There is an enemy at our gate, an eco-terrorist that is attacking what we hold dear. This is not a hollow threat, nor a pseudo –humorous jab at Zombie Apocalypse.
This is an invasive alien being with a beating heart, a keen mind and a growing reputation for destruction. Left unchecked, its numbers will continue to grow three-fold every 14 months, until our eco-system is saturated with nothing but them.
This beast is the wild hog.
Hogs are now found in all 82 counties of Mississippi and the numbers are spreading rapidly. And make no mistake about it, if you don’t already have them where you live and hunt, you will.
State and federal agencies are combining forces to face this invasion, but there are so many challenges to the limits of governmental effectiveness as many hunters in Mississippi an attest.
“I was bow hunting in Panther Swamp, hoping to bag a trophy buck such as the area is noted for,” Richard Latham of Lena said. “A group of about 15 hogs walked up and I chose the best shot I had and killed the pig forthright. Two hours later another group showed up and I chose the biggest one in the sounder, this one was a little tougher and took three shots to stop.”
The first one was a 190-pound sow; the second was a 320-pounder.
Let’s start with the cold hard facts. Wild hogs, or feral pigs reproduce at an alarming rate. While numbers vary, the conservative estimate is that one breeding sow can produce 24 offspring over 14 months. That’s three litters of eight piglets.
The females in the first litter will be breeding age before the sow has the third litter. So under ideal conditions, a new sounder, the term for a family group of wild pigs, is formed twice every year. Keep that point in mind as we talk about environmental impact and control.
“They are not born pregnant, but it’s awfully close,” said Billy Higginbotham, a Texas A&M AgriLife wildlife specialist in Mississippi to address legislators about the hog issue. “I wish we had known (in 1985) what Mississippi knows now. We have close to one-half the nation’s population of hogs, and we are at war with hogs right now.”
Mississippi does not have a comprehensive data collection method for knowing how many wild hogs are trapped, or killed. Louisiana placed pigs on the harvest data report in 2013 and hunters reported killing more hogs than deer. Keep in mind that is the number of hogs shot by hunters, not those trapped by landowners or hired trappers.
Pigs are not just a private land issue.
“Many of the wildlife management areas in the state have wild hog populations,” said Ricky Flynt, wildlife coordinator for the MDWFP. “The department encourages all hunters to kill wild hogs at every legal opportunity while hunting on our WMAs, no matter if hunters are specifically pursuing hogs or if incidentally encountering hogs while hunting game species.
“Some hunters may consider shooting at or killing hogs while pursuing other game species as disruptive to the hunt, but the value of reducing the damage caused to our native wildlife habitats by killing these non-native nuisance pests is very valuable. We hope hunters will understand the importance of their role in helping to protect our wildlife habitats.”
In central Mississippi, Pearl River WMA has long been a place where hogs were present.
A walk through the area indicates the hogs reside mainly in the swampy areas and thickets along Barnett Reservoir. Hunting those areas where acorns are dropping is one good method of taking a deer or a hog. Hunters are limited to weapons for small game, i.e. rim-fire rifles, archery equipment, or primitive weapons as defined by Mississippi law.
Moving east, the Caney Creek WMA is seeing an influx of hogs in Smith County. While not as wide-spread as other areas, there is an increasing chance hunters there could encounter these unwanted porkers. Strong River and its tributaries seem to be the center of the most hog activity.
“We’d see some hog sign, rooting and that sort of thing,” hunter Kevin Hayman said. “I was easing into the woods one day, still hunting for deer, when this hog got up and started to run off. It stopped and looked back and that was all the time I needed to shoot it. The bruiser weighed over 300 pounds. The kicker is, my son killed one about the same size the following year. We haven’t seen another since then.”
Mike Hayman, who works on the WMAm said he recently saw fresh rooting in a food plot he was checking on the Smith County end of the area. He estimated six small hogs, based on the size and number of rootings.
Tallahala WMA in Scott, Smith and Jasper counties has had a growing pig problem in the northern portion of the area, along Tallahala Creek. The largest concentration seems to exist just east of Marathon Lake and just south of Morton-Marathon Road/FR 506 (in Jasper County).
