Feral Hogs: Bad for Missouri

By Rex Martensen | September 2, 2008
From Missouri Conservationist: Sep 2008

Usually, when the subject of feral hogs is brought up, I get two questions: “Do we have them in Missouri?” and “Are they a problem?”

Right now we know that feral hogs are established in more than 20 of Missouri’s 114 counties. These counties are predominantly in the southern half of the state with at least one pocket of pigs north of the Missouri River. Hogs are considered feral (or wild) when they are not marked to show ownership and are roaming freely.

Where Did They Come From?

Missouri’s feral hogs have originated from a variety of sources such as escapes from “on-the-ground” hog operations, released pets (potbellied pigs) and accidental escapes from licensed shooting preserves that offer hog hunts. Today most hog operators are considered commercial and keep all of their hogs in confinement buildings.

Feral hogs in Missouri are not exactly late-breaking news; a few counties in the south central and southwest Ozarks have had free-roaming hogs for a number of years. Those populations were small, isolated and kept in check by hunters and local hog trappers.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that the feral hog situation in Missouri began to change. Hog hunting as a form of recreation began gaining in popularity, and the intentional illegal release of hogs to provide more hunting opportunity on public land spread feral hog populations to new areas. Because feral hogs are very adaptable and prolific, it didn’t take long until their numbers started growing at an alarming rate, and we started getting numerous damage complaints from private landowners.

Feral Hog Problems

Feral hogs cause a wide variety of problems and are a serious concern for private landowners, fish and wildlife managers, and nature enthusiasts of all kinds. They are very destructive to sensitive natural areas such as glades, fens and springs. Their tendency to wallow in wet areas can destroy these types of important habitats. The rooting and feeding behavior of feral hogs also contributes to soil erosion and reduces water quality.

They are omnivorous and will consume reptiles and amphibians. They have even been known to kill and eat deer fawns. They also relish the eggs of ground-nesting birds. Basically anything that lives on the ground is a potential meal for a feral hog.

Feral hogs also forage heavily on acorns. Because many wildlife species in the Ozarks depend on acorns for their main food source, any acorns consumed by feral hogs come at the expense of Missouri’s native wildlife.

Agricultural Concerns

Feral hogs are also a major concern to Missouri’s agriculture community. They damage and destroy row crops, root up hay and pasture land and damage tree plantings and other types of agriculture.

One of the biggest threats to agriculture is the potential transfer of disease from infected feral hogs to domestic swine herds. Feral hogs in other states are known to carry swine brucellosis and pseudorabies. Both of these diseases cause abortions in sows and high mortality in piglets.

Missouri’s domestic swine are considered diseasefree and a good source for safe, healthy pork products. However, an outbreak of swine brucellosis or pseudorabies from feral hogs into domestic swine could severely cripple Missouri’s pork industry, creating a negative economic impact that would affect the entire state.

Hogs and Disease

The spread of disease to people, pets and other livestock is another concern. Brucellosis, when contracted by humans, is known as undulant fever. Pseudorabies is not transferable to humans and is not related to rabies. Feral hogs have been documented in various studies to carry 30 significant viral and bacterial diseases and 37 parasites.

Feral hogs in Missouri are currently being tested for pseudorabies, brucellosis, tularemia and classical swine fever. Blood test kits are available at regional conservation offices at no charge to collect blood samples for disease testing.

We are fortunate not to have had an outbreak or serious issues with diseases from feral hogs. However, four cases of pseudorabies and brucellosis have been discovered in feral hogs in Missouri. In at least two of those cases, infected feral hogs were brought into the state for the purpose of hunting. Quick action from the Missouri Department of Agriculture helped stop these animals from spreading disease.

Eradication Efforts

Feral hogs are simply considered an invasive, exotic species. They are not wildlife and are not, therefore, under the control of the Conservation Department. Because they are not owned or confined, they also escape the regulations of the Missouri Department of Agriculture. This has complicated feral hog control and eradication efforts.

The Missouri departments of Conservation and Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are actively eradicating feral hogs on their respective properties and the properties of adjoining landowners. The U.S. Department of Agriculture/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service–Wildlife Services staff are assisting those efforts, in addition to helping private landowners eradicate hogs.

