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    Photo by CHRISTY GREEN - This is a close-up of a feral hog track left behind after the destruction to a hay meadow.

Out in the Open - Man vs. Hog

Feral hogs are rapidly increasing in number, and putting a dent in the population or keeping it under control is a struggle for farmers, landowners and hunting enthusiast.
I remember when I was young, the words “wild hog” were never spoken. I knew nothing of these destructive and aggressive beasts. It makes me wonder what might have been lurking in the brush on my many outdoor adventures through the woods and along creek beds on my dad’s farm.
A large boar weighing hundreds of pounds with long protruding tusks can look pretty spooky and intimidating as it moves through the woods like a dark shadow. Even though they would prefer to run and escape danger, a wounded hog, cornered hog or a sow protecting its piglets could send someone scrambling up a tree rather quickly. 
One scream from a piglet in distress could signal a charge toward whomever or whatever stands between her and her young, and the charge could come out of nowhere. Lightning speed combined with razor sharp tusks can cause serious injury.
With Texas leading the hog population in the U.S., there is an estimated two to three million feral hogs in Texas alone, according to Cass County game warden David Spangler. 
Spangler said nationwide, damages caused by feral hogs exceed one to 1.5 billion dollars annually, which includes costs to repair damage to agricultural and urban/suburban landscapes, ecological/environmental concerns and personal property injuries due to disease transmission and vehicle-pig collisions.
Feral hogs are capable of breeding at six months of age and sows are capable of having two litters per year, with the majority having just one, of up to 12 piglets per litter under exceptional conditions with abundant food, water and climate. According to Warden Spangler, under poor habitat conditions, sows have been known to eat their own young.
Young may be born throughout the year with peak production in the early spring. Feral hogs generally travel in family groups called sounders, comprised normally of two sows and their young. Mature boars are usually solitary, only joining a herd to breed. 
Knox said a group of hogs typically travel in a 5,000 or less acres circle, exploit an area of all its resources and move on, eventually returning to the same spot once it has recovered.
Feral hog hunting has become a popular sport for some enthusiasts, with no regulations for size, sex or the number of hogs one can kill or possess as long as the hunter has legal access to the land hunted and has a hunting license. There are exceptions on the need for a license for landowners taking feral hogs causing depredation to their own property, according to Sam Knox, Atlanta State Park Superintendent and Wildland Firefighter for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.  
He added that there are also no regulations on night hunting hogs and suggested that a red or green light is more effective as the hogs are not spooked as easily. He did recommend notifying the local game wardens of when and where night hunting will take place.
A cartridge from .22 caliber to .30 caliber are effective when hunting hogs, of course the effectiveness of the cartridge increases as the caliber increases.
When asked if placing a bounty on feral hogs has been considered, Knox said that has not been a consideration although some landowners do offer rewards for killing hogs on their land.
“We have many hog hunters in Cass County who catch hogs live in traps or with dogs and sell them live,” said Warden Spangler. “A 2008-09 survey of Texas landowners impacted by wild pigs indicated that only 13 percent were actually selling live-trapped pigs, however, those that did sell pigs averaged $4,466 income per year.”
Although an invasive animal species, feral hog meat is enjoyed by many. The same precautions need to be taken in preparing the meat, same as with domestic hog meat.
“Put the meat on ice until the ice has melted. Drain the water, re-ice and continue to do this until the melted ice stays clear,” suggested Knox. “I have personally treated meat from hogs as big as 300 pounds this way and the meat was delicious. It is hard to beat fried back strap. I usually smoke the rest to make pulled pork.”
Feral hogs are a growing concern across the nation. Cass County does not have the number of hogs like other parts of the state, but the numbers are growing each year. 
They are an exotic and invasive animal that can have extremely adverse effects on wildlife and agriculture. 
The things that have the most effect on the hog population are drought and extreme heat, which they are very intolerant to.
“It is essential that private landowners do their part in reducing the hog population now, as much as possible,” Knox added. With very few natural predators in this area, their numbers will grow exponentially.”

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