Earlier this month, my son, son-in-law and another hard-working guy traveled to a southern Oklahoma ranch for three days of hunting pigs to replenish our freezers and to take breaks away from stressful daily schedules. It became three nights of hunting instead, because the feral swine were very difficult to find during the daytime.
An hour before sunset each evening we made our way to elevated blinds that were some 50-100 yards from bait stations where our outfitter had scattered corn and watermelon rinds to attract the pigs. The pigs visited the feeding stations only at night, even though they had not been hunted for several weeks. Prime times for seeing pigs were after dusk, around midnight and before dawn.
We stayed at the outfitter’s 3,000 acre ranch located along the Red River where the sandy bottomland flooded frequently and supported only grass for cattle, many species of trees such as pecans, an abundance of wild flowers, deer, coyotes, raccoons, armadillos, roadrunners and quail, and importantly for us hunters, many feral pigs.
Our quarters consisted of 10x10-foot concrete block rooms built into a hillside for protection from tornadoes, a toilet and shower in a concrete building 50 feet away, a hydrant for water and a gas-fired grill as well as a fire pit with sawn wood for cooking. We all slept the best we had for months, ate scrumptious food that included roasted pork and we enjoyed spirited and irreverent discussions.
The pigs we hunted were domesticated during past generations, for we saw mainly red, white, black and spotted pigs, and some had a white shoulder belt. We observed a few hogs with longer snouts, tusks and hair and with more Eurasian wild boar characteristics than domesticated swine. Probably various types of the wild pigs had crossed and they expressed different phenotypes, depending on how their DNA had combined.
There are 5 million wild pigs in the U.S., double the number from 30 years ago, according to a 2018 USDA report entitled “Feral Swine Distribution by County 1982-2015.” Feral pigs live in 38 states, with the highest concentrations in southern states and California.
In 2017, another USDA report, this one by Gail Keirn, estimated that feral pigs annually cause $1.5 billion in damages to crops, pastures, wildlife, and to private and public property. Most farmers, conservationists and hunters agree feral pigs should be greatly reduced or eliminated because they root up soil and consume seeds (e.g., corn) and crops (e.g., peanuts, vegetables). They eat the eggs of quail, turkeys and turtles, and the feral swine can spread health problems to domestic swine and sometimes to people (e.g., pseudorabies and undulant fever, fleas and tick-borne diseases.)
I’ve heard some people claim wild pigs should not be eliminated, and instead emulated because they exhibit great capacity to survive in increasingly human-dominated and polluted environments. I have also heard testimonies about Eurasian wild boars that have jumped fences into pens to kill domestic boars and to breed gilts and sows.
Do the wild porcine or the domestic stock contribute the most to the survival of the world? As a farmer, I favor domesticated animals, but it’s a legitimate question for scientists to ponder about the future of our planet.
The process of domestic pigs developing into wild stock occurs amazingly quickly when they have to fend for themselves. Feral pigs become wary; their hair lengthens and thickens; their lower canine teeth elongate as subsequent generations become wild. These survival characteristics are contained in their DNA.
Domestic pigs that have gone wild differ from their wild Eurasian — also called Russian boar — cousins, which have longer snouts, thicker black bristles and bigger tusks that protrude above their upper jaws, but the feral stock can run as quickly and behave as cautiously and ferociously. Eurasian hogs will readily interbreed with domestic swine.
Pigs are one of the most adaptable species on earth. They can thrive in large animal production facilities with farrowing crates and live in pens without ever seeing the outdoors from birth to market.
They can also live happily in free-range pork operations that provide housing only during parturition.
They can live in pastures, or in oak and nut groves while growing to market-sized pigs to be turned into prosciutto and organic pork for sale in the finest grocery stores and restaurants worldwide.
Thanks to the other people who shot pigs with rifles equipped with scopes and lights, our group reduced the feral pig population by three. My light shorted out just when I needed it.
Despite our fewer-than-desired trophies, all of us unhooked from our workloads for a while and came back to our families and work environments feeling refreshed.
We are already conjuring up how to go back next year better prepared for hunting the wily and tasty animals and to enjoy another respite from civilization. Perhaps the animals taught us something about adaptability.
Dr. Mike Rosmann is a psychologist and farmer in western Iowa. Contact him at email@example.com.