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Wild hog numbers need management
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Wildlife specialists are encouraging aggressive hunting of a nontraditional large animal in Mississippi: wild hogs.
Mississippi State University researchers are gathering data on wild hog populations around the state and country. Two things they knew before they started their research were that hogs multiply rapidly, and they can cause extensive crop and property damage.
Rich Minnis, assistant research professor in MSU's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, has seen thousands of wild hogs across Mississippi while conducting an in-depth study of their populations. During the recent summer months, he had special permits to capture more than 60 wild hogs in traps. A few were harvested using other hunting methods.
"Hunters need to take 75 to 80 percent of the hogs in an area to keep the population in check. Hogs breed twice a year and average six pigs per litter, most of which will survive," Minnis said. "An area can go from two pigs one year, to 32 the next, to hundreds the next."
State law classifies Mississippi animals as game, nongame, fur bearers or predators. Wild hogs are classified as predators by state law because they can and do consume ground-nesting birds and small mammals, like baby rabbits. They also compete with other wildlife species for preferred foods. All of these factors, including the potential for disease transmission to domestic animals, are issues in areas with wild hog populations.
Jim Miller, outreach and research professor with MSU's Extension Service, said landowners and hunting clubs occasionally will illegally move wild hogs into a new area without realizing how prolific or destructive they are. One point of contention is the impact these hogs have on neighbors' farmland.
"Hogs normally roam in wooded habitats where there are no fences to restrict movement. As populations grow and habitats change, hogs will seek many sources for their food," Miller said. "They can cause tremendous damage in grain and forage crops, such as corn, soybeans, vegetables and hay. They are not just eating, but their rooting behavior damages crops as well. Often, food plots for other wildlife, such as deer and turkeys, are eaten and/or rooted up by hogs."
Mississippi laws prohibit the import into the state or release into the wild of any hogs.
Miller said large populations of wild hogs can cause serious damage to the ecological integrity and productivity of the habitat. Wild hog habitats are typically associated with remote, river bottom land with plenty of vegetation. Because of this remoteness, few people encounter wild hogs in Mississippi unless they are hunting.
"Wild hogs, especially sows with young pigs or mature boars, can be aggressive toward people," Miller said. "Hogs are more likely to smell you coming and flee in the opposite direction. However, if you encounter a wild hog, you may need to be ready to climb a tree or defend yourself."
Across the state, many wild hog populations have been established for hundreds of years. The first hogs were brought to the state by explorer Hernando DeSoto. Other hogs became established during the days of open-range laws, when hogs would be set free during the warmer months to forage on their own and recaptured for slaughter when cooler temperatures arrived.
"Domesticated hogs will adapt within a few generations to survive in the wild. Their appearance over time will change significantly and survival instincts will develop," Miller said. "As long as sufficient food and water sources are available, hogs do not range very far. However, if a drought occurs, they will roam to new lands."
Miller said the key to managing established, wild hog populations is aggressive hunting to keep populations in check. The most effective hunting method involves trained hunting dogs.
"Many hunters enjoy the thrill of hunting an exotic large animal. For trophy hunters, older boars make good trophies, and the younger hogs are very tasty," Miller said. "Wild hogs are not easy to hunt, but the potential for a year-round season and open bag limits appeals to some hunters. Be sure that you are adequately armed because an injured hog is very dangerous."
Lt. Col. John Collins, assistant chief of law enforcement with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said wild hogs may be hunted during regular game animal and game bird seasons using weapons legal for use during that season. For year-round hunting, only landowners, agricultural lease holders or their designees can remove predatory animals from the lands they own or farm.
"It is unlawful to hunt, trap or kill any animal with the aid of bait. In situations where extensive damage is occurring to property, landowners or agricultural lease holders may apply for special permits to allow baiting traps or night hunting," Collins said. "Hunting clubs do not have a blank check to harvest wild hogs throughout the year. Landowners or ag lease holders must grant designee status to specific individuals to hunt hogs when other seasons are not under way.
"Whenever someone is going to be hunting hogs in an unusual area or season, it would be wise to contact the local conservation officers and let them know. The same would be true if you are using dogs for hunting hogs during deer season when dogs are not permitted," Collins said. "Recreational hunters cannot hunt using bait or at night."
Contact: Jim Miller, (662) 325-3174