It’s just after 10 p.m. on a misty Monday night. I’m riding in the back of a pickup truck sitting on a stack of 50-pound bags of corn scanning a picked cornfield with a thermal imaging scope. I see them, plain as day. A large sow surrounded by a half-dozen piglets. A quick smack on top of the cab and USDA Wildlife Technician Justan Blair stops the truck.
I hand him the scope. He nods. It’s game on. Blair puts the truck in park and turns off the engine. He slips from the driver seat holding a suppressed .270 rifle with a black synthetic stock. He snaps his thermal scope onto his rifle’s rail and we set off down the edge of the field.
We lay down in the prone position. I’m the spotter. He’s the killer. I watch intently as this wildlife sniper quickly dispatches a couple of feral hogs. I’ll admit, for me there is a sense of sadness when any animal goes down, especially those who won’t grace a dinner table. But I remind myself these destructive creatures do not belong on our landscape, and must be removed. They cause serious damage to agriculture, spread wildlife diseases, destroy critical habitat and outcompete native wildlife species, like deer and turkey, for food.
Feral hogs have to go, and the Wildlife Service folks working for the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) are making a significant impact. On this night, Blair only kills a couple of hogs. He’s disappointed. As a guy who has singlehandedly removed hundreds of feral hogs from Missouri, this was a real slow night.
“I might be shooting myself out of a job, I guess. Just a few weeks ago these fields were covered with hogs. Last week, we took 40 off these fields. Now we aren’t even seeing them every night,” Blair said.
Shooting is not the preferred method. Trapping is much more effective for removing large numbers of hogs. At this time of year though, trapping is more difficult because there is such a large supply of food, both in the forest with a strong acorn crop and in recently harvested agricultural fields. With so much food, it’s hard to concentrate the hogs with bait, so out come the rifles for missions to take what they can get.
District supervisor, Dan McMurtry said, “Removing feral swine from the landscape day in and day out is not easy work. Our trappers are constantly dragging heavy wire panels and equipment, packing in heavy buckets of sour corn, working long hours in the heat of August or in the bitter cold nights in February, most times by themselves.”
The USDA currently has 15 hog trappers working fulltime in Missouri, and they are getting it done. They claim a 353 percent increase in feral swine killed from 2015 to 2016 on U.S. Forest Service lands or private land within two miles of a boundary. They killed 358 such feral swine in 2015 and 1625 in 2016.
“Being involved with the feral swine eradication efforts here in Missouri is a challenging and rewarding endeavor. We have made strong inroads in populations across the state, alleviating damage for landowners in those areas, but there is still a lot of work to be done on the state level. It is hard work, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.” Blair said, Wildlife Technician
The fact that certain folks trap feral hogs, transport them to new areas and release them is a real shame, and also a crime. All of us who hunt can appreciate the desire to chase hogs, but not at the expense of putting native wildlife at risk, and causing significant damage in farmers fields and pastures. If you know of anyone moving and releasing feral hogs, contact your local conservation agent or call Operation Game Thief at 1-800-392-1111. Your tip may fetch you a hefty reward, and stopping wildlife crime will ensure future generations will have healthy populations of native species to hunt and enjoy as we do today.
See you down the trail…