Wild Hogs of Oaky Woods

Oaky Woods is home to a large population of wild boar, but the wild boar in Oaky Woods WMA are special! Whereas all other wild hogs in Georgia originated as domestic stock gone wild , or" feral", the wild hogs in Oaky Woods have true Russian Boar bloodlines due to a stocking of this true wild strain back in 1977 by Bobby Tuggle of Perry. These orginal Russian Boar have since interbred with the existing feral wild hogs, but the Wild Russian traits, (golden hairs around the mouth,smaller front shoulder, larger rear hams, taller thick black main hairs, bigger tusks) are still visible today. Hunters from all over the United States come to Houston County to hunt these unique sporting trophies. The following story, which originally appeared in the February 1988 edition of Georgia Sportsman Magazine, provides insight to the wild boar population in Oaky Woods and the surrounding area.

Wild Russian Boars of Oaky Woods with Bobby Tuggle

by John Trussell
originally published in the February 1988 edition of Georgia Sportsman magazine

Wild boar are fierce creatures with sharp tusks that must be avoided! This 250lb boar was caught in a trap on property bordering Oaky Woods. (photo by John Trussell)
It seems that it was almost Bobby Tuggle's destiny to become known as the "wild hog man of Middle Georgia." As a young man, this Perry, GA resident learned that his family coat of arms was emblazoned with the symbol of a wild boar. Later, while stationed in Fontainebleau, France, during the late 1950s, Tuggle (pronounced "t-uh-gle") became fascinated with wild boar hunting as it was practiced in Europe. He remembers "vast forests populated with wild boars and red stags which were hunted on horseback by royalty and the well-to-do."

"I was just a poor soldier and all I could do was watch and admire from a distance," he remembers. "But it was still quite a great sight to see the hunters all dressed in their red coats and blowing their hunting horns as they chased large, magnificent looking wild boars through the forest. Once the boars were bayed, they were dispatch with long spears."

So while he watched and learned about European wild boar hunting from those that had practiced the sport for centuries, he swore to himself that someday, somewhere, he would eventually have the opportunity to hunt wild Russian boars. Many years later Tuggle leased a large tract of land just south of the Oaky Woods Wildlife Managment Area (WMA) in Houston County and began an earnest search to locate wild boars to stock on the property. He finally found a pure strain of Russian wild boar in Ohio and traveled there to purchase nine Russian pigs from a dealer in exotic game. Two of these were boars; the balance were sows and gilts. Tuggle was very careful to observe all laws dealing with the interstate transport of the animals and kept them to breed in a yard pen on his leased property. Two years later, in 1977, he released 22 pigs into the surrounding forest and those pigs interbred with a small feral hog population (domestic pigs gone wild) which already existed in the area.

Since that time, the pigs have prospered and spread into other Middle Georgia areas, both naturally and at the hand of Tuggle and other wild pig enthusiasts.

Tuggle characterizes the Russian boar as a fierce game animal and a strong breeder. "They seem to more readily breed than feral hogs and now 10 years after the initial stocking, Middle Georgia probably has as many wild hogs as any other section of the country," says Tuggle. He estimates that 80 percent of the hogs he hunts today are predominately wild pigs. "I don't care anything about hunting a spotted feral pig. It's not sporting. But a wild Russian is another matter completely. You never know what to expect when hunting a wild pig. They are tremendously strong animals with huge shoulders, smaller hams and a large snout. They are swift runners, nearly as quick as a deer and regarded as one of the more intelligent wild animals. Although their sight and hearing is only average, their sense of smell is very good."

According to Tuggle, the Russian pigs are born striped like chipmunks "for protection in the wild." "Feral piglets are solid colored or spotted," he adds. But after a few months they (the Russian pigs) lose their stripes and become dark red. Then as they get older, they turn black or russet colored with gold or silver accent hairs protruding from their chins, jowls and underside, although these hairs may be visible on other parts of the body."

