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The Wild Hog in Mississippi
by Daniel Coggin

Dr. Jeff Clark of Brookhaven took this wild hog, which made good table fare. Photo by Wildlife Mississippi - James L. Cummins.

The wild hog is both loved by some and hated by others. For many of Mississippi's wildlife enthusiasts and landowners, it provides a challenging hunting experience and some of the best table fare this side of the Mississippi. For others, it causes thousands of dollars in damage to agricultural crops and out-competes many native species of wildlife for valuable food resources. In this article, we will explore the history, biology and management of one of the most controversial species of game found in the Magnolia State.

The first wild hogs in the state can be traced back to Hernando De Soto. De Soto landed at what is now present-day Tampa Bay, Florida, in May 1539, with his army of conquistadors. To help feed his army; De Soto brought along with him a herd of swine from Cuba. The exact number of the herd is questionable; however several accounts put the herd anywhere from 11 animals to well over 300. However, all accounts point out that the breed was very hardy and multiplied very rapidly.

De Soto's expedition traveled through Mississippi from 1539 to 1541. Along the way, swine escaped, were traded and/or taken by the natives. It is from these animals that our first feral populations were established.

Hernando De Soto was not the only European explorer to bring swine to Mississippi. Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville, a French explorer, brought swine along with other livestock to what is present-day Biloxi in 1699. Swine from d'Iberville's herds later spread throughout southern Mississippi and Louisiana.

Following the early European explorers, early settlers to the state brought along with them livestock, including swine. A common practice of the day was to allow the swine and other livestock roam free until the fall when it was necessary to capture them for slaughter. However, many of these animals escaped to the deep swamps and river bottoms where they roamed wild.

In the early 1970s, the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission released wild hogs into an enclosure on the Copiah County Game Management Area where they were allowed to breed and populate. In September of 1971, six of these wild hogs were captured and released into the Pearl River Game Management Area for hunting purposes. The population there has since grown to the extent that hogs have caused damage to the nearby Natchez Trace Parkway and nearby agricultural fields. The remaining wild hogs in the Copiah enclosure were captured and moved.

In 1973, an unknown number of wild hogs were released near Port Gibson. These animals have since spread throughout southwest Mississippi and southern Louisiana. Since the early 1970s, wild hogs have been released around the state specifically for hunting purposes. To help deter the spread of wild hogs, the state passed a law making it illegal to transport and release wild hogs into the wild. Spurred on by illegal releases and their prolific breeding, the wild hog is now found in at least 65 of Mississippi's 82 counties.

The average wild hog in Mississippi is a mix of domestic swine gone feral and wild European Boar which were released around the state. The majority of wild hogs are black to "grizzled" in color. The average adult boar (male) will be about 4 to 5 feet in length and stand approximately 30 inches at the shoulder. Adult sows (females) will be slightly smaller. The adult males will average about 250 to 300 pounds in weight with animals tipping the scales at 400 pounds or more not unheard of. Females average about 150 to 180 pounds. One of the distinguishing characteristics of both males and females are their large modified canine teeth called "tusks" by many. The true term for the lower modified canines is "tushes" while the upper modified canines are called "whetters." The action of the lower tushes rubbing against the upper whetters is called "whetting." It’s this process that keeps the tushes razor sharp. These modified canines are primarily used as weapons against other wild hogs and predators. To help defend themselves against attacks from other boars, males will develop a "shield" on their shoulders that helps to protect them from their opponent's tushes. These shields can be a couple of inches thick and have been known to stop a hunter's bullet or arrow. Without hunting and under good conditions, the average life expectancy for a wild hog is about 4 to 5 years. However, they can live up to 8 years of age.

One of the primary concerns that land managers and wildlife biologists have concerning the wild hog is its ability to destroy agricultural crops and native habitats. Photo by Wildlife Mississippi - Daniel Coggin.

