Wild pigs have become public enemy number one across most of the country. Many landowners are fighting daily battles in efforts to either reduce or prevent them from damaging their properties.
Wild pigs are not native to the United States but were introduced during the 1500’s by explorers traveling across the Southeast. With populations now in at least 45 states, wild pigs have become abundant and widespread. This widespread distribution is not due to natural causes, but rather human intervention by way of translocating animals and they have taken it from there.
Given their nature of being habitat generalists, these animals are highly adaptive to a variety of conditions and climates. Wild pigs have been classified as opportunistic omnivores. This means they primarily feed on plant material and invertebrates like worms and insects. However, when the “opportunity” arises, small mammals, the young of mammals, and the eggs of ground nesting birds and reptiles can all be food items for wild pigs.
Unfortunately for property owners, wild pigs have very high reproductive potential. When you combine reaching sexual maturity at six months, litter sizes of 6-8, the ability to have more than one litter per year, and low natural mortality it is not hard to see how numbers can increase rapidly. The highest rate of pig mortality results from human activities like trapping, hunting, and vehicle collisions.
Wild pigs typically cause damage to agricultural crops, livestock, forests, and are now threatening native wildlife populations and environmental quality in some areas. Nationwide damage resulting from wild pigs lands somewhere around $1.5 billion annually, that’s right billion, with a B! On the agriculture side, common damage includes trampling crops, wallowing in the fields (damages fields and equipment), and on occasion preying on livestock (mainly newborn lambs, goats, and calves). When you leave the fields and come into the woods the story does not get any better. Wild pigs impact hardwood forests by targeting mast as a major food source, thus limiting regeneration and acorn availability for other wildlife species. In addition, rooting can pull up seedlings in areas where mast was able to germinate. Pine plantations are not immune to damage either. Wild pigs can impact plantations through trampling, rooting, and feeding on the seedlings (especially longleaf).
If the issues above aren’t bad enough, wait there is more. Wild pigs compete for habitat resources with native wildlife species and can have significant impacts on ground nesting birds, sea turtles, snakes, and several other species. While they are not thought to be a significant source of fawn predation, wild pigs will eat newborn fawns. As stated above, rooting, wallowing, and trampling all have negative impacts on forests but it also can cause environmental issues such as soil compaction, degrading water quality, and damage to fresh and saltwater marsh ecosystems.
Whether it’s the health of the wildlife that inhabits your personal property or the health of you and your domestic livestock or pets, wild hogs are a serious threat. At least 45 different diseases and parasites have been documented in feral swine. Most human infections are transmitted by contact with bodily fluids and handling infected organs while cleaning harvested hogs. Out of this long list of transmissible diseases, the two most significant are swine brucellosis and pseudorabies.
Swine brucellosis in humans is also known as undulant fever and bangs disease in livestock. Human symptoms include a recurrent fever, chills, night sweats, weakness, headaches, back pain, swollen joints, loss of appetite, weight loss and sometimes can be fatal. Brucellosis can also cause abortions, infertility, inflammation of testicles, reduced milk production and lameness in livestock. Dogs that have been fed or have been exposed to infected raw meat or the entrails of an infected animal are also at high risk for contamination. Infected dogs not only may develop swine brucellosis but can also pass the disease on to humans. There is no known cure for this disease in animals, but humans can be treated with a six week application of antibiotics. If the illness is not treated or comes back, you could have serious lifelong health problems.
Pseudorabies is a viral disease that infects the central nervous system of wildlife, livestock and domesticated animals. For most species, infection will often lead to death. Only pigs are able to survive an acute infection and become a lifetime carrier of the virus. Fortunately humans cannot contract the virus, but if infected fluids saturate your clothing and your pet dog happens to chew on it or a piece of contaminated raw meat, their survival is unlikely. This disease can be spread through direct contact or consumption, contaminated feed and water or from the ingestion of any infected tissues. Research by the state Florida has suggested an infection rate in the wild hog population to be between 40 and 50 percent.
Prevention and Protection
The best way to avoid disease issues from wild hogs is to simply bury or incinerate any carcasses in a suitable location on your property. However, prior to doing this you would want to check with your state wildlife agency to be sure that consumption of any harvested pigs is not required by law. If you must do so or want to consume harvested wild hogs, please be sure to protect yourself using the following tips:
- Always use latex or rubber gloves and eye protection when handling the carcass or raw meat.
- Avoid direct contact (bare skin) with blood, fluids, reproductive organs and fecal matter. Wear long sleeves covering any scratches, open wounds or lesions on your arms.
- Use clean, sharp knives for field dressing or butchering. Be sure to disinfect knives, cleaning area, clothing and any other exposed surfaces when finished.
- Burn or bury used disposable gloves and any parts of the carcass that will not be eaten.
- Wash your hands frequently during butchering with soap and water.
- Avoid eating, drinking or using tobacco when field-dressing or handling carcasses.
- Do not feed raw meat or other parts of the carcass to dogs.
- Thoroughly cook all meat to 170 degrees. Freezing, smoking, drying and pickling will not kill the bacteria that will cause brucellosis.
