game is illegal. 

However, you can use scent baits to attract game.  Personally, my success has been very limited with this approach, but it is an option.  Along with the many commercial scents out there, you can also try homemade concoctions.  One presenter at a hog hunting seminar recommended using raspberry Jello mix in a shallow hole.  Cover it over and water, and the actual mix dissipates into the ground (so there is technically no “bait”), releasing a tasty odor that hogs supposedly find irresistable.  If you try this one, let me know how it works out.

The other option on private land is the one I think is best for everyone… improve the land to enhance natural food and water sources.  This can involve clearing away invasives such as star thistle, and allowing the native plants such as wild oat and native grasses to return.  It can also involve planting food sources.  The upside of this approach is that it not only enhances the hunting, but it provides food for multiple species.  Just be careful about planting non-native species that may become invasive.  Do what you want on your own property, but don’t create a problem for the neighbors.

But what about baiting?  Why is it illegal?

Good question, and I don’t know the real answer.  I’m assuming that the prohibition on feeding wildlife stems from the desire to keep game from concentrating unnaturally in small areas.  High  population densities can increase the spread of disease, and that could be a problem when populations of some species, such as deer, are already at risk.  An outbreak of something like anthrax or blue-tongue can decimate a local population of deer in short order.  I’m not sure that the risks of this are as high as some folks might believe, but it is a rationale for baiting restrictions and I expect it plays a part in determining CA law.

Another consideration, at least in areas with lots of people, is that a concentration of prey animals can lead to more predators.  If you keep a yard full of deer, it’s not unlikely that a lion will discover the buffet and hang around for easy snacks.  Once a cat gets habituated to hunting the neighborhood, a conflict with humans or pets is imminent.

One other argument, weak as it may seem, is that if baiting for one species were deemed legal, some people would abuse that opportunity to bait for others.  So, for example, if baiting for hogs were allowed, then certain unscrupulous folks would claim their feeders were for hogs even as they shot deer over the grain pile.  It would be difficult to enforce.  I don’t like that kind of rationale for a law, but I can see how it comes about.  The old saying about one bad apple… 

However, there are arguments in favor of baiting feral hogs that, it seems to me, should be valid in this state. 

The primary argument is that baiting enables more hunters to harvest animals.  In several states, including my home state of North Carolina, baiting is a valid part of the whitetail deer management plan for this very reason. 

If hogs are truly considered a threat to the habitat and to the agricultural industries (livestock and farming), an increased harvest should be a driving focus for regulatory action.  It strikes me that it would benefit both the environment and the farmers/ranchers to have people killing as many hogs as possible, using any safe and humane method. This should include methods such as baiting and night-hunting (night-hunting is generally allowed under a depredation permit). 

This is the kind of issue that really makes you wonder about the agenda of the State and agricultural industry vs the real goals of wildlife management. 

On the one hand, we’re constantly hearing about how destructive feral hogs are, and how we need to get rid them.  The State has spent millions of dollars to eradicate these animals from certain areas, and I don’t even want to know how much it costs the taxpayers to prevent and repair the damage they may do to sensitive eco-systems.  Hogs are blamed for everything from erosion and wiping out endangered species, to spreading e. coli in the crop fields.  Hell, there’s even research to determine if hogs are at fault for an increased mountain lion population (I’m not making this up)!

On the other hand, the State has listed them as a game animal, requiring a tag and license to harvest them, and has essentially turned them into a commodity.  In the space of a decade or so, hog tags have gone from free (or even non-existent) to almost $20 per tag.  Initially, the tag fee ($2 for a book of five) was instituted to fund efforts to track the spread of hogs across the state.  What it’s used for now is difficult to determine.  The State certainly isn’t managing public land for hog hunting opportunities (nor should they, if the true goal is to curtail the spread of the population). 

Ranchers complain about hogs out of one side of their mouths, and then milk them like a cash cow by charging (often exhorbitant) fees for hunters to come try to kill them.  Since the majority of hogs are taken from private property, this locks out a large number of hunters who are willing and eager, but unable to afford the costs of hunting private land. 

What I think is even more critical is that, by turning feral hogs into a commodity, the State has provided incentive for individuals to skirt the law, trapping and transplanting hogs into new areas.  Add a population of hogs on your ranch, and you have the potential to bring in thousands of dollars a month from hunters. 

It seems to me then, that if the aims of the State and the best results for the environment are the control of wild hogs, then the right approach would be one that enables as many hunters as possible to be as successful as possible in killing these animals.  Eliminate the tag fee, and make it harder or impossible for individuals to benefit financially from feral hog hunting (this wouldn’t apply to fenced game ranches for reasons described earlier).  If you want the hogs killed off of your fields and pastures, then do it yourself or let hunters come in and do it for you. 

Or, and here’s a thought… let’s just come right out and set an honest tone to the whole discussion.  Drop the pretense about the need to eradicate feral hogs, and treat them as a viable big game animal.  Implement a real management plan with harvest goals and a program designed to make the plan successful. 

I’m sure my arguments aren’t new, and I’m equally sure that there are plenty of counterpoints to each of them.  But it’s certainly food for thought. 

A closing note:

I don’t intend this as a blanket condemnation of the folks at CA DFG, or even of the Fish and Game Commission. There are some good people in those agencies, and many of them are working hard to find a good solution to the “hog problem”.  They recognize the value of hunters, both for on-the-ground management and as a source of funding for research and programs.  One bright light, currently in development, is adding wild hog hunts to the SHARE program.  This program allows a certain number of hunters to access private property at little or no cost to the hunter.  It’s a cooperative program with landowners, and one that I honestly hope to see succeed.  I’ll keep you posted as I learn more about it.

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