February 9, 2013 7:59:18 PM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
Although they haven't yet achieved the status of Sherman's March to the Sea, Mississippi's rapidly growing wild hog population is cutting its own destructive swath through the state, and along the way exacting a heavy toll on the state's ecosystem.
Wild hogs, sometimes referred to as feral pigs, are swine that were once domesticated and were released or escaped into the wild. Their ability to reproduce quickly and insatiable appetite, have make wild hog sightings a common occurrence for Golden Triangle sportsmen and farmers. More significantly they present a growing problem without an obvious solution.
The hog are particularly prevalent in Clay County, says Dr. Bronson Strickland, Associate Extension Professor, Wildlife Ecology and Management at Mississippi State University. "There are some true Russian or European wild boar in Mississippi, but they were deliberately brought here and let loose for hunting, he says.
Lowndes County Agent Reid Nevins said wild hogs are not as common in Lowndes -- at least, not yet.
"We don't have the number of wild pigs here in Lowndes County that have in, say, Clay County or Monroe County," Nevins said. "It's coming. It's only matter of time."
Strickland said that even though wild hogs are capable of breeding a couple of times a year, one of the major problems is the transporting of wild hogs.
"This is one of the biggest things we have to stop," Strickland said. "People like to transport wild hogs and let them loose in other areas so they can later hunt them. They don't think it's hurting anything but it is. The pig population expands naturally and that is a big enough problem. The transportation of hogs, which is illegal, only makes it worse."
Feral hogs can also be a threat to public health. According to research gathered by the MSU Extension Service, wild pigs are known carriers of at least 45 different parasites and diseases that pose threats to livestock, pets, wildlife and, in some cases, humans.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has deemed wild hogs a nuisance species, allowing landowners to hunt them year-round without restrictions. They can be hunted with bait, such as corn and can even be hunted with dogs or trapped.
Ground zero for hogs
Pheba is a small community in western Clay County about 18 miles west of West Point. It has its own post office, zip code and Pheba's Diner, the local spot for biscuit breakfasts, plate lunches and burgers. The community is home to Hebron Christian Academy and miles and miles of prime hunting land.
It also the home to large infestation of wild hogs that are leaving a visible path of destruction as their numbers increase.
On an overcast morning, Will Miller and a hunting party set out to find wild hogs. Miller is the owner of JMK Farm Services, a company that traps wild hogs, beavers and other nuisance animals.
Miller had planned ahead. He had set several wire snares on the 3,800 acres of land near Pheba he manages. The land is valuable for its timber and wild-game hunting. Miller said the timber has been appraised for about $8 million and as the overseer of the property, it's up to him to help eliminate any threats to the land, including the beavers and the feral pigs.
"We catch and kill about 600 hogs a year," Miller said. "We used to not see a lot of wild hogs here but it has changed over the last three years or so. The hogs breed so often that you can't keep up with them. When we're trapping and we miss a pregnant sow, she's going to continue to produce."
Strickland said feral hogs are ready for breeding at three months and can bear offspring three times in a 14 month-period.
"It's rare to see them breed that often in the wild," Strickland said. "Usually they will reproduce twice a year and have six to eight piglets and about four of those will survive. To put this in context, we all know we have an abundance of whitetail deer in the state. Well, deer only breed once a year and they usually only produce two offspring. The wild hogs are reproducing at four times (the rate) of the deer."
Miller and his posse loaded up on four wheelers and an Argo amphibious vehicle, which can best be described as a small tank with the top half removed. The Argo allows travel into the swamps and uneven terrain common in this part of the country. Miller had set snares the day before. Snares are metal wires with a noose located in the middle placed between two trees with the noose at hog-head level. When the hog hits the snare, it releases a trigger which tightens the wire around the hog's neck.
"Snares are the main traps we use," Miller said. "We used to use cages but the hogs have gotten smarter and avoid them. They don't see the snares coming. Sometime we will have about 10-12 snares out a time and you can see the woods shaking from all of the trapped hogs."
