Unforeseen consequences: the ammunition shortage and the coming hog-ocalypse

Kevin Ryan, Shawn Doherty and Shane Kessler use thermal optics to remove feral pigs from agricultural land at night.
Kevin Ryan, Shawn Doherty and Shane Kessler use thermal optics to remove feral pigs from agricultural land at night.

Shane Kessler, 50, of Pineville, is the owner of Rougarou Hog Control, a feral pig eradication outfit out of Natchitoches that uses thermal optics mounted on suppressed rifles to remove feral pigs from agricultural land at night.

“We generally kill between 1,000 and 1,200 (hogs) each year,” Kessler said.

As of July 9, the body-count for 2021 stood at 582.

“We are not like your regular outfit,” Kessler said, “(we are) a select group of guys with military, law enforcement and firefighter backgrounds with a love for hunting these invasive and destructive animals.”

And though the world may not see danger on the horizon, Kessler and his crew are on the front line of a battle that is about to rock the agricultural belly of the United States.

Planet of the pigs

Such talk isn’t hyperbole. Historically, man has done little better than fight the feral hog to a draw, and that’s with all of man’s tools at his disposal, including traps, dogs and firearms.

No matter how many traps you employ or dogs you run, you can’t fight a war without bullets. It’s the realpolitik of our time. Because of a year-long run on ammunition, people haven’t been doing as much hog hunting as usual. Whether they haven’t had the ammunition to do so, or because they’ve judged the price of ammunition too high to “waste” on hogs, is immaterial. Fewer hunters means more hogs.

And more hogs is bad news.

Empty shelves and stay-at-home gun owners

“Before the big ammo shortage, we were ‘running’ our own calibers,” Kessler said. “My cartridge of choice was (.308 Winchester), simply because of its availability, and the fact that you know when a 30-caliber bullet strikes a pig.”

But Kessler and his crew have had to adapt to stay in the fight. In many homes, rifles like Kessler’s AR-10 have become safe-divas because of the difficulty of finding formerly ubiquitous cartridges like .308 or just about anything else. We are emerging from a world in which people commonly shelled out $1.50 per round for run-of-the-mill, American Eagle, 5.56x45mm FMJ.

In this climate, many trendy cartridges like the 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 Grendel and .300 AAC Blackout have been banished to the dusty ammo can marked “use sparingly,” and that’s if you can find them to put there. If you’ve been hibernating since December 2019, you’re all caught up.

“If you can find that stuff, it’s beyond expensive, especially for what we’re doing,” he said. “Why would you spend $47 on a box of ammunition that you’ll use on an animal you’re not going to drag out of the field?” It’s a good question.

After nuclear war, the cockroaches will all have AK-47s

The one black-rifle ammunition that has been available, consistently, is the ever-resilient 7.62x39mm cartridge, an AK-variant/SKS.

“With the ammo crunch, everybody’s going to 7.62x39mm because it’s the only thing that we can find with a good amount of availability,” Kessler said. “Right now, that’s what we’re running, 7.62x39mm in hollow-point or soft tip.”

But with everyone buying the AK cartridge, can existing stock outlast the shortages that persist in other calibers? Only time will tell. What is clear is that we are beginning to see some of the consequences of the forced frugality brought on by the crisis.

A Brave New World

Feral pigs are a threat to the livelihood of every farmer.

“If hogs hit a freshly planted cornfield one night, it’ll cost the farmer upwards of $600 an acre to replant that field.” Kessler said. “So, if you get a group of pigs that hit a field, and, in one night, take out 6, 8, or 10 acres, the (costs) add up very quickly for the farmer.”

Although an increase in the number of feral pigs bodes well for his business, the 2020 gun-buying spree has created some problems for Kessler that switching rifles can’t fix.

“You’ve got more and more people buying (thermal optics), but they don’t have anywhere to use them,” he said. “So…they start riding around and shooting at pigs in fields without permission from the landowners; it’s a problem for us.

“It’s a problem when we go into a field and someone is there, someone who has no business being there, and we have to run them off. You try to get their info to the sheriff’s department, but they usually get out too quick.” The dangers in a situation like that are obvious.

For now, Rougarou Hog Control remains in the fight, but the war rages as much on ammunition websites as Louisiana’s corn and bean fields.

“We get on (ammunition websites) pretty much every day,” Kessler said. “If one of us finds a good deal, he’ll forward (the information) to everybody else, and then we’ll make our own purchases.

“That way,” he said, “we know that we’re set, and can keep on going for a little while.”

But just how long “a little while” might be, is anyone’s guess.

About Will Martin 104 Articles
Will Martin is an adventure writer based in New Orleans, LA. He pens fiction and nonfiction stories at willmartin.info, and is a staff writer at Louisiana Sportsman. He can be reached at willm@lasmag.com.