Wild HogsA Cause for Concern
If you don't have wild hogs on your property yet, consider yourself lucky ... for now. Chances are that if you don't have them, you soon will. Due to high reproductive rates, omnivorous diet, a lack of natural predators, and illegal trapping, transport, and release, the wild hog population has rapidly expanded over the past 10 years and is now considered one of the Southeast's largest nuisance animal problems.
The rooting behaviors of wild hogs can cause significant problems for landowners and hunting clubs including: soil erosion, road damage, destruction of native plant communities, reduction of ground nesting cover for turkeys/quail, diminished forage for various wildlife species (e.g., competition for acorns with deer). They can also cause severe economic damages to agricultural crops and planted trees. In addition to these problems (as if that wasn't enough), wild hogs frequently carry diseases that can be transmitted to livestock, humans, and other wildlife.
You may think hogs are native to your home state because they are widespread and well established in many areas, but actually they are not even native to the North or South American continents. Rather, these wild hogs are descendants of European and Asian stock that were originally released when the Spanish conquistador Hernando DeSoto made landfall in North America in the 1500's, and were intended to be a food source for early colonial settlements.
Today wild hogs can be found in a majority of the southeastern states, densely populated and thriving from Texas to North Carolina. Illegal transport and release has now resulted in new population expansions in many northern U.S. states. Given a sow's reproductive rate of up to 3 litters per year, they may rival rabbits in their breeding success. The dominant pelage color of these hogs is black; however there are many variations of black, brown, red, white, and every combination of these colors which clearly illustrates their domestic origin. Without question, wild hogs can be larger than 250 lbs., and it is not uncommon to find boars in excess of 350 lbs. in older populations. Wild hogs are classified as habitat generalists because they can use just about any habitat to survive. However, hogs usually prefer lowland habitats near riparian areas or river drainages near marshes or swamps.
This type of habitat is very common in the South. Hogs do not have the ability to sweat or pant to cool themselves during extreme heat, so access to low, wet habitats with ample mud or water wallows is a must for hogs to survive. Within their home range (varying from 500-3,000 acres in size), hogs tend to be nomadic, and will utilize habitats with the greatest food availability. This simply means that while you may not detect signs of hogs on your property for several months, they are probably just utilizing other resources on your neighbor's property and will be back soon.
In general, feral hog movements are highly variable from season to season, and week to week, however, they seem to be strongly influenced by human disturbance and temperatures. During the summer, extreme heat will force pigs into nocturnal activity periods; they lie around in lowland habitats, enjoying wet, shady areas all day. During the winter, cold temperatures usually drive hogs to move mostly during the daylight hours and to conserve energy by resting during the cold nights. Do not underestimate their intelligence. Wild hogs quickly learn to avoid areas where there is human disturbance or danger and become extremely sensitive to hunting pressure; they adapt by adopting a nocturnal activity pattern or avoiding those areas and times that are frequented by humans. For these reasons, it is extremely difficult to lower hog populations with the use of hunting alone.
Recent research* at Mississippi State University (MSU) has concluded that a combination of hunting, trapping, and harassment may be the best tools that managers and landowners have at this time to reduce damage to sensitive areas. Hogs tend to move away from areas where they are heavily disturbed into more peaceful surroundings. MSU researchers found that hunting with dogs may be particularly effective if the objective is to remove a few animals and cause the remaining ones to relocate. A dog's sense of smell, tracking ability, and aptitude for moving through underbrush gives it a distinct advantage over human-only hunting strategies.
Hog Track ID 101
(Left) Deer Track Front tip of hoof generally more sharp or pointed, overall shape of track resembles an upsidedown heart, dew claw not seen unless deer was running or in soft ground, mud.
(Right) Hog Track Front tip of hoof rounded, relatively more space between toes than a deer, overall shape of track is often oval in nature, dew claws often seen.
If hunting is your choice for control, it is most effective to concentrate your shooting efforts on the sows due to their high reproductive rates. In most southern states it is also legal for private landowners or hunting clubs to take hogs on their property at any time of the year, whereas many state wildlife management areas have seasonal restrictions. Also, some states allow landowners or hunters to shoot hogs over bait year around (outside of deer/turkey season) with the proper permitting from the state agency. Building and baiting corral or box traps to catch multiple hogs at one time is also an effective way of making a dent in the insurrgent takeover.
The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) offers a federal cost-sharing program through which landowners managing hog populations on their property are paid. This cost-share program is only available to private landowners and not available for timber companies (or leases on company land). If you lease private land, you may consider talking to the landowner about this benefit if hogs are becoming a problem.
Many of you know all too well the feeling of seeing a freshly planted food plot or stand of trees rooted up and destroyed. But there is hope if you are battling these destructive pests on your property. A strategic hog management plan which includes some or all of the techniques described above and is discussed and implemented on an annual basis - either by the landowner, hunters, or professionals - will reduce damage caused by wild hogs. On a positive note, wild hogs make great table fare so whether you currently have hog problems or not, start looking for some good recipes.
References: Hayes. "Survival and Habitat Use of Feral Hogs in Mississippi." Southeastern Naturalist, 8.3 (2009) 411-426.
Species Profile: Wild Boar
Scientific Name: Sus Scrofa Linnaeus
Common Name: Wild Boar, Wild Hog, Feral Pig, Razorback, Eurasian Wild Boar, Russian Wild Boar
Native To: Eurasia
Date of U.S. Introduction: 1500's (Continental U.S.)
Means of Introduction: Released for Food
Impact: Damage caused by rooting and wallowing behaviors to native plants, wildlife habitat, crops, landscapes, pastures, roads, etc.Competes for food resources with native wildlife.
More Information: http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/animals/wildboar.shtml
Tips for Handling and Eating Wild Pigs
Wild hogs can carry diseases, including swine brucellosis, that may be harmful to humans. Caused by a bacterium found in bodily fluids of hogs, (concentrated in reproductive organs and milk), humans can contract swine brucellosis by handling infected tissues of wild pigs if the bacteria can enter the human body through cuts, nicks, abrasions, or other breaks in the skin. With proper care and precaution, however, hogs pose no health concerns and are excellent source of high-protein, low-fat pork.
- Use disposable latex gloves when handling hogs in the field.
- Minimize contact with entrails when cleaning.
- Minimize bare skin contact with hogs.
- Use good hygiene: wash hands, knives, etc., with hot soapy water.
- Thoroughly clean butcher table.
- Use meat thermometer to ensure pork is cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160Â° F.
A Truckload of Pigs
This must-see informative video was developed by our friends at Mississippi State University about the biology, behavior, and distribution of wild pigs, and the damage and threats they present to native wildlife, agriculture, forestry and public health in the United States.
Back to Westervelt Outdoors Spring 2011
The above article was featured in the Westervelt Outdoors: Spring 2011 issue. To view publication in its entirety, please view/download the PDF.