The green field was lush, the sun was bright and already several does had entered the patch where the sun had melted the frost.
The deer hunt was shaping up nicely.
Snug in her shooting house, Sandra McFarland watched the edges of the field for a buck to make his grand entrance. The does stopped grazing and peered toward the woods. That has to be the buck, she thought.
Instead, a half-dozen, half-grown floppy-eared pigs quick-stepped into the field. The deer exited the field, stage right.
More pigs came until a sounder of 17 were scattered across the plot, rooting, eating, and grunting. McFarland settled the crosshairs of her scope on the largest sow’s head and squeezed the trigger.
By the time she bolted her .270, the field was empty, save the one that would never spoil another deer hunt.
Mississippi has a feral hog problem, but we are not alone. Most states from Texas to Florida and northward are dealing with a growing “pig bomb” explosion. Given the adaptability of the cleaver swine, and the lack of natural predators, the fight has become an uphill battle. This is a well-publicized fact; if the pig explosion is not curbed, the entire wildlife ecosystem as we know it, is threatened.
On private land, hogs can be killed, or trapped then killed 24/7/366 (during a leap year.) There is no bag limit or minimum size, sex or age. Spot lighting is legal, as is calling and the use of bait. No weapons restrictions apply, but savvy hunters will use nothing less than a good deer rifle.
Public land, such as state wildlife management areas, allow hog harvesting when another season is open, and then only with legal weapons for the applicable season. For example, during turkey season, only shotguns may be used with a shot size of No. 2 or smaller. Archery equipment is also allowed during any season.
“Let’s be clear on something, the only goal of wild hog control should be eradication, and the best means at the moment is aggressive and comprehensive trapping,” said Rick Hamerick, a biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks at Mississippi State University. “We will never shoot our way out of the pig problem.”
Perhaps not, but hunters can have some fun trying.
In as much as hogs will eat almost anything, making something they eat more appealing will do the trick. Corn is popular bait that is plentiful and affordable. To make it more attractive, adding other foodstuffs that hogs like will increase the chances of a good bait site. Beer, Kool-Aid, wine and even diesel fuel has been added to corn with success.
But before we get into the recipes for pig bait, let’s look at the very basic time tested pig attractant — slop.
Tommy Hemphill of Florence started a compost pile in the curtilage of his country home in Rankin County only to have feral pigs volunteer to keep the material turned. In the process the pigs ate everything he placed in the pile.
“We had a big garden one year and corn patch that served the family and gave us some extra to sell,” Hemphill said. “All the refuse from the garden was thrown into the compost pile. That pile would provide dirt for the flowerbeds and a ready source of earthworms for catfishing on the Pearl River. At least that was the plan.”
The compost pile became a siren song for pigs with Hemphill and his family killing several young pigs, shooting them from the back porch of their home. The pigs became nocturnal at that point and Hemp started taking the waste to the fields behind his house.
“Pavlov’s dogs have nothing on Hemphill’s pigs,” Tommy said. “I’d drive over there (to the field) on the 4-wheeler and empty the bucket, and then bang the bucket against the rack of the ATV to insure it was empty. I might as well have rung a bell, because the pigs figured out the human, ATV and bucket equated to fresh groceries.”
Since that time the Hemphill clan has killed scores of feral hogs on their farm. If you were not reared on a farm, slop is a name for all those things discarded from the kitchen. That includes but is not limited to: cabbage leaves, bean and pea hulls, egg shells, sour milk, moldy cheese, lettuce, Brussel sprouts (fresh and old), eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, stale bread and well — you get the idea.
Where you live close to the hog problem don’t let a good bucket of slop go to waste. There may be a grocery store or fruit stand willing to add to the mix. If you put it out the hogs will find it, and continue to visit as long as you keep the site freshened.
As mentioned before, shelled yellow corn is a hot commodity for those hunters wishing to entice a deer within gun range. While the ethics of that practice can be debated there is no disputing the fact that it works. But corn also attracts raccoons, crows, squirrels, songbirds, coyotes and other critters. So the investment (about $7 per 50 pound bag) can begin to add up when used as hog bait. There are methods that allow the use of corn as a base attractant with slight modification.
Pigs like sweets, so mixing pre-sweetened Kool-Aid with dry broadcast corn will better attract feral hogs, and any flavor will do. If the drink mix gets damp it can cause the feeder to clog. The simple solution is to mix the corn with water and add the Kool-Aid at a rate of 4 packages to 50-pounds of corn and bury it in the ground. The corn will sour and many other animals will not bother it.
Adding beer to a bucket of corn and burying it will cause the corn to sour and ferment, creating a smell only a pig, or perhaps a bootlegger, can appreciate. Hogs will use their noses to find it, and then dig the mash from its lair. Keep adding to it for several months and the hole could become as big as the bed of a pickup. The same can be said for corn and diesel fuel.
There are commercial pig attractants that can be used straight or mixed with corn. Per gallon these mixes are more expensive than the above-mentioned methods, but work just as well.
Jeff Terry and his wife operate a farm near Eagle Lake and have an ongoing war with the invasive swine. They use a variety of methods to deal with the pigs, which cause thousands of dollars in crop damage every year.
“We shoot them at every opportunity, but it is far from a simple solution,” Terry said. “Pigs are ugly, but they are not dumb; in fact they are quite smart and adjust to changes in their environment. When we shoot them during the day, they become nocturnal. When we shoot them at night, they alter their feeding schedule. We set up traps and they become trap shy.
“It is an ongoing battle. We win some of the skirmishes, but we are a long way from winning the war.”
Terry tells of one large male he has nicknamed Track Hoe, for its ability to cause major damage and avoid being shot. The huge swine has become a challenge for the farmer.
“We see him sometimes, but he has patterned us and if he hears the ATV, or sees a person, he’s back in the thickets,” Terry said. “Track Hoe’s day will come, and I hope I’m the one who pulls the trigger.”
Terry and several friends have developed a method that works on eliminating pigs. Using silenced modern sporting rifles with high-capacity magazines and equipped with thermal imaging night sights, the shooters start at the outsides of a sounder caught in the open at night. One shooter takes the right and another left, and then they work toward the middle, leaving dead or dying pigs in their wake. If all goes well, when the barrage is over the carcasses are gathered and disposed.
“It is uncanny how feral hogs can move and reproduce,” Terry said. “I’m told by the experts that over 75 percent have to be removed per year just to hold the numbers where they are now. I can only describe them as being like fire ants; you think you’ve killed them, and they just pop-up again.”
“Trapping remains the best means of capturing a large number of wild pigs,” said Anthony Ballard, MDWFP Nuisance Species Biologist. “Land owners and managers need to avoid shooting pigs near the traps. In fact, pigs need to feel an element of safety before they will enter the trap.”
Ballard also stated that the extraordinary measures, such as night hunting, the use of bait and trapping is only allowed on private lands. The incidental shooting of pigs on WMA’s is allowed only during legal shooting hours with weapons approved for the applicable season.
Wild hogs may be transported from trapping sites within Mississippi but may NOT be released into the wild. Transportation is only allowed only after the trapper has obtained a proper permit from the MDWFP.
“The controlling of wild hogs should be a concerted effort by adjoining land owners with one common goal — eradication,” Ballard said. “Every legal means should be brought to bear to defuse this ecological nightmare. We must defuse the pig bomb.”