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Hog Wild
Hogs are showing up on more and more land. Is that a bad thing? Maybe not, if their numbers are controlled.

By ANDY CRAWFORD

Hogs can be great table fare, as long as it’s not a big, tough old boar. These hunters (clockwise from bottom right), David “Bolo” Parker, Russell Watkins, Keith Lacaze, Mikey Smith and Brody Parker, killed this hog while running dogs after the deer season.
Hogs can be great table fare, as long as it’s not a big, tough old boar. These hunters (clockwise from bottom right), David “Bolo” Parker, Russell Watkins, Keith Lacaze, Mikey Smith and Brody Parker, killed this hog while running dogs after the deer season.

The deer population on Cat Island exploded in the 1970s, and the hunting only got better in the ’80s and early ’90s. And then hogs showed up.

“We didn’t see as many big deer after the hogs,” long-time Cat Island hunter J.W. Bennett said.

And that seems to be the perception, that hogs change deer patterns and hurt hunters’ chances of killing wall-hangers.

After all, the porkers stink, they’re aggressive and they generally make a mess by wallowing and rubbing their filthy sides against trees.

And don’t even mention the damage they do to crops and food plots. Hogs seem bent on making every open area their playground, rooting and wallowing around until green patches can be all but useless.

But the verdict on the actual impact on deer hunting is still uncertain. It really depends on who you talk to.

There’s no question that hogs cause some habitat damage.

“They will destroy plantings for deer,” Department of Wildlife & Fisheries’ Dave Moreland said. “They cause damage to woods because of their rooting.”

And don’t even think about putting out corn for deer — hogs vacuum the golden kernels up as fast as possible.

“In one night they’ll eat 50 pounds of corn, no problem,” said Luling hunter Mark Broussard, who hunts hog-filled property in Tangipahoa Parish.

Hogs will also often destroy feeders, enraging deer hunters and costing them a lot of money.

“When they find corn, they root until there’s nothing left,” Broussard said. “Our food plots are just mud in some places.”

The impact on supplemental deer foods can be so severe that in Texas, where there is a healthy population of oinkers, it is common to see food plots and corn feeders fenced off.

“They use low fences so the deer can still get to the food while the hogs can’t,” Moreland said.

In addition to the damage done to plantings and supplemental corn feedings, hogs also compete with deer for high-protein acorns.

Luckily, that’s only a problem for a short period of the year.

“They compete with deer for the same food, but that’s really only a problem in the fall when hogs are eating acorns,” he said.

However, the competition for acorns, combined with deer’s dislike of hogs, can make it very difficult for hunters to pattern deer when oak mast is on the ground.

But other than that, is there really any impact to deer herds?

Denham Springs hunter Steve Burtner believes there is, and he points to his experience on 550 acres outside of Woodville, Miss., where he hunts with buddy Steve Stevens.

“This place used to be a zoo, but over the years, the deer population has been going down and the pig population has been going up,” Burtner said. “It seems the deer and the hogs don’t get along.”

He said it is not uncommon for one of the hunters to be watching deer feeding, only to see them spook when hogs show up to root, feed or wallow.

“If the hogs come out, the deer leave,” Burtner said.

Broussard has also found that to be the case.

“I was watching two does on a food plot, and some hogs came out and chased the deer away,” he said.

Running dogs for hogs is a great way to extend your hunting season, and it helps take a few pigs out of the area. Unfortunately, hogs are pretty smart, so it doesn’t take long for them to go nocturnal. That makes it difficult for dogs to pick up their trails.
Running dogs for hogs is a great way to extend your hunting season, and it helps take a few pigs out of the area. Unfortunately, hogs are pretty smart, so it doesn’t take long for them to go nocturnal. That makes it difficult for dogs to pick up their trails.

He also said a remote camera site at which he was getting shots of some does before the season opened was taken over by hogs once he put out corn to try and draw more does to the area.

“After the pigs found it, I haven’t gotten a picture of a deer since,” Broussard said.

That all lines up with what Moreland has found while hunting and studying deer.

“Hogs will spook deer,” Moreland said. “Deer don’t like to feed when hogs are around.”

Damage to woods doesn’t include feeding on the same browse species, but hogs can impact the plants on which deer depend for much of the year because of their rooting, wallowing and a tendency to rub against trees and bushes.

The impact is heightened because of the similarity in the animals’ preferred habitat.

“Deer and pigs like to live in the same places — where it’s thick,” Burtner said.

Overall, it’s safe to say that Burtner would prefer that hogs weren’t on his lease at all.

But other hunters said they don’t really mind the pigs’ presence.

“It’s nice to have them there because they’re bonus game, and they’re good eating,” said Keith Lacaze, who hunts Rapides and Vernon parishes on a tract of land that for years has been home to a healthy population of hogs.

But Lacaze hunts an area on which hogs are aggressively pursued.

And that seems to be the key — controlling the potentially destructive animals.

