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Speaking Swine: How to Understand Hog Body Language

Wild boars have their own sign language, and having a good grasp of it can make you a better, smarter hog hunter.

Speaking Swine: How to Understand Hog Body Language

One aspect of hog hunting that is often overlooked is becoming fluent in understanding hog body language. By being able to decipher what a pig’s body is articulating, you can have more opportunities at boars. (Photo by Miroslav Hlavko)

It’s no secret that hogs’ mannerisms and vocalizations can be complex. They can seem very intelligent at times, and other times you wonder why they are not extinct! They can be very territorial, aggressive and even emotional at times.

You might ask, “What does this have to do with hog hunting?” I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out their vocabulary and tinkering with their genetics in my study pens, that I didn’t notice much of the body language associated with their vocalizations and mannerisms. It wasn’t until many years later, when I started experimenting with night vision and thermal optics, that I started paying attention to some of their body language. And only after I learned their vocabulary and implemented calling into my hunt strategy did I really notice how important understanding body language is while calling hogs.

Understanding pig body language can help in your decision making while calling. It also can help you develop the perfect strategy for a successful stalk with thermal optics at night, or while daytime stalking.

BODY LANGUAGE AND CALLING

When hogs respond to calling, they generally do so in an aggressive manner. And the sows are very vocal. A responding boar is usually quiet and aggressive, looking for breeding opportunities or a fight for breeding rights. He will often stop to scent mark in various ways while doing this. Maybe he’ll kneel down and rub his head from side to side, then he’ll shake like a wet dog. This is called Metacarpal Scent Marking, and the “wet dog” shake disperses pheromones into the air via saliva.

Another scent marking gesture comes from a pig touching small weeds, trees or overhanging branches with their tusks (tusk gland) or eye (pre orbital gland), leaving scent for other hogs to know they were there. Sows generally come “bouncing” in fast and loud, acting very aggressive in a maternal protection mode. Some hogs respond out of curiosity and are usually very cautious and deliberate in their approach. For hunters, the key is to watch for a shot opportunity or for any sudden change in their demeanor that could signal, “get the heck out of dodge.”

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A boar hog releasing his pheromones through his saliva. A boar may do this when responding to your calling, and he could be looking for breeding or fighting opportunities. (Photo courtesy of Glenn Guess)

Once a sow or group of hogs is in range, simply stopping the calling will get them to stop for a shot opportunity. During this time, watching for signs of alarm is very important! If approaching hogs suddenly stop—head held high and snout in the air—there is a likelihood they have either seen something or scented something they don’t like. Now is the time to shoot, as most likely they are about to head for cover.

However, if a good shot hasn’t presented itself, be patient. Fleeing hogs will commonly stop if they aren’t quite sure what they saw or caught the scent of. And quite often they’ll settle back down once they’re out of your scent cone. This is not an absolute, but a possibility. As a rule of thumb, if you get a good shot opportunity you should take it.

STALKING BODY LANGUAGE

Many nighttime hog hunters look for hogs through a handheld thermal optic. Once hogs are located, there are the normal considerations, like how to get close enough for a shot while keeping wind direction in mind. A hog’s nose is his greatest defense, and it’s impossible to beat without proper wind direction.

Strategy is very important, and in my early days of night hunting, I often only considered wind direction—body language was of little consequence. For this reason, I was often frustrated at not being able to get close enough for a shot. I would often spot a lone boar, and he would move as if he was trying to stay just out of range.

hog-body-language-2
A boar posturing toward another boar. The author says that this gesture could either be all show or the beginning of a boar battle. (Photo courtesy of Glenn Guess)

More times than I like to admit, I would spot a group of hogs and it was as if they knew I was there; and they would move quickly away from me as I tried to get closer. They usually didn’t know I was around; it was simply coincidence. Understanding hog body language can rectify much of the guess work, and it can help you determine the best approach.

If I am hunting and spot hogs out of range, wind direction is always my first concern. My next concern is what the hog or hogs are doing, and body language can give me the answers I need.

If it is a lone hog, there is a high probability it is a boar. What is that boar doing? If he has his head down, only lifting it occasionally, it is likely he is rooting in one location. If he has his head down, lifting it occasionally and either turning slightly or changing direction before placing his head down again, he is grazing. In either of the scenarios, the stalk should be easy.

Recommended


hog-body-language-rooting
A lone boar rooting the ground. Rooting is a telltale sign of hog activity in an area. (Photo courtesy of Glenn Guess)

Keeping wind direction in mind, I either want the wind in my face or a good cross wind, blowing away from the hogs. If the hog is simply raising his head and putting it back down, all is good, continue. If the hog raises his head with his nose held high for several seconds, I’ll stop and wait for him to relax and put his head back down. If he repeats the action and turns slightly in my direction or steps backwards, it is time to take the shot. Chances are he knows something is amiss, and he will often quickly leave.

