Hog hunting at the South Carolina Wildlife management areas was an educational experience. In terms of learning processes it ranks right up there with sticking your hand in the fire to see if it is hot or hitting your thumb with a hammer. Painfully informative.
What follows is a semi humorous castigation of SC DNR and the story of an unsuccessful hunt. Usually if one of my hunts is unsuccessful I can blame it on myself for being too lazy to hunt hard. This story is not worth reading unless you actually are thinking about hunting in SC or else have totally nothing else to do for the next 20 minutes
First of all one should realize that there is something in the water in SC and one should not drink any of it while there. Whatever the substance is in the water that caused the SC governor to fly to South America to see the senorita also afflicts most of SC Department of Natural Resources. There seems to be a consistent pattern of loony behavior that they view as normal behavior. My first clue that something was amiss in their intellectual process was when I down loaded the form to mail in for a licenses and sent it in. I had carefully filled in every blank on the form and double checked it and enclosed the check of the correct amount. So a few days before leaving an envelope arrives from SCDNR which I believe contains my license. I open it to find my application form, my check and a form from them with the box checked that I ahd not included my Social Security number on my application form. I looked over the form twice and could not find any blank spaces for the SSN but I did note that I had included my telephone number and they could have called me to obtain my SSN instead of returning my application. I immediately sent them and email stating that he SC hunting season was ten months along and only two months left and that surely they knew they had a defective form on their website. They responded that yes they know and were trying to fix it. I did not bother to ask how many months they thought it would take to fix it.
I arrived in Ridgeland SC about 2 PM on Tuesday and went to the local hunting shop to buy a license. Much like SC DNR Ii was unable to buy a license because the only guy who knew how to run the computer was not there. Ii was sent across the road to the local Feed and Seed. I parked and walked toward the store entrance and a guy asked me if he could help me so I told him I needed a hunting license. He said he couldn’t do that but go inside and someone would help me. So I went inside and immediately another guy asked if he could help me. I told him I needed a hunting license and he said he did not do that but to wait and the owner would be around in a minute. So I stood there and waited and a woman asked me if she could help me so I told her I wanted a hunting license and she said she didn’t do that but that the owner would be around in a minute. Sure enough in a few minutes a guy came around to the counter with a customer he was helping. Out of four people the only guy who was actually working was the only guy who knew what to do. Finally this guy is free and begins to help me with a hunting license. He asked to see my drivers license and noticed it was a District of Columbia drivers license. Even though my address is clearly printed on it he asked me where in Maryland I lived. I told him that contrary to popular belief that there are actually regular types of [people who have homes and live inside Washington DC. This was news to him. He was a nice guy and I shouldn’t make fun of him but it is such a common reaction by people when they see my plates or drivers license. So anyway I paid my $70 for a WMA permit and $40 for a 3 day small game license which is how pigs are classified in SC.
I then drove down to the WMAs which are all adjacent to each Palachucola, Webb, and Hamilton Ridge. It is unclear to me why they have three names for what is essentially one continuous unit. Webb has a lodge which was not open and the other two have camping areas, hog cleaning facilities and walk in coolers. Of course at Hamilton Ridge there were human feces on the floor of the check in house and all over the insides of the two portta potties. Apparently the hound hunters drink a lot of water and couldn’t figure out what the hole was for in the portta pottie and if they were occupied then they just acted like they were at home and took a crap in the middle of the floor of the hog processing building. The fact that there were water faucets and hoses available did not induce the SC DNR employees to make any attempt to clean up the facilities before we arrived to hunt.
So I drove around the dirt roads and scouted for fresh hog sign and found none at Palalchucola which was a shame being as it had a nice campsite and clean facilities which should have a been a clue. I found a few places on Webb where there had been a few pigs recently and marked those on my map. At Hamilton Ridge I found good bit of sign and one place where there had been a good sized herd of hogs within the last 24 hours. So I set up my tent at the Hamilton Ridge campground despite the general lack of sanitation. The use of the word campground is used loosely as it is simply a large mowed area with two signs. One says “Camping Area” and the other is on a water faucet that says “Danger non Potable Water Do Not Drink”. The second sign was unnecessary as I had no intention of drinking the water.
