Extension service offers lesson in feral hog control
By Kelby Newcomb
Feral hogs are quickly becoming an epidemic throughout the United States.
The Carroll County Extension Service held a Feral Hog Control meeting Thursday, March 21, at Cornerstone Bank in Berryville to discuss feral hog traps, designs to increase the traps’ success, improving “whole sounder capture” efficiency, technologically advanced surveillance techniques, feral hog biology and laws and regulations regarding the industry.
County extension agent Olivia Foster introduced guest speaker Skip Armes, the agriculture extension agent for Searcy County.
“He is known as the ‘feral hog man.’ That’s kind of his forte,” Foster said, “so we’re really excited to have him up here with us tonight.”
Armes said there are two kinds of landowners: those who have a feral hog problem and those who don’t yet.
“Feral hogs are difficult to catch because they’re as smart as you or me,” he said. “In order to have the same number of hogs next year, we’ve got to kill 66 percent of them, and we’re not killing 66 percent of them. We chip away at the problem here and there.”
While getting rid of all the feral hogs is not possible, Armes said he wanted to share information and methods to help landowners begin to slow their progress down.
“We can take care of certain issues here and there,” he said, “and at least get rid of breeding sets, which is very important, and knock the numbers back.”
Armes explained that feral hogs, or Sus scrofa, are a free-ranging domesticated hog that are not native to the United States.
“How do you know if you have them? You see them on game cameras quite a bit,” Armes said. “They tear up the ground. You’ll see damage here and there.”
He said their hoof prints are similar to that of a calf but are nothing like a deer’s hoof print.
“It’s easy to distinguish between a deer and a hog print,” he said. “If you see separation in the toes and two prints behind where the dew claws made a mark, that’s a feral hog.”
Feral hogs like to live in areas with moving water, Armes said, and wallow some for pest control.
“It’s amazing how clean they actually are,” he said.
He said feral hogs destroy crops, cause soil erosion, transmit diseases, impede forest regeneration and compete directly with native wildlife. They have a lifespan of about four to five years, he said.
“They’re opportunistic omnivores,” Armes said. “I get asked what they’re looking for. They’ll eat anything with nutritional value. If they can get your house cat when you turn it outside, that’s what they’ll get. They love old carcasses of cattle that are dragged off.”
He said 85 percent of their diet consists of plants, roots, grass, nuts and berries, worms, insects and insect larvae.
Armes said the social structure of feral hogs can be broken down into three categories: sounders, bachelor groups and individual adult boars.
“A sounder is a group of feral sows and their offspring,” he said. “If you have a sounder group that’s moving and feeding at a feeder, you can guarantee one of those sows is what I call a ‘matriarch.’ She will have several generations with her.”
As the piglets in a sounder grow, he said the males will eventually split off and form bachelor groups.
“They don’t have to be related,” he said. “Bachelor groups are some of the easiest ones to catch aside from piglets in sounders. They’re very competitive with each other. When you begin to give them a nutritional supply, they will fight over it. Even when you set a trap up, they don’t care. They need to get there first.”
Armes said individual adult boars are the hardest to catch.
“They’re alive because they’re not stupid,” he said. “Sows can get swayed because if their piglets go in a trap then they want to go in the trap. The boar doesn’t care what’s out there. If he feels threatened, he’s out.”
He said sows reach puberty at 6 to 10 months and have litters of six to eight piglets. They are capable of having two litters a year, he said, and breed year-round.
“The population grows fast,” Armes said. “If you have one sow at zero months, then you could have seven hogs at eight months. At 16 months, there could be at least 31. At 24 months, there could be 103 hogs out of one sow.”
That’s why eradication is not feasible, he said. Feral hog populations are hard to control because they breed fast and are active day and night.
“If they’re coming during the day and you put pressure on them,” he said, “they’ll change to night. If you put too much pressure on them, they’ll leave. A successful hog eradication program is not running them off on your neighbor’s place.”
Armes discussed the different types of traps available to capture feral hogs. While hunting feral hogs is allowed year-round without a hunting license because they are classified as a “nuisance animal,” he said it is not very effective for managing the population.
He said he recommends corral traps. While manual triggers can be used for the traps, he said they are fairly inefficient because the hogs are the ones that close the gate in that scenario.
Armes said wireless remote trigger systems have cameras that can send photos and videos to landowners so that they can determine when to drop the gate on their traps.
“You’re able to drop that gate when necessary,” he said. “The advantage is you don’t have to go out there all the time. You can get pictures on your phone, and you’ll be able to drop the gate when you’ve done your homework and know all of them are in there.”
Armes said dropping the gate is not as important as baiting and surveilling the area to determine the amount of feral hogs present.
“You can catch 11, but if there are 50 then 11 isn’t good enough,” he said. “You’ve educated a few of them. It’s important to be patient. If you catch 100 percent of the sounder, you’ve actually done some damage to the population.”
A variety of baits can be used in the traps, and he said fermented corn is useful for drawing feral hogs into the feeding area. The concoction is referred to as “pig jam,” he said, and contains corn, sugar and yeast.
While baiting other animals is only allowed under certain conditions, he said baiting feral hogs is legal year-round because of their status as nuisance animals.
“Be sure to contact wildlife officers and let them know that’s why you’re putting that out there,” Armes said.
He said people should eat feral hog meat at their own discretion.
“I have no problem with people eating them, but they do carry diseases,” Armes said.
Some of the diseases feral hogs carry cannot be gotten rid of by cooking the meat, he said.
“The whole purpose of trapping is to get 100 percent,” Armes said.
Once a set of feral hogs is captured, he said landowners should put them down as quickly and quietly as possible to avoid disturbing other hogs and scaring them away from the area.
“The more vocalization there is the more you may upset your pattern,” he said. “Shooting in the head works best. It’s very effective, and there’s no vocalization.”
Armes said landowners don’t have to worry about cleaning up the blood either.
“They love blood. You don’t have to bury them,” he said. “You can drag them out in the woods. Other hogs will actually eat them. They’ll be the first ones there.”
While some people say you cannot catch feral hogs in the same spot twice, Armes said that is a myth. He said landowners need to get a trail of pictures and videos to determine the size of the hog population in their area and the hogs’ pattern of behavior.
He said it is important to move the traps as well. Having the trap set up in the same location at all times is not effective, Armes said, and it is important to make sure the hogs get comfortable in the area before trying to capture them.