By Dr. Grant Woods
I started hog hunting in Texas in the 1980s. My first hog hunt was while I was doing a deer survey on a ranch in East Texas. The ranch manager said I could hog hunt after work if my survey was progressing well. Hogs were rare enough that the opportunity to hunt them was a huge incentive! I took a young boar with recurve bow. Man, that was a fun hunt!
When I returned to Missouri with tales of seeing some wild hogs and fresh pork in my cooler, I was a local hero! There were no wild hogs in Missouri at that time, nor in most other states. Taking a wild hog was something only “well traveled” hunters did. Many more hunters where I lived had taken huge mule deer and/or elk in Western states than had even seen a wild hog. Imagine huge muleys being more common than hogs.
As the years passed, I was doing more and more deer work in South Florida and Texas. So, I started taking buddies along to go on hog hunts. My Midwestern friends considered it a real treat to go on a hog hunt! The only hogs they had seen were domestic pigs on a farm or in a hunting magazine. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine hogs being that rare.
Crossing the Ocean
Of course, before the mid-1500s, hogs weren’t just rare in America; they were non-existent! The following information was taken from Wild Hogs in Florida: Ecology and Management, by William M. Giuliano:
“It is believed hogs were first brought to Florida in 1539, when Hernando de Soto brought swine to provision a settlement he established at Charlotte Harbor in Lee County. However, it is possible hogs had been brought to the same site in 1521 by Ponce de Leon during a brief visit.”
Regardless of who was first, there is no debate over the fact that other European explorers and settlers brought pigs with them over the next four centuries. And, as Giuliano wrote, “Many of these animals were given to or stolen by Native Americans, who expanded pig numbers and distribution them throughout the state. Europeans and Native Americans alike often raised their swine in semi-wild conditions where hogs were allowed to roam freely and only rounded up when needed. Many of these animals established feral populations throughout Florida. These feral populations have been further supplemented through deliberate releases of hogs in many areas by private individuals and the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission to improve hunting opportunities (although the state no longer does this).”
Fast forward to 1982, when the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study reported there were feral hogs in 17 states. By 2004, there were feral hogs in 28 states and 36 states by 2010! The last study (Dec. 2014) by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported established feral hog populations in 39 states.
How did the feral hog population expand so rapidly across rivers, mountain ranges, etc.? Some of that growth is the dispersal from exiting populations. They also escaped or were released from domestic populations. Domestic hogs from a feedlot have an extremely high survival rate if they escape or are released into the wild. In fact, in just a few generations, domestic hogs will look like “wild hogs” in color and shape.
However, scientists believe the rapid spread and growth of feral hog populations were primarily caused by folks illegally transporting and releasing hogs in new areas. Many people apparently thought it would be cool to release hogs near where they live to provide local hog-hunting opportunities.
I admit it, I still enjoy hunting wild hogs. I often joke that I like hunting hogs as long as they are at least 500 miles from my farm! Hogs do a LOT of damage. For example, Texas A&M University estimates feral hogs cause at least $52 million in agriculture losses each year in Texas! No wonder Texas allows the use of helicopters to reduce feral hog populations.
Feral hogs do much more than destroy agricultural crops by eating and rooting, they also often carry or transmit diseases to humans and livestock such as pseudorabies, swine brucellosis, tuberculosis, tick-fever, rabies, anthrax, tularemia and many others.
Hunters need to be aware that feral hogs potentially carry these diseases. We should always wear rubber gloves when handling or dressing feral hogs. Specifically, be careful to avoid contact with reproductive organs and blood, and wash thoroughly after contact with feral hogs. I enjoy feral hog meat, but I also use precautions to protect my family and myself.
Wild hog populations need to be controlled by either hunting or trapping. Hogs become very nocturnal if there is much hunting pressure. Trapping is a far more effective tool than hunting. Texas A&M has some excellent hog trap designs online.
Hogs rapidly learn to avoid traps. I’ve found that wider trap doors and much larger traps are more effective, especially if hogs have been trapped in the area before. Recently, using a much larger door design, a friend of mine caught 32 hogs during one night. That reduced the hog population at his farm — for a while.
For your next bowhunting challenge, do us all a favor and seek out a wild hog. Be proud of your trophy and know you’ve done a service to prevent further damage to the habitat!