Ronald C. and Darrell K. Corbyn September 10, 2009
Feral Hogs: Problems and Solutions
Recently, there have been a number of television programs deploring the widespread damage being done by the exploding population of feral hogs across the U.S. Even Europe is overrun with hogs. Texas leads the way in this country with an estimated 6 million feral hogs, followed by Florida and California. These television programs feature experts who do not make it clear that we need to reduce and control the feral hog population, not eradicate them altogether. We may have to rely on them for food. The proposed solutions of these experts are consistently unrealistic because they and the gun control interests who put them on television insist on trying to find ways to solve the feral hog problem without the public being able to shoot them.
One reason for the hog problem in the U. S. is that Americans, in moving from the country to the city, have lost the subsistence skills of their forbears. They no longer hunt to provide meat for their families, raise livestock, grow vegetable gardens, and maintain fruit orchards. They buy their food at grocery stores, caring little that much of it is now imported from foreign countries. Another is that Americans allowed their Government to develop trade policies and regulations that caused small hog farmers decades ago to give up raising hogs and let them go feral. Still another is that Americans, especially since the 1980s, began moving back to the country to escape the stress, crime, and high cost of the city. The wealthier ones buy a large farm or ranch and either retire to it, making improvements and managing their wildlife, including controlling feral hogs, or remain in the city most of the time while using the land as a hunting retreat, second home, investment, or tax shelter. Most feed deer and, to gain a tax exemption, run a few cattle, goats, or sheep. With independent incomes they do not have to farm or raise livestock to make a living, and they do not have to work with their country neighbors. The problem with absentee landowners is that when they neglect their fences, let their fields go fallow, and allow brush and forest to reclaim their land, it becomes a sanctuary for not only deer but also feral hogs.
But the most pressing reason for the exploding population of feral hogs in states such as Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida is the careless feeding of deer and livestock by landowners and lease or fee hunters. In those states they can feed deer at a feeder or on the ground and shoot them from a blind or natural cover. Typically, lease-hunters agree with each other and the landowner not to roam his property hunting for deer or hogs. The idea is that they might they get lost or hurt or shoot livestock or another hunter and that the deer would not come to the feeders. If a lease or fee hunter stays in his blind he has a much better chance of shooting a feral hog or two at his feeder, along with his limit of deer.
The problem with deer feeders is that unless they are enclosed by a stout pen that the deer can still jump over to get to their food, they are accessible to feral hogs. They scare away the deer when they arrive and help themselves to the corn or protein pellets sprayed onto the ground. Hogs are smart, elusive, and they work hard for their food. They know which deer feeders they plan to visit from dusk to dawn, and they often cover several miles before retreating to their daytime hiding places. When the food is gone, the big hogs often knock the feeders down to get more. Instead of securing their feeders, many landowners and lease-hunters just keep filling them and paying high feed bills.
The problem with livestock feeders is that a pen cannot be erected around them to keep hogs out. Unlike deer, cattle and sheep cannot jump over a pen to get to their food. They must be fed at ground level in the open. Thus, feral hogs are able to walk right up and help themselves to the protein, cattle cubes, or cracked corn placed in creep feeders, troughs, tubs, or on the ground. Once we asked a retired attorney who owns land in north Texas why his feral hogs were so big (one sow we killed for him was 500 pounds). His guilty response: "Because I'm feeding them." Each day he filled his troughs and tubs with protein meal for his cattle. The hogs came in usually at dusk or at night but sometimes during the day, ate what the cattle had not eaten yet, and slept all day long in the brush. He and his wife were afraid to take walks on their 350 acres, and just drove along the pasture roads in their Mule.
In recent years the feral hog problem has been exacerbated by the fact that landowners and lease and fee hunters are feeding deer from unsecured feeders not only during the deer season, which lasts from around November to January, but also the rest of the year. Why? Because it produces "big deer with big antlers" and for the landowners it justifies higher lease prices. To be fair, today's farmers and ranchers have a tough time making a living with their crops and cattle, sheep, and goats due to foreign competition. The extra income from deer hunters can put them in the black each year. Unfortunately, most landowners and hunters have the short-sighted attitude that as long as they are able to shoot deer at feeders and/or keep the system of leases and fee hunts intact they care not that shooting a few hogs from time to time does not reduce or control their population. Many landowners, however, discover that they are losing ground when they add up the overall cost of the damage hogs do to their fences, livestock, hay fields, crops, and yard. This is not to mention the adverse effect on their neighbors who may be trying hard to keep hogs out.