So once you realize you have wild pigs, what can you do about it? While success will likely be determined by the number you are dealing with, landowners have a few options for tackling wild pigs. There are non-lethal and lethal methods for attempting to control pig numbers. Non-lethal approaches are more of a preventative stance. Typically these methods will include exclusion fencing, use of protective animals for livestock, and vaccinations to prevent disease transmission and spread. While non-lethal options may prove effective in some instances, they can become costly and high pig populations may require more aggressive tactics. Lethal control options include shooting, trapping, and hunting them with dogs. Currently the USDA is in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department along with representatives from Australia and New Zealand on a poison specifically targeting feral swine. While researchers still have work to do, the poison is essentially salt based (sodium nitrate) but nothing has been approved and registered for use in the U.S. Initial trials showed 70-85% mortality, but more recently researchers have achieved 90%. Obviously one major challenge is figuring out delivery methods to avoid/significantly reduce consumption by non-target species. After the pen trials are complete, the EPA will review all the results then field trials will be conducted (pending EPA findings). Realistically, the earliest estimate on when a product may be available at this point is five years.
In late 2013, our company formed a Wild Hog Policy and Process Team. Being a large timberland owner, our land base covers many areas with high wild hog populations. Our reasoning was the potential for the damage listed above and recent hunting lease customer surveys were showing wild pigs were something that decreased satisfaction for some of our customers.
Basically, the team was tasked with creating a reporting system and assessing areas where lethal control measures were needed to protect environmental quality or help hunting clubs reduce numbers to more tolerable levels.
In early 2014, we purchased a Jager Pro™ hog trapping system. For those that may not be familiar with this system, this trademarked system uses cellular technology to facilitate targeted trapping efforts remotely. Basically the Jager Pro™ system uses a M.I.N.E (Manually Initiated Nuisance Elimination) camera and gate setup that allows users to interact with the trap using your cell phone. There is also a remote control option with an effective range of 250 yards. Aside from the camera and gate, the remainder of the setup includes 16 ft. long metal fencing panels (60 inches tall), metal t-posts, t-post camera mount, and signal booster (if needed). The main objective for this type of system is entire sounder group removal.
A sounder is simply a group of pigs made up of sows (typically related) and their piglets. Young males tend to disperse from the sounder around 16-18 months of age. One of the benefits of this system is that it allows the flexibility for users to manage camera settings and drop the gate without having to travel to the site. Personally, I think it’s outstanding to have the ability to drop the gate on a sounder group from the comforts of my recliner using my cell phone. With our tools now in hand, it was time to decide where to use them.
We first identified an area where we had a large population of wild pigs along with customers looking for help. Since this technology utilizes cellular technology, a SIM card with a data plan is required. The key in this process is finding someone who can set up the unlimited data plan and format the card properly (Jager Pro™ has some very good instructional videos outlining the best process). This sounds like a simple thing to do, however it can become the most challenging. We have also learned that without warning the cellular carrier may change your data plan and the camera will suddenly stop sending images. If we experience a camera that is not functioning properly, the SIM card is the first item we confirm is working properly. The new cameras now no longer use SIM cards, but use a data service plan that operates on a computer server. Data is pre-paid and this should be a more user friendly system.
With the camera set up and ready to go, we were now ready to go catch hogs (so we thought). We found a sight with fresh hog sign and decided to build the trap there. With this being our first time setting up the trap, it took us a little more than two hours to do so. Also, it was summer so that comes with its own set of challenges when you are in the middle of nowhere Alabama.
Once everything was set up and baited, we turned the camera on and waited for the pictures to start rolling in…and waited…and waited. Why were we not getting any pictures? We thought for sure this would be easy and we would be catching and killing pigs but we weren’t. Finally we started getting a few pictures of deer coming to the bait but no hogs, and the pictures were few and far between. So what was going on? As a backup, we set up regular trail cameras at our trap sites. It became evident that the issues we were experiencing were tied to the cell service in the area. Despite our phones having service at these sites, it was not sufficient for the camera to operate properly. This was the reason for the sporadic images we received.
After this realization, we added a new first step to our process; take the camera to where you want to set up the trap first. If you don’t have service, keep looking. In some cases, using the booster antenna available with this trapping system may provide enough signal strength to get the job done.
With our new intel in hand, we began looking for new places to trap. Once a new site was found, we tested the camera and it appeared we had sufficient signal strength to trap. This area had plenty of fresh hog sign so again we were cautiously optimistic. However, for the first several nights we were only getting deer coming to the bait. Frustration began to sink in at this point. Finally after another night or two of only deer coming to the bait, a large group of pigs showed up. This group came in two nights in a row, and now we started making plans to set up the corral. The next day we made plans to set up the corral if they came in again that night. We went out the next morning and freshened up the bait. That night we waited and watched our phones but unfortunately deer were our only visitors. Surely the next night they would be back in there, right? Well it didn’t work that way. Over the next several nights, with the exception of one lone boar that came by one night, we had no pigs visit this site. At this point, bow season was rapidly approaching so we made the decision to pull out so there would not be an issue with bait being on the ground once bow season started. Our pride had taken a hit at this point and we really needed some validation. However, we thought we would have to wait until after deer season to get it, but an opportunity materialized in late fall.
