Hunters could help reduce the population of destructive and dangerous feral hogs in Missouri if they would stop shooting them, according to officials who are considering banning feral hog hunting on land owned or managed by the state conservation department.
The ban’s goal is to completely eradicate the feral hogs, which multiply rapidly and do extensive damage to land, water and habitat, conservation officials said.
Past efforts to control the feral hog population failed, in part because some hunters took hogs to new sites to set up hunting opportunities.
Five years ago, state and federal agencies committed to eradication rather than control, and in 2014, Missouri received $235,000 as part of $20 million in federal funds appropriated for eradication efforts in several states.
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Conservation agents bait traps with feed to attract hogs to the traps, in a process that can take several weeks. When the animals are comfortable in the corral-like traps, the trap is sprung and most of a herd – called a sounder – is caught.
If a hunter shoots one or two of the hogs around the traps, the rest will scatter to another site, where they breed quickly and damage land and natural resources, conservation agents said.
“Hunting just flat out does not mix with trapping,” said James Dixon, a state wildlife damage biologist in Springfield. “Hog hunters are doing it for sport, because it’s fun. We are not trying to harvest them here or there. We want to totally eliminate them.”
The department owns or manages about 1,000 conservation areas in Missouri. Nearly 30 areas, mostly in southern Missouri, are known to have feral hogs. The proposed ban does not apply to private land, but agents will work with landowners having problems with the hogs.
Missouri went from having one part-time feral swine trapper before 2014 to four full-time trappers now, said Brad Jump, feral hog coordinator in Missouri for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Altogether last year, state and federal agencies killed well over 3,500 pigs, he said.
Landowners and hunters for native species such as turkey and deer should support the eradication effort because feral hogs compete for food and habitat with those species, said Brandon Butler, executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri.
“Much of my life has been dedicated to protecting the rights of hunters,” Butler said. “But we need to eliminate these animals rather than developing a culture of hog hunters in the state.”
Some people are skeptical about the efforts, though.
J.D. Caperton, a hunter from rural Naylor in southeast Missouri, said he thinks the state is “kidding itself” if it thinks feral hogs will be eradicated or that all hunters will abide by the ban.
“I don’t feel more government regulation by unelected officials is the answer,” Capreton said. “The best control is cooperation and communication.”
Instead of a total ban, the state should work with hunters by providing advance notice where traps will be set and closing off those areas, while possibly offering some type of bounty for hogs, he said.
However, supporters of the ban say hog hunters have frequently been caught on camera shooting hogs inside or near the traps.
“The conservation department is not saying all pig hunters are terrible people,” Dixon said. “Most of them are not trying to screw us up, it’s just a fun sport for them. But it completely interferes with what we are trying to do.”
Public comment on the proposal will be taken from April 2 through May 1. It if is approved, the ban would take effect Sept. 30.