Despite an increased effort to mitigate the impact of feral hogs in Alabama, the hog population shows no indication of decline.
“Unfortunately, it appears their numbers are continuing to increase,” said Matt Brock, Technical Assistance Wildlife Biologist with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division. “I’m basing that on talking to people and on reports from areas that haven’t had hogs before.”
Brock is also basing that theory on the number of feral hogs harvested by hunters during the 2019-2020 season. Disturbingly, that total exceeded the number of white-tailed deer taken during the same period. According to the WFF’s annual hunter survey, it was estimated that about 218,000 deer were harvested. The number of feral hogs taken was estimated at about 255,000.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), feral hogs cause more than $1.5 billion in damages to property, agricultural interests (crops and livestock), native wildlife and ecosystems as well as cultural and historic resources.
Brock said as part of the Farm Bill passed by Congress, a large, comprehensive program is underway in Alabama to try to stop the spread of feral hogs, particularly in areas of heavy agriculture. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is conducting pilot projects in the Alabama Black Belt, the Wiregrass and on the Alabama Gulf Coast.
The Black Belt Project focuses on four watersheds covering almost 85,000 acres in Sumter County. The Wiregrass Project consists of 17 watersheds in Geneva, Houston and Henry counties. The Gulf Coast Project encompasses eight watersheds totaling almost 182,000 acres in Escambia and Baldwin counties.
One of the problems with feral hogs is the invasive species’ ability to rapidly reproduce. Brock said a typical litter is four to eight piglets, but he has heard of litters as large as 14. Some feral hogs can reach sexual maturity at six months. The gestation period is about 112 to 115 days.
“The sows will generally be close to weaning their litter before being bred again,” he said. “In theory, sows can have three litters every 14 months. Most of the time, they have one or two litters a year. Another thing is the piglets have a very high survival rate. They have very few predators because momma can be pretty aggressive toward anything that messes with her little ones.”
Brock said the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has purchased several remote-activated traps that have been deployed on public lands – wildlife management areas (WMAs) and special opportunity areas (SOAs) with feral hog populations.
“Part of the management on those WMAs and SOAs with hog problems is to try to efficiently remove as many of those animals as quickly as possible,” he said. “This trap design can be extremely effective in accomplishing this.”
As shown by the harvest numbers, hunters obviously remove quite a few hogs annually from the landscape, but hunting has proven to be ineffective at reducing total numbers of hogs.
“The most efficient method at reducing the population in a certain area is to remove entire sounders (family group),” Brock said. “People who are using this remote-activated design trap are seeing effective population control as a result of whole sounder removal. That is the best method available.”
It’s also important when trapping to make sure the entire sounder is inside the enclosure when the trap is triggered.
“Hogs are highly territorial,” Brock said. “Older sows develop home ranges where they forage and take their young. If you can remove a group from one area and start going along the landscape, removing groups as you come to them, you are creating a void that no other hogs are in currently. Some people trap in a shotgun approach, but if you move along the landscape in a strategic fashion, you can do real well in removing sounders entirely. That is what we teach at the workshops.”
Hiring a professional feral swine trapper will run between $25,000 and $40,000 annually. That may seem like a lot, but Brock says you must keep costs in perspective.
“I had a farmer tell me, he estimated the hog damage in 2019 at $140,000,” Brock said. “He looked at what it was going to cost to hire someone to trap. It was $25,000 to $28,000. To him, that was a minor expense compared to that $140,000 loss.”
To read the full article on the Alabama DCNR page, click here.