March 13, 2014
It’s funny sometimes, how when I can’t think of anything to write about, something like this falls right into my lap.
July 9, 2013
I think it was last year that I was writing about Michigan’s efforts to curb the spread of feral swine by placing an outright ban on their possession. While the spotlight of this case was on a private hunting ranch, the way this law was worded posed a threat that went far beyond the contentious issue of high fence hunting, and took aim at small farmers in the Wolverine State. Mine was one of many voices calling for reason and careful consideration of any such legislation… and mine was one of the many voices ignored when the law was passed.
The issue is primarily a matter of defining the prohibited animals. The “Invasive Species Order” (ISO) includes an extremely vague description of feral swine. As it turns out, several “heritage” breeds display the physical characteristics that the Michigan DNR uses to identify prohibited animals. And, as predicted before this law went through, the results are that small farmers are being threatened with criminal charges and fines for failing to surrender or eradicate their stock.
Some of the small farms are fighting back (in some cases because they don’t have a choice… if they lose their hogs, they lose their livelihood and even their homes). Several, like the family of Mark Baker are taking the offensive and refusing to surrender their stock. In the face of $700,000 in fines and even possible prison sentences, the Bakers charge that the DNR is overstepping its authority in enforcing the ISO against small farms.
It promises to remain a contentious issue and worth watching, even if it no longer has much of anything to do with hunting.
May 15, 2013
While we’re on a run here, this is one of my favorite vids (and one of my prouder moments). The video tells the tale…
May 2, 2013
Due to the outpouring of concerned emails from all my many fans, wondering where I was and if I was OK, I figured I owed an explanation for the recent week-and-a-half absence.
Truth be told, I haven’t received any emails, but I still feel like I owe some sort of apology for disappearing without a word. If not for that video that I actually preloaded a week or two ago, the Hog Blog has maintained a sort of radio silence. That’s not cool, either for readers or for advertisers (not that I’m seeing any return for the ads on this blog… yet). Part of my excuse is that work took me to Spokane last week, and at the same time the security guys in IT decided to tweak the Websense filters. Guns and weapons are tabu keywords, so I couldn’t even access the Hog Blog for most of the week.
But a bigger reason is a little more esoteric… I just haven’t felt much like writing. And the thing is, there’s plenty going on.
A few days ago, the New York Times published an article about the spread of feral pigs across the country. The slant was the conflict between wild hogs as sportsmen’s game and the fact that they’re a rapidly expanding, non-native invasive species. This isn’t news, for most of us who are familiar with wild hogs, but I did find it kind of interesting that the NY Times felt like it was a big enough controversy to merit space on their pages.
“The conundrum is that you’ve got one of the world’s hundred worst invasive animals, and at the same time you’ve got a highly desirable game species,” Dr. Mayer (John J. Mayer is the expert on wild pigs in the US) said. “It’s a real Jekyll and Hyde type situation with wild pigs.”
The article points to the recent attempt in MI to ban possession of eurasian boar or feral/wild pigs, particularly those owned by high fence hunting preserves. State officials (with behind-the-curtain support of anti-hunting organizations) argue that escaped pigs from these operations are a key source of the feral swine that are now populating the Wolverine State. Other states, such as Pennsylvania, are also considering similar bans.
On the other side of the coin, hunting preserve operators argue that the ban will put them out of business, and that escapees are a minimal problem. For most of these operators, wild boar provide a relatively inexpensive option for their customers, and can make up a significant percentage of the ranch’s income. They say (and I tend to agree) that the problem is the irresponsible operators who don’t maintain proper fences, which is no cause to indict the entire industry.
A point I think that didn’t get enough consideration (it’s mentioned, but not explored) in this article is the argument that in many cases, the spread of wild/feral swine is the result of ignorant and irresponsible hunters who are transporting and releasing hogs on their private property in order to create a huntable population. I don’t have hard data to support this argument, personally, but I do have a very clear picture of what’s going on out there.
Spend enough time talking to enough hog hunters around the country, and the stories abound… and they’re almost all identical. Joe and Bubba think it would be cool to have some hogs to hunt on their property/lease. Someone down the road has trapped a bunch, so Joe and Bubba load them in a trailer and haul them up to their place and dump them in the woods. Before long, the neighbors are seeing hogs. And so on…
Again, there’s not a word I’ve written here so far that I haven’t addressed before on this blog. With that in mind, I’m not going to go into a lengthy discussion of the problems that feral pigs can create. Suffice to say that the key items on the list are damage to crops (estimates suggest about $1.5 billion per year), risk of transmitting disease to domestic pork, and ecological destruction. While I think there’s room for discussion about how significant these problems are on a general scale, it is fair to say that we would probably be better off if feral swine were not here.