Hunters are also helping control Missouri’s feral hog numbers. However, hunting alone has not proven to be sufficient to eradicate feral hogs.

Trapping and snaring are the most common and effective methods for catching hogs. By using corral-type traps with a one-way door, multiple hogs can be caught at one time. If trapping is not an option, then shooting hogs that come to bait is effective. Because feral hogs are often active at night, this method is enhanced when state and federal employees use night-vision equipment.

Another control method involves using a “Judas pig,” or a pig that betrays the others. By catching and placing a radio transmitter on a juvenile pig and releasing it back to the wild, it gives away the location of other hogs, and eradication efforts can then be focused on the whole group. Specially trained bay dogs are sometimes used to catch the Judas pig and its comrades. Bay dogs can also be effective for removing small pockets of hogs or hogs that are “trap shy.”

Aerial gunning (shooting pigs from a helicopter) has also proven to be very effective under the right circumstances. USDA / APHIS–Wildlife Services have used this method extensively in Kansas and Texas.

Such aggressive and seemingly extreme methods must be used to effectively reduce feral hog numbers. Because of their large reproductive potential, 70 percent of a feral hog population must be removed annually to keep it from growing.

Illegal Release of Feral Hogs

With all of the negative affects associated with feral hogs, it seems elementary that everyone would support their complete eradication. Unfortunately, some individuals have contributed to the spread of feral hogs by intentionally releasing them for the purpose of recreational hunting.

While some might argue the recreational value of hunting feral hogs in Missouri, the detrimental effects of feral hogs far outweigh any benefits. Releasing feral hogs is illegal and should be reported directly to law enforcement agencies, or by calling the Operation Game Thief Hotline at (800) 392-1111.

Hunting for Hogs

When people ask me where the best places are to hunt feral hogs, I usually tell them to go to Texas, Oklahoma or Arkansas!

Targeting feral hogs to hunt in Missouri is extremely difficult and not recommended for the casual hunter. Populations are typically scattered over large expanses of rugged Ozark real estate that includes public and private land. Trying to locate feral hogs in Missouri is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Private landowners who have feral hogs on their property tend to take care of the problem themselves or enlist the help of USDA/APHIS–Wildlife Services. Some local hunters who live in hog country are having success killing feral hogs because they have a better chance of knowing where the hogs are from day to day. The best chance for non-local hunters is to opportunistically kill hogs while hunting deer or other species of wildlife.

The regulations make it easy for hunters to take hogs when opportunities arise. During most of the year no permit is required to take feral hogs, and any legal hunting method is allowed. There are some restrictions during the firearms deer and turkey seasons. Details of these can be found in the Wildlife Code or at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Web site.

Feral hogs are bad for Missouri, and they are everyone’s problem. Eradicating feral hogs will be an ongoing process that will require long-term dedication and wide support.

Governor’s Task Force

In the fall of 2007, Governor Blunt formed the Feral Hog Task Force to help elevate awareness of the negative impacts of feral hogs. The task force made the following recommendations.

  • A statewide, cooperative effort among various governmental and nongovernmental agencies, private landowners and Missouri citizens is needed to control feral hogs in the state.
  • Key members of the public, legislators and the judiciary need to be informed of the consequences of feral hogs so they can make appropriate decisions concerning the animals.
  • Current laws and penalties need to be reviewed to evaluate their effectiveness at stopping feral hog releases.
  • Public land managers and private landowners need to work cooperatively at eradicating feral hogs from their respective properties.
  • Funding sources need to be identified and pursued to support feral hog control efforts.
  • Disease monitoring needs to be continued and prompt reporting of feral hogs needs to be encouraged to help eradication efforts. To report feral hogs or to request blood test kits call the Conservation Department at (573) 751-4115, or the USDA at (573) 449-3033.

The Feral Hog Task Force included representatives from a wide variety of resource, agricultural and citizen interests. For more information, visit the task force's Web site.

Also In This Issue

A photographic essay on the beautiful and diverse landscapes of Missouri.
Based on the biological results from the APR experiment and public support, the APR will be expanded to include 65 counties in 2008.

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Director - Cliff White
Writer/Editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Ruby
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler