In California, and across many American states, we have have a wild pig epidemic. When domestic pigs and Eurasian boar were introduced to California they escaped, bred, and roam the land foraging and wrecking ecological damage. We now find evidence of them all over California.
Wild pig are highly nocturnal in areas with hunting pressure, and California does not allow hunting at night unless you have a depredation permit, meaning that it’s possible to spend your whole life exploring California public lands and never see a wild pig.
Below is some information and tips for identifying wild pig tracks and sign with more ease on your hunting or scouting trips.
Wild pigs have a split hooves very similar to a deer, because of that it can be hard to tell the difference.
- On a wild pig there are two digits that reliably mark on the ground.
- The hoof print of a wild pig will appear round when compared to a deer.
- The track may appear more splayed, or spread out on certain genetic variations of wild pig or depending on substrate.
- Usually, the tip of the hoof print on a wild pig will not be as sharp as that of a deer.
Track size can fluctuate immensely depending on the genetic mix of the pig herd as well as sexual dimorphism and age.
- The two hooves can vary from 1/2 inch to five inches long.
- The dew claws of a wild pig are very low on the foot and will easily mark the ground when the ground is soft, wet, deep or when the animal is moving quickly.
- The dew claws of a wild pig will mark outside and behind the front hooves in the print, while on a deer the dew claw almost always falls right behind the leading two digits, and not outside.
Pig scat can range from:
- clumps the size of grapes to the size of apricots and cylinders in the same range.
- Find pig scat sparsely along trails or in groups with others in fields and clearings.
Wild pigs have the need to wallow, or roll around in the mud. They do this to cool off in hot conditions, protect themselves from insects, and to clean themselves off. Finding a pig wallow is a very good sign and should be remembered.
- Look in wet muddy places and you can often find a bowl shaped spot that looks as though it has been rubbed smooth.
- A fresh wallow should have clear marking of hair, and possibly strands of hair rubbed into the mud.
- Wild pig are smelly animals, you can often find them and their wallows by scent alone. The stronger the scent the fresher the wallow.
- Wallows can often be found near water sources or where pigs feel comfortable enough to drop their guard.
- Dry wallows can also be used by pigs for similar reasons, although not as frequently. Look for bowl shaped rub spots in the dirt.
Wild pigs will use trees, rocks, and the ground as a scratching posts and as a scent marker. They also use trees to sharpen their tusks and mark their territory. Deer will do a very similar thing by rubbing their antlers on trees. The two can look similar, although deer are much taller and therefore will often mark higher on the tree. If you do find a rub site, look closely for hair that has been left behind by the rubbing action of the pig.
One of the ways that wild pigs forage for food is by rooting, or digging in the ground for food. Pigs root to eat insects, invertebrates, plant roots (tubers), and buried seeds. Wild pig rooting has a huge ecological impact that can be seen for years after. Rooting can vary in scale from entire fields that have been dug up to small patches of grass that have been disturbed. In order for pigs to root, the ground has to be soft and moist. Look for fresh rooting after rains and in the wetter parts of the season. Keeping track of seasonal conditions and plant growth cycles can help you determine where pigs will be rooting.
All animals sleep at some point. We can find evidence of where they slept if we can get to it. For the most part, wild pigs like to sleep in very dense cover for protection from predators and the elements. Sometimes these bed spots are too deep in the brush to access with any relative ease. Bedding spots for wild pigs will depend on a few different factors. If it is hot pigs will try to find somewhere cool to sleep – this could be a shade spot, a wetter spot, or a depression that traps cool air. Look for lay spots on northern facing hills or slopes in hotter months, they will offer more shade. During colder times of the year wild pigs will seek out warmth to sleep in. This might require a spot in the sun, which also may mean a more open visible location where the sun can pass through the canopy of the trees. Look on the southern side of hills for spots that have more sun during the day. As with any bedding site for animals, the most important factor is safety from predators. Ultimately pigs will bed where they feel comfortable, requiring a combination of factors.
Trails and punches
After an animal walks one area continuously it will make a trail. Animals use trails like humans use highways. Trails offer easy and familiar access to all parts of the landscape. Look for game trails that seem to be traveled frequently. The larger and more beaten the path, the more it has been used by game. Finding a fork in the trail or an intersection of trails that meet at one spot is called a junction. This is a great place to find which trail is the freshest, or a nice spot to sit and wait for something to pass by.
When a trail meets a scrub line or thick brush cover it creates a punch, or an opening in the brush made by the animal walking though it. Pig will make punches in very dense brush that are easy to see and can be numerous in some areas. The size of the punch is determined by the size of the animal. Animals use game trails of the landscape interchangeably and they can last for years, so look closely for recent sign.