The start of the cold and wet season is upon us here in California, so without the unbearable heat and ticks, now was the perfect time to visit Laguna Mountain Recreation Area. Laguna is known for being a hot spot for wild pig and according to the CDFW tag return map, San Benito County has historically done well. There is a good sized reservoir to the northeast across Coalinga Road with creeks and springs that are scattered through the area. With that amount of water surrounded by agricultural area, it seems like a prime spot to find those elusive California boar.
The recreation area is easy to find but relatively remote – you drive along Coalinga Road until you see signs for the campground entrance. Laguna Mountain has three staging areas/campgrounds: Short Fence, Sweetwater, and Laguna Mountain. Both Laguna and Sweetwater have campgrounds, Short Fence is a parking lot only. Laguna is one of many BLM holdings along Coalinga Rd. and the surrounding area.
Logistics and regs
There are five campsites, one bathroom and no running water, so pack it in. A small info stand at the beginning of the main trail head will offer a brief history and story of the park, as well as maps (do not rely on for accuracy, trust us!) and points of interest. Off site camping is okay, but you will need a fire permit for off site fires. There is one primitive camp on the map. The area is lead-free.
To my surprise I pulled into the campground and it was nearly full – the long drive and lack of amenities lead me to think it would be relatively abandoned. After finding my bearings, I ran into a guy who was stuck out there with a dead car battery. After I helped him with a jump, we quickly took his site and set up camp.
Terrain and wildlife
I set out on Monday midday down the trail to the gorge. Most of the area on the east side of the park is very steep and dense with chaparral. Straight out the gate I knew there were pigs here, and big ones at that. The trail was littered with tracks of pigs moving down the trail and crossing through the brush. The chaparral is home to pig highways, endless pig sized trails they use to move undercover. A mile or so down the trail brings you over the ridge and down to the bottom of a valley, where you can find a dry creek bed.
Although the area is dry its home to a very healthy population of animals moving through the area. Year round springs come out of the mountain, hence the name Laguna which is Spanish for “lagoon.” In the dry creek bed I found sign of tule elk, mountain lion, coyote, wild pig, and deer, to name a few.
The sign was diverse, from days to weeks old. I kept moving along the creek bed knowing that it would show me what was here before me. On my way I found more old sign from the above mentioned, as well as a few a coveys of quail and human tracks. The creek eventually leads into private land, where an uphill bushwhack is necessary to stay on public land.
After a well deserved water break I decided to find a spot on the hillside to glass the valley for movement. I chose a spot overlooking the outlet of the dry creek bed and the ridge line near the private land. With the sun over the hill and shooting time up I walked back to camp to plan for the next day.
Tuesday morning started well before the sun, I hit the trail headed towards the top of the mountain. The summit trail is very similar to the gorge trail, only headed up. About an hour before shooting time I stopped at a small clearing with a large game trail junction to watch for pigs. This sit was interrupted a half an hour later by another hunter walking into my bling spot. I reluctantly show my self in the hopes of not being mistaken for a pig. I would run into the same hunter again a few hours later walking up the summit trail as I glass from a nearby hill, leading me to question the hunting pressure of the area.
I set out to find a more distant location. A few miles of dense brush and steep grade with very little sign and visibility will bring you to a plateau. The plateau is small but not as densely covered as the rest of the area. From the ridge line you have a very nice vantage point overlooking it, where you can see openings in the brush that expose game trails.
I continued up the steep grade of the mountain. I started seeing more sign the further in I went, and game trails zigzagged back and forth across the main trail. Scat and tracks from little piglets to massive boar, rooting lay spots, and openings in the chaparral that led to meadows filled with the distant smell of wild pig. The trail brings you along the east side of the area, right along the private land boundaries – they are very close and not well marked so a map and compass is key.
I did not make it to the summit that day. It was not because of the extremely steep grade but more for the divergent path I chose to take weaving in and out of the brush as I followed game trails.
This adventure did lead me to a few open meadows hidden in the thick brush where the visibility opened up as well as a natural spring with a good flow of water. I chose to make stand on a hill overlooking a large meadow that looked to be in between a natural pond on private land and the summit of the mountain. I watched the meadow for about four hours until the sun when down and didn’t see a thing. After it was too dark to see it was time to move back to camp. Fortunately I was able to find my way back though the maze of trails that lead me to my previous stand, down the path and back to the campground.
The Laguna Mountain trip did not end with a pig in the bag. It did, however, show me a spot that is worth visiting again. Signs of elk, mountain lion, deer, and pig shows me this area is well visited by game. Year round water sources show this area could hold game at anytime of the year. Gauging pig prints, there are quite a few big boys. Steep rough trails and dense brush make this a tough place to hunt, but if you’re there at the right time it could pay off big.