Tuggle, who has lived in Perry almost all his life, is an independent insurance salesman and (after working hours) an avid sportsman who primarily pursues wild hogs. His constant hunting companion is his son, Rob. Tuggle is a member of several hunting clubs and through friends, neighbors and farmers, he has accumulated access to thousands of acres of prime Middle Georgia wild hog habitat. Often landowners are glad to let Tuggle hog hunt on their property because the pigs damage crops and compete with deer fore available food. "A group of wild pigs can do considerable damage to crops like corn, peanuts or watermelons in a very short time," says Tuggle. "If not checked quickly they can wipe out a crop in a few days or weeks, depending on the size of the field."

The hogs hit at night, but Tuggle tracks them down with dogs during the day. Beginning in January after the deer season is over, Tuggle begins his wild hog season. "We don't want to interfere with the deer hunters and then also you have the woods nearly to yourself."

Tuggle usually meets his statewide circle of hog hunting friends at an all-night restaurant before daylight to organize the day's hunt. He is careful to limit both the number of hunters and dogs in the hunt because too many of either can make the hunt unmanageable. Usually the hunt is planned over breakfast and lots of hot coffee to insulate against the normally cold winter air that awaits the hunters. After receiving a number of strange looks from Interstate 75 travelers who don't know what to think about a large group of hunters in a restaurant at 5 a.m. and a parking lot full of restless dogs, the hunters load up their caravan of off-road vehicles and head to the predetermined destination.

That site can be thick woods, swampland, fields or a combination of all. Tuggle recommends that his friends and gusts come prepared for anything from swimming a creek or swamp to running a marathon with the dogs through some of the roughest territory imaginable; most of the time, his predictions come true. "If you're faint-hearted, wild hog hunting is not for you," says Tuggle.

"Part of the fascination of wild hog hunting is you never know what to expect" he continues, "both from the land you're on and the animal you're hunting. The European wild boar is a totally wild animal and unpredictable. They even look almost prehistoric in the forest. When they get mad, the hairs on their backs stand up and they flare and pop their tusks at you. They can be scare and dangerous. There is nothing else like them in our woods. A wild boar can rip open a dog or a man in a second, so great care must be taken while hunting them."

The dogs usually are released in the vicinity of fresh sign, but if none is found the hunters lead the dogs into areas the wild hogs may be frequenting, such as the edges of fields, creek bottoms, swamp perimeters or islands in swampy areas. Wild pigs often "hole up" in the thickest cover they can find, and once a dog smells the scent, it barks quietly and pursues the trail. The pig or group of pigs may be found in 50 yard or 5 miles; the hunters and dogs will stick with the fresh scent until the pigs are found.

Of course, the dogs don't wait for the hunters, so fast running on the part of the latter is the only way to keep up with the dogs. Once the dogs finally catch up with a pig they gang up and hold it until the hunters arrive. "Hopefully that's real soon or the pig will break loose or even worse. If it's a large wild boar with tusks, he can injure or kill the dogs," says Tuggle. The object is only to kill trophy wild boars which would be suitable for mounting. Smaller gilts, sows or small boars are wrestled down by the hunters and hog tied. Then, they are often released at the site, or another location where their presence is desired, kept to breed with other wild pigs.

"It takes a sure and quick hand to wrestle down a fighting mad wild pig and it's got to be done as rapidly as possible. It takes skill and experience to do it right, with safety always foremost in mind. And it usually helps if the dogs keep the pig distracted."

Tuggle and his hunting friends have caught approximately 150 wild pigs in the last four years, of which only about 30 were killed. He rates pigs over 250 pounds with good Russian characteristics as trophy animals. Pigs in this weight class have to be dispatched as quickly as possible to avoid injury to the dogs or hunters.

Despite the inherent risks of wild pig hunting, Tuggle says he has never felt in any real danger, although his son and some other hunters have on occasion climbed trees to avoid charging pigs.

Tuggle recalls one recent occasion when a hunter didn't have time to climb a tree. "A friend who had never hunted wild hogs came down from Atlanta and we went out hunting that morning. The dogs latched onto a large pig and the fight ended up in a creek where the pig threw off and defeated the dogs. The pig quickly swam back onto dry land and charged at my friend. Acting instinctively he fire his .357 magnum (which he later said seemed very small at the time) at the pig as quickly as he could pull the trigger. I don't believe I've ever heard anyone shoot a revolver faster than he did that day. Anyway, he hit the pig three times and it collapsed right at his feet. He was shaken by the incident and said 'Mr. Tuggle, you never told me that these pigs would get me!'"