After licking our wounds from our experiences during the summer, several hogs began showing up on a piece of land that previously had little to no evidence of pigs. Significant rooting damage was being done to roads and food plots. This tract of land was large enough where we could effectively trap without impacting deer hunters. Our first step again was to take the camera to the sites where pigs had been observed and where the freshest sign was. After finding a spot that had service, we set up the camera and baited the site. Regular trail cameras were set up in other locations as well to try to get a feel for how many pigs we were dealing with and if they were frequenting specific areas more than others. The pigs however did not get the memo on what was expected. We moved cameras around chasing fresh sign and observations until we were able to focus in on a couple of areas they seemed to be frequenting. When the pigs finally started cooperating, things began to work as they were supposed to. By the end of February, we had trapped and removed 38 pigs from the property. From that point through this summer, we have seen no pig activity on the property. Realistically we know pigs are still in the area but for the time being they seem to be avoiding this property. We were not able to start trapping efforts again until the summer. But with some places already in mind, we felt better about our process and expectations were high.
We also decided to stop using the electric spin feeder. Hogs did not respond to the timed feedings and usually showed up at our traps around midnight. This move eliminated issues from a failing battery or device in delivering the feed. In other words, we removed one headache from the process. Now we simply place a bag or two of corn near the back of the corral. We have not seen any negative impact on trapping success as a result.
With a couple of spots already scouted, we were ready to hit the ground running. We decided to add a couple more corrals to give us the flexibility of having setups in multiple locations where all we had to do was move the gate depending on pig activity. Our first setup proved fruitful as we trapped and removed a sounder group of 15 pigs. Despite this good start to the summer, it would be another two weeks before another opportunity presented itself.
We began seeing a small sounder group of about seven pigs working around one of our setups. Once we had all seven comfortable coming in to the corral, we moved the gate in hopes of catching them that night. However, the pigs once again had other plans and apparently temporarily moved away from this site. The following night it became evident why, a 300 pound boar paid us a visit in the middle of the night. The following night he came back and even though it was only one individual, we felt like we needed to remove him in hopes that the sounder we knew was there would return. We quickly learned the camera really did not do this boar any justice; he was easily the largest we had trapped to date. Previously the pigs we had trapped went to opposite side of the trap looking for an escape route when we arrived to dispatch them. This boar firmly stood his ground as we approached the trap and charged, crashing into the corral panels multiple times. Even though we were in a safe position, a 300 pound animal with bad intentions charging towards you still causes a little anxiety.
For the rest of the summer, pig movements were extremely variable. They would come into the sites for a couple nights in a row, we would move the gate, and then they would vanish for a week or so. We were seeing this happen on multiple sites so we decided to change our strategy to be more opportunistic. In other words, if we had the gate set and most of the sounder group was in the trap we went ahead and dropped the gate. This seemed to work as it would take about a week for pigs to come back to the bait once we removed a group. By the end of the summer, we removed 50 pigs from a couple of different sites. Despite what we had read and heard about not dropping the gate until the entire known sounder group was in the trap, our experiences this summer showed that the pigs we were dealing with would come back and we were catching them. We had some pigs that were unique (color, size, “no ears”) that we could track so we knew they were still around and we eventually caught them.
Each situation will likely be different in how pigs use bait sites so do not be afraid to change tactics from what textbook process is supposed to be when their behavior changes. We are not proclaiming ourselves as experts as we are continuing to learn each time out. There are plenty of resources available to help landowners battle these exotic invaders. Here are a few tips we have discovered as a result of our experiences so far:
- When making a decision to install a corral trap, scout the area for fresh hog sign and put out some bait.
- Test the cellular signal at the potential trap site by taking the camera to the exact spot and sending a test picture. If it does not send due to poor signal, look for some alternative sites to set up the trap; sometimes 100 yards makes a difference to the cell tower.
- Build the corral and bait without the gate. Install the camera and booster antenna to monitor activity. Jager Pro™ sells precut wire and a bit that will go on a portable drill that will cut your install time significantly.
- After hogs are comfortable coming and going from the corral, install the gate and use some brush for camo. Before leaving the trap, have somebody test drop the gate using the available cell signal. The battery on the gate should be replaced every two weeks.
- It’s tempting to wait for an entire sounder to get in the trap before dropping the gate. However, many times we have had the majority of a sounder entering the corral every night and continued to wait for all of them, but ended up missing trapping opportunities when the entire sounder showed up and decided to go somewhere else and never returned. We now employ the “bird in the hand” philosophy when we have the majority of the sounder in the corral.
Technology for cellular-based hog trapping systems is constantly changing. The best method to stay current is to follow social media sites or register for free e-newsletters. We suggest jagerpro.com, agrilifeextension.tamu.edu, wildpiginfo.msstate.edu or noble.org/feral-hogs/.