Spirit of JacksonvilleREAD ONLINE
Feral hogs a nuisance and a tough challengePublished January 12, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
I hunted the big razorback for three days on a friend’s hog-infested land. The wild pigs rooted up everything, ate the eggs of wild turkeys and quail, and were generally wreaking havoc. My buddy wanted to be rid of them.
The sun was setting the first day when I saw the boar through my rifle scope. He was wicked looking. I guessed his weight at 300 pounds.
I had seen many big domestic hogs, but this wild boar lacked a familial resemblance. Unlike its flabby barnyard cousins, this beast was muscular and lean despite its huge size. Its body was weirdly asymmetric — low at the flanks and higher at the shoulders. Its head was as big as a whiskey keg, and the animal was covered with wiry, black hair that was longest and thickest along its spine.
Looking at that sharp, thin mane, one could easily understand how the razorback name originated.
The hog’s most impressive features were its tusks. The two largest pushed back the lips and swept up and around to a point above the snout. Each was as big around as a man’s thumb and 7 inches long. The outer edges were sharp as knives. Two smaller tusks grew above these, their purpose being to safeguard and sharpen the lower set. With one quick swipe of those tusks, a boar can disembowel a dog or maim a hunter.
Seeing this incredible animal, one could have no doubt why the fierce razorback was chosen to be the University of Arkansas mascot. It is obvious, as well, why Arkansas hunters have considered wild hogs to be sporty hunting adversaries for almost two centuries.
Jaret Rushing, a county extension agent for the U of A Division of Agriculture in Calhoun County, has conducted extensive research on Arkansas’ feral hogs to learn more about their range. They exist in at least 57 counties, with the largest populations in southern counties.
“This doesn’t mean hogs don’t exist in the other counties,” Rushing said. “For instance, no one who turned in a survey said they had feral hogs on their lands in Arkansas County, but I have personally seen them on Bayou Meto [Wildlife Management Area] there.”
Many wild hogs descended from domestic stock that escaped or were turned out to range freely. In decades past, folks often released pigs to feed off the forest. Razorbacks ran the woods, fattening on acorns and other foods. In autumn, they were penned and fed corn. When winter came, they were butchered to supply families with ham, shoulders, sausage and lard.
This was a good system for many years, but with changing farm practices, fence laws were enacted, forcing owners to control their livestock. There was no way to capture all the free-ranging hogs, however. Many adapted to life in the wild.
Wild hogs cause many problems. They destroy vegetation, ruin water holes used by other wildlife and destroy nests of ground-nesting birds. Acorns, an important food for many native wildlife species, comprise much of the wild hogs’ diet. Feral hogs often damage row crops and frequently carry diseases such as brucellosis and trichinosis that can be transmitted to domestic stock and even humans.
Someone once said hunting bears with a willow switch is a lot like hunting razorbacks, regardless of the method.
“Only a darn fool without a lick of sense would do either.” But if you’re determined to bag a wild hog, these tips can help.
Good hog-hunting locales can be difficult to pinpoint. A classified newspaper ad and phone calls to state and county officials often lead to landowners eager to rid their property of destructive hogs. Visiting with managers of wildlife management areas and national wildlife refuges may produce similar results.
Scouting also helps. Turned earth and leaves where hogs have been rooting for food are the most obvious hog signs. Look, too, for tracks and trails. Hog tracks are similar to deer tracks, but more rounded. The hogs’ trails often form tunnels in thick underbrush.
Wallowing areas may also be found on scouting forays. Hogs wallow in mud to cool themselves and rid their bodies of insects. Their wallows are usually found near seeps and springs or around lakes, ponds and sloughs.
Listening for hogs just before daylight can help, too. Hogs are noisy when feeding. You can often hear their squealing and grunting.
Wild hogs are tough. A high-powered gun, .270 or larger, is recommended for killing them. Adult hogs average 100 to 200 pounds and have been known to exceed 500, so sheer size dictates a big firearm. Also, under the hide of older boars is an inch-thick “shield” of keratin, the stuff of hooves and horns. It extends on either side of him from his shoulders to his last ribs, and shields his vital organs from the tusks of other boars when he fights. It is said this shield is strong enough to stop not only tusks, but light bullets and arrows as well. Plug a boar with the wrong firearm, and you may just anger it.
Among the best hunting locales are wet, densely vegetated river bottoms. Hogs leave bedding areas in thickets during late afternoon or at night to feed. Stand hunting in feeding areas near dawn and dusk often is effective if hogs haven’t been overly disturbed.
Never forget that razorbacks can be unpredictable and dangerous if cornered or crowded. They’re incredibly quick, and in a fracas, they’re living buzz saws. As one hunter put it, when you hunt hogs, “You better wear your tree-climbing britches.” Keep your distance, and if you believe you’ve killed a hog, make sure by putting an “insurance round” through its head.
Before you kill a hog, you’ll have to defeat its keen sense of smell and great hearing, as I learned on my hunt. Three days passed before I finally shot the big-tusked boar because every time I spotted him, he smelled or heard me. To say the hunt was challenging would be understatement.
In many respects, Arkansas’ wild hogs live up to the razorback’s legendary status. They’re intelligent, hardy, ferocious animals, and there’s something about hunting them that draws out the daredevil in hunters. They are, certainly, a fitting symbol for The Natural State.
None Keith Sutton can be reached at .