“If their numbers get out of control, they can be detrimental,” Lacaze said. “I’ve seen some of these areas where they have large numbers of hogs that they eat all the acorns and destroy all the reachable vegetation.

“In those cases, deer leave simply for lack of cover and food.”

And a hog herd can quickly grow out of control and begin causing problems.

“Unlike deer, they can have two or three litters per year, with each litter being four to eight pigs,” Moreland said. “I’ve killed a pig over on the Pearl River management area that had a litter with it, and it was pregnant with another litter.”

Broussard said he took a shot at a sow in December that had 12 piglets with it.

The trick is to view hogs as a species in need of management, just as deer herds have to be limited.

“You have to keep their numbers under control,” Lacaze said.

And there’s only two ways to do that — hunting and trapping.

Hunting can be very effective, and the great part is that there is no closed season for hogs in most of the state. Lacaze, who is also a DWF enforcement agent, said there are a few areas, such as state wildlife management areas, that do not allow hog hunting outside of regular deer season.

If you haven’t seen hogs but find wallows like this, you definitely have pigs on your property. Hogs can destroy food plots and corn-feeding sites by rooting and wallowing.
If you haven’t seen hogs but find wallows like this, you definitely have pigs on your property. Hogs can destroy food plots and corn-feeding sites by rooting and wallowing.

Other than that, there is no restriction on hunting hogs, which means you can shoot as many as you want on any given day.

In other words, hunters are welcome to shoot every hog they see, with only the stipulation that hunting must be during daylight hours.

“They can be taken year round during daylight hours with a basic hunting license,” Lacaze said.

Shooting them during deer season can be as easy as sitting deer stands and popping any hog that shows up, but that can only go so far with a four-month deer season.

Hunters will often see a sow and several piglets feeding in their food plots or under corn feeders, and the temptation is to pop a couple of the youngsters. After all, they are tender and the best-eating.

While Lacaze agreed that piglets are the best supper fare, the goal of controlling the hog population is probably best served by taking out the sow.

“If you shoot the old sow, those piglets are left to fend for themselves — and the coyotes are fond of them,” he said.

So if you kill a sow and coyotes kill a couple of the piglets, more damage has been done to the hog population than if you shoot a piglet or two.

Unfortunately, killing enough of them through hunting to really minimize their impact on deer hunting can be challenging.

“When you go to hunting them and put that hunting pressure on them, they’ll go nocturnal,” Lacaze said. “It can be difficult.”

Moreland agreed.

“I think they become more difficult to hunt than deer,” he said.

Burtner said he’s learned that exact lesson on his Mississippi lease.

“We don’t see many pigs, but they’re there,” he explained.

Young hogs might still move around a little bit during the daytime, but the ones that make it through a couple of years get educated and turn almost completely nocturnal.

“The older ones learn pretty quick,” Lacaze said.

Hogs are very prolific, giving birth to several litters each year. Mark Broussard learned just how large a litter can be when he developed this photo from his remote camera. To control the hog herd on your piece of property, shoot the sow. Piglets will then be vulnerable to predation.
Hogs are very prolific, giving birth to several litters each year. Mark Broussard learned just how large a litter can be when he developed this photo from his remote camera. To control the hog herd on your piece of property, shoot the sow. Piglets will then be vulnerable to predation.

So other methods have to be employed.

One option that can be a lot of fun for hunters is turning a pack of trained dogs loose and chasing down some of the pigs.

Lacaze and his compatriots do a lot of this kind of hunting.

“It extends the hunting season, and it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

They hit the woods every spring between the end of deer season and the opening of turkey season to hear their dogs run and take a few pigs out of circulation.

But there are limitations to dog hunting, namely that dogs can find it difficult to track hogs that have turned nocturnal.

“If the trail gets old, the dogs have trouble picking them up.

Burtner said they’ve tried chasing them with dogs, but soon gave up.

“We haven’t been that successful with dogs,” he said.

That leaves only one real way to put a dent in a herd — trapping.

No, we’re not talking about leg traps; these traps are essentially large cages with a gate that slams closed when a trip mechanism is stepped on.

Food of some sort — corn, old vegetables, etc. — is placed in the cage, and the hogs simply walk in to eat it, tripping the gate in the process.

Sounds easy, right?

Well, hogs aren’t dumb animals. While these traps catch some hogs quickly when first deployed, the animals can soon get wise.

“They’re smart enough that they’re leery of those kinds of things,” Lacaze said.

Once hogs get shy of a cage, Lacaze recommends removing the gate for a while and allowing hogs to become comfortable again.

“When you get them coming in there and eating, then you install the gate,” he said.

Another option is to stop using a cage and form a large fenced-in enclosure.

“You fence in a large enclosure and feed them, and once you get them coming into the enclosure, you install a gate,” Lacaze said.

This is less traumatic for hogs, so they don’t get as spooked as when a gate slams shut only inches away from them.