Wild Hogs - Problems and Solutions
Article by Luke Clayton
Growing up in very rural Red River County back in the late 50s and 60s, I was reared to consider hogs a valuable commodity. We raised corn and stored it in an old corn crib so that we could fatten six or eight hogs each year.
Back in the 80s when wild hog numbers began to rapidly grow in counties across Texas, I was elated to learn that there was plenty of “free” pork roaming the landscape. All I had to do was put out a corn feeder and they would come. Countless Texas hunters and I welcomed this “new” game animal and the great meat it provided. We did what Texas hunters do, we fed them at corn feeders from the cedar break country of North Texas to the Pineywoods of East Texas; and they did what hogs do very well—they quickly populated the rural landscape.
Back then, many landowners who leased land considered hogs on their place as an asset. Hunters were willing to pay good money for the opportunity to hunt them in addition to deer, turkey and quail. Hogs were often considered a “bonus” on hunting lands and leases “with hogs” gleaned a higher price than those without.
We soon discovered that hogs were very proficient at reproduction, even in the wild. Roving sounders quickly followed creeks and rivers and their numbers spread to areas where they had never previously existed in the wild. Truth be known, some hunters also helped this population boon by stocking trapped wild hogs on their hunting leases. Hunting alone could not begin to keep up with their numbers. What began as a positive thing quickly became a plague.
Wild hogs began ripping up hay meadows, demolishing the nests of ground nesting birds, rooting up row after row of newly planted corn, and fouling stock tanks.
Farmers and ranchers from across much of the state screamed, “We’ve got a hog problem!” And indeed they did have a problem; wild hogs were literally eating them out of house and home and creating millions of dollars in losses statewide. Something had to be done and quickly.
The term “hog control” became popular a couple of decades ago in Texas. Trappers using conventional or “old school” traps with drop doors took out a respectable numbers of wild hogs, as did hunters using conventional means. Using trained packs of trailing and catch dogs helped remove hogs as well. But wild hog populations continued to grow at an astounding rate; they even moved into the fringe areas of major metropolitan cities. Hogs are smart, according to animal behaviorists, and they rate very high on the animal intelligence charts. They quickly developed ways to avoid hunters and also became “trap shy.”
In the 80s and 90s, it was very common for wild hogs to go to feeders during daylight hours; but today, only on remote, undisturbed ranches will hogs venture out of the cover to feed during daylight hours.
Hunting hogs at night became the norm and with this new style of hunting came a vast array of night hunting equipment. Thermal and digital night vision scopes, monoculars, binoculars and rifle- or bow-mounted green and red lights became popular. Every hog hunter had his or her style of finding hogs in the darkness.
I’m convinced that the popularity in automatic rifle (AR) style hunting rifles is due, in part, to the fact that hogs became largely nocturnal. Today, many hog hunters armed with thermal or digital night scopes and AR rifles remove good numbers of wild hogs from running sounders.
I still harvest my hogs one at a time with rifle or bow, but I’ve been with buddies who are extremely efficient with their ARs and thermal night vision at removing multiple hogs from a running sounder.
Regardless how hard we hunt them, hunting alone can’t keep up with the feral hog population explosion. Trapping has always been a good means of removing hogs and today’s state-of-the-art traps that are operated via an app on a trapper’s smart phone has taken hog trapping to the next level. With the use of these high tech traps, it’s often possible to catch entire sounders of hogs rather than one or two hogs at a time with the older models.
The newer traps’ premise is pretty simple, but the technology that drives it is mind-boggling. When the hog or hogs approach the baited trap, a camera is triggered and a photo is sent to the trapper’s cell phone. The trapper then can trigger the camera multiple times and when all the hogs are inside the trap, the trapper can push a button that causes the gate to fall and trap the hogs.
Helicopters have proven to be another effective tool in controlling wild hogs. Restrictions are great and regulations strong when it comes to shooting hogs from the air. Chopper pilots have to be totally familiar with the land they are permitted to fly/shoot over to avoid disturbing wildlife or domestic animals on adjacent tracts. Clients of these helicopter hunting operations are referred to as “shooters” and not hunters, but the fact remains that they pay a hefty price for spending a couple hours in the air shooting hogs with shotguns loaded with buckshot or AR type semi-automatic rifles.
Last spring, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced that he was approving a Warfarin-laced bait food, “Kaput Feral Hog Lure,” to tackle the state’s feral hog problem, but controversy ensued. In April of last year, amid a backlash from hog hunters, meat processing plants and environmentalists, the company producing the Warfarin-laced bait asked the Texas Department of Agriculture to withdraw its approval of the product.
Researchers have been working hard to find another toxicant that will help with hog control.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Kerr Wildlife Management Area has been studying the use of sodium nitrite for many years. If the field trials work well, the new bait might get federal approval in 2020, opening the way for states to approve it.
It will most definitely require a concerted effort by hunters and trappers—and possibly in future years the use of poisons—to keep wild hog numbers in check. Biologists estimate that 70 percent of the wild hogs in the state must be killed just to keep their numbers in check and even more to reduce current numbers.