Over six years, Ryan Hubert, one of four U.S. Department of Agriculture feral swine biologists for Kansas, has removed over 1,000 wild hogs from his area stretching from Coffeyville to Elk City along the Oklahoma state line.
During the Kansas State University Extension Women in Agriculture meeting in Independence, Hubert spoke to female farm operators about the techniques and patience feral hog feral hog management requires.
“Here in Kansas, they estimate the annual damage around a quarter of a million dollars to agriculture in the state,” Hubert said. “The damage is not just restricted to crops, it can also be vegetable crops or even nut trees and farms.”
With a feral hog population reportedly hovering around 1,000 hogs in 2017, the dollar value of damage per hog in the state would be exceedingly high. Thanks to a rapid rate of hybridization and their capability for explosive reproduction, without management the state’s feral hog population could careen out of control.
“Their high reproductivity and sexual maturity at a young age can result in quite an exponential population increase in a short amount of time,” Hubert said. “Their gestation allows for about two times of producing three to eight piglets per year in a litter but as high as 10 to 12 depending on conditions.”
Feral hogs travel in sounders — groups typically comprised of two or three sows and several of their growing litters of piglets. Boars join the sounder when the sows are in heat, but with piglets reaching sexual maturity as early as 6 months of age, feral hog populations can expand rapidly even without mature boars present.
Feral hogs can eat 3 to 5 percent of their body weight daily in tubers, roots and invertebrates they dig up using their snouts as a trowel.
“It’s amazing how little the amount of soil they actually remove is when they’re feeding like this,” Hubert said, “but they create some pretty big divots you’ll see at times, almost like grenades went off or something.”
Most of the damage done by feral swine each year is due to their rooting process, where the hogs tear up cropland or pasture in pursuit of a meal. However, feral hogs have a significant impact on other wild game populations in the state as they compete for food without the threat of any major predators.
“They’re directly competing for the mass crop of the oak trees in the fall against our native turkeys and deer and animals that are caching them for a food supply and for fat for the winter,” Hubert said. “But also, there is consumption of ground nesting bird eggs for quail and prairie chicken and other native birds.”
Hubert encouraged producers to keep an eye out for feral swine in their fields, as the hogs often camp out in the interior of a crop field for several days before anyone noticed signs of their presence.
Feral hogs will pull vegetation up into a large bird-like nest, root in soft bottom ground and rub themselves on poles and trees. Tracks left by feral hogs will look similar to deer tracks but will be squarer in shape and have rounder toes.
Feral Swine Management Techniques
“Trapping is our main method of removal for feral swine,” Hubert said. “This is a process that the goal is to eliminate the whole sounder; we want to catch them all in one drop or one catch — so it’s really a good test of your patience.”
Typically, Hubert said, a trapping operation follows a few specific steps:
• Start a bait site in an area where signs of feral hogs have been found.
• Get the pigs coming to the site and comfortable in the area.
• Bring in panels and start setting up the trap gradually (this process can take weeks or months depending on the comfort level of the hogs).
• Set the trigger and get ready to trap.
This method of trapping is a low-tech method Hubert has begun to phase out over the past few years, choosing to adopt a more tech-friendly and less time consuming method in its place. However, setting up a trap like the one described can be effective for capturing large groups of hogs over time, sometimes as many as 40 hogs in one night, in Hubert’s experience.
In the past few years, Hubert has transitioned to using electronically triggered gates or a suspended single trapping unit monitored by a game camera and remotely released via cell phone.
“The real gain with electronic traps is you get control of when the gate drops,” Hubert said. “The advantage of being able to know how many pigs are in the group — through trail camera — and being able to trip the trap from your phone remotely is you can get a whole lot more and capture the group all at once.”
Releasing the gate or trap remotely reduces instances of non-target captures of animals like deer or raccoons and also increases the amount of feral hogs captured. Once the hogs are trapped, they are dispatched on site as Kansas law restricts live transport or possessing live wild hogs in the state, Hubert said.
While state laws also allow landowners to harvest wild hogs from their own land, Hubert said combatting a large group of pigs with rifle isn’t a recommended strategy.
“One thing we preach pretty heavily is to only shoot pigs if you can get what you see,” Hubert said. “The scattering effect makes it nearly impossible to pin them down after they have been disturbed in such a manner.”
Sport hunting has never been proven to be an effective method for controlling wild hogs and, with the scattering effect, it is actually more likely to increase the distribution of hogs across the state, Hubert said. Hunting itself isn’t a bad option in every situation, however, and Hubert recommends it in select situations.
“Night hunting is what we do for isolated boars or very small groups,” Hubert said. “We utilize thermal optics and will scan from a high point or an open area in areas where we have known presence of them.”
Hubert also utilizes aerial hunting operations on occasion — a method where a helicopter hovers closely to a group of wild hogs while a gunner hits them with buckshot blasts from a shotgun at close range. It’s an expensive and dangerous operation but can be highly effective.
“Our take numbers with the aerial gunning operations in just a few hours or days can match a year’s worth of work for trapping methods and other methods,” Hubert said. “It’s really quite a tool but the ground work lays the foundation for its effectiveness.”
In reality, Hubert said, no singular method is capable of controlling the state’s population of feral swine, along with those entering the state from other regions.
“Really the best way to control their numbers is by utilizing this variety of methods, equipment and techniques to adapt to their numbers,” Hubert said.
To date, Kansas has been able to eliminate over 10 pockets of feral swine across the state, a feat few other states can match, Hubert said. The feat is accomplished by landowners reporting feral hog sightings or signs and cooperating with state agencies on the hogs’ removal.
“What’s making population control possible here in Kansas is really our access,” Hubert said. “We have over a million acres of land we can access, as well as help from state agencies and neighboring states’ wildlife services.”
Continuing to monitor the wild hog populations in Kansas as well as increasing research about the species and public knowledge about control will be key to managing wild hogs for the future, Hubert said.
“The management strategy in my area here is education, expanding our cooperators, expanding along the border and locating these high-usage areas where pigs consistently funnel from a property or onto a property, as well as increasing our data reports to the state,” Hubert said.