Uttering the words "feral swine" among a crowd will generate a variety of responses. Among landowners and farmers, it could quite possibly result in outrage due to the damage feral hogs do to crops and fields. Spanish explorers introduced pigs about 500 years ago. The spread of feral pigs in the early years can be traced back to free-range livestock practices. Those wishing to introduce the non-native nuisance for hunting or sport purposes now often spread them by intentionally, but illegally, transporting and releasing them. The result of this practice can be very harmful at best and catastrophic on some levels. Feral swine can adapt to changing and brutal environmental extremes, which allows them to make their home almost anywhere on the planet. Once established, they compete with native wildlife species for limited resources and destroy agricultural crops, fields and sensitive areas that may contain rare or endangered plants and animals.
Research from Alabama A&M indicates approximately 85 percent of a feral swine’s diet is plant matter, while 15 percent is some type of insect, small mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian. Of significant importance to wildlife biologists was the presence of turkey poult embryos in the stomachs of several hogs sampled.
Feral hogs are likely here to stay, but that doesn’t mean we have lost the battle. They can be controlled to manageable levels, but it takes a comprehensive approach using as many methods as possible. There is no shortage of information available to aid landowners in this effort, but knowing who to contact and where to look can be a problem.
Trapping is the most successful method of removing feral hogs. Anywhere hogs frequent can be a potential trap site. Look for large wallows – depressions containing water – where hogs like to visit. There are usually a few trees nearby where mud is caked onto the bark. Rooting damage will be visible near field borders, agricultural crops and roadside rights of way. One of the most effective trapping methods has been researched by several universities including Auburn University. That method includes the use of corral-style traps that can capture an entire sounder, or social unit, of hogs. The sounder usually contains one or more adult sows (females) and their offspring. Occasional boars travel with sounders, especially if one of the females is ready to breed. These sounders average between 10-20 hogs. The design of the corral trap is simple. Six and a half-foot steel T posts are driven into the ground at 3- to 4-foot intervals, usually in a circular or oval shape. A trap door is installed on one side to allow hogs to enter the trap. Livestock panels, made of thick gauge wire, are secured to the T posts all the way to the trap door. Many door designs are available, but the most practical and successful is the drop-style door. The door is the only part of the trap that should be constructed ahead of time. Once installed, the door is attached to a rope and pulley that has a root stick on the other end to be placed near the rear of the trap. The root stick can be hinged on two pieces of rebar driven into the ground.
To be successful using this type of trap, there are a few key requirements. The openings in the livestock panels must be no larger than 4 inches. This prevents the escape of young hogs. In addition, it is best to use at least a 5-foot panel. Hogs have been known to climb out of traps lower than 5 feet.
Once a trap has been constructed, pre-baiting can begin. During pre-baiting, the trap door should be secured to remain open at all times. Hogs will eat anything, but seem to prefer fermented shelled corn or sweet potatoes covered in molasses. Corn can easily be fermented in an enclosed 5-gallon bucket. Fill the bucket no more than half-full of shelled corn, adding water until it is three-quarters full. Add a small packet of yeast and place a lid over the bucket for several days. The result is such a foul-smelling concoction that most other animals choose to let the hogs dine with little competition.
If an entire sounder removal is desired, and it should be, the use of a trail camera is necessary. The cameras are invaluable for indicating when all members of the sounder have decided to enter the trap. Most sounders, not previously trapped or harassed, will enter the trap in less than one week of pre-baiting. Other sounders have taken several weeks to gain the confidence needed to enter a trap. Use the camera to your advantage.
Once the entire sounder is used to entering the trap, it is time to set the trigger. Place the root stick, attached to the door by parachute cord or some other strong rope material, to the center or back of the trap approximately 6-8 inches above ground on two pieces of rebar driven into the ground at a slight angle. Place a small amount of bait under the root stick to attract a hog to that area. Once the root stick is struck, the drop-style door falls and the hogs are trapped inside. If the hogs have been visiting on a predictable schedule, you can set the trap a couple of hours before they usually arrive. It is best to check the trap as soon as possible, but without running the hogs away from the trap site if they have yet to enter. Hogs are very intelligent, and are seemingly able to reason well enough to find a way out of a trap that isn’t constructed well. If there are any weak areas or loose ends, they will escape if left unattended for too long. Larger hogs should be dispatched first. It is important to use a weapon capable of quick, clean kills to minimize suffering and to prevent damage to the trap. Remember, it is not legal to relocate hogs off the property on which they are trapped.
There are several other trap designs that can be used, although this particular trap has proven successful for trapping entire sounders. Other trap designs include the box and cage-style traps. Although they are effective, they are more useful at removing single hogs or small groups. They are usually small enough to transport in the bed of a pickup truck or small trailer, and can be moved around easily. The corral-style traps can be permanent or simply removed and relocated. If they are relocated, they must be disassembled and rebuilt in the new location.
More detailed instructions on trapping are found in the publication "A Landowner’s Guide for Wild Hog Management: Practical Methods for Wild Pig Control." Download a copy at http://wildpiginfo.msstate.edu/. For a small fee, you can also order a hard copy via the website.
Shooting hogs is another useful method of control. In Alabama, permits are required by landowners to conduct night-shooting operations on private lands. Contact a Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries district office for a permit. Night-shooting efforts are effective with semi-automatic rifles and night-vision or forward-looking infrared optics. The most effective sites are those with high hog usage and can be frequently visited throughout the evening hours by spotters and shooters. Once hogs are located, the shooters stalk to an effective range and target as many hogs as possible. A group with one spotter and two coordinated shooters can remove more than a dozen hogs per evening. This is an effective tool to use on trap-shy hogs or on a previously trapped area. Shooting can also be used in conjunction with trapping efforts to improve removal rates.
For more information on identifying hog damage or sign, contact the Alabama Cooperative Extension System or a district Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries office. The district office numbers are listed in the Alabama Hunting and Fishing Digest or at www.outdooralabama.com.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR visit www.outdooralabama.com.
Matt Brock is a wildlife biologist with the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.