Hunters hold the key to feral hog control

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The opportunity to put wild pork on the table is an incentive for hunters to help reduce threats to agriculture, veterinary health and human safety.

JEFFERSON CITY-- Hunters have been an effective force in addressing Missouri's free-ranging hog problem. The Missouri Department of Conservation reports that intense hunting pressure has helped reduce the number of unconfined swine in the Show-Me State.

"There is a lot of good news to report regarding the state's feral hog population," says Tom Hutton, private land field programs supervisor for the Conservation Department. "Hunters and landowners have removed a significant number of feral hogs. That has helped us stop the population from growing as quickly in most counties. In other counties, hunting has actually reduced the wild hog population."

Reducing feral hog numbers isn't easy. A single sow can produce 12 piglets a year. And wild hogs are intelligent. When hunted, they become elusive, making them hard to find and eliminate.

The Missouri departments of Conservation and Agriculture and other partners on Missouri's Feral Hog Task Force have been working to eliminate feral hogs since 1999. The effort is aimed at protecting public safety, natural resources and the agricultural economy.

Hogs can become aggressive when cornered or wounded. They can cause serious injury when they attack humans. Just as serious is wild pigs' ability to transmit a wide range of diseases that can infect humans, livestock and pets. Those diseases include swine brucellosis, foot and mouth disease, trichinosis, pseudorabies, and leptospirosis.

Wild hogs can devastate agricultural enterprises and natural resources. They are efficient predators with an acute sense of smell. They will eat anything they can catch, including livestock, reptiles, amphibians, deer fawns, bird eggs, berries, fruit and acorns. Besides killing wildlife, feral hogs compete with wild animals for food. Their rooting and wallowing damages crops, vineyards and forests and causes soil erosion and stream sedimentation.

The statewide feral hog population is estimated at 1,000 to 3,000 Small, isolated hog populations exist in 26 Missouri counties. That is more than in previous years.

Hutton attributes part of the increase to greater awareness, which leads to increased reporting. However, migration of hogs from surrounding counties or states and deliberate stocking also contribute to the problem. Bringing hogs into Missouri without testing for disease is illegal.

"If the hog stocking is indeed occurring, any county in Missouri could be without feral hogs one day and have them the next," says Hutton. "We need hunters, landowners, farmers, stockmen and conservationists to be on the lookout for hog stocking activity."

Most hunting opportunities are limited to public lands at Fort Leonard Wood, the Mark Twain National Forest, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers properties and White Ranch Conservation Area south of West Plains. In most cases, said Hutton, private landowners and their neighbors are dealing effectively with feral hogs on their land. He said hog hunting is not easy. Missouri's wild hogs are elusive and thinly scattered. They use heavy cover and, consequently, are difficult to find.

Hutton advises hunters to watch for hogs when afield and harvest the animals when possible. When attempting to kill a wild hog hunters should use repeating firearms that would be suitable for deer hunting. People using muzzleloaders or bows and arrows would be wise to hunt from tree stands for extra safety.

The Conservation Department advises successful hog hunters to wear plastic or rubber gloves while dressing wild hogs. They should bury the offal to prevent disease transmission to other animals. Furthermore, Hutton said, hog hunters shouldn't feed raw meat or wild hog organs to pets or livestock. "As with all pork, it's important that wild hogs' meat be thoroughly cooked," said Hutton.

Hunters can be held liable for killing stray domestic hogs. Those who harvest hogs are asked to collect blood samples which the Agriculture Department can test for diseases.

Hutton says hunting is one of several tactics being used to address feral hog problems. State officials will continue efforts to educate the public about the threat the animals pose and to seek legislation to limit the spread of feral hogs in Missouri.

To report wild hog sightings and harvest, call Hutton at 573/751-4115, ext. 3147, or the Missouri State Veterinarian's Office at 573/751-3377.

- Arleasha Mays -
 

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