DALE ROLLINS, Texas Agricultural Extension Service
7887 N. Hwy. 87, San Angelo, TX 76901.
Abstract: A questionnaire was mailed to county Extension agents and other natural resource agency personnel in order to assess distribution of feral hogs, problems associated with hogs, and commercial potential of recreational hog hunting. Feral hogs were reported from 185 (73%) of Texas’ 254 counties. Most counties (80%) believed hog populations were increasing. The prevalent attitudes toward feral hogs from this largely-rural audience was “against” or “mixed”. Crop damage was the most frequently cited concern relative to hogs; others included damage to livestock facilities, livestock and wildlife depredation, and various nuisance problems. Less than 40% of the counties surveyed were involved in leasing for hog hunting. The average price paid for a hog hunt was $169 (range $25-1,000). There appears to be room for expansion relative to leasing for hog hunting.
Webster defines a “weed” as “any undesired, uncultivated plant, especially one that crowds out desired plants.” Similarly, an agronomist defines a weed as a “plant out of place.” We generally think of weeds in a negative context, but such is not always the case. For example, ecologically speaking, bermudagrass is a weed in Texas because it is an introduced species. As exotics, feral swine appear to satisfy the definition for animal “weeds.”
However, Ralph Waldo Emerson defined a weed as “a plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.” Perhaps this definition is also applicable to feral hogs. As with so many dilemmas in life, the “true” definition depends on one’s perspective.
From an agriculturalist’s viewpoint, feral swine assume the former definition of weeds. Farmers undoubtedly share the brunt of the depredation caused by feral swine. One of the most telling photographs that I’ve ever seen depicted hog damage to seedling corn. The hogs had proceeded down each row, not in errant wanderings, but in straight lines that would have made a laser jealous. Especially hard hit are those farmers whose lands adjoin ranches that harbor feral hogs. Milo, vegetables, hay crops, peanuts, and several other crops are attacked perennially by marauding hogs (Synatzke 1979, Pine and Gerdes 1973, Barrett and Pine 1980, Springer 1975).
Ranchers typically harbor a more tempered view of feral hogs, depending on how many kid goats have been killed, how much fence is kept torn up, whether or not pseudorabies is a problem, how much supplemental feed for domestic stock has been consumed by the wild pigs. Ranchers may realize some benefits however in the form of leasing revenue and/or pork for consumption by the ranch hands.
Commercial pork producers encounter problems with herd health and/or the health regulations that are required when a free-ranging reservoir host for diseases like swine brucellosis or pseudorabies may be just outside the farrowing facilities.
These agriculturalists share common disrespect for hogs with other land managers, including park managers, endangered species enthusiasts, and others who often hold a dim view of exotics, especially destructive ones like feral hogs (Mackey 1991). Hogs may be an important nest predator for ground-nesting birds and their impacts on fawn mortality are unknown.
On the other hand, many hunters think feral hogs, Russian boars, or crosses between the two are the epitome of trophy game animals: challenging to hunt, tough to bring down, and fine table fare. Indeed, feral hogs are reportedly the number one big game animal in California. I suspect that if the white-tailed deer ever falls from the throne of being number one in Texas, it will be the feral hog that claims the crown.
Hunter interest seems to be increasing, especially relative to bowhunters, blackpowder enthusiasts, and the like. Hunting revenue from hog hunts may become increasingly important to several areas of Texas. Other associated activities also generate revenue. For example, a sign hanging from a locker plant in Paducah proclaims Cottle County as the “wild hog capital of Texas.” That title might be disputed however. The LaSalle County Wild Hog Cookoff attracts 150 or more cooking teams annually in a weekend-long list of activities centered around wild hogs. At least 1 commercial operator has solicited wild hogs for marketing in exclusive restaurants.
I’ve been in Texas as a wildlife specialist since 1987. From the phone calls that I receive, it seems that interest in feral hogs is increasing. Ditto for hog populations themselves. Several times each year I receive a phone call from someone outside “traditional” hog range seeking my advice for releasing a trailer load of hogs. While I try to dissuade the caller from such a release, I usually get the feeling that (a) the deed [the release] has already been done and he’s looking for my blessing, or (b) he’s going to ignore my advice anyway.
In preparation for this symposium, I circulated a questionnaire (Appendix A) to all the county Extension offices in Texas (N = 254) to ascertain the distribution of feral swine and local attitudes and problems associated therewith. The survey was also sent to several natural resource agency employees (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Soil Conservation Service, Texas Animal Damage Control Service). Accordingly, some counties may have returned surveys from more than 1 individual.
Feral hogs were reported in 185 (73%) of Texas’ 254 counties. With the exception of the immediate Dallas – Ft. Worth metroplex, hogs occur over essentially the southeastern 3/4 of Texas. The only large areas reporting no hogs were the High Plains and Southern Plains (from the caprock west to New Mexico). Isolated counties within hog range (e.g., Crockett) reported no hogs, but given the presence of hogs in all surrounding counties, it is only a matter of time before such areas also have hog populations.
