While Fish Take A Winter Nap–Pursue Feral Hog Management
During warm months, pigs retreat to shady, river bottoms with cool backwashes and lush green forage. This time of year, they maraud countrysides overturning wildlife feeders, rooting-up food plots, and lawns. Use the Winter break in pond management to address feral hog problems.
POND BOSS contributor, Dan VanSchaik, is a nationally-known, well-respected, private-sector wildlife biologist. In a past article, he stated wild hogs represent the fastest growing population of problem critters in North America. An explosion in numbers and distribution has created a notable increase in heated debate over the fate of these animals within their ever-expanding range. Here’s his assessment of facts about the beast and their future role as potential assets or detriments in wildlife management.
Razorbacks, Russian boar, Black boar, European game hogs, Eurasian pigs, and brush sows are all names given to various wild swine which belong to this family. The group includes domestic breeds, feral hogs (domestic gone wild), European boars, and all resulting hybrid crosses between them. Wild hogs should not be confused with Javelina (collared peccary). They are not related. By the mid-1500’s, European explorers were bringing pigs into southern reaches of the United States as food for colonists. Later, domestic swine were found at Spanish missions and became popular livestock of early western settlers in the 1800’s. Hog farming on open range without fencing or enclosures was common during this period. Animals often escaped to join feral populations. In 1912, true Russian Black Boar were introduced to Appalachian regions. By 1930’s, significant numbers of boars were released on private ranches across the southwest for hunting.
Hogs are considered intelligent land animals and incredibly adaptable to almost any environment. They have the innate ability to transform from totally domesticated (tame to the touch) to unrecognizably wild after one month from escape. It is well documented that farm-raised swine begin this amazing transformation within two weeks of release. They grow longer hair, longer snouts, bigger tusks, straighter tails, and add camouflage color striping. Color change begins with the first generation of piglets born in the wild. Speaking of piglets, wild hogs attain sexual maturity around six-months-old and may have two or more litters per year. In southern climates, they may breed year-round. Home range may be 100 acres or 100 sections (a section is 640-acres or approximately one-square mile). Besides reproductive potential, eating habits get them into the most trouble. They are truly omnivorous and mostly nocturnal. That means they eat anything that doesn’t eat them first. When approaching a food source, hungry hogs often enter a feeding frenzy, squealing and grunting profusely as they attack feed. Insect grubs just below sod surface is a favorite Spring and early Summer food. They display an affinity for fish meal products. Several world record hogs were caught wading into ponds to gulp floating fish food pellets thrown by automatic feeders.
Because pigs cannot expel excess body head through sweat glands in their skin, they must do so by evaporative cooling of outer hide. This is why they stay close to waterways for wallowing in mud or shallow pools. They prefer to inhabit moist riparian basins and river bottoms, but are quickly learning to adapt in dryland ecotypes when deciduous forage disappears from lowlands. They have keen hearing, exceptional smell, but poor eyesight. Wild hogs choose designated rubs like trees, shrubs, fence posts, or utility poles. They use such objects to scratch or rub mud/dirt into their skin for protection against parasites and to mark territories. Annual hog damage to agricultural and private landscape is staggering. While many wildlife species are threatened or even die-off from human encroachment on their habitat, hogs are smart enough to circumnavigate man’s best effort to control them.
Trapping is the most effective to reduce populations. Best time is late Winter after fruits and acorns are depleted, but before new Spring growth begins. Whole corn is universal bait and will attract fewer non-target animals if you soak it in water before use. Adding dog food, fish food, or stale baked flour goods can enhance attraction to bait. Don’t overdo additives since they quickly sour and attract only vermin. Create a slop pit by dumping wet corn in a depression about 2.5-feet around. Allow hogs to visit the site several days before trapping. After they become regular visitors, place a trap over the baited pit with the door open and bait leading inside. A favored trap is made with 4-foot by 8-foot cattle panels. Frame them with angle iron or pipe since big hogs are not easy to hold. After several catches, move the trap to a new location and repeat the process. Deal with them as part of the program rather than an enemy…population regulation through effective control instead of futile eradication attempts. It’s widely agreed you couldn’t wipe them out if you wanted to.