Although the wild hogs sometimes travel solo, Miller said they usually travel in a pack ranging from eight to 30.
"The hogs usually aren't aggressive, but they can be when wounded," he said. "People think that when they see a wild hog it's going to be a Russian wild boar with huge tusks charging at them, but that's so far from the truth. A sow with a litter may be aggressive, though, but she's only trying to protect her babies."
As the Argo moved deeper into the woods, up six-foot inclines and across small lakes and streams, anticipation grew. Miller, reminisced about earlier hog hunts.
"The largest hog we killed was about 225 pounds," he said. "They can get pretty big, like about three-feet tall on four legs. It's hard to judge them when you are hunting because they all look huge in the woods."
Caledonia hunter Brent Lochala, who has hunted with Miller, said an encounter with a wild hog can be unnerving.
"They all look scary when you start sneaking up on them," Lochala said.
The deeper the Argo descended into the wet bottoms, evidence that wild hogs had been in the area increased --tracks, trees that bore evidence that a hog had rubbed against it and ruts, more and more ruts.
The vehicle took the party through a thicket of cane in a swampy mud-filled slough. According to Miller, the hogs sometimes nest there in the summer to be closer to the mud and water. Then Miller pointed to what looked like an open field, an area about half the size of a football field. The field was covered with large manhole cover-sized ruts caused from hogs searching for food or "rooting."
"Wild hogs eat everything in sight," Miller said. "The eat worms, snakes -- anything. They love acorns and when the acorns first start falling, the hogs really start moving."
Strickland said the insatiable appetite of the wild hogs makes them a very real threat to the state's agriculture and to nature itself.
"Hogs are destroying corn fields, soybean fields and especially peanut crops," Strickland said. "They love to root, so peanuts are something they love since they have to root for them and dig them up. Pigs can even destroy the levees used for rice farming. They eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds and destroy their nests. They eat snakes and alligator eggs and they have even been eating the eggs of sea turtles on the barrier islands of Georgia.
"They are extremely omnivorous. They also love acorns and blackberries and persimmons and food that is a part of the natural diets of many of our native species."
On this day, at least, Miller did not encounter a wild hog, despite the ample evidence that they had been in the area.
Over lunch at Pheba's Diner, Miller was undaunted.
"Give me two or three days," he said with a wink. "We will see some hogs."
Signs of wild hogs
■ Nests or beds
■ Tree and post rubs
Diet of wild hogs
■ Opportunistic omnivores
■ Eat mostly plants
■ Also eat invertebrates such as worms, insects, and insect larvae
■ Will eat small mammals, the young of larger mammals, and eggs and young of ground-nesting birds and reptiles
"Wild hog is a lean meat that is closely related to the domesticated hog. Its meat has a much stronger flavor than domesticated hogs. It can be substituted in recipes for venison and pork."
Erich H. Ogle
Director / Assistant Professor
The Culinary Arts Institute at MUW
Chili-Rubbed Wild Hog Loin with Caramelized Berry Sauce
2 tbsp. Chili powder
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Pepper
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
4 5-oz. portions Wild Hog Loin
Caramelized Berry Sauce
6 oz. Sugar
4 oz. Water
2 pt. Raspberries
1 pt. Blackberries
1 c. Blueberries
1 gal. Veal Stock
For the Wild Boar:
1. In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, salt and pepper. Rub the wild boar loin with this mixture
until well coated.
2. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized sauté pan. Cook the boar to medium, making sure to brown all
sides of the meat.
3. Remove the boar from the pan and allow it to rest for 1 minute, then slice into medallions.
4. Mound the mashed potatoes into the center of each plate. Arrange the venison in a fan around the
potatoes. Ladle on the caramelized berry sauce and garnish as desired.
To make Caramelized Berry Sauce:
1. Combine the sugar and water in a large sauce pot. Bring to a boil and caramelize.
2. Add all the berries to the caramelized sugar. Cook for 1 minute.
3. Add the veal stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and reduce by half. Strain the sauce through a fine chinoise and keep warm.
Place wild boar medallions on a serving platter and spoon with sauce.