Join the Fight Against Feral Hogs

By Candice Davis, photographs by David Stonner | January 22, 2015
From Missouri Conservationist: Feb 2015

Unless you’ve lost crops, wildlife habitat, or landscaping to them, the phrase “feral hogs” probably doesn’t raise your blood pressure much. But these highly destructive invasive animals have become a problem, especially in the southeastern part of our state.

The landowners you’re about to meet learned about feral hogs the hard way, and they all agree on the solution. Quick identification of the problem and strong partnerships with the Missouri Department of Conservation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and fellow landowners are vital to eradicating feral hogs in Missouri.

Unwanted Guests at the Farm

Herman Wilfong owns 380 acres in Wayne County. After farming cattle for 35 years, Wilfong sold his herd, and now he keeps about 60 acres in cropland, with the remaining open fields devoted to wildlife food plots such as wheat, clover, milo, cowpeas, and corn.

“The main focus is on deer and turkey, but I would also like to develop habitat for rabbits and quail,” he said.

His land is ideal for this goal. The 280 acres of woodland provides cover and food sources for wildlife. The remaining acres provide many wildlife resources, such as varying heights of grasses and food sources.

What’s not ideal are his unwanted guests, who usually crash the party in the evenings. He first learned there were feral hogs on his property when a guest deer hunter reported hogs near his deer stand in 2012. Shortly after, Wilfong found evidence of rooting in several spots.

“The first year we only had spot damage in three or four small areas,” he said. “Then in 2013, the hogs basically destroyed a whole 5-acre portion of my land, with additional spot damage in other fields.”

Wilfong did exactly what the Department of Conservation recommends landowners do when they find feral hogs on their property. He immediately reported the damage to his local Department of Conservation office. Soon after, a wildlife management biologist assisted in setting up two trapping sites on the Wilfong property.

“After constructing the two pens last year, I baited and ran the traps daily through February,” Wilfong said, adding that the last hog sign he observed was in late January.

Now, as soon as Wilfong detects sign, he baits the traps again. In 2013, he successfully trapped four hogs, which makes him hopeful that he prevented some future damage, but he knows the surrounding population of hogs can continue to impact him.

“There’s such a large hog population in this area, I anticipate future hog destruction on my property,” he said.

Wilfong said the best advice he can give other landowners is to keep an eye out for feral hog sign, contact the Department of Conservation, and get ready to trap feral hogs.

Feral Hogs Foul Water, Destroy Crops, and Gobble Up Profits

Cynthia Wesling and Danny Miller have several properties in Madison County, where Danny has lived for 30 years. One 140-acre property is especially valuable to Cynthia and Danny because of the land’s half-mile of river frontage on the Big St. Francis River, natural spring, and several ponds. About 100 acres of the property is made up of pasture and cropland, and the rest is hilly forest. Twenty-five acres are row crops, and the pasture supports about 30 cows.

“We enjoy the beauty of nature here,” Wesling said. “Our property has a wonderful southwestern exposure that affords gorgeous afternoons and sunsets. I never get sick of the view.”

But many of the same features Wesling and her husband find so valuable also attract feral hogs that routinely cross the property to access water and the undisturbed forest area.

“We both enjoy our way of life living on the farm in such a rural setting,” Wesling said. “We aren’t getting rich by any means, but we both think there is more to it than finances.”

Unfortunately, finances are where this couple has taken the hardest hit from feral hogs.

“We both work full time in outside jobs to make ends meet. That is also why the hog issue is such a problem. We can barely make a profit on the farm in most years due to weather concerns, so to have another obstacle to deal with is time-consuming and hurts the bottom dollar,” Wesling said.

Wesling figured the financial hit they took from their most recent crop damage caused by the hogs amounted to $5,500.

“I’m appalled,” Wesling said. That financial cost doesn’t count the time wasted in planting the crops that were destroyed, or the time trapping and disposing of hogs to reduce future occurrences of damage.

The couple has two hog traps set on their property at all times, but Wesling said the hogs adapt to locations, so they continue to move the traps every couple of months.

“Our success has been sporadic,” Wesling said.

The couple killed 10 hogs last spring and summer “It requires constant vigilance to keep the hog population under control,” she said.

They’re Wiley, Vicious, and Strong Enough to Break a Fence

Don Kory dreamed of owning land in the Missouri Ozarks for decades. His first experience in the area was a camping trip to Johnson’s Shut-Ins more than 50 years ago.“The hills, trees, rocks, clear streams, and wildlife leftme with such an impression that it became my lifelong dream to be a part of such a beautiful and peaceful place,” Kory said.

He realized that dream about 40 years ago when he purchased a small piece of land. Now, after several expansions and a lot of hard work, Don and his wife, Lynn, own about 500 acres in Reynolds County.

“We enjoy it every day,” he said of the family property. “Hiking, hunting, and fishing have always been a part of the enjoyment we call ‘the country.’”

In all that dreaming, Kory didn’t foresee a threat to his beloved land in the form of feral hogs. Six years ago, he spotted the damage before he saw the culprits.“We started seeing some rooted-up ground on the hills and glades,” he said.

