The last thing on Jeff Hutchens’ mind when he climbed into his treestand on a cold January morning, was wild boar. Hutchens was hunting white-tailed deer on a mountain top in the Cumberland Mountains of Alabama, near the Tennessee state line.
“I was sitting in the stand and suddenly heard some grunting and brush breaking near my stand,” Hutchens said. “I looked and saw this huge, dark, shaggy-haired animal coming toward my stand. My first thought was, ‘It’s a bear!’ But when I got a good look, I could see it was a very large wild boar. I knew there was no closed season on feral hogs in Alabama, so I took the safety off my 7mm Rem. Mag. and shot. The bullet struck a small limb in front of my stand and missed the animal. The boar stopped and turned to look in my direction. When I bolted another round in the rifle, the hog saw me and made a run for my tree. I dropped him 5 yards from the tree. That was the first wild hog I’d ever seen.”
Hutchens’ hog weighed more than 700 pounds and was 6 feet long. More and more stories similar to this are taking place throughout the United States, many in areas where feral hogs have never been seen before. In fact, wild hogs are not a native species of wildlife in North America. The first hogs were imported by Spanish explorers to use as food. Next, settlers brought in hogs and many were not kept in enclosures and ranged free. During modern times, hogs have escaped from hog farms and some have been released for hunting purposes. Combine all the sources and we now have feral hog populations in many parts of North America.
Domestic hogs that escape to the wild rapidly revert to the characteristics of wild hogs, and after a few generations, they’ll take on physical characteristics of their wild cousins, such as growing tusks and long hair, developing long and slender bodies, and thick, heavy shoulders.
Under ideal conditions, a few escaped—or released—hogs can turn into sizeable numbers within a few months. A Texas study showed that with good nutrition a wild hog population can double in only 4 months, and young pigs can become sexually mature within 6 months. Litter sizes range from 6-16 piglets, and a single female might have as many as three litters within 14 months. Do the math! That results in a lot of new hogs in an extremely short period of time. It’s reproduction such as this that’s causing a major wild hog population explosion in almost every region of the United States.
This Little Piggy Went To Texas This new “wildlife” is causing countless problems. For example, feral hogs in Hawaii have destroyed entire ecosystems and broken into homes in search of food. In California, wild hog numbers are estimated to be as high as 100,000 animals, and growing rapidly. They are found scattered along much of the West Coast, from Oregon to southern California.
In Texas, where wild hogs numbers are estimated at more than 2 million, they’re considered a major predator to newborn calves and lambs, second only to coyotes. In Pennsylvania, wildlife officials have recently lifted protection on feral swine in 64 of the state’s 67 counties. Throughout the Southeast, feral hogs destroy crops, and their rooting-up of fields and pastures often damages farm equipment, costing Southeastern farmers millions of dollars annually. In the Midwest, where feral hogs are still a relatively new pest, they’re causing significant damage to agricultural fields and spreading livestock diseases.
Coming To A Treestand Near You
According to many wildlife officials, if you don’t yet have wild hogs in the woods where you hunt—just wait. At the current rate of population expansion, they’ll probably be there soon. And according to the Texas Cooperative Extension Service, once wild hogs become established in an area, it’s almost impossible to remove all of them.
While the booming wild hog populations are causing concerns and headaches for many wildlife managers and landowners, they’re also creating a bonanza for hunters. The bottom line: A feral hog is a big game animal that can be hunted year-round with no bag limit, and, with proper caution, makes good table fare. They’re an “adventure” animal that has a reputation for having a mean temper, and has occasionally been referred to as the “poor man’s grizzly.” But even with all this, there are many escalating problems arising in regard to other species of wildlife, and this can work against hunters.
Besides being a predator to young livestock, tearing up property, destroying crops, spreading livestock diseases such as pseudorabies (PRV) and swine brucellosis (which can be passed on to people), and destroying ecosystems, wild hogs can be devastating on native wildlife.
They’re opportunists when it comes to feeding; they relish the same foods as deer, wild turkeys, elk, rabbits, squirrels, upland birds and many other species. They’re like a vacuum cleaner when it comes to hard and soft mast—they leave little.
Wild hogs have been known to destroy the nests and eggs of ground-nesting birds. They’ve been known to eat fawns, and they can destroy a food plot in one night. They are highly intelligent. It doesn’t take them long to learn when and where to expect hunters; they’ll either relocate or quickly become nocturnal.
Hunting has not proven be the most effective way to keep feral hog populations within carrying capacity of the land, in numbers low enough not to be too competitive with native game. Many wildlife officials consider trapping to be the most effective way to remove feral swine in the wild because it limits their dispersal into new areas.
While the exploding hog population offers a grand big game hunting opportunity, and hunters are doing a service to harvest as many as possible, the long-term effect of having these hogs in our hunting woods will be at a high price of all other wildlife. Do we really want this game animal that badly?
Short Legs Run Fast
In 1982 the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study of the University of Georgia started producing feral swine maps depicting the nation-wide distribution of feral swine. That year, feral swine were reported in 475 counties of 17 states. The map produced in 2004 shows feral swine in 1,014 counties in 28 states. Currently, the wild swine population is growing so rapidly that a map is kept in “real time,” to try to monitor the exploding populations.
If you have signs of feral hogs entering your property, it would be in the best interest of all your other game species to get a hunting program started. And where legal, start a trapping program. Cage traps seem to work best. Baiting the hogs into the trap and having a specially designed, well-built door that will not be triggered until several hogs are in the trap, is the best way to put a dent in the hog numbers.