Feral Hogs Population Surging

Photo by Ed van duijin On Unsplash

What can we do about the hogs?

It used to be that The Hogs— Razorback Hogs, as in the University of Arkansas’ once formidable football team — struck fear in the hearts of their rivals. This year they need to let one of the state’s high school teams fill in for them. They stink. Like real hogs.

But this isn’t about the Razorbacks; at least not those Razorbacks. And with all the trouble the real razorbacks are causing, the football team may wish they had a different name. We don’t see many teams choose to name themselves after locusts or other species that have posed a threat to our existence.

This is about actual feral, or wild hogs. Some are razorbacks and some are not. They’re taking over the country at an alarming rate, according to information published by the USDA, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Arkansas Game and Fish, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, as well as from several other states’ fish and game departments.

Recently a meme went viral when a guy named William McNabb from South Arkansas tried to justify owning an AR-15 assault-type rifle by saying he needed it to protect his kids from 30–50 wild hogs in his rural backyard. Everyone had a good laugh about it, and it turned out the AR-15 wouldn’t be a good solution. The discussion was more about gun control than wild hogs.

But still, maybe there should be more conversaton about burgeoning populations of feral pigs in the U.S., Until recently the problem was primarily in southern states and corn-growing states. However, the hogs are encroaching farther north, as they can live in a wide range of climates. It is believed by some scientists that they are moving north due to climate change. In any event, Canada now has a pig problem, too.

An Expensive Problem

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is going to spend $75 million this year to try to eradicate and control them. Most experts say, however, there’s little chance of eradicating them and currently, there’s no way to control the problem without endangering other wildlife.

Female feral pigs can have two litters of piglets every year and about dozen piglets. The US is currently believed to have about 5 million feral pigs although some estimates are much higher.

It may not be the cockroach who takes over, after all. The pigs find roaches very tasty. There are little to no restrictions on killing wild pigs. Trapping them is also encouraged. They are apparently good sources of food for those who eat pork. Their meat is not as fatty as domestic pork and properly butchered and prepared it is said to have better taste than domestic pork. It is even served in restaurants in some states — although there are laws requiring feral hogs be brought alive to approved butchering operations.

Some may consider roasted or barbecue pig delicious. I’m among those who are sort of turned off by meat, anyway, and knowing what I know about feral pigs makes me less than enthused. They carry numerous parasites and that thought alone — well, you know.

The Spaniards introduced pigs to Florida and and Texas when the explorers brought them for food supply. Texas today has the largest U.S. feral hog population. No wonder Texas football teams, most notably the Longhorns, have a historically adversarial relationship with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Hogs are taking over the Lone Star State.

Those Spaniards. If they weren’t murdering native Americans they were bringing mega-reproducing animals over here to cause trouble for later generations.

Actually, the Spaniards did the settlers a favor when they introduced swine. Many early settlers would have starved if not for the fast reproducing pigs.

During various conflicts in Texas, settlers often abandoned their homesteads, including their hogs. The hogs, intelligent animals that they are, made it just fine when they were set free to fend for themselves. But the blame things went wild.

“I’m a gonna’ tell y’all about them hawgs.”

I’m a native Arkansan and I lived in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains for 20 years. Everyone respects wild hogs. The game and fish department tell us they aren’t particularly dangerous, but I once talked to a couple of local brothers who had a story. It began with one of them, Rick, saying, “I’m a gonna’ tell y’all about them hawgs.”

As youths, they were out digging ginseng root and were chased up a tree by a big ole agressive boar. They escaped when the boar lost interest in them and wandered away, but not before he butted his massive “armored” shoulders repeatedly into the tree — almost shaking them out of it. I wondered if the hog was mad they were harvesting the tasty ginseng roots?

“I don’t know what he was riled up about,” Rick said, “ but all them ole hawgs got bad tempers and just as soon eat you as anything.”

They told me their story as a warning. If I planned to go out in the forest I’d better have a weapon and “watchout for them hawgs.”

And watch out I did, so much so that I pretty much decided that wandering in the Ozark National Forest, between wild hogs, black bears, copperheads, and cougers just wasn’t really that appealing except in an RV. Hiking unarmed, tent camping, open air riverside camping out, etc., are things people do all the time in the Ozark Mountains, but most of those people don’t know a lot about The Ozarks. That’s why most folks have houses. And campers.

There are either cougars in the hills or someone’s pet exotic cats got loose.

By the way, game and fish people will tell you there’s no cougars in Arkansas. I disagree since I saw one cross the road in front of me one night when I was on duty as a police officer and on patrol. At first I thought it was a big dog, but dogs tails don’t extend that far and they can’t hold them like that, the last few inches parallel to the ground and almost touching. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. But I know what it was; a tawny colored big cat with a long graceful tail — lean, long and sleek.