When asked about the origin of the hogs in their county, most respondents indicated that hogs had either immigrated from adjacent counties (52%) or escaped from domestication (63%). However 89 respondents (48%) suggested that wild hogs had been transplanted from other areas intentionally for hunting purposes. The population in Ward County reportedly got its start after a train carrying hogs derailed in the early 1950s. The ancestry of local hog populations was most often characterized as “mixed breeding” (95% of the respondents). Only 8 counties reported populations of Russian boars.
Population History and Trends
Of the 185 counties reporting hogs, 153 counties (80%) believed that hog populations were increasing, compared to only 6 counties (3%) indicating a downward population trend. Populations were considered stable in 26 counties (17%).
Most (58%) of the counties reporting hogs have had them > 15 years. A lesser number (36%) indicated hog populations of more recent vintage (5-15 years), while only 10 counties (6%) indicated very recent introductions (< 5 years). Certain “core” areas (e.g., east Texas, southern Rolling Plains, south Texas) have had feral hogs for many years. A newspaper article from the Dallas News dated 21 Dec 1894 detailed a hunting expedition north of Albany (Shackelford County). Regarding hogs, the article stated “The pecan forests along the Brazos forks shelter droves of hogs, wild for many generations and both powerful and fierce.”
Attitudes and Concerns
As expected, respondents view the presence of feral hogs with mixed feelings (Fig. 1). Weighted responses suggested that “mixed” (X = 0.68, N = 73) and “against” (X = 0.64, N = 127) were the most common opinions. Considerably fewer respondents listed county sentiment as “neutral” (X = 0.43, N = 35) or “for” (X = 0.36, N = 31). It should be noted that most of the respondents were county Extension agents whose attitudes were perhaps biased towards their constituents, i.e., rural farmers and ranchers. The attitudes expressed in this study mirror those reported by Barrett and Pine (1980) in California. Attitudes may have been different if other segments of those involved with feral hogs (i.e., hunters) had been surveyed.
Damage to crops was the most frequently cited concern, with 141 counties (75%) reporting crop damage (or concerns) resulting from hogs (Fig. 2). The most frequently damaged crops included hay, small grains, corn, and peanuts (Fig. 3). Minor crops affected include truck crops (vegetables), watermelons, soybeans, cotton, improved pastures, orchards, horticulture crops, and seedling trees (conifers). Non-crop related problems were most often associated with ranch facilities (e.g., fences, waterers) (72% reporting), livestock depredation (33%), wildlife depredation (35%), and disease transmission to livestock (26%). Livestock losses to hogs are most often directed towards sheep and goats, where a documented loss of 1,243 head of sheep and goats (total value about $63,000) occurred in 1990 (Texas Animal Damage Control Service, unpubl. rept. 1990). Other concerns expressed include human safety hazard (traffic hazards and direct attack), rooting damage to roads and ponds, and competition for supplemental feed targeted towards livestock or wildlife (quail or deer).
Feral hog hunting for profit appears to be underutilized. The majority of counties surveyed (61%) indicated no knowledge of leasing activities for hog hunting. In the counties reporting commercial hog hunting (N = 79), half indicated that hog hunting was done outside the traditional deer season-long leases, i.e., hog hunting was leased seperately from deer-turkey-quail leases. The average price reported from 38 respondents for a “hog hunt” was $169 (range $25-1,000). The mode was $100. These hunts ran the gamut from “there’s the gate” to guided hunts with trained dogs. The higher fees tend to be for guided “trophy” type hunts. The price distribution appeared to be normally distributed about the mean (Fig. 4). In a south Texas study, Springer (1975) reported a mean value of $115 (range $20-400) for hog hunts in that area. In many areas, hog hunting is more a sport of locals within the community, rather than “nonresidents”.
Feral hogs in Texas represent the classical “taste great – less filling” argument. Depredation to crops and livestock, coupled with disease transmission and nuisance problems, suggest that hogs will continue to be viewed as liabilities to most agriculturalists. However, there appears to be growing demand for recreational hog hunting, including non-resident interest. Similarly, the majority of counties reporting hogs do not indicated an active involvement in developing hog hunting potential. This hesitancy among ranchers indicates that many ranchers are not inclined to expand their commercial hunting enterprises outside the traditional hunting seasons.
Attitudes towards feral hogs vary with the respondent’s economic involvement. As one respondent said “Most hog hunters and I travel in different social circles. They see the hog only as a source of sport, pleasure, or revenue. I see him as a predatory animal. Feral hogs only put money in their pocket; it never takes any out of their pocket. That affects your way of thinking quite a bit.”
Barrett, R. H., and D. S. Pine. 1980. History and status of wild pigs, Sus scrofa, in San Benito County, California. Calf. Fish & Game 67:105-117.
Mackey, W. 1991. A survey on wild hogs in the United States. Minn. Board Anim. Health, Unpubl. Rept. 4pp.
Pine, D. S., and G. L. Gerdes. 1973. Wild pigs in Monterey County, California. Calif. Fish & Game 59:126-137.
Springer, M. D. 1975. Food habits of wild hogs on the Texas Gulf Coast. M. S. Thesis, Texas A&M Univ., College Station. 71pp.
Synatzke, D. R. 1979. Status of the feral hog in Texas. Unpubl. Rept., Texas Parks & Wildl. Dept. 9pp.