That area is popular with deer and squirrel hunters, who might see rooting damage in the hardwoods along the creek. Tallahala allows a wide range of weapons based on current open seasons.
Yockanookany WMA near Kosciusko is a draw hunt area for deer, but it is open for small game with shotguns and rim-fire rifles. Deer hunting is allowed by draw with archery equipment and primitive weapons. According to MDWFP Biologist William McKinley, feral swine are a problem there and have spread into the surrounding areas, including suburban Kosciusko.
“I can’t stress strongly enough the need for hunters to destroy these creatures at every opportunity,” McKinley said. “When legal means avail, shoot and shoot to kill as many as you can. The Yock (as the river is often called by locals) is fast to flood during rainy periods and just as quick to recede. This keeps the critters moving, making them easy targets.”
At present, large-scale trapping remains the most effective means of removing the largest number of pigs from an area in the shortest time. However, if the adjoining landowners are not doing the same intensive control, the hogs will be back in short order.
Every expert will state that only a broad-based, comprehensive effort will stem the expanding numbers. According to Kris Godwin, APHIS coordinator at Mississippi State University, feral swine exist in all 82 Mississippi counties. More shocking is the fact 75-percent of the wild hogs in the state must be removed each year, just to maintain the current numbers.
“Trapping accounts for 57 percent of the hogs killed in Texas, and still the population is expanding two percent per year,” Higginbotham said. “Pigs and deer don’t mix. Deer will leave an area when wild pigs are present.”
We’ve listed only a few of the wildlife management areas with populations of wild pigs. A much shorter list, if in fact it would be accurate, would be the management areas void of the pests. It’s a pretty safe bet that if the area is on or along a major drainage, hogs are there.
Louisiana is experimenting with a delivery system of sodium nitrate that will selectively target pigs. The bitter poison shuts down the hog’s respiratory system and they die.
To make the bait a little more attractive to swine, the agency is putting the chemical in Gummy Bears candy. Time will tell if the chemical is producing the desired result. Studies prove that 75% of the current hog population must be removed each year, just to hold current numbers.
That is a lot of narrative to lead to the issue of hogs in Mississippi, and specifically hogs on public hunting areas. But it’s important that Mississippi hunters know what they face. Hogs and deer do not mix. They may co-exist in an area for a short time, but studies in Louisiana and Texas reveal overall deer numbers decline as hog numbers increase.
Hogs compete with deer for food, and will kill fawn deer if they have the opportunity. Once the hard mast and browse is gone, hogs will go after the root systems of many plants, destroying the future browse. Deer must leave the area or face a degraded habitat. The same goes for wild turkey. According to Godwin, have the ability to destroy an entire eco-system as we know it.
If there is an up-ide to the hog issue, it is that hunters have more targets and can put a little more food on the table. Wild hog meat is safe to eat when prepared properly.
Hunters have long carried the banner of wildlife conservation all across the country. It is time for hunters to again rise to face the menace posed by these hideous beasts. Here’s what we can do:
Don’t glorify hog hunting. Deer and turkey are to be managed, hogs are to be controlled. Controlling feral swine should have at its foundation eradication.
As long as there is an uncontrolled sounder, and best control practices are not universal across all property, hogs will continue to present a serious problem. Presently, the best control method is large traps, capable of containing a sounder at a time.
“Sport hunting of these animals (pigs) is what led to the ‘pig bomb’ or population explosion we are seeing,” said Jack Mayer, editor of Wild Pigs in the United States. “For those who see hunting wild hogs as a fun sport, they need to think again. This is no joke, we never saw this (problem) coming.”
Hunters have an opportunity to make a difference. On private land, including land leased for hunting, hunters have at their disposal every tool to deal with hogs. The use of bait, electronic calls, spotlights, night vision equipment, silenced weapons and traps are all allowed. There is no closed season.
But on Wildlife Management Areas and Federal land, the options become fewer. Relegated to the weapon allowed for the open season, hunters are restricted to shooting swine only a few months of every year. The reasons for restrictions on public lands are in the best interest of our overall game resources. But every hunter should plan a foray into some hog infested woods and using the weapons legal at the time, kill every pig they see.
This is a problem that will not go away on its own.