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Oklahoma’s feral hog population has reached epidemic proportions and is wreaking havoc on farms and ranches, according to Noble Foundation Biologist Russell Stevens.

“We have a saying, ‘a sow can have 10 pigs and wean 15.’ Right now, we’re losing the battle,” he said.

These aren’t the wild hogs of razorback fame. These problem pigs are descendants of domesticated swine that have reverted to wild ways.

Feral hogs prefer creek and river bottoms rather than uplands and open country. In 2007, however, they were reported in all but two Oklahoma counties, according to Stevens. Area’s where surface water and good cover report the highest populations, but the wild hogs are now present even in the open areas of the western and northwestern portions of the state.

“We don’t have any scientific studies that can give us an accurate count, but unscientific polls place the population at about 600,000. This is strictly based on a word-of-mouth survey in 2007 and may be conservative. Based on the survey, the estimated range was 518,000 to 1.6 million,” Stevens said. “The best way to get rid of them is by trapping or shooting, but that’s very hard to do. They are intelligent, take advantage of cover, and adjust their home range when pressured.”

This past session, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill allowing the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to authorize a permit to holders of big game commercial hunting licenses to hunt the hogs from a helicopter. There are specific restrictions and conditions that must be met both by the hunter and the helicopter pilot. The $200 permit is good for one year but may be renewed. Notification of the date, time and area must be given to the ODAFF 24-hours prior to a hunt.

The hunts are authorized only to protect land, water, wildlife, livestock, domesticated animals, human life or crops.

Trapping is another alternative that can greatly reduce the numbers.

“Smaller traps have the advantage of being mobile, but you can’t catch very many at a time,” Stevens said. “Bigger traps can catch and hold several animals but require a lot of effort to move. Trail cameras are being used more and more to facilitate trapping efforts.”

A herd of the hogs—known as a “sounder”—can destroy a field of soybeans or corn in a single night, not only eating up the crop but also rooting up the ground.

“Riparian areas are probably where they do the most damage,” Stevens said. “Corn or beans planted in the little creek valleys or along the river often don’t survive.”

For many years the armadillo has been king when it came to rooting up the ground and destroying vegetation.

Feral hogs, however, have knocked armadillos off that dubious throne.

“They just keep moving and multiplying and it will require a concerted effort to control them,” Stevens said.

These aren’t the “Three Little Pigs.” Experts caution that feral hogs don’t behave like their domesticated cousins. Extreme care should be taken in attempting to trap or kill the critters because they are quick, mean and equipped with flesh-ripping tusks, Stevens warned.

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