Thursday morning was the first day of hunting and I got up early and fixed my coffee and cream of wheat and headed out to the field with the fresh hog sign. AS soon as it got light enough to shoot I eased into the field and began slowly moving along the field with my 460 S&W ready. After about 20 minutes I was about half way through the field and I heard two boars fighting about 200 yards away down in the palmetto swamp. I didn’t think there was much likelihood that I could move quietly enough in the swamp to get within visual range of the pigs and decided it would be better to not risk spooking them and just leave them in peace and they would come back out into the field in the evening. My mistake, the pigs had not been drinking the water and were nowhere near to being loony. I waited on those pigs for three mornings and two evenings and they never ever came out into the open during shooting hours. The only pigs killed by anyone were the four killed on the first day. One guy got one and two guys hunting together got three out of a herd they saw. So for maybe 200 hunter days of effort 4 pigs were killed over three days.
Noon on Saturday the SC DNR LE set up a hunter checking station and began giving out tickets for guns uncased and guns loaded and no hunting licenses. They did a good job of trying to fill the SC state coffers. Fortunately my pistol was down on the floor board of the passenger seat and out of sight and the rifle which was never ever uncased was obvious to the LE. The LE had never ever seen a hunter from DC before and decided to tell me how sad that I had come all this way to hunt. He said the two previous weekends the area had been open for hunting hogs with hounds and the there had been at least forty packs of hounds running for each of the three days of the two hunts. They had reported 89 hogs killed and there were probably at least as many killed by dogs in the swamps that were never recovered. He said every pig had been chased off and only a few had moved back in since the hound hunters had left.
Under the category of the grass is always greener elsewhere I met a guy who claimed to be a retired ranger. He said I should have driven on down to Ft Stewart that there were lots of pigs and the season was always open and no dogs were allowed. To his credit he pulled out topo maps and showed me which areas had the most pigs. I refrained from asking him why he had driven up to SC and bought an expensive nonresident license when he could have hunted from home at Ft Stewart. I just figured he had been drinking the water.
I met a second guy who said the best place to hunt pigs was down the road at the Savannah Wild Life Refuge. He said it was free and had a really nice campground and no dogs were allowed. And best of all there were lots of pigs there. He even gave me a brochure for registering to hunt there. I once again refrained from asking him why he was at Hamilton Ridge when he could have been down at Savannah killing pigs.
I have used the term WMA several times and in most states is means Wildlife Management Area however once you cross into South Carolina it means Tree Farm. Apparently, there is some kind of animosity by DNR toward oak trees and acorns and every time they find one growing on their land they cut it down and replace it with rows and rows of pine trees. This appears to be a method of reducing the amount of wildlife by reducing their food sources and then the hunters do not have to works so hard to reduce the animals populations because DNR has already done that by staving them to death. Any animals that are left are then burned to death every two or three years by the SC DNR controlled burns.
I might go back down again in May for the next three day hunt. There will be no more hound dog hunts before then and maybe there will be some pigs to hunt. I suspect I will also run on down to Savannah Wildlife Refuge and give it a try and maybe go on over to Ft Stewart. It all depends on how much time I have on my hands. I might try Ft Stewart in July being as I will be down in that general area then anyway.
After having run a state agency for fish and environmental quality for a quarter of a century and having hunted many different states, I can only say that SC DNR is simply not anywhere near the top of my list of DNRs.
A word about gun selection. The average range of a shot will be about 50 yards or less and there will be a serious issue if the animal does not fall quickly. Tracking through pine straw or wet swamp will not be very easy. Large caliber, short barrel, low magnification seems to be called for. Perhaps the best choice might be a 20 ga auto with a red dot sight. I hunted with the 460 S&W with open sights zeroed at 100 yards.
Here are some pictures of my tent and the campground and pig cleaning building.