While a party of coon hunters was listening to "The Music of the Night" on Tallahala WMA in 2011, they heard a little more than the typical ruckus a hound may have with a raccoon. The fight was more serious. One hound was in a tangle with a wild hog. This hunter and his hound were lucky. They were able to get to veterinarian Dr. Mike Walker of Forest to get the gash in the hound's shoulder sewn closed.
A growing menace
Unless you live in a communication-free world, you know Mississippi is experiencing a wild hog population explosion. As the numbers grow, it is inevitable that human and domestic animal interaction with these stealthy, intelligent and destructive creatures will increase.
There are no hard numbers to substantiate crop damage caused by wild hogs. Words such as major, tremendous, substantial and significant have all been used as descriptive adjectives by those close to the issue. Kris Godwin, director of the USDA Wildlife Services headquartered at Mississippi State University, said there are increasing reports of crop and land damage because of hogs.
"(Hogs) have the potential to change the ecology of an entire ecosystem," he said. "They compete with other animals for mast crops to the point they can shut down a reproductive cycle of native game animals."
Once the mast is gone, hogs - which Godwin calls nature's vacuum cleaner - can turn to roots, grubs, plants or even carrion for food, leaving other mast-dependent animals to suffer. An adult hog, weighing 150 to 250 pounds, will consume five pounds of dry mast per day. Godwin added that hogs could have the destructive impact of Cogongrass or kudzu.
"Mississippi has one confirmed case of swine brucellosis in a wild hog," said Godwin. "It's a disease that can be transmitted to domestic pigs, cattle and even people."
For that reason, it is important for anyone cleaning or dressing a hog to wear latex or nitrile gloves. The meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 170-degrees. It is far more lean that domestic pork, comparing more to venison in grain and texture, and also makes an excellent smoked sausage.
Numbers tell the story
According to MSU biologist Bill Hamrick, to check the increase of an existing herd of wild hogs, 50 to 60 percent must be removed each year. Sows can have three litters in a 14-month period. Generally a litter will be six to eight piglets. Typically four to six piglets will survive. Once a pig reaches 40 pounds, they have very few natural predators.
Trapping and killing are the most efficient methods of removing large numbers of hogs, but over time they may become trap shy. Shooting is another option, but hunting pressure may simply force them to become nocturnal or relocate to other property where pressure is not as great.
All this said, aside from a major disease outbreak, wild hogs are here to stay, and need to be dealt with by everyone with an interest in the outdoors. For the hunter/varmint shooter, wild hogs offer an opportunity to expand hunting seasons.
The Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks declared wild hogs to be a nuisance animal, opening the door for expanded harvest opportunities. On public lands, sensible restrictions to weaponry and times apply, but on private lands, there are far fewer limitations.
One club's experience
At Curve Mountain Hunting Club in Kemper County, hogs are transients. As hunters or landowners pressure the herd, they will move to another location. Club president Steve McFarland has had ample opportunities to observe the habits of hogs while he was hunting deer.
"When hogs, of any size, enter a green patch where deer are feeding, the deer will leave the patch - same for turkeys," he said. "And if hogs are in a patch, deer will not enter the patch while the hogs are feeding there. Most of our hunters shoot every one they see."
Sandra McFarland, Steve's wife, saw an opportunity late one Sunday afternoon to shoot a very large solitary hog. The .270 she was shooting put the hog down, but getting it out of the woods proved to be quite a different adventure. The 370-pound boar required three people to load, and even then it was a difficult task.
Sandra's boar was displaying a trait typical of wild boars: It was traveling as if it were the shortest distance between two points. Moving at a steady pace it did not alter from the general heading it was on. Several experienced hunters confirmed this trait by boars. Sows are usually with a group, or sounder, consisting of several family members and young pigs of all ages. Boars, moreover old boars, will be solitary creatures.
An urban issue
Tommy Hemphill, who has hogs on his property bordering the Pearl River between Byram and Florence, shoots hogs while hunting, and also has two live traps. He has experienced hog issues for 25 years. The hogs he traps are destroyed. The meat is used by his family or given away.
