With the morning light decorating the tops of the tallest trees, a big doe stepped into the food plot and nibbled at a fresh stand of clover. Soon, a pair of yearlings joined the doe, and then more made their way to the area.
The seven deer stood in the food plot with their tails twitching and their heads down.
Then everything changed.
The lead doe went into alert, looking across the plot deep into the pine timber. Lifting a front foot, she was riveted by something unseen. Of course, I hoped it was a big buck about to make a grand entrance.
The doe snorted, stamped her foot and fled with the rest of the troupe back the way they came.
I expected to see a coyote, a stray dog or another hunter. Instead, a hog the size of a whiskey barrel entered the plot followed by a dozen assorted shoats and piglets.
The deer had relinquished their claim to the food plot to a sounder of feral pigs. I shook my head, put the crosshairs of the scope on the sow’s ear and put a stop to her reproductive efforts.
Squealing, the remaining pigs exited the plot, stage right.
Hunters, for the most part, are a responsible lot. Many point to the fact that they fund many of the conservation projects across the United States and don’t complain about the excise taxes paid on ammunition, firearms and other items.
However, there are some areas where we (I must include myself) are missing the boat in our dedication to the wild creatures we pursue.
The American hunter can beam with pride at the elk, deer, turkey and bear that have returned from the brink of loss in many locations. But before we break our arm patting ourselves on the back, we need to face a newer threat — hogs.
As invasive species go, wild hogs can be as dangerous to an ecosystem as disease. Their glutinous, ravenousness quest for food knows few, if any, limits. Hogs will eat just about anything: farmers’ crops, hard and soft mast, roots, carrion, even small animals.
For those of us living in the country where wild hogs exist, the evidence has been plain. My mom went to the garage one morning and noticed a streak of mud against her car that reached the door handle. The dog food sack had been torn open, and most of the contents were missing. A 400-pound feral boar was later killed near her home, wallowing in a neighbor’s pond.
“Hogs are very prolific,” Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Nuisance Animal Program manager Ricky Flynt said. “Research has shown that 60 to 70 percent of the population must be removed annually to stabilize the population.
“In most conditions, hunting alone is not an effective population control method.”
Based on population estimates of 1.8 million to 2 million and known reproductive rates that lead to three litters every 14 months, 3,300 wild piglets will be born in the nation while you read this magazine article.
Some consider that to be a conservative number.
In 2011, the Mississippi River crested at a record level. The flooding forced killed many hogs, forcing the others from the lands between the levees. This was considered an above-average mortality for wild hogs.
The following year proved to be a low-water year, with little reason for hogs to leave the dense bottomlands.
This year, the hogs are back in increasing numbers, according to levee board employee Bobby Reed.
“This seems to be a phenomenon that occurs when overpopulations of animals are removed quickly,” Reed said. “Biologists say where the herd — be it pigs or deer — has been brought down, reproduction actually seems to increase until the carrying capacity of the land has again been reached.
“The sightings of feral swine in 2013 has been the greatest I’ve ever seen, even after the die-off in 2011.”
Dr. Bronson Strickland, a professor and biologist at Mississippi State University, said trapping is the only practical method of removing large numbers of feral pigs from any given area.
The Vicksburg National Military Park was invaded by hogs during the 2011 Mississippi River flooding and considerable damage was done to the grounds of the park by wild pigs. Trapping played a large role in controlling the problem.
“The Park Service, with assistance from other federal and state agencies, put a trapping program into place as soon as we could,” park resource officer Virginia DuBowy said. “We also had resource officers shooting the animals when the park was closed.
“The pressure forced the remaining pigs to retreat when the water receded. In all, we trapped 12 to 15 animals — pretty close to the whole sounder that initially invaded the park.”
DuBowy added that inspecting for hog presence is an ongoing effort, and that the traps remain in place where the hogs were believed to have entered originally.
This brings us to 2013, when the river again has had a spring and summer high level, even though it remained below the 2011 flood. Based on interviews with land owners and levee board employees who are on the scene every day, the current year’s hog sightings exceed the number spotted in 2011.
According to the MDWFP, the more pressure and human interaction placed on wild hogs, the more their activities and behaviors are affected.
When wild hogs experience continued pressure from any type of human activity, they will alter their feeding times, seek dense cover and learn to avoid areas frequented by human activity. That includes areas where hunters regularly hunt or trap.
This can make the problem even worse.
It takes a lot of self-control, but using effective trap designs, trap doors, baiting procedures and remotely monitoring traps via game trail cameras will result in more hogs being trapped.
A common mistake is to shoot at hogs outside or near a trap when checking a trap, adding bait or checking trail cameras.
Doing so might result in one or two dead hogs, but it also teaches the other hogs to avoid the trapping location.
Pre-baiting the trap site without setting the trap door to close and using trail cameras to monitor how many hogs are going into the trap versus how many are remaining outside the trap are essential to an effective wild hog trapping program. The idea is to get the hogs “hooked” on the bait/food, and to be comfortable in and around the trap before setting the trap door trigger devise.
Research has shown that any hog outside of a trap when the door closes will likely never enter into a trap again.
States are addressing the problem in many ways.
Several years ago the MDWFP included the feral/wild hog as a nuisance animal, which allowed landowners and their agents to kill the swine over bait, at night and by trapping.
Additional regulations required live wild hog permits for intrastate transportation and holding prior to slaughter. Interstate transportation of wild hogs into Mississippi is strictly prohibited.
“If trapping is not practical, then baiting and shooting is the next best option,” said Tommy Hemphill of Florence. “Pigs will get trap shy. Moving the trap will help, but pigs are smart enough to recognize a trap when they see one.
“But they don’t seem to get food shy. So baiting remains a viable option.”
The bottom line: Hunters should be the first line of defense and be aggressive in reducing hog populations. Instead of shooting one or two during deer season, hunters need to set a goal to eradicate as many as possible.
“The MDWFP has provided regulations specific to species classified as nuisance animals in Mississippi,” Flynt said. “Those species are beaver, coyote, fox, nutria, skunk and wild hogs. There are provisions for landowners or their agents to hunt, take or trap these animals year-round, including nighttime hours.
“There are specific provisions for wild hogs, and the MDWFP encourages landowners to kill wild hogs at every legal opportunity.”
Wild hogs do not benefit the lands they destroy. They can and do spread disease among domestic stock. Hogs are not a game species, and should never be treated as such
Sobering statistics, offered by Bronson Strickland, attest to the rapid expansion of the hog population.
“During the most recent deer-hunting season in Louisiana, hunter survey cards indicated hunters harvested two hogs for every deer,” Strickland said.
Editor’s note: This article includes information and facts gathered from sources including the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U. S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Mississippi State University, The Noble Foundation, The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, APHIS, The National Wildlife Federation and the Vicksburg National Military Park.