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“Wild hogs are eating machines — they’ll eat anything they can get their mouth on, whether it’s soybeans, peanuts, corn, watermelons, rabbits, snakes, stuff in your garbage can, you name it,” says Bronson Strickland of Mississippi State University.
GORDON DARBY, from left, Novozymes, Marks, Miss.; Byrne Carpenter, Nichino America, Inc., Senatobia, Miss.; and Jim Nichols, Novozymes, Leland, Miss., were among those attending the annual meeting of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association.
A culture of hunting hogs
Unfortunately, he says, in the last few years there has developed a culture surrounding the hunting of wild hogs. “It’s growing in popularity, with business enterprises now making money letting people shoot wild hogs. In Texas, you can even hunt wild hogs from helicopters at something like $1,000 per hour. And there are TV programs about wild hogs.
“Shooting hogs has been growing in popularity in the U.S. over the last decade, and these animals are now the second most harvested species. In some states, Louisiana for one, deer hunters now harvest 10,000 to 12,000 more hogs than deer each year.”
But, Strickland says, hunting alone won’t effectively curb their population growth. “We’d need to harvest 50 percent to 70 percent each year, and that’s virtually impossible with recreational hunting.”
In the 1990s, he says, even though Tennessee permitted wild hogs to be killed anytime, anywhere, “populations increased even more and expanded their range.”
The No. 1 cause of expansion in the Southeast over the past 20 years, he says, has been people deliberately moving wild hogs from place to place to establish them for hunting. And inevitably, populations mushroom. More recently, in the Midwest and Northeast, where they were not naturally colonized, there are now growing populations that were started by people trapping them elsewhere and moving them in.
“We’re never going to make headway on stemming this population growth until this transportation is stopped,” Strickland says. “We need to enact stiff penalties for transporting, and in some areas to even consider making hunting illegal. That sounds counter-intuitive, but it has worked in some areas. Kansas and Nebraska have made hunting illegal, thus taking away any incentive to move hogs into those states.”
Collaboration among landowners and state agencies is also important, he says.
Today’s wild hog problem has its roots in two long-ago occurrences, Strickland says. The first goes all the way back to 1539, when Hernando Desoto brought along hogs on his explorations in the new world. They served as a food source and some were turned loose to colonize populations that future exploration teams could slaughter.
In 1912, a landowner in western North Carolina started a hunting preserve and stocked it with imported wild Russian boars. Though he’d constructed supposedly game-proof fences, some of the hogs eventually escaped and hybridized with domestic swine, which at that time were allowed to free-range.
“From this event, the Smoky Mountain wild hog population was started,” Strickland says. “Over decades, there were secondary introductions that have ranged all the way to Pennsylvania to Florida, and across the Sunbelt to California.