For states that do not allow feeding deer and shooting them from blinds such as Louisiana, Missouri, and Tennessee there are other human-caused problems responsible for the exploding hog population. The first is that their Game & Fish departments were given the authority to establish seasons and place numerous, burdensome restrictions on hog hunting, trapping, and the sale of wild pork. This is counter-productive and it guarantees that without widespread hunting pressure feral hogs will, with impunity, destroy fences, crops, yards, parks, and golf courses and multiply in the off-season. The second is that unscrupulous landowners and their agents are transporting hogs on the sly to their ranches for commercial or personal hunting in areas that may not have had hogs. This is unethical if not illegal, and it guarantees that their neighbors, who have to deal with the escapees and their offspring, will hate them for it. These landowners, and many farmers and ranchers, still do not know that feral hogs compete with deer, exotics, and livestock and that big hogs are always on the prowl for newborn animals. Nor would they necessarily know that their females were pregnant, because the hogs eat the babies--bones, hide, and all. And aside from human-caused problems, hogs are multiplying rapidly in states such as California, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana where they have lots of native food and cover.
Hogs forage mostly at night, especially with hunting pressure. A sow, which becomes sexually mature in six months, can have a litter of as many as ten piglets twice a year. It could be said that for every two hogs a landowner happens to kill during the day in a trap or at a feeder from his pickup, ATV, or front porch, eight hogs go back into the hills, brush, and forest where they sleep, reproduce, and await nightfall with no worries except for the coyotes and bobcats that prey on their young.
Whether a landowner wants to rid his property of feral hogs or just reduce their population and contain them, the best way is for him to use dogs to hunt the hogs down in their daytime hiding places and shoot them. Hogs are deathly afraid of humans with guns and dogs. They have a good memory, and those that escape will abandon those hiding places and not come back soon. It's hard work: You and your dogs have to hike rocky terrain, climb hills, slog through mud, and work dense brush or forest near water often in the heat or cold. It's dangerous: You have to deal with poisonous snakes, thorns, biting insects, and sore feet, and hogs with big tusks that can maim or kill. And, it is tedious: You have to prepare for and plan the hunt, including plotting strategies with aerial photos and topo maps. Hog eradication cannot be done solely from a pickup, jeep, or ATV. If you don't have the time or skill to kill your hogs, hire it done. But do not be surprised if hog hunters are not responsive if you seek their help only in the heat of June, July, and the first half of August because you are "feeding deer through January, turkey from March to May, and deer again after mid-August in preparation for the bow season in October and the regular deer season in November."
A side benefit of killing wild hogs is that they are good to eat, even the big ones (except those that stink). If you cook the meat until it is done it is better for you than store-bought pork, which is injected with preservatives, hormones, and antibiotics and now possibly genetically modified. In the meantime, patrol and fix your fences regularly, watching for hog entry and exit points. If your property becomes a sanctuary for feral hogs, it is your job to fix the holes, gaps, and breaks that they cause in the fence adjoining your neighbor, just the same as it is his job to fix the damage done by his bull. We do not recommend snares because a 400 pound boar will take your fence down. Nor do we recommend cage trapping as the best solution. You may catch a few hogs, but the rest learn to stay away from the trap. Unless you have a nearby hog trapper available, you must inspect and bait the trap at least every other day, and move it each time you shoot a hog in it, which becomes a chore. One study found that it takes an average of 25 hours to catch one hog in a trap. And, if you shoot coyotes or bobcats on sight in the well-justified fear of losing sheep or goats take a moment to thank these predators for helping to keep the hog population down.
For the dry or drought-stricken areas of Texas, hogs may not multiply or even survive if you are careful about how you feed your deer and livestock. Hogs cannot root in baked ground, and if they cannot raid deer and livestock feeders they will try to make it on cactus, yucca, insects, bird eggs, lizards, forbs, water cress, pecans, acorns, and persimmons as these foods become available. Secure all of your deer feeders with nothing less than a heavy-duty cattle panel fence. Netting and barb-wire are not adequate. For ranchers who choose to feed their livestock protein meal, cattle cubes, or cracked corn besides or in addition to hay, there is one possible solution to keep hogs from pilfering the food: It is to feed cattle in a stout pen during the day, and close the gate to it electronically on a timer just before dusk, or late at night when hogs can be trapped inside the pen and later disposed of.
You have no reason to complain about feral hogs if you have not found a way to keep from feeding them in addition to your deer and/or livestock. Humans are, in theory, smarter than hogs.
If you do not take care of the hog problem the Government will, in a manner and at a cost you may not like. In fact it has become clear that they plan to take over all of your problems if you let them.
Lest you think that feral hogs are "far from town in the country," we should point out that in our area we have killed over 80 hogs eight miles west of Fredericksburg on Spring Creek between Tivydale Road and 290. We have tracked hogs on Baron's Creek downtown, within the city limits near the Llano Highway, and on Live Oak Creek near Lady Bird Park. In nearby Kerrville we have seen hog tracks at the Municipal Golf Course on Sidney Baker Road and downtown below the bridge on the Guadalupe River. And, central Texas is not known for its feral hog problem like south and east Texas. Keep in mind that, for now, wherever the deer go the hogs go.
For more information on feral hogs, check out our website "hogstoppers.com" or call Ron at 830/997-6864 or Darrell at 903/258-3547.