Why aren't people being significantly paid to reduce wild hog populations?
There is a war going on in the southern United States. Texas is ground zero, and for the most part, the troops fighting it aren't being paid. Wild, feral hogs have exploded in population and despite hundreds of thousands of rounds being fired on these invasive pests, it appears Texas is losing the war.
Feral hogs are nuisance animal not just for farmers and livestock, but native wildlife too.
It all begs the question: Why are hog hunters paying to shoot wild hogs on day hunts, when in reality, it's a big enough problem that land owners and state agencies should be paying them?
It is believed that Spanish explorers first introduced free range pigs to the Lone Star State approximately 300 years ago. Unfortunately for us, they were way too adaptable to the southern climate, and they eat basically everything. It doesn't help that a single female wild pig can have three or more litters of up to eight piglets a year.
They also aren't afraid to roam, which is why they've spread over much of the southern United States so quickly. Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama also have growing wild pig issues. They've become such a problem that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has classified them as an exotic, non-big game animal. All that's required to shoot them is a hunting license. Regulations are similar for most southern states with a hog problem, but Texas has, by far, the least restrictions on taking them.
This is understandable when you find out the population of hogs in Texas is estimated around the 1.5-2 million mark. What is crazy is that wildlife biologists have been crunching the numbers on how quickly these animals breed and how quickly they're taken out by hog hunting. Every year, approximately 30 percent of the population is shot in control efforts. The problem is the population also GROWS by 20 percent each year.
That means a lot more bacon needs to be put on the ground before this problem can ever be considered under control!
Hunting year round
The problem with wild hogs is so bad that the TPWD basically has an "anything goes" policy with pigs. There is no off-season. Want to hunt them from a helicopter? Sure, it's legal. After dark? They'll probably recommend a good night vision scope to you! Want to trap them and sell them as meat hogs? You're allowed to use snares or large cage traps for that. The state even passed legislation that allows you to shoot them out of a hot air balloon if you want!
While on the subject of helicopter hunts, it's worth noting that I discovered literally dozens of businesses offering hog hunting trips from the air in Texas. It appears most are partnering with local ranches and farms who provide the access to private land while the guides provide the hunters.
I'm not sure if the farmers provide free access or if some of these businesses are splitting profits with them, but a look at the pricing guides on these sites can be eye-opening.
Most of these hot hunting experiences cost anywhere from $2,000-5,000 per hunter! Some offer "extras" like night hunting with thermals, full-auto firearms and even video services to capture your hunt.
Other alternatives imclude simple hunting ranches where you go on a day hog hunt with a near 100-percent success rate. You can aim for either a standard wild hog or a trophy boar, with varying dollar amounts.
Obviously, the interest in shooting hogs is there. Just Google it, you'll see.
Hog hunting is arguably as popular as other big game hunting, but why are the guides and hunting ranches the only ones making money off this? It doesn't make any sense why someone should pay to participate in population control. To me, that's like someone paying to spray cockroaches in a filthy apartment.
Why aren't there hired pig hunters?
In North America, wolf bounties were a huge thing for hundreds of years, and man, they were effective. Probably too effective, as historic wolf ranges are now often devoid of the animals. But it makes one wonder, why are there not bounties for an invasive nuisance animal? After all, extermination is what we're going for here, right?
The answer is blurry; there have been bounties, but it's really only been done at a county level. Counties budget a set amount of money to dole out for such operations, and they keep going until the money dries up.
That's one key reason I think hogs have exploded as much as they have. Conservation coffers are tight as it is; just look at the budgets of any state wildlife agency if you don't believe me. Game wardens often patrol huge areas (two or three times larger than the beats of standard law enforcement), simply because there isn't enough money. Likewise, money for bounties probably can't keep up with the amount brought in.
But there are other issues too. Back in February, a State Representative for Oklahoma brought some legislation to create a hog bounty program in the state after he got complaints from farmers.
Other people were against the notion of the bounty, and one of the reasons why is echoed by some other wildlife agencies in the south. The belief now is that hunting these clever swine can actually disperse hogs to more areas if they run across a group. Theoretically, if a hunter spots a group of 10 and only takes out four or five, the belief is the surviving hogs will scatter and leave the area, thus furthering the spread of wild boars.
I've also read concerns about hog hunters using feed for bait and involuntarily causing a population explosion in the area because they're providing more nutrition for the animals. Doesn't that sound crazy? In some cases, certain styles of wild hog hunting may be helping the population more than it hurts it. This is why we need professionals that can wipe whole groups out, which I'll get to eventually.
Trapping hogs, even on the largest of scales, still isn't proving to be enough. Folks can get paid, usually per pound, by processors who typically donate the meat to a charitable cause. You can have the biggest system of traps on the biggest plots of hog-infested lands, and your level of success day-to-day is still little more than a crapshoot.
The problem will only get worse
The way I see it, there needs to be a lot more Texas hog hunts, and they need to happen fast. It all has a trickle-down effect. The more hogs there are, the more crops they ruin. The more crops they ruin, the more prices go up on food.
As hogs become more numerous, they start affecting deer hunting and turkey hunting by killing newborn fawns and eating eggs. These animals aren't picky; they're perfect killing and eating machines that take down almost everything in their path. And if they keep breeding at the rate they are, the effect on natural resources in the south will continue to be devastating.
At some point, I fully expect the TPWD will be forced into more action. At some point, professional pig assassins will have to be hired. I can't really see any other alternative.
I did have a weird thought along these lines, but I don't know if it's feasible or not. Remember how I said this was a war? Well, if we must hire soldiers for the war against pigs, why aren't we hiring our veteran servicemen and women for the job?
Seriously, I can't turn on the TV or look at the internet without hearing something about our neglected veterans at least once a day. So, why not hire some as pig sharpshooters?
They are already highly trained in safe firearms use, they have the discipline to make quick, clean and safe kills. They likely possess a great deal of patience that is required for hunting, and most have a lot of experience in late-night ops like most pig hunts would entail.
For the serviceman or woman who is having difficulty finding work anywhere else, why couldn't this be a viable second chance? If you want to take it a step further, instead of leaving the pig's bullet-ridden carcasses to rot, another part of the job could be hauling in and butchering said meat for donations.
In one fell swoop you're giving vets a job, helping the hungry, AND conserving farm crops and our precious natural resources. How you would get something like that started, I couldn't say, but we need to start getting creative to solve this pig problem.
A solution is needed
Unfortunately my idea is just that: an idea. As much as we don't want to admit it, hunting is slowly dying out. We're losing more and more hunters every year, and there aren't enough new ones to replace those who drop out. Thus, relying on current resident hunters in these states, or even the ones from out of state who buy the expensive hog hunting packages to keep the population at stable levels, is a tall order.
In fact, I'm certain we can't do it alone. As much as we don't want to admit it, I think money as a motivating factor will be the only thing that will make a dent in the populations.
I feel like at some point, professional pig hunters WILL have to be hired as the wild hog populations reach critical mass in Texas and many other southern states. This is a problem that isn't going away anytime soon.
The longer state and federal agencies hold off on action, the worse it will get.