How hunters can help solve the feral hog problem

How hunters can help solve the feral hog problem

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Feral hogs have proliferated much of the continental United States and, despite efforts to control their numbers, continue to populate and spread. Here’s what you can do about it.

Feral hogs are descendants of domestic pigs, Eurasian wild boars, and hybrids of the two that have either escaped or been released into the wild and thrived. These pigs don’t look quite like Wilbur on Grandad’s farm: They have coarser, more bristly hair and longer tusks than their domestic brethren, and typically weigh between 75 and 250 pounds fully grown—a pretty sizable animal. They root and forage for food, and though vegetation accounts for the majority of their diet, they are opportunistic omnivores willing to eat turtles, frogs, bird eggs, and poults.

Why are they a problem?

Like many invasive, non-native species, feral hogs are tenacious and know almost no natural predators. They’re hardy, capable of surviving a broad range of conditions from extreme heat to frigid cold. They’re enormously destructive to native habitats—rooting for food and creating vast, muddy wallows to stay cool—and compete directly with almost all domestic game animals for food. That means as their population grows, deer, turkey, quail, and even squirrel and rabbit populations suffer.

Feral hogs have been reported in 35 states, and their population has been estimated at more than six million. Image courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture.

They breed quickly. Like, really quickly. In fact, pig populations can double in just four months. Females become sexually mature at around six months old and can have more than one litter per year, with each litter producing half a dozen piglets. Each pig can live between four and eight years. You do the math.

They carry diseases and parasites that can affect livestock and pets. According to the USDA, these include leptospirosis, brucellosis, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, porcine circovirus type 2, influenza, and E. coli. 

Speaking with The Ultimate Predator, Russell Stevens, range & wildlife consultant at the Noble Research Institute, neatly summarized the issue: “Feral hogs are a non-native species that negatively affects many native wildlife species, game and non-game, through competition for food, fouling water, and damaging habitat by rooting.”

What can hunters do to help?

There’s always the option of dusting off the deer rifle and hitting the woods. Hunting feral pigs can be an enjoyable, lively, and challenging pursuit. They’re as tasty as conventional pork when harvested, and there are plenty of targets. When you find one, you typically find a bunch of them. But don’t think they’ll make it easy for you: They’re intelligent game, with an exceptional sense of smell, and they can be difficult to take down—they have a thick hide and a sort of sinewy carapace that covers their vital organs. By all means, get a few of your hunting buddies together and bring home the bacon—literally.

Sadly, though, hunting alone is inadequate if the goal is to stop the proliferation of feral hogs. According to Stevens, “Research indicates that eliminating 70 percent of a hog population only keeps it stable. So, more than 70 percent must be removed in order to begin reducing the population. Hunting alone will not accomplish this.” He suggests a combination of hunting and trapping with traps designed to catch entire sounders (family groups of hogs). Aerial gunning has been proven more effective than traditional hunting, but it’s expensive and difficult to coordinate in many areas.

What really stings about this whole situation: It turns out hunters are largely at fault for feral hog proliferation in the first place. Much of their spread can be attributed to recreational hog hunting and landowners releasing pigs on their properties for this purpose. “That is the number one reason why feral hogs have spread across the U.S. so quickly,” Stevens said. “States that don’t yet have a feral hog problem should ban hog hunting. That way, people won’t have an incentive to transport and release hogs.”

Bottom line? Get out there and hunt or trap these animals in states where they’re already a problem (and where it’s legal to do so), but don’t compound the issue. Although they’ve become a popular game animal, land owners should never release hogs into their property unchecked. Even when fenced in, these tenacious critters are adept at digging beneath fences and escaping. There’s no telling what lasting damage this species will do to our country’s wildlife and their habitat if they continue to spread.

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