"Once they are pressured, they will go to the neighbors' property or into the deepest thicket they can find," said the 64-year-old Rankin County resident. "Over the years, we've killed more than 150 off 300 acres.
"We were active in a deer camp in Jasper County most of that time. If we had hunted here altogether, that number would, no doubt, be far greater."
William McKinley, a biologist for the MDWFP, reports damage to lawns and yards in parts of his native Attala County.
Hunters who would like to have more wild hog action but lack the access are caught in a dilemma. The hogs are there, there are farmers who might grant access to the right hunter, but there is no mechanism to bring them together. It is up to the hunter to do some legwork. Talking to a county agent in a county where agriculture is being impacted by wild pigs is a good first step. He or she may know farmers who would welcome ethical hunters.
Approaching a landowner is a simple thing. Just be polite and ask permission. Likely, it will be open to discussion. Then be respectful of the farmer's property. Close gates, don't litter, don't dump carcasses except in pre-approved locations and be a good guest. Offer some of the meat, after processing, to the landowner as a thank-you gesture.
Most any deer rifle will make a good hog rifle, depending on where the hogs are being hunted. A wounded wild boar can be dangerous and will charge. McFarland was charged once after a hunter wounded a good-sized boar. Luckily, McFarland has had hog experience, and had replaced his rifle with a short-barreled shotgun and buckshot. The boar charged in close cover, and the 12-gauge mortally wounded the hog at less than 5 yards. Even with the point-blank buckshot and a .25 caliber double lung shot from a .257 Roberts, the hog ran another 30 yards before expiring. Lesson learned - don't trail a wounded hog after dark with just a flashlight and a stick.
Wild hogs are creating giant problems for farmers, especially those raising grain and root crops. Calhoun County sweet potato grower Jim Warner has tried many options to deal with wild hogs in the Big Creek area.
"We've hunted them with dogs, shoot all we see, and set traps trying to control them," he said. "These hogs are smart; they can figure things out pretty quick, and learn to avoid dangerous situations."
Warner lost a five-acre field to harvest in 2011 due to hog damage. That field generally produces $2,500 to $3,000 per acre in marketable sweet potatoes. That one field could amount to as much as a $15,000 crop loss, not including the fuel, fertilizer and expense of planting it. Other parts of Warner's 275-acre operation also suffered damage. Warner went on to add that corn farmers' crops are being hurt severely. Even cotton farmers are reporting damage caused by hogs eating the cotton bolls.
"We don't even try to raise corn here," said Warner. "That is a waste of time and money due to the hog depredation."
The danger of damage to levees along the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers was so great it inspired the framers of Mississippi's 1890 Constitution to ban free-ranging hogs within two miles of any levee. In fact, levee employees were required to "shoot on sight" all hogs they saw on the levees.
"It's right there in Section 4, Chapter 66 of the Log of 1890," said Bobby Reed, a Levee Board engineer. "Where hogs root, the grass dies. That exposes the soil to erosion, which is especially dangerous on the water side where current can quickly cause further erosion."
According to Reed, most of the land along the levees is leased to hunting clubs or hunted by the landowners themselves. Some of them are aggressive in hog control, while others show little interest in shooting the invasive swine.
The tip of the iceberg
Some people are fostering the population for feral swine in order to expand hunting opportunities. This is a little like tossing around a lighted cherry bomb - eventually it's going to explode, and when it does people will be burned. Only in this case, entire ecosystems will bear the brunt of the explosion. It is flawed reasoning to think so many hogs can exist without impacting native game animals.
For hunters who think hogs can be controlled by deer hunters who may shoot two or three every season, consider this - from the end of deer season to the beginning of the next deer gun season, a breeding sow can have two litters. The hunter may take two or three, but in less than a year, 16 more have replaced them. Sows will have a litter of piglets three months, three weeks and three days following breeding. They are old enough to breed at six months of age in some cases.
Hogs have no closed season, and there are no bag limits or size restrictions. This is a good thing for Mississippi hunters. On public lands afflicted with hogs, weapons allowed for hunting game are allowed for hogs, but on private land, weapons are not restricted.