A recent increase in the number of feral hogs in southwest Missouri is causing major problems for local agriculture producers.
"The main problem feral hogs are causing is habitat destruction," said James Dixon, Missouri Department of Conservation wildlife damage biologist. "When they feed, they root in the soil and uproot vegetation, completely devastating the area. It looks like the land has been disked up."
Feral or wild hogs can also cause problems to human health and safety, natural resources and fish and wildlife.
"The wild hogs take away acorns for deer and turkey," said Travis McLain, Barry County conservation agent. "They also scavenge and eat turkey nests and anything else they can find."
Feral hogs will eat deer fawns, turkey eggs and even young turkeys if they are able to catch them.
This year, southwest Missouri saw an increased acorn crop, which provided an abundant food source for local deer and turkey.
Although the acorn crop was able to sustain the local population of wild hogs also, Dixon said there is no way to tell if the acorn crop will be sufficient for wildlife next year.
"With the acorn crop we saw in the forest this year, we might even see more feral hogs next year or the year after," said Dixon.
Wild hogs also carry a long list of diseases, which can be transmitted to domestic swine herds and other wildlife. Some feral diseases can also be spread to humans.
"If you hunt feral hogs be sure you don't come into contact with the blood," said Dixon. "Wear rubber gloves and when preparing meat make sure it is cooked through and through. No disease can be picked up as long as it (meat) is thoroughly cooked."
The United States Department of Agriculture will supply landowners with feral hog disease testing kits free of charge.
"The kit has instructions for taking the blood sample, which is put in a stamped box and dropped in the mail," said Dixon. "It doesn't cost the landowner a dime, and they can ask the department to send a copy of the results back to them."
Feral pigs can also often be aggressive in nature.
"The public really doesn't have much to fear unless they are out hunting the hogs," said Dixon, "but they are more aggressive than any other large mammal in the forest now."
Several factors have caused the recent rise in the feral hog population, said Dixon.
"They breed quickly and can have a dozen piglets in a litter," said Dixon. "Also, even though it is illegal, some individuals bring hogs into Missouri and release them for sport hunting."
In order to correct the recent problems with feral hogs, the Missouri Department of Conservation is working to eradicate the population where it can. In Missouri, no permit is required to hunt wild hogs and there is no off-season for wild hog hunting.
"They aren't considered wildlife of the state so the Conservation Department doesn't regulate them," said McLain, "but there are Missouri statutes in place to protect other wildlife from feral hog hunters."
When pursuing wild hogs, hunters are not allowed to use spot lights. Other specific regu-lations apply to wild hog hunting during open deer and turkey seasons. There are also laws concerning transporting and supplying wild hogs.
"Wild hogs are interesting to hunt. They are smart animals," said Mick Epperly, Barry County sheriff. "Some people are hunting with dogs that are trained to track. The dogs have caused problems by getting into people's cattle."
Although, some enjoy hunting wild hogs, they are not wildly pursued by hunters because there are not enough hogs in the wild to create a great hunting experience, said Dixon.
Another method of correcting feral hog problems is trapping. The Conservation Department works closely with the USDA to set traps on private property in order to catch and slaughter feral hogs.
Landowners are asked to dump corn in a field to attract wild hogs to the area. When the corn begins to disappear consis-tently, a trap is constructed on the site.
Traps, which are usually five-foot diameter circles, are built using cattle panels. When feral hogs hit a trip wire inside the trap, a door closes locking them inside the cage. A large herd of hogs can be trapped at one time.
Epperly has caught 25 hogs, ranging from 20 to 150 pounds, on his land in Shell Knob.
"Our land joins the Mark Twain National Forest," said Epperly. "The hogs move around a lot, but we saw quite a few of them for a while."
Ted Bolton, another Shell Knob landowner, has trapped 31 feral hogs and eradicated two.
"They travel in herds of various sizes," said Bolton. "One time we caught 12 and saw one outside the pen. We thought we caught that herd out."
Bolton has seen hogs between 25 and 165 pounds since he began trapping feral hogs last summer.
"They come into an area and stay until hunting pressure moves them out," said Epperly. "We don't seem to be gaining on them."
In another study, Conserva-tion Department employees have attached radio collars on feral hogs and released them alive.
"The idea is to follow the single hog to the herd and pick them off one by one," said Dixon. "We have had limited success with that method, but southwest Missouri is too hilly to track the hogs back to the group."
Many local landowners are making sausage and cured hams from hogs that they eradicate on their property, said Epperly.
"It's lean meat pork," said Dixon. "It's pretty good stuff to eat."
To help the Conservation Department and local land-owners combat feral hogs, members of the public can report hogs that they see to the local conservation office.
"There could be some populations that we don't know about," said Dixon. "Report where you are seeing them, so we know where they are and where they are not."
Reports of people releasing hogs into the wild should also be made to the local conservation office immediately.
Currently, the Missouri Department of Conservation is unaware of how many feral hogs exist in the state, but many have been killed in the last few years. Dixon identified Taney, Barry, Lawrence and Stone counties as the areas with the largest feral hog populations.
For more information or to report feral hogs, call 847-5949.