Emery should know. In his years as a hog hunter, he's seen hogs do a lot of well, WILD things, including tree every hunter in a party until one of the dogs could get a handle on the boar and direct his attention elsewhere.
January is a busy month for Emery. Not only does he usually have his hands full with his tree-service business from winter storms, he also gets a lot of calls from customers and acquaintances to help with another problem.
"I get a lot of calls after deer season from landowners and deer clubs" said Emery. "Sometime during deer season, they've either seen hog sign or live hogs on their property, and they want them gone. I also get calls from farmers and cattle owners who say hogs are eating the feed put out for cattle or tearing up grazing pastures. The peach farmers up here above Highway 11 hate them."
Given his choice between stand hunting hogs and chasing after them with dogs, Emery prefers the dogs. He's always owned rabbit dogs and coon dogs, and when he got the bug for hog hunting nearly 10 years ago, he started sorting through hog dogs.
Of the three kinds of hunting dogs he's owned, he said good hog dogs are the hardest to find.
"A lot of dog breeders advertise good bloodlines and great hunting parents, but I believe each dog has to decide in it's own mind if it's a hog dog or not," Emery said. "I've hunted supposed champion-line dogs, and all they do is run you all over the country, and I've hunted mongrel, no-account dogs with no background that would run straight into the woods and stand toe-to-toe with a big boar and not back down."
Emery's packs are comprised of dogs with separate responsibilities. He enlists three or four bay dogs for tracking and cornering a hog, then he employs a catch dog to pin the hog down once it's bayed. He said there are two schools of thought when it comes to baying dogs - those that sound while they are tracking a hog and those that track silently and don't make a sound until they have a hog bayed.
"Your most popular bay dogs are blackmouth curs, Walker hounds, and Plott hounds. I also like a Catahoula hound, which is a silent hound" he said. "For catch dogs, pit bulls are probably the most popular, but I'd rather have a dogo bulldog than a pit. Dogos are less temperamental and don't have the bad reputations that pits have."
When hunting a piece of property, Emery usually invites the landowner and a few buddies to come along. He starts at daylight and indicates the best places to start tracking are areas where hogs were last seen or where the freshest sign is found. Hogs prefer areas around water, so creek bottoms, wetlands, and swamps are good places to look.
"A hog wallow - a big mud hole near a trail or in a creek bottom - is a good sign," Emery said. "Fresh mud rubbed a couple of feet up on a tree is another good sign, but the most reliable sign is rooting marks in the ground - especially if it's fresh. They'll root up food, and like any kind of hunting or fishing, finding their food source is a good jump on finding a hog."
Rather than just turning the dogs loose and hoping for the best, Emery will normally keep his dogs on a 6-foot lead and follow them through the property until they strike a scent trail. He recommends using a wire or chain lead, because the lead can be used to tie off a dog once a hog is pinned. He's seen a gritty dog chew through a nylon lead to get back on the hog.
"Don't forget tracking collars as well," Emery said, "unless you like hunting hogs all day and dogs all night."
Because Emery prefers baying dogs with the silent approach, he uses a tracking system to keep track of the dogs and follows them once they're off the lead. Since a big boar may lead dogs a considerable distance before he's cornered, the tracking system allows the hunters to keep up with the action and stay within earshot for when the standoff occurs.
"Even good dogs can't keep a hog bayed forever, and a gritty dog may get in there and kill a small pig before you can get there," Emery said.
A bayed hog presents two options. The hunters can go in and tie the hog, snap a photo or two and release the hog. The other option is to harvest the animal. In either situation, the catch dog is released to grab the hog and pin him down, at which point the bay dogs typically join the fray and anchor the animal until hunters can get in and dispatch the animal or tie him with hobbles - a modern day, quick "hog-tie" device.
When dispatching a hog, it helps to understand hog physiology. Wild hogs come equipped with a tough shoulder plate that covers the vital areas of the heart and lungs. A head shot with whatever weapon you employ is best, but a hog's skull is thick and tough. Emery suggests dispatching the animal behind the ear, in the softer cranial region.
Shooting a hog point-blank or trying to truss it with several dogs on him is dangerous for both the hunter and the dogs. Emery prefers to catch a pinned hog by the back legs and flip it over, and then have one hunter put his knee against the hog's head. Then the dogs can be released.
Releasing dogs often requires the use of a break stick - a strong polycarbonate handle that's inserted between the dog's jaws to pry him off the hog. A really good dog can be commanded off the pig, but Emery admits those are rare, and he doesn't fault a dog that hangs on until he's pried off.
A final note about catching and releasing hogs is defined in South Carolina game statute (50-16-25). "It is unlawful to release or transport for the purpose of release, hogs for hunting purposes or in an attempt to establish or supplement a free roaming population."
The other option for South Carolina hog hunters involves traditional still-hunting methods similar to whitetail deer hunting.
Emery said that some landowners are more than willing for him to come and hunt hogs, but they don't care to allow dogs to roam the property. He said that hogs are similar to deer in that they often move about more during the first hour of daylight and the last hour before dark.
"A big difference between deer hunting and hog hunting in the upper part of the state on private lands is that you can bait for hogs," he said.
Emery starts scouting in areas with the freshest sign. If there are deer stands within reach, he'll use those, but he often must rely on a climbing stand to achieve concealment and elevation. He finds hunting in pairs to be more effective and is often accompanied by his hunting partner, Stanley McCraw from Greer. The pair will bait an area using soured corn, pouring buttermilk over it and leaving it out a couple of days to discourage deer from eating the bait. Having two hunters in the same area often allows them to more than one hog as a herd approaches bait.
"Hogs don't see well, but they have a good sense of smell," McCraw said. "If we're hunting over bait, we'll get high enough so they don't smell us - but close enough to make a clean head shot. I've seen hogs take a solid hit in that bony plate and still run off further than I wanted to track one."
After about 9 a.m., once the sun gets up, the pair will get down from their tree stands and try stalking for a while. Hogs bed down through the day and can sometimes be stalked successfully by hunters moving slowly upwind through low, cool, wet areas like creek bottoms or dry ridges that run through swampland.
"Stalking is probably my least favorite method, but it can work," McCraw said. "The best tactic is to use the wind to your advantage, stalk and slip, and hope for the best. Slipping up on a herd of pigs is exciting. Put a bullet in one, and the rest run everywhere, sometimes even at the hunter."