Annual harvest of ‘feral’ porkers in Mississippi now exceeds the deer harvest. What can hunters, landowners do to stem the rising tide of pork?
Unless you have lived under a rock for the past decade you know feral hogs are a problem in Mississippi. They have the highest reproduction rate of any mammal that weighs 100 pounds or more, and trying to control them is like nailing Jell-O to a creosote post.
Trapping is the only effective means of dealing with the pests, but they are smart, and efforts to capture them may require the invention of new methods of entrapment. Shooting them is an option, but not a very good one. Dropping the hammer on an individual pig is a little like swatting a mosquito in your carport: you may kill one, but who will notice one fewer.
Found in all 82 Mississippi counties, feral hogs fall loosely into two categories: domestic swine that have been released to forage, with plans for recapture and sale at markets or slaughtered for consumption; and the Russian strain that were released by those wanting to have another hunting option. Both are non-native wildlife species with origins in Europe.
From the 1900s up until at least 1960, farmers would release their hogs in the hardwood bottoms along rivers and allow them to get fat off the bounty of acorns, fungi, roots and plants. An adult wild hog will consume five pounds of mast per day. Recaptured in the winter, the hogs were sent to market or used by the farm family as food. Farmers would notch the ears of adult hogs released, thereby identifying those hogs as their property when community–wide round-ups took place. Not all the hogs released were re-captured, so the wild, feral hog came into existence.
More recently, high-fenced hunting preserves have imported the Russian boar strain to add to the offerings for hunters. Windstorms and poor fencing have allowed some hogs to escape and become a part of the growing problem. The color phases of these wild swine have produced some interesting creatures; some solid black, others spotted with shades of red and white — whatever the gene pool happens to deliver.
“(Wild pigs) destroy our crops and cause a myriad of problems for farmers across the state,” said Jeff Terry, a soybean and corn farmer from Issaquena County. “Mississippi farmers are working hard on a narrow profit margin to bring consumers a quality product at a fair price. Seeing thousands of dollars in sweet potatoes, peanuts, sorghum, corn and other crops go to waste is heartbreaking.
“We try to kill every hog we see and trap them on a regular basis. Just when we think we’re making progress, they hit us hard again. I have seen numbers as high as $1.5 billion assigned to agricultural damage caused by wild hogs.”
Given the reproduction rate of pigs in general, there is no way to shoot or even trap our way out of this hog problem. Unless every landowner does his or her part to rid the environment of these beasts, the “pig bomb” will continue to explode.
“Feral hogs compete with native wildlife for food and habitat,” said Anthony Ballard, a wildlife biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Unlike other critters, when the acorns are gone in the winter, deer, turkey and small game have limited sources of food, but hogs can start eating roots, fungi and even scavenge on carrion.”
Ballard said harvest data indicates the total reported hog harvest for the 2017-18 hunting season exceeded the reported deer harvest — 206,148 to 194,975 — which indicates an upward trend in feral swine population. Louisiana passed this milestone several years ago.
So who owns this problem? Who should be the driving force behind wild hog eradication? Some will say the Mississippi Department of Agriculture because of the severe crop losses; others maintain the MDWFP because the pigs are wild animals. The Levee Board fights hogs as well as the state department of transportation for the damage they do to highway and levee rights-of-way. In the grand scheme of things, who should we point the collective finger at to say “You started this, so you fix it.”
The bottom line is, we all have a stake in the issue and need to make a concerted effort to fix the problem. If each entity does all that is to be done, the rapid expansion may not be stopped, but it could be held in check, then an eradication plan could be executed.
A breeding sow can deliver a litter of piglets twice a year, and the piglets can start breeding at six months. By the time the third litter is born, females from the first litter are preparing to breed or have been bred. Some unofficial numbers place the number of wild hogs in Mississippi at around 1.1 million, with half of those being females. Do the math; it does not paint a pretty picture.
Shooting hogs with firearms is an option for every hunter, but it will not take care of the overall problem. There are not enough hunters to make a dent in escalating numbers. Some clubs weigh heavily on hunters who pass up pigs.
“We have given our members strict instructions to shoot every pig they see, period,” said Steve McFarland, president of Curve Mountain Hunting Club in Kemper County. “Even if the (situation) compromises a deer hunt, kill the pig. It has been our experience deer will leave a green patch if hogs come in, so your hunt is trashed already.”
State law allows hunters to shoot hogs with the aid of bait, at night, any time of year. Thermal-imaging scopes and silenced rifles do a fine job of killing pigs at night, but the cost of equipment borders on prohibitive for the average hunter. Some modern sporting rifles with suppressors and night scopes can easily approach or exceed $8,000. Trapping remains the best option for eliminating large numbers of pigs.
Pigs are easily baited, but they are as smart as they are ugly, and they become trap-shy unless an entire sounder is captured. A sow will figure out the trap and teach her offspring to avoid it. Heavy hunting and trapping will cause a sounder to leave an area for another property. Not a bad thing for the property owner, but when his neighbor pushes back, the pigs return.
Several types of traps can be used, each with varying success. All involve attractive bait and fencing low enough that non-targeted animals such as deer may escape. So far, pigs have not developed the talent of leaping high enough to clear the fence.
One trap involves a trap door that is hinged to allow entry in only one direction. A pig enters and the gate closes, another pig repeats the entry, and now two are in the trap. Unfortunately, pigs have been able to learn how the trap works and simply wait for one to enter, then escape while the gate is in the raised position. These traps work, but they aren’t as efficient as others.
Another trap uses a single-action gate that, once closed, remains closed until human interaction opens it. This trap uses a trip wire deep in the trap with the intention that a good number of pigs will be in the trap before it is triggered. Again, that could happen with one or a trap full of pigs.
The latest trap designs are far more complicated but extremely effective. This generation of traps utilize trail cameras that transmit a live/current-time image to a hunter’s cell phone. When the pen is full of pigs, the operator enters a code on the cell phone, and the trap doors quickly close. Some of these traps are very large and may have multiple entry points.
Don’t move that pig!
It is illegal to transport live, feral hogs within Mississippi without a permit. Permits must be obtained by calling 601-432-2170, manned 24 hours a day, before transporting any live wild hog.
More information about wild hogs in Mississippi can be found at www.mdwfp.com under Hunting and Wildlife.
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