I’ve been reading Hogs Wild: Selected Reporting Pieces, by Ian Frazier, who is one of my favorite contemporary writers.
Employing a refreshing slice of thinking man’s journalism, in the title piece Frazier examines how free-ranging, wild swine became established across much of the Southern United States and how one corner of the Southeast deals with them.
Wild hogs are a scourge to wildlife biologists, game managers, land managers and farmers. They can provide for a challenging hunt, but generally are nearly universally despised.
“We do have them,” said Steve Beam, director of wildlife for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We don’t want them.”
John Hast doesn’t mince words when it comes to hogs.
“Yeah, we have pigs,” said Hast, coordinator of the state game agency’s bear, furbearer and wild hog program. “And our goal is to eradicate them in Kentucky.”
That’s a high-minded objective but probably unobtainable. Control is about the best to hope for when it comes to managing wild hogs. The animals are tenacious, tough, intelligent and highly adaptable. When pressured, they often become nocturnal, making them even more elusive. They’ve been roaming around North America for more than 500 years and likely aren’t going anywhere.
And they are prolific breeders.
“In a good year, a whitetail [deer] might produce two offspring,” Hast noted. “In a good year, a pig might produce 40.”
Wild hogs are not a rampant problem in Kentucky. At least not yet. Accurate estimates of hog numbers are hard to come by. The most accurate counts (done from the air) are gathered from the central and western areas of the state. In the heavily wooded east, pig numbers are little more than a guess.
Hast’s estimate of the number of Kentucky wild swine? “I’d say the low thousands,” he said.
Frazier recounts a story from an experienced hog hunter in Georgia who lost two of his dogs. The hog, a large boar, killed both.
Wild hog hunting is popular in some states; banned in others. Several years ago, I participated in a hog hunt in South Carolina’s low country. Most of the action happened from a tree stand over bait, but one afternoon, we hunted with dogs. (Earlier, the host had pulled me aside and said, “If you get asked to go with the dogs, be sure to go.”) I soon learned why.
Most the time was spent bouncing through the woods in the bed of an oversized 4-by-4 Chevy listening for the baying of the dogs. It grew a little boring. Then, suddenly, the dogs sounded and our guide, who until that moment had been laconic in both word and movement, sprang into action with a string of profanity-laced instructions. The Chevy tore through the woods. A mad footrace brought us to a snarling, 200-pound boar hog being circled by three considerably smaller but still impressively focused dogs. The guide, who was probably in his early 20s, grabbed my hunting partner standing next to him and ordered him to shoot. He did. The .50-caliber muzzleloader knocked down the hog but failed to keep it down. The pig scrambled to its feet and bolted into the brush, followed by the dogs, their handler, and me.
The scene was soon repeated, only with the hog armed with a nastier and more dangerous disposition; the dogs seemingly more aggressive and determined. We ended the hunt with a knife—the guide holding the hog in something akin to the duck under wrestling move, and I inserting the blade where instructed.
That evening over a campfire supper of fresh wild pork I asked the guide, who has resumed his laconic pose and tone, why the mad rush to reach the hog and the dogs. Did he think the pig would get away?
“Nope. It coulda killed one of my dogs.”
Hunting wild hogs is legal in Kentucky, although Hast stressed there are no “pig numbers worth hunting” on public land. Except for a small area of southeastern Kentucky, wild pig season is open year-round with no bag limit.
Legal, maybe. But not encouraged by wildlife officials. Hast admitted it is an odd stance for the Department of Fish and Wildlife to take: to discourage hunting for a legal—and nuisance—species.
“That’s because the best way, and a much more efficient way, to [eradicate] pigs is to trap them,” he said. “What we encourage all landowners to do if they have pigs or see evidence of pigs is to contact us, and we will trap them.”
State hunting regulations outline this stance. According to the 2016-2017 Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide, “Wild pigs may be hunted year round, with no bag limit, except on Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area … Landowners are strongly encouraged to work with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to remove wild pigs from their property. Trapping is the most effective method of removal … Wild pigs must be killed at the trap site, and not released.”
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