Is there a solution? I think there are plenty of things we can do, and in some states there are pretty good, efffective measures taking place. Among others, I do think a key step would be to eliminate the economic value of feral hogs.
In states like California, Florida, and Texas feral swine have become significant business to many landowners. A weekend hunt can run upwards of $500 per hunter, and in areas where the hogs are really plentiful, guiding hog hunters can provide a living wage. In itself, this may not seem like a bad thing. It’s bringing jobs to rural areas, and in many cases it’s offsetting the cost of the damage these animals do to local crops. The problem is that once this kind of thing becomes a business, eradicating the hogs is no longer the desirable outcome. Several landowners have begun to try to manage the populations to ensure a sustainable hunting opportunity. Hunters are prohibited from shooting wet sows, or discouraged from shooting certain animals. Hunting pressure is limited to keep the pigs from leaving the property and give them time to recover from the predation. It’s also a fact that some less scrutable operators bring in and release more pigs to keep the customers happy.
I don’t agree with banning wild swine at fenced hunting preserves. Like any other huntable exotic species, this is where they can be managed, hunted, and controlled for disease. With proper oversight and regulation, along with strict accountability for the operators, fenced preserves are a viable option. However, as Texas and some other states have seen, lack of regulation of these preserves will result in escapes, uncontrolled breeding, and failure to maintain the health of the animals. There has to be control, and it has to be enforced. The cost for this should be carried by the operators.
By the way, it’s not just individuals leveraging feral swine for profit. California requires prospective pig hunters to shell out $21.34 for a single wild pig tag (non-residents must pay $71.54). This effectively removes sport hunters from any effort to eradicate feral swine from the state, leaving that effort (if it’s performed at all) to high-priced professional exterminators. Landowners who experience crop depredation must apply for a permit to control it, and then can be constrained by the permits to certain methods. These regulations pretty much ensure that feral swine will continue to thrive in the Golden State, and as a result, will eventually spill over into neighboring states. Oregon is already reporting populations of pigs, although it’s unclear whether this is the result of migration from CA or of illicit transplants.
There is some promising research on targeted poisons for feral swine. HogGone is a product consisting primarily of sodium nitrite, a common food preservative. In large dose, it kills hogs within minutes, yet presents minimal threat to other species. The bright side is that sub-lethal doses are quickly processed so that there are no crippling side-effects. The hog either dies or not. The testing has also shown that hogs poisoned by sodium nitrite are harmless for human consumption. Research is currently underway to find a way to ensure delivery and further minimize the risk to non-target species.
The biggest challenge to controlling the spread of feral swine across the US is the lack of a unified effort through the Federal Government. While the feds are providing some funding for research, most states are essentially on their own to develop management plans, and those plans are all over the place as far as effectiveness and efficiency.
Finally, just for consideration… I sometimes wonder if hogs are as bad as they’re made out to be. Oh, I understand the agricultural and livestock concerns well enough. But when I spend time in backcountry hog habitat, I’m just not sure they’re as environmentally destructive as some of their opponents would have us believe.
April 1, 2013
Sometimes, if opportunity doesn’t come to you, you have to go to the opportunity. And other times, opportunity simply arises out of an apparently disparate series of events. It’s all about how you choose to manage it.
It’s no secret that I’ve sort of been bemoaning the absence of hogs on my property. With the exception of that one teaser this winter (I wasn’t even in the state when he showed up), there hasn’t been so much as a track. But seeing one reinforces my belief that there are hogs around… especially since I keep hearing some locals complaining about hogs rooting up their yards and pastures. So I’ve kept my eyes open.
Across the canyon, the far hillside is part of a 7000 acre, high-fence ranch. With the exception of whitetail season, the place doesn’t get hunted all that often. The ranch was once stocked fairly heavily with various exotics, but since the economy dropped out, the clients stopped showing up and the owners have decided to let the herds decline naturally. I’ve spent a lot of hours sitting on my front porch with binoculars, picking the place apart for wildlife. I keep hoping to spot some cool stuff, like maybe red stag, aoudad, or unusual African species. Until recently, all I’ve seen is turkeys and whitetail, mixed with a few goats and cattle.
About two weeks ago, I saw black dots running in and out of the brush line, near the top of the ridge. At first I thought it was just the goats, but something about the way they were moving looked familiar. I keep a pair of binoculars in the window by my chair, so I fetched them and started scanning the edges of the brush. Sure enough, the black dots were hogs.