Trappers, too, say the G&F is wrong since they find cat tracks bigger than bobcats around mostly-eaten fur bearers they catch in their (hideous) traps. My fishing partner and I also hastily left the bank of the White River one night when something screamed like a panther not far from where we were fishing. It sounded little bit away, but too close, so we beat feet back to the truck. There was one big tree alongside the path, and I still get chills thinking of having to go under that tree in the dark. I could practically feel cat’s claws afraid it would leap down on my back, That and water moccasins being active and attracted to boats at night put a stop to my desire to night fish.

I decided between bears and wild hogs and even a cougar I’d just not be so adventurous in the wilds of the Ozarks.

Scary wild hog encounter

I never saw a wild hog after I was grown, but I saw one as a child when my family was visiting a cave with a park-like area outside the entrance to the cave. It was pretty far out in the woods and we were eating after going through the cave.

We saw a big wild hog standing just at the edge of the clearing. I remember dad hollered at it, and waved his arms, but it stood there and kept watching. He tossed a rock at it, and yelled, “get out of here,” and stomped, clapped, and waved his arms. It still didn’t run away. Dad wanted us to pack up.

He told me years later that every time he looked, the hog had come a little closer and was staring at my little sister, who was about 2 years old.

Suddenly, Dad grabbed us up and put us in the car while yelling for mom to get in the car.

All my life, I’ve remembered looking out the car window toward where we had been sitting just minutes before and seeing that hog was now standing right beside the table. It looked nothing like a pig. It was the ugliest animal I’ve laid eyes on before or since. It was black with long bristly hair on it’s face and back and it stood as high as the picnic table.

Mom said it was just hungry and wanted our food. “Or the girls,” dad said.

I didn’t have nightmares about it, but like kids can do, I sensed my dad was shaken by it. It was the first and only time I ever saw him concerned about anything outdoors. He was normally a confident outdoorsman, but that boar scared him.

They’re evil-looking creatures

I’ve not seen a wild boar in the wild since, but the chance of them being around arouses a primal fear in me. I once heard a park ranger talk similarly about being out on a hog hunt, hearing them, and finding he was unexpectedly afraid. They’re evil-looking, beady eyed creatures who seem to have it in for us. Maybe they’re mad about us eating them for centuries.

Anyway, I digress. Back to their over-population. The good news is we can eat them. I don’t, but we can and actually, if we could figure out the logistics, it’s possible we could use them to help eradicate world hunger. But I’m hung up on the fact that they’ll eat anything, including dead animals, dead bodies, bugs, worms, rats, snakes, salamanders (the endangered ones, too), small animals, birds and their eggs, and sometimes, even each other.

The other inconvenient fact about the massive wild hog population in the U.S. is that they can carry a number of diseases — about 30. Very few can transfer to humans, but most are a danger to domestic livestock and pets.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has a lot of good information out about the feral pig problem here: https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/nuisance/feral_hogs/#intro

Apparently, if you don’t know how to properly butcher a feral pig, you’re going to have some nasty, stinking meat. It has something to do with very carefully and completely removing a male hog’s sex organs soon after the hog is killed. Well, just ugh, even a hog might not eat that.

Yes he would. Like I said, a hog will eat anything. I guess that’s why we say, “eats like a hog,” eh?

Russian hogs

The feral hogs causing all the problems in the U.S. (and Canada) currently are hybrids. At some point in our history, around 1930 ,after the hogs the Spanish brought had long been domesticated — except the ones who got away and went feral — some Russian hogs were introduced into the mix. They looked upon our feral and domestic pigs, and found them hot, apparently.

So now instead of nice pink mostly hairless domestic pigs, we have grouchy mixed heritage hairy monsters running loose all over the country. They’re built sort of narrow and wedgelike, so they can run through the brushy areas where they prefer to live and are much more agile than a domestic pig. They have longer snouts and thick, coarse hair that can be anything from black to blond, (no studies showed the blonde ones to be less intelligent than the black haired ones—ha ha just kidding) and some, called razorbacks,have bristly hair along a ridge that stands up on their backs. Their appearance is frightful.

And they can run up to 29 mph. You aren’t going to outrun them, or at least a short-legged, chunky, creaky Nana like me isn’t.

Mostly they hang out in groups called “sounders” or the hog’s version of a family, which include mostly females and their offspring. Until mating time, and then the guys show up. Just looking for one thing — typical across species, eh? And they never stay around to help raise the kids.

Anway, they impregnate the females and then run off again to cavort in the woods, tear up cornfields, root up acres of national forest, tear up important archaelogy sites, and scare the dickens out of hikers. Oh, and they sometimes mosey out into roads and cause automobile accidents and they’re frequently blamed for tearing down fences and letting cows or horses loose.