The explosion of wild hog numbers across the state is due in part to its prolific breeding capacity. A sow can breed at 6 months of age but 8 to 10 months is usually the norm. The average estrous cycle of the wild hog is similar to that of its domestic brethrens and averages about 21 to 23 days. The period of estrous or "heat" is also similar to the domestic hog with 48 hours being the norm. Once bred, the gestational period usually lasts about 115 to 120 days with the sow farrowing ("farrow" is derived from the old English term "fearh", meaning "young pigs") or giving birth to about 4 to 6 piglets. However, under good conditions, 10 to 12 young are not unheard of. Studies have shown that in years of good mast (acorn) production, the proportion of reproductively active females is higher than in years of poor mast production. Thus, reproduction is very closely tied to available food resources.

Sows are able to have two litters a year with the peak farrowing occurring in late fall and early spring. The late fall period corresponds with the acorn drop and the early spring peak coincides with spring "green-up." Studies have shown that the spring farrowing period is the peak of production for the entire year.

After birth, the young pigs will depend on their mother for nourishment until they are weaned in about 2 to 3 months. After that the sow will join other sows and their young in a group called a "drift." Males are mostly solitary individuals with no real fixed home range. The only time they associate with other hogs is during the breeding season.

Another factor playing in the hog's recent explosion is its ability to eat just about anything. The wild hog is omnivorous, meaning they will eat plant and animal matter. Studies have shown that forage selection by the wild hog is highly seasonal and dependent of what's available. During the spring and summer months, the most important food sources are grasses, roots and stems. During the fall and winter months, hard and soft mast will make up the bulk of their diet. An adult wild hog can eat over 160 pounds of mast during a winter period and with abundant crops, as much as 84 percent of the hog’s diet will consist of acorns. The wild hog is also known to eat animal matter. Major vertebrate foods include other hogs, armadillos, white-tailed deer (fawns), some birds and their eggs, lizards, snakes and amphibians. It is not known how much of these foods are predated and how many are consumed as carrion.

One of the primary concerns that land managers and wildlife biologists have concerning the wild hog is its ability to destroy agricultural crops and native habitats. As discussed earlier, the wild hog is a voracious eater and will eat just about anything. Studies have shown that in areas with high hog populations, 85 to 98 percent of the native understory species of plants can be destroyed by the hog's feeding and rooting behavior. They have been shown to out-compete other species of wildlife for hard and soft mast crops and are notorious for destroying food plots planted for deer, turkey and other wildlife. In addition to wreaking havoc on native habitats, wild hogs cause thousands of dollars in damage each year to agriculture crops across the state. Wild hogs have been known to travel up to 7 miles to feed on agricultural crops such as corn and soybeans.

One method used by most hunters and landowners to control wild hog populations is through hunting. Hunting wild hogs is very exciting and fun, but it has been shown to not be an effective means of controlling population growth. Wild hogs are one of the wariest of our big game animals and they will alter their habits due to hunting pressure.

There are many different styles of traps used to capture hogs with the most commmon being a 4' by 8' heavy duty cage trap with either a spring door, root door or drop door. Photo by WIldlife Mississippi - Daniel Coggin.

Research conducted in Florida has found that to effectively control a wild hog population, you need to remove at least 75 percent of the population a year. One effective way to accomplish this is through trapping. There are many different styles and types of traps used to capture hogs with the most common being a 4' by 8' heavy duty cage trap with either a spring door, root door or drop door. Traps are usually baited with sour corn, milo or sweet potatoes. Traps that have even been baited with fish worked very effectively. One important point to remember about baiting traps is that no matter what you bait with, one must remember that to bait a trap during hunting season can be considered baiting, resulting in a ticket and fine. To avoid this, it is best to wait until after all hunting seasons are closed before starting your trapping program. It is also a good idea to contact your local conservation officer to let him know what you are doing and where your traps will be.

Another trapping method not widely used to capture hogs is with snares. Snares are very effective when used under fences in heavily traveled areas. However, catching a hog with a snare usually means that the hog will have to be killed there on the spot. Also, the hog will do considerable amount of damage to the fence once caught.

This article was written by Daniel Coggin, a Field Biologist for Wildlife Mississippi and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.