One year later, the hogs invaded his fields, destroyed the garden, and plowed his yard. All of the damage occurred without Kory actually seeing a feral hog, but he knew what was causing it. After working for Purina for 38 years and seeing hog rooting behavior in other locations, it was an easy calculation.

“It was just, ah shucks, looks like the hogs are moving in,” he said.

Kory called the Department of Conservation about the hog invasion, and biologists examined the damage. “They said we had feral hogs and they said it was probably a lot more of them than I thought. And it was,” Kory said.

The extensive damage to his property meant there was a growing population of hogs in the area. To catch the hogs, three traps were constructed in different areas of the property. In the first three years of trapping, more than 150 feral hogs were trapped successfully.

“At first, trapping was somewhat exciting,” Kory said. “However, it soon became a time-consuming, dirty chore.” Kory said hog trapping is unpredictable. He never knew when he would have hogs in the trap. Also, it takes more than a little bit of corn to entice the hogs.

“It takes about 10 to 12 bags of corn to lure them into the trap before setting it to make a catch,” he said. What really aggravates Kory about the feral hog invasion are the hogs’ temperament and public’s lack of understanding about feral hog damage.

“When you experience what a feral hog is like in a trap, they’re nothing like the tame pigs they call ‘wild hogs’ on TV,” Kory said. “I had a big sow jump right over a cattle panel and another break the welds on the panel and go right through it. The strength and temperament of a large feral pig is something.”

Currently, the Kory family has trapped 174 feral hogs on their property. Kory said landowners who haven’t yet experienced feral hogs on their property sometimes don’t understand the damage the animals cause. But after years of trapping and responding to the wreckage they leave behind, he knows the situation all too well.

“It seems many people think it would just be great fun to have ‘wild boars’ on your property to hunt,” he said. “But if you are a landowner and enjoy your land the way it is, I say be happy if you never see a feral pig.”

Kory said he and Lynn used to become concerned when native wildlife would take vegetables from their garden, but the feral hog damage has put that into perspective. “When the pigs arrived, they plowed the entire garden in one night,” he said. “If you are growing hay, crisscross your field with a plow, let the grass regrow, and that’s what it’s like to have feral pigs when you try to mow it.”

Statewide Eradication Depends on Landowner Participation

Herman Wilfong, Cynthia Wesling and Danny Miller, and Don and Lynn Kory aren’t the only landowners battling feral hogs. The Missouri Department of Conservation has been working with landowners in the Southeast Region for about 10 years, according to Mark McLain, a Department of Conservation wildlife management biologist. He and other conservation employees worked to implement a Feral Hog Eradication Plan in 2012, which organized efforts and established partner agencies for the project.

“I work with landowners who have, on average, trapped 30 to 90 hogs per year for several years,” McLain said. There are a number of counties in southeast Missouri where feral hogs have been reported to be a problem.

Within those counties, the Department of Conservation and the USDA currently have dozens of working hog traps on public and private land. The two agencies employ annual aerial gunning to target hogs in remote areas that cannot otherwise be reached for trapping. In fiscal year 2014, Congress approved a Feral Swine Initiative for the USDA to assist states with feral hog eradication.

This much-needed initiative will allow the USDA to work cooperatively with the Department of Conservation to implement a statewide management program with the goal of eradicating feral hogs in Missouri. “When you consider the danger that feral hogs pose to wildlife and their habitat, agricultural efforts, and private property, every possible effort to eradicate them is necessary,” McLain said. Biologists on the feral hog team are busy — working with 73 landowners in 2013 and 57 in 2014 — providing technical advice, lending equipment, and making on-site visits. In southeast Missouri, the combined Department of Conservation and USDA efforts led to the elimination of 721 hogs in 2013 and 514 hogs in 2014.

McLain, the Feral Hog Eradication Team, and many landowners in and surrounding the affected counties hope that the problem might be contained and eventually eliminated. In order to achieve that goal, McLain and his colleagues need landowners to learn the process of identifying and reporting feral hog damage as soon as they suspect a problem.

The most important part of battling feral hogs is landowner involvement, McLain said. If one landowner in an area is fully engaged in the feral hog battle and others aren’t, the hogs will continue to spread.

To report possible feral hog sign on your property and enlist assistance, contact your local Department of Conservation regional office, or call the USDA Feral Swine Coordinator, Brad Jump, at 417-895-6880, ext. 1642.

Not the Same As Farm Hogs

The majority of feral hogs in Missouri are mutts with genetic combinations that include Russian or Eurasian wild boar (razorbacks), an assortment of domestic varieties such as Yorkshire, Hampshire, or Duroc, and even potbellied pigs. The resulting offspring exhibit a variety of shapes and colors including gray, red, black, blond, spotted, and belted. All have small eyes, large triangular ears, and a long snout ending in a large, round nose. They have a thick coat of coarse, bristly hair that they can erect along their spine, lending them the common name “razorback.”

Most feral hogs have longer bristles than their domestic ancestors, but shorter hair than those of purebred Russian boars. Boars develop a thick, tough layer of cartilage (sometimes called a “shield”) over the shoulders, and have four sharp tusks that grow continuously, often reaching 5 inches before they break or become worn from use. The bottom tusks are formidable weapons used for defense and to establish dominance during breeding.

Learn more about identifying feral hog damage and controlling local invasions at mdc.

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler