How much do you know about wild pigs in America?
Spec, Blake and I had gone to a barbecue joint in El Campo, Texas, where a good-sized crowd had gathered for the lunch buffet. Spec, who runs a local crop-dusting service, spotted an acquaintance standing in line and went up to say howdy.
The feller looked like he’d been in some sort of terrible accident, with deep scratches and puncture wounds all over his face and arms, and one eye swollen up. When Spec asked what on earth had happened, the man sheepishly admitted that he’d gone out hunting wild boars the night before. It seems he’d seen a TV show where hunters stalked and killed wild pigs in America with nothing more than a bowie knife, and he’d decided that would be an interesting thing to try.
Bobby Lee, we’ll call him, had come across a narrow burrow leading through a dense thicket of cactus and cholla. Just ahead, he could hear the boar snorting and snuffling. With his flashlight in one hand and bowie knife in the other, Bobby Lee began crawling through the thorny tunnel on his hands and knees. He’d progressed a few feet into the burrow when the narrow beam of the flashlight revealed a highly agitated 250-pound wild boar with tusks every bit as long as his knife. It was then that Bobby Lee realized he’d made an error in judgment. At the precise moment that the boar charged, our intrepid hunter hurled his body into the spiny walls of the burrow, leaving him more or less impaled on prickly pear and cholla spines.
Fish and wildlife authorities say the wild pig population is literally out of control in many parts of the country. Texas is now home to an estimated two million wild or feral pigs, about half of the total U.S. population. Another half-million or more are found in Florida. And while the feral swine mainly live in rural areas and rough backcountry, homeowners in the Dallas suburbs of Arlington and Irvine have recently found packs of pigs tearing up their lawns and gardens, wallowing along riverbanks and streams, and even rooting for grubs on local golf courses. And the good folks are not amused.
Feral hogs are now found in 40 states, from Florida and Georgia north as far as Connecticut and New Hampshire. They thrive in much of California, as well as in Oregon, Idaho and Hawaii. They’ve also moved into Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Prolific breeders, wild boars can produce as many as three litters a year, with up to 10 piglets per litter. And they will kill and eat anything, including field crops, gardens, birds, chickens, turkeys, turtles, lambs and fawns. Researchers at Cornell University estimate they cause at least $800 million in annual losses.
The rooting behavior of the pigs causes ecological damage to streams, creek beds and ponds. They damage orchards, destroy saplings, and uproot native vegetation. In California, feral pigs were linked to an outbreak of E. coli in spinach crops that killed three people and sickened 200 others. And because they can carry diseases such as hog cholera, pseudorabies and brucellosis, the porkers can pose a health threat to domestic swine.
Unlike deer, bear or peccaries, wild pigs are not native to North America. Spanish explorers brought the first pigs from Europe in the 1500s. Early in the 20th century, Russian wild boars were released in North Carolina, California and Texas. They quickly interbred with domestic pigs, producing hybrid animals that can reach several hundred pounds – or more – in weight. In 2004, a Georgia hunter shot an enormous wild boar that weighed in at 800 pounds and had tusks measuring 18 inches in length. In 2007, an 11-year-old Alabama boy reportedly shot a wild boar weighing more than 1,000 pounds.
If you live in an area inhabited by feral pigs, your options to protect your yard or garden are limited. Experts say a chain-link fence buried at least 12 inches under the ground can keep out most wild boars. Some gardeners report that fencing their property with woven hog wire or multistrand electric fence can help, but say barbed wire is useless. Others have surrounded their gardens with fine plastic mesh, theorizing that the pigs will avoid an area where their feet may become entangled.
Wild pigs run in packs, called “sounders,” with as many as 30 animals in a group. To the delight of hunters armed with rifles and bows, many states now allow hunting for wild pigs in hopes of reducing their numbers. Wild pig hunts have become popular in Texas, California, Florida and Oklahoma, among other states. In Oregon, a law was recently passed that requires landowners to shoot or trap all wild pigs on sight.
Hunters claim that the meat from wild boars, especially the smaller, younger animals, is sweet and flavorful. Wild boar meat contains far less fat than domestic pork, so some authorities recommend that the meat be marinated overnight before cooking. One of the most popular ways to prepare wild boar is by smoking the meat.
A friend of mine recently built a new home on a timbered acreage in northeast Oklahoma. Shortly after he moved in, he discovered wild pigs rooting around his property. He built a couple of live traps, and before long, he had trapped several small pigs that he took to a nearby processing plant. The resulting pork chops, he reports, were delicious.
Jerry Schleicher lives in Parkville, Missouri, where he enjoys sinking his teeth into plenty of delicious meals prepared with pork.
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