They also cause trouble in national parks, where they scare people, but more importantly from an environmental perspective, tear up the land and eat all the acorns and wild nuts other species need to survive. They contribute to causing the demise of other species. In Florida, they eat the eggs of sea turtles, which are an endangered species.

Also in Florida, they’ve damaged about half of 300 important archaelogy sites, including some that include human remains. In some cases, the pigs have even eaten the skeletal remains they dug out of the sites. Historians and archaeologists alike are increasingly frustrated by the damage being done.

Maybe if Florida could just get the hogs to eat the pythons and then get the alligators to eat the hogs?

National Parks management has quietly been doing their own eradication project for several years now. They don’t advertise it, but they hire hog hunters to shoot outright or to get them into corrals, where they are captured and killed. It’s been difficult because the pigs are very intelligent and the experts say tactics to control them don’t work for long, as they quickly learn the technique being used and are able to avoid capture in the future.

Did I mention their tusks, which are really four huge teeth, can get up to seven inches long and are razor sharp; and the pigcan grow to 3-ft at the shoulders and weigh over 400 pounds?

These are not “Babe,” as anyone encountering one under the wrong circumstances can tell tell you. A wild hog would just as soon eat a small child as a they would a baby calf, fawn, or any other helpless, smaller mammals they happily have for lunch anytime it’s convenient. They’re omnivores.

News outlets a few years ago widely reported three Iraqi militants were attacked and killed by a group of feral pigs.

Douglas Main (@Douglas_Main) in a 2013 article featured in livescience.com commented that feral pigs “have a remarkable knack for causing trouble, ranging from eating threatened species …to transmitting more than 30 different kinds of diseases.”

We’re not the only country with pig problems. Denmark is building a fence along their border to try to keep Germany’s wild hogs from coming into their country. They’re taking extreme measures because of African Swine Fever, which could seriously endanger Denmark’s domestic pork industry.

If you think the U.S. and Denmark have problems, consider Japan, where there is a problem with radioactive boars. Reportedly hundreds of radioactive feral hogs have taken over at least two towns in the area evacuated during the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant . The hogs eat plants contaminated with high concentrations of radiation and become more radioactive than the Japanese government considers safe.

At least our feral hogs don’t glow. Or maybe if they did, it would be easier to control them.

They can smell humans several football fields away, so hunters have to stay downwind when trying to track and kill them. Boars can’t see well. They see motion more than detail. But they’re challenging to hunt and often get spooked by a scent and take off before hunters get a shot.

Informaton put out by the Texas Parks and Wildlife states the hogs “are not classified as game animals but they are ‘intelligent and considered to be challenging quarry” so they are hunted. Most state governmental game and wildlife sites mention the hogs can be dangerous if they’re wounded in a hunt and one is tracking it, or if it’s a sow with piglets. But many think they are unpredictable in any circumstance.

The culprits are uprooting plants, crops, and even trees all over the U.S. and wallowing out holes as big as pickup trucks— sometimes in the middle of a low spot on a country road or in someone’s garden.

A sow, sexually mature at 6 to 8 months, may 12 piglets in a year. And we already have at least 5 million feral hogs in this country now.

Do the math.

Even with all the hunting rules suspended, and states like Texas even allowing hogs to be hunted from helicopters, we’re still in trouble. It’s becoming common in some areas for feral pigs to come into towns and tear up parks and home landscaping, wallow out gigantic holes in golf courses, and get into fights with domestic pets.

And though scientists are working on a poison or a contraceptive drug to slow their reproduction rates, they’ve yet to figure out how to give it to the pigs without other species being harmed. Meanwhile, for reasons scientists think are related to climate change, the pigs keep moving north and into more populated areas.

I’ve heard it said by older folks that the country is “going to the dogs,” but it’s more like the country — and most of the world — is going to the hogs.

Someone should make a horror movie like the old Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds,” but call it “The Hogs.” It would be scarier.

I’m glad feral hogs haven’t learned to drive; or figured out how to vote. I don’t think their votes would be favorable to women’s rights. They would probably swing far right. Well, except for that part about us eating them. They’d probably pressure some Democrat to get legislation passed to prohibit that. Shortly thereafter, they’d take over the world.

I’ve already seen plenty of videos of hogs chasing government biologists up trees as if they know the feds are out to get them. Once trapped, they ram the fences and charge anyone who enters the corral. There are plenty of funny videos online featuring hogs vs. humans. However, despite it being a sometimes comical situation, the feral hogs and their rapidly increasing number and area of habitation is a serious threat to food crops, recreational areas, historic sites and the cleanliness of waterways. Not to mention our tail ends if one gets angry and aggressive.

Former print journalist, former mayor, retired law enforcement officer. Writing about politics and government along with random personal essays.

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