But it's that excitement that thrills Tuggle and his circle of hog hunters.

"Dogs are the key to this kind of hunting," Tuggle says. "They do most of the work and run the greatest risk of injury. Our vet bill this year alone is over $1,600, but we take good care of the dogs. Their job is to trakc and catch the wild pig by clamping down and holding on until the hunter arrives.

"Personally, I like the Catahoula breed, originating in France but bred in Louisiana for centuries for catching hogs. They're fairly strong, big and bark very little. It's important to have a silent tracking dog because if the pigs hear the dogs coming, they'll run off and you may have to chase them miles to catch 'em. The elk hound is another excellent breed that we use. Certain mixed breed dogs, such as bird dog and pit bull crosses, make good hog dogs because you wind up with the characteristics of the bird dog's scent abilities and the bulldog's tenacity. Other mixed breed canines may also make excellent hog dogs. Ability is what counts, not pedigree!"

As for the appropriate firearm for hog hunting, Tuggle feels that although deer class rifles would be good choices, they also are burdensome to carry the distances required for this type of hunting. He prefers to carry his .357 magnum Smith and Wesson (model 28 highway patrolman revolver) in a shoulder holster; his son, Rob, prefers a Ruger Blackhawk in .41 magnum caliber. The .44 magnum is another popular choice selected by Tuggle's hunting cronies.

"Powerful revolvers are adequate to get the job done," Tuggle feels, "and they are light and portable. In addition, when it's in the shoulder holster it leaves his hands free to handle the pig as necessary."

Tuggle's heard the arguments about an old wild boar being about as good to eat as an old leather shoe, but he disagrees. "Of course pigs in the 80 – to 110-pound class usually provide excellent eating because it's young, tender meat but old boards usually are good too. If the pig is in poor condition, run down and skinny, it may be fit only for sausage or barbecue. But if the old boar's been eating well and has a good layer of body fat, you can pretty well be that he'll (taste) fine."

Tuggle also contends that wild pigs are quickly becoming one of Georgia's most popular big game animals. He says he has spoken with many hunters who would prefer to shoot a wild pig over a whitetail. "Wild pigs are often referred to as Georgia's other pig game and there's a lot of interest in hunting them. Their range is spreading. They can be hunted year-round and they provide outstanding sport."

While the "wild hog man of Middle Georgia" is enthusiastic about the status and future of the wild pig in Georgia, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has no concentrated interest in them. (The DNR considers them non-game animals, property of the landowner.) Ken Grahl, wildlife biologist for the Middle Georgia region, speculated that the drainage systems of the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers in Middle Georgia might have a wild pig population of 10 per square mile. But he said his figure was only a guess. According to Grahl, several of the region's WMAs, including Oaky Woods, Ocmulgee, Beaver Dam, Horse Creek, Muskhogean and Chiasawhatchee have "decent" wild hog populations. But populations also exist in South Georgia, especially in the vicinity of the coast and also in the North Georgia mountains. Tuggle believes that the state may take more interest in wild hogs if hunter interest continues to grow, y et still feels that wild pigs should keep their current classification as non-game animals.

Tuggle is sold on the merits of wild hog hunting and every chance he gets he's loading up the dogs to hit the woods in pursuit of that "ol' big boar that would make you quiver in your boots." His largest wild pig to date weighed 500 pounds and was taken in Pulaski County. He's hoping that enormous tusker has a big brother still wandering the forests of Middle Georgia.

That hope belies the outward appearance of Tuggle. He is a quiet, intelligent, unassuming person and doesn't appear to fit the mold of a rough and ready hog hunter. Yet underneath the quiet demeanor is a tough individualist who relishes the challenges of the sport. From the comfort of his insurance office, he carries out the tasks of his civilized job; but the bear rug and mounted trophies of wild boars, whitetails and ducks and that glimmer in his eye hint that he'd rather be in another time and another place.

But if Bobby Tuggle can't be in Europe chasing wild boars on horseback, the beautiful outdoors and wild boars of Middle Georgia will do just fine.