Wild pigs roaming Missouri have meant hog heaven for hunters and purgatory for state officials who wish to destroy the swine.
You might think that the state would want as many people out hunting hogs as possible, but you’d be wrong.
The Missouri Department of Conservation on Friday banned the hunting of feral hogs on the 1,000 or so conservation areas in the state.
Hunters actually make it more difficult for the state to kill feral hogs, the Conservation Department says.
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The state tries to lure groups of hogs to a trapping area with cracked corn. Pigs see a free meal, and private hunters see a ready-made hunting ground. Hunters will “take out a couple, and the rest scatter,” said department spokesman Joe Jerek.
The Missouri conservation staffers prefer to catch and kill pigs in groups, known as “sounders,” not go running around rural Missouri chasing after hogs they thought they were about to catch.
Hunters also sometimes illegally catch and move feral hogs around the state in order to give themselves more places and pigs to hunt.
Besides being destructive and smart, the pigs are prodigious breeders, and a sounder needs very little time to replenish itself and then some.
The ban begins Sept. 30, so this is the last summer you can hunt hogs on state conservation land.
Jerek said the Conservation Department trapped and killed 3,650 feral hogs last year; however, the number of live hogs remaining was unknown.
“You can’t really do a census of them because they’re incredibly secretive, and they move around a lot,” Jerek said.
The damage from feral hogs can be seen, though, in a field of crops, Jerek said: “It’s like somebody went through there with a tractor and just ripped up the whole thing. No other species will do that.”
Feral hogs also kill fawns and spread disease.
So, Jerek said, when conservation staffers see a field or glade that has been ruined by rooting, they set a trap.
The latest in hog-trapping technology is the BoarBuster, said wildlife management coordinator Alan Leary.
These are steel enclosures, suspended about 4 feet in the air, that allow staffers to monitor the site remotely via a camera that can feed to a phone, tablet or computer.
BoarBusters run about $6,000 apiece, Leary said, but their use is limited in the more rugged parts of the state. In places without cell service, the Conservation Department relies on traps that drop their gates when a hog trips a wire, he said.
Pigs wait days or weeks for human traces to vanish from the trapping area before feasting on the bait.
When conservation staff is alerted that the hogs have fallen for the ruse, “they press a button on an app, and boom, the trap drops,” Jerek said.
Leary said the remote technology allowed one conservation staffer to trap a sounder while at a St. Louis Cardinals game.
Wild hogs are not thrilled by imprisonment, especially when it comes midmeal. They sprint away when the metal walls fall, ramming themselves into the sides of the cage. Eventually, they settle down a little. After all, there’s still a buffet of cracked corn scattered around their hooves.
After the paperwork is done, the hogs are shot, Jerek said.
Sometimes conservation staffers let nature run its course. Other times they bury the carcasses in a pit or truck them to a landfill. Some private hunters eat the pigs they kill, but hogs killed by the Conservation Department don’t become bacon because of restrictions imposed by the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
Kansas has already outlawed hog hunting. There are still some feral hogs in the southeastern part of the state, said Mike Miller, spokesman with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, but the pig population has been all but eradicated.
Miller credited the U.S. Department of Agriculture for aggressively eliminating the hogs in Kansas. Pigs there were destroyed by trapping and were also gunned down from helicopters.
In Missouri, hog hunting is still permitted on private land, which makes up almost all of the state.
Jerek said the Conservation Department had heard some opposition to the ban from hog hunters. The department acknowledges that people can hunt on their own land but doesn’t want to embrace a hog hunting culture.
Several enterprising ranchers charge hunters to stalk and shoot hogs.
Among them is Charles Puff, who offers boar hunts on parts of his fenced-in, 1,400-acre High Adventure Ranch in rural southern Missouri. Puff said he’s hunted wild pigs in Africa and Arkansas alike.
He offers chances to shoot “feral hogs” that aren’t imported from outside, which would be illegal. The sows on his land were born on his land, he said, and “they have little pigs out in the ice and slop and snow.”
The pigs on his ranch are just as mean as truly wild hogs, Puff said.
“If you meet a sow with piglets, I’m sure you’re going to be in for a bad time,” he said.
He said he understood why hunters would go after hogs: They like the sport, and they like the meat.
Even so, Puff said it was a good thing the Conservation Department had instituted its hog hunting ban: “I think a wild hog does an awful lot of damage.”