HOW DO WE DEAL WITH FERAL HOGS?
By: Cody Weiser
Feral hogs are spreading fast, and they are spreading far! Government agencies from the local to the federal levels are beginning to try to deal with feral hog issues. Many of these decision-makers are attempting to pass laws and rules based on misinformation, especially when they are trying to determine why feral hog populations are spreading and how they can stop them. Let me be clear and state that I know for certain there have been hundreds of hunters that have relocated feral hogs as “starter herds”. This is not a new practice and has been done with many species of animals, both native and exotic. However, this is not easily accomplished with feral hogs. A wild hog of breeding age is a dangerous animal and trying to move 3 or 4 a great distance cannot be done safely or in a manner that does not draw attention. For these reasons, the majority of transplants are small pigs that have just been weaned and are easily hidden and handled. Here lies the challenge. The survivability of a weanling pig on its own without the protection of the sounder is slim-to-none in most cases. Therefore, it would be fair to say this practice has a low success rate when it comes to developing a viable feral hog sounder in a new area.
So…. “How are hogs spreading?” you might ask. Well, it is simply due to the animal itself. Everyone knows that feral hogs can reproduce at a young age and have as many as 8-10 piglets per litter. But what most don’t understand is the pandemic nature of the situation when the feral hog population could be as high as 10 million in the USA today.
Hypothetically, let’s just say the hog population is 2 million feral hogs living somewhere between the East and West Coasts. Let’s speculate that half are female and half are male. In a 12 month time period, all the females will give birth to 2 litters of pigs containing 5 pigs in each litter. That is ten million new pigs in just 12 months…..oops….wait. We forgot that the first litter of pigs will be having their own litters by the time their mother is giving birth to her second. If my math is correct, then we are looking at 35 million new pigs in the first year. All this is based on an example population of two million feral hogs in the USA. (It is believed that Texas alone is home to over 4 million feral hogs.) It is very plain to see how a good breeding year with ample rainfall and food availability could launch an overnight explosion of hogs.
NOW LET’S LOOK AT MOVEMENT:
Feral hogs are not territorial like deer. They are a nomadic animal capable of solving problems and extremely aware of danger and how to avoid it. They also are opportunistic and use their highly developed sense of smell to pin-point food sources when needed. I have spoken to gunners who shoot from helicopters and hire out to farmers in an effort to eradicate hogs from cropland. I have been told more than once that if a large group of hogs is slaughtered and left to lay one week, there will be more hogs there the next week when a flyover is conducted. The reason is simple. There is a huge food source sending out a scent signal that screams “free meal” to every hog within miles. Now with a few hundred dead hogs lying in the field, there is ten times the scent attraction being put out. Feral hogs aren’t called “brush buzzards” for nothing!
Wild hogs use rivers and creek bottoms as super-highways when traveling. The thick brush combined with a constant water source makes for a perfect roadway for these animals to maneuver. If a waterway runs through your area and continues downstream into hog populated country, then you can be assured that you will have hogs sooner or later. It doesn’t matter if they are hundreds of miles away…they will come. Search the internet for “Significant Rivers of the Continental USA” and take a look at the map that appears. It is obvious that every corner of this great Country is connected and should expect a feral hog population in the very near future.
Eradication is impossible and should be laughed at when brought up while discussing feral hogs. Instead “population reduction” should be discussed at length, and it should be understood that the only way to do this is to increase the number of hog hunters that are in the woods. This must be taken seriously, and state and federal agencies have to understand that using a few helicopters and machine guns is like using a water pistol on a house fire.
Agencies and “experts” who believe that if they stop feral hog hunting or stiffen rules regulating hog hunting they will somehow slow down or completely stop the development of feral hog populations in their areas are living in a dream world. The only thing these folks are doing is creating a perfectly safe breeding ground for the hogs that are already there. In a few years that will be obvious and too late.
Texas is discussing options to relax rules regulating the movement and sale of feral boars (males only) within its state borders. These proposed rules would allow approved and state registered “feral swine holding facilities” to buy and sell male feral hogs that were trapped or caught alive with dogs for the purpose of trophy hunting. If passed, these rules would allow a huge economic avenue to develop with feral hogs and would make it profitable for hunters and trappers to be in the woods catching hogs. These hogs would be removed from the wild and never returned, thus using commerce as a means to control the populations. When you need a lot of people to join together to get something done, you will have the best results when those people can make a profit while doing something they love. A massive hunting and trapping effort is the only way to combat the growth and spread of feral hogs. Australia realized this a long time ago and has a booming feral hog industry in place that utilizes mainly dog hunters to remove thousands of feral hogs from the countryside on a weekly basis. The ability for Australian hunters to turn a profit has led to many of them becoming professionals who hunt for a living and remove a great number of hogs each year. American law-makers need to seriously look at this and consider avenues that would develop the same situation here in the United States. This is really the only option that will have any chance of controlling the feral hog population.
Hunters constantly in the woods catching these animals are the only real answer to the problem at hand. Let’s not try to re-invent the wheel, but instead mimic a nation that has already dealt with this problem and seems to have a handle on it. By the end of this year, there will be dozens of new counties and a handful of new states that have feral hogs “show up”. It will be interesting to see how those in charge deal with their new residents!
(Originally published in Wild Boar USA magazine Jan/Feb 2008 Volume 2, Issue 8)