Spreading faster than melted butter and wrecking havoc on both public and private land habitats, the wild hog situation is getting out of hand in many regions of the state. Landowners and state wildlife managers alike are working hard at trapping and hunting these destructive, prolific beasts, but are we losing ground against their ever-expanding populations? It’s definitely going to be an uphill battle.
Looking on the bright side, hunting hogs can certainly enhance hunting opportunities and help preserve the ecological balance at the same time. Shooting stray hogs when deer hunting is one strategy, but planning dedicated hog hunts is an alternative hunting activity.
Let’s examine the current hog situation in the state to learn a little more about this new quarry we might well encounter afield.
Pork butts abound
It’s no shock to many around the state that the hog population has been expanding for decades. However, the news and the consequences have not really been on the forefront of wildlife management discussions statewide. That is, not up until just a couple years ago. Now it’s finally getting some much-needed attention.
Bronson Strickland, associate extension professor in the Wildlife Ecology and Management Division at Mississippi State University, is one professional taking the lead in the state on the wild hog issue. Dr. Strickland also heads up the Center for Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts at MSU.
"We know that most, if not all, of the state wildlife management areas are experiencing wild hog damage," said Strickland. "Of course, some are hit worse than others, but we are diligently working on implementing strategies to control the pigs."
A look at several wildlife mapping services for Mississippi indicates that hog populations are found all across the state, with many localized hotspots — particularly the southeast part of the state stretching from Meridian to the coast, the southwest corner of the state and all through the Delta region.
"We have property north of Leakesville in Greene County right along the Chickasawhay River," Ellisville’s Charlie Garretson said. "We have been waging a battle against wild hogs for years. I just planted a new wildlife food plot for deer last October with a double dose of seed and fertilizer.
"I checked it a week later, and it was completely cleaned out and plowed up by the pigs on the place. We can’t trap or kill them fast enough."
And populations continue to expand. The farmer who does wildlife food plots on the author’s Holmes County hunting area turned into a plot just north of us last fall to find 30 pigs standing there. This was the first sighting of pigs in that immediate area.
Private lands invaded
As demonstrated, wild hogs are well established throughout Mississippi. So how does a private landowner, get a handle on this epidemic?
"A little over a year ago, I bought my dream hunting property in Claiborne County near the Pattison Community off Highway 547," said Jimmy Gouras of Vicksburg. "I never dreamed that the place was as covered up with wild hogs as it is. They are literally destroying the deer habitat and ruining the portions of the land I had leased to a local farmer for making hay.
"That extra income base is gone thanks to the rooting and digging done by the pigs on my hay fields."
The hog activity kicked Gouras into high gear.
"I immediately went to war on these wild hogs as soon as I knew what I had," he said. "I have built a number of hog traps on the property, and check them nearly every day. It is not unusual to catch six or more at one time. We are also hunting them as a collateral activity to our deer and turkey hunting, but we carry a rifle in the UTV at all times when cruising the property.
"You just never know when one is going to pop up."
Clinton’s Demery Grubbs has chipped in to help Gouras with dispatching as many hogs as possible.
"I have known Jimmy for many years and when he called for help dispatching some of his hogs, I was happy to oblige," Grubbs said. "Last season, during our deer hunting exploits, we killed 60 pigs on his place.
"Of course, neither of us really thinks this has put a dent in the population."
The men have reason to think there are still plenty of rooters on the property.
"Just to explain how destructive these critters are all you have to do is drive around on the property. In areas where Jimmy has placed off-season deer feeders, if they are not raised off the ground and bolted down, the pigs will turn them over in a minute and chew right through the feeder," Grubbs said. "You can see their tracks everywhere. You can find trees with the bark stripped off several feet off the ground. His fields are rooted up as if a furrow plow turned over the soil.
"This damage to the habitat is hurting the deer, turkey and other wildlife species."
Private landowners are facing quite a struggle to offset the wild hogs on their properties. Trapping and hunting definitely helps, but it needs to be a full-time effort, and most folks don’t have the funds, energy or inclination to keep up the fight.
In their favor, the state has established very liberal rules and regulations for hog hunting on private lands. Basically it is a 24-7, 365-day , 24-hours-a day open season with no bag limits.
Public lands hog ops
Public-land hunters looking for an additional hunting opportunity can find several state-operated and managed wildlife management areas with ample populations of hogs for hunting.
Begin the search for public lands to hog hunt by studying the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks Web site at www.mdwfp.com. There is also a flyer available from the state office in Jackson outlining rules for nuisance animal hunting.
Each WMA and other state public hunting lands have hunting rule profiles posted online. The rules, regulations, open hunting days and other conditions may change from one public land resource to another, so make sure you know the complete story on the site you plan to hunt. Area manager phone numbers will be listed, too, so a quick call ahead of a trip to the place is a smart idea in the planning process.
Chad Dacus, the state’s white-tailed deer program coordinator, recently did a radio program in Jackson in which he discussed the hog situation on Mahannah.
"We are definitely experiencing a considerable number of wild pigs on the Mahannah WMA," he said. "Deer hunters regularly report sightings and the state wildlife personnel working the area also spot them on a regular basis."
In theory, wild hogs can be hunted like deer. In other words, a hunter can sit in a tree stand or ground blind over likely hog travel routes or feeding areas taking a chance that a group of hogs might show up.
This happens all the time, especially in good deer-hunting areas where hogs have invaded. These incidental contacts with wild hogs certainly can contribute to helping control their populations on private lands.
Going after wild hogs as a sole targeted species takes some different hunting skills sets, however.
"We will ride into a known hog area as quietly as possible on the electric cart," Charlie Garretson said. "Then we roam the camp trails on foot. Key to this tactic is being quiet and first carefully listening for hogs. They constantly squeal and snort, so there is no mistaking them once they are heard. Then you have to put on the stealth mode to slip in on them downwind and be on guard for split-second shot.
"It may be the only one you get."