If you spot a lone boar and he is constantly moving, similar to a hound on a trail, he is what I call a cruiser. And he is following the scent of other hogs. These hogs can be difficult to close the distance on, and they often stop and start at a pretty steady pace.

If there is any way to get out in front of these cruiser boars and let them come to you, that is the best bet. Knowing where the main trails are in the pastures is key to predicting where he is going. These trails can be found by looking at aerial imagery or by walking fence rows days or weeks before hunting these areas, making mental notes or using a GPS to mark the trails. Trails that continue through fence lines are often used by hogs even if other game created them. The wind direction is critical in this situation. If you can’t get the wind in your favor, forget it and look for other hogs. It is very unlikely you will beat a boar’s nose!

hog-body-language-stalk
When stalking hogs, it’s important to always remain shot-ready. Even when a stalk seems to be going well, there’s always a possibility that you could be spotted, smelled or heard. (Photo courtesy of Glenn Guess)

Often times, you will spot four or five hogs all the same size and milling about. These are usually young bachelor groups. If you watch them closely for a bit, you will see them play or square off for a jousting match. Young boars are constantly struggling for top position or sparring for the big battle sure to come. Both young and old boars will often posture with a sideways gait, hackles up and heads held high. Sometimes this is just for show, and sometimes the battle begins!

In either case, if this activity is going on, you know they are boars and they can be stalked for the shot without much caution, except for minding the wind. I’ve also seen young bachelor groups grazing at a steady pace, almost like they are on a mission to get somewhere unbeknownst to us. Large sounders will do this, too. In either case, you have to use the same tactic as with the cruiser boars—you have to get ahead of them and let them come to you. These hogs will have their heads up, down and be shuffling constantly in one direction. They are often just grazing, hurriedly on their way to another food source.

GROUP BODY LANGUAGE

Large sounders are my favorite to watch. Generally, nearly every age group is represented, as are both sexes. Many times, these big sounders are simply scattered about, and each hog does his or her own thing. Some will be rooting, some grazing, some playing, some sparing, some fighting and mating rituals will be mixed in.

Mature sows will be protective of the very young and often chase other sows or young boars away from their piglets. This is especially true if there are several different family units mixed together. Sows with young piglets will try to keep big boars away, too. They will posture and make a “roaring” sound, for lack of a better explanation. This means “stay away.”

They will also tuck their head very low and run backwards in a circular motion. This is meant to intimidate other hogs and alerts their piglets to form a “huddle.” If they are near the nesting sites, the piglets will flee to the safety of their nest when she does this, or if she makes a warning “growl.”

In these groups, young boars are constantly sparring or engaging in a game of chase with lots of squealing and chaos. If there is a sow approaching estrous or in estrous, older boars will guard her, usually resting the snout on her hips and making a growling or whoofing sound mixed with spitting sounds, like a strutting gobbler. This is a warning to other boars meaning “she’s mine.” Of course, there will be lots of fighting around estrous sows. The mature boars want to keep the “teenage” boars (12 to 16 months old) away from the sows.

hog-body-language-fence
Finding and understanding hog trails and travel routes on your property is a great way to hunt hogs on the move. This can be beneficial when trying to predict where a sounder is traveling to. (Photo courtesy of Glenn Guess)

Old mature boars will posture and chase away these young boars, and they will often squeal in fear. When the intruder is another mature boar, they will both posture, head high, bristled and hackle with a sideways gait. They will often meet face to face and sling their heads sideways for contact. Or they’ll try to cut one another with their sharp tusks.

Things are so chaotic with these groups that, if the wind is right, it is quite easy to sneak in undetected. However, don’t overlook the big, mature, “alpha” sows, or her counterparts, “guardian” sows. There may seem to be total chaos among the group, but I assure you these sows can distinguish hog movement from human or predator movement!

These sows will often lift their heads high to listen or smell the air for a second or two and then go back to what they were doing. If they hesitate for longer than that second or two, shift backwards or sidestep, you better be ready to pick a hog and shoot! The game is about to change as soon as she sounds the alarm, which is a loud growl (like a deep, drawn-out grunt), followed by harsh blowing sounds.

IN CONCLUSION

My observations have been made over a 30-year span of night hunting, stalking during the day, utilizing calls to bring the hogs in and watching and interacting with hogs in the wild and in my study pens. Nothing is absolute and there can always be variables. While hunting, slowing down and taking yourself out of the instant gratification caused by looking for the kill can sometimes help you be more successful on future hunts. Simply by observing what the hogs are doing and making mental notes of it can help you become a more knowledgeable hog hunter.




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