Mountain Bound Guide Service
Economical Hog and Turkey Hunting in Sonoma County
The lion stops, briefly, then disappears over the ridge with a flick of his black-tipped tail. He looks like a good, full-grown cat. It's only the second one I've ever seen in the wild, and I can't believe how close we were. The steady drizzle, dripping through the trees, muffled our steps allowing us to get within 50 or 60 yards of the wary animal.
I'm in the Sonoma County hills, bowhunting for wild hogs with a guide named Mike Patt. He runs a fairly small operation, hunting hogs and turkeys on approximately 1000 acres not too far from Healdsburg.
We hit the trails on a rainy Friday afternoon, and immediately locate fresh rooting and tracks. My spirits rise, despite the depressing weather. It had rained steadily for the entire two hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area, and I was half-afraid the hunt would be cancelled when I arrived. Fortunately, Mike is as hard-core as I am, and he was ready to roll as soon as we met up with our third party member, Matt.
Mike has been hunting big game for most of his life, but started guiding other hunters about three years ago. I asked him how he got involved in guiding. He explained that he had several motivators, one of which includes the 4-H archery class he teaches. The class was using old, worn-out equipment and he needed a way to finance newer stuff. He had access to an excellent turkey property, and after some thought, decided that guiding hunters on the property would be as good a way to raise some money as any. He started taking clients out for turkeys, using a portion of the proceeds to outfit his 4-H class. With the numbers of hogs on the property increasing, he recently decided to add hog hunts to his menu.
The hog hunts are archery-only. Mike explains that this is mainly due to the relatively small size of the property he hunts. "One rifle shot, and the hogs will disappear," he says.
The hogs don't have a major food source on the property. Of course there's plenty of oaks and such, but no farm crops such as barley. However, there is water and good bedding cover with food in the nearby vineyards. The pigs are real sensitive to pressure this close to bedding areas, so a lot of gunfire is generally not a good idea. With the brushy, hilly terrain, it's reasonable to expect good opportunities with archery equipment, so archery is the most logical approach.
I'm new to bowhunting, and was eager to try my luck on hogs when I first heard about Mike. After a couple of emails and a phone conversation, I quickly decided he was "good people", and someone I'd trust to lead a hunt. In person, he's even more down-to-earth, and a lot of fun just to talk with. But in the woods, there's less talking and more hunting... an approach that suits me fine.
We cover a lot of ground on this hunt. The rain has made the ground slick, but quiet, so we can move fairly quickly without making much noise. We begin the trek by splitting up, sending Matt up onto a ridge while Mike and I work along a fenceline. The plan is to meet up on top of a hogsback about a quarter of a mile distant.
As we start along the trail, I spot a very fresh set of tracks following the fence. The pig had other things on its mind, though, and eventually the tracks cut under the fence onto another property.
We ease through the woods toward our rendezvous with Matt and Mike points out areas where he or his clients have taken hogs. I'm amazed at how perfect the area looks. If I were a hog, this is where I'd be. Unfortunately, the hogs aren't thinking like me today, and we reach the summit and meet up with Matt without seeing anything.
The rest of the day proceeds with a similar pattern. Matt or I will split off in one direction while Mike takes the other one through more likely country. We meet up at various landmarks, then plan the next push. In this way we cover the majority of the available property. Fresh sign, tracks, scat... it's all there. Unfortunately, the hogs aren't cooperating.
We make a final push as dusk is falling, and then head back to the trucks. Matt finds fresh tracks in his footsteps from earlier, but the hog that made them has performed a disappearing act. Another fresh set of tracks teases us as we are leaving the field. By all appearances, we pushed this hog just ahead of us as we were leaving. Oh well, that's why they call it hunting, right?
Mike charges $250 a day, per hunter for either turkeys or hogs. You may use a shotgun for turkeys, but as I said earlier, only archery tackle is allowed for hog hunters. Mike is happy to guide archery hunters for turkeys as well, if that's your bent. There are no trophy fees or additional charges, and Mike will take care of your animal for you if you prefer. He will even get it to a processor in Healdsburg for you. Processing, of course, is at your own expense.
Be aware that this is not the kind of hunt where you will drive around with the spotting scope sticking out the window. As a result, you may not see dozens of hogs in a single day like you might with one of the big central coast outfitters. But considering that the cost is practically half of what those outfitters charge, it seems more than fair. While our hunt was uneventful, it's not due to a lack of hogs on the property. There was hardly a hillside that wasn't scarred with fresh rooting, and almost every game trail had recent tracks pressed into the mud.
Also plan on covering a lot of ground on foot. While Mike was very open to letting us take a stand instead of still-hunting, the place lends itself to someone who likes to move around. There are no roads, and Mike doesn't use ATVs. He explained that his insurance coverage would practically double if he used ATVs or pack animals. Most of the hills and canyons can be a little steep, but there are good trails along the ridge, and very few climbs cover more than 500 vertical feet. While you should be in reasonable physical condition to hunt here, it isn't a Colorado elk hunt.
While today's hog hunt didn't result in trophy boars for Matt or myself, Mike describes the turkey hunting at this property as "phenomenal". I can believe it too, with the vineyards dotting almost every adjacent hillside. I may have to come back out in March, just to see if it's as good as it sounds.
Later, over beer and burgers at a Healdsburg pub, Mike is very apologetic about not putting us on hogs today. Seldom does he hunt here without at least spotting a pig. In fact, this is one of his main concerns about guiding hog hunters. "A lot of guys expect to get a pig if they pay a guide," he says. "I feel bad taking their money if they don't."
I assure him that the hunt was a success, even without killing game. Besides, it is possible to hunt with one of those well-known guide services down in the central coast, and still come home empty handed. Not many reputable, fair-chase hunting operations can offer 100% success. We saw tons of sign in some awesome country, and the possibility was very real that we would see hogs at any moment. At no point during the afternoon did I feel like I was not hunting.
And then, we got to see the mountain lion.
I know I'll be back, and I'd recommend Mike to anyone else looking for a reasonably priced hog hunt.
You can contact Mike by email at MountnBnd@aol.com. He prefers to use email at this point, although once you have made contact he will share a phone number for further contact.
If you go:
Remember that hogs are tough animals. You'll want a bow with plenty of power, probably no less than 50-55 pounds draw. You'll also want broadheads that provide excellent penetration with sharp blades. Pigs can be hard to blood-trail, since the thick layers of fat on their bodies tend to close off blood channels. The vitals on a hog are also further forward and lower in the body than most deer hunters are familiar with. The ideal shot is slightly quartering away, allowing for the arrow to slip behind the shoulder cartilage and into the lungs and heart.
Hold out for an optimal shot, and make it count.
Mike has a camping area at the property if you want to rough it on your hunt. You may also choose to stay in a hotel in Healdsburg, which is only about fifteen minutes away. Healdsburg offers a taste of Sonoma County wine country, with excellent restaurants and boutique shopping for non-hunting members of your party.
By Phillip Loughlin