I watched them with a sort of mixed elation. It was cool to see pigs, but they were on the wrong side of a high fence. All I could do was watch, and daydream about hunting them. I saw them in the same place the next evening, and again the following morning. Before long, the novelty sort of wore off, but I kept an eye out in the evenings and usually spotted one or two.
Last week I noticed the horses were running a little low on hay, so I called my regular guy to see if he had any to sell. With this drought, hay is in fairly short supply (and not cheap, either), and sure enough, he didn’t have any bales to spare. He gave me another number and suggested I call this guy. I asked about where he was located, and he laughed. Turns out, he grows hay on the other side of that ridge I’d been watching, and manages the property that’s behind the high fence.
I called the number, and sure enough he had plenty of hay. We worked out a deal, so I hooked up the trailer and headed over to his place. While one of his ranch hands was loading the hay, we started talking about hunting. He told me he doesn’t hunt much anymore, and his only clients are the guys who have the whitetail lease. He said that with the exception of a small group of axis, the exotics were all gone from the place. The only reason he even maintained the fence was to keep the cattle in. Then he mentioned that the hogs had found a way in, and they were making themselves right at home. I couldn’t help myself, so I asked if he had anyone hunting them. He seemed a little surprised that anyone was even interested in hunting a bunch of damned pigs. “If you want to shoot these things, I sure don’t care. Just don’t shoot my cattle or my axis deer.”
I drove home on a cloud! I’d just scored a hog hunting spot that would practically be all mine for eight months out of the year (deer season is about four months long). After I got home and fed the horses, I parked my butt on the porch with the Leicas and started glassing. Sure enough, just before dark the black spots started popping in and out of the brush line. I hit the rangefinder, just for kicks, and ranged the closest group at about 885 yards. The brushline itself was about 1100 yards.
I had too much work over the next couple of days to think about making a break for it, but I relaxed with the knowledge that no one else would be pushing the pigs around. They’d be there when I was ready.
On Thursday, I had Levi, my well guy come over to talk about my new water conditioner. Levi is sort of a “gun nut”, and we usually end up chatting about guns and hunting. I grabbed us a couple of Shiner Bocks, and we kicked back on the porch. As we were chatting, the hogs came out and I pointed them out. Levi thought it would be cool just to be able to shoot them from the porch if I had something that would reach out that far. At that range, hitting the hogs would be one thing. Killing them cleanly and then recovering them would be something else altogether. 800 to 1100 yards would much too long a poke, even for my .325wsm, so I just sort of nodded. “What you’d need for something like that would be a .50BMG,” I told him.
“What about a .416 Barrett?” he replied. “That would probably do it.”
“Yeah, a Barrett would probably do the trick,” I agreed. “But I don’t have five or six grand to drop on a special-purpose rifle like that.”
You have to be careful what you say around Levi. He’s a deal-making machine, and I think he must know everyone in the county! So I was only partially surprised when he lit up and turned to me. “I know somebody who’s got one for sale. I don’t even think he’s fired it yet.”
“I can’t justfiy spending money on something like that,” I answered. “What the hell am I going do with a .416 Barrett?”
“This guy really needs to get rid of it,” he replied. “And I know he also needs some tin roofing.”
Levi knows I’ve got a huge stack of tin roofing out behind my barn. I guess it was from some previous buildings on the property before I moved in, and it was scattered all over the place when I first bought it. When I finally got it all stacked up, I figured there were probably 150, 8-foot sections out there. At $12 each, I figured it was worthwhile to hold onto them for upcoming projects. But so far, I haven’t touched them. Every time we have a wind storm in the canyon, I have to go back out and gather the pieces back up again.
“I bet he’d make a deal with you for that tin,” Levi said. “You want me to ask him?”
I don’t know why I agreed, but I didn’t think it over too hard either. This guy wasn’t going to trade me a Barrett rifle for a bunch of used roofing tin. I didn’t take into account the rural economy. On Saturday morning, Levi called me. “He said for the tin and a thousand dollars, you can have the gun.”
Thus came the quandary… what the hell would I do with this kind of gun? But how could I turn down this deal? A thousand dollars and some scrap metal for a practically new Barrett .416 is not the kind of deal you see every day. Hell, I could sell if for at least twice that on Gun Broker. “Tell him it’s a deal,” I answered. “When does he want to do this?”
Levi told me he wanted to do it as soon as possible, so by the end of the day on Saturday, I was the proud owner of a Barrett .416 and that stack of tin was gone from my property.
Of course there are a couple of catches. First of all, the rifle is not scoped. I figure a good Nightforce scope is the right match for the rifle and that’s’ going to set me back a couple of grand. And I’ll have to handload if I want to shoot for less than $6 a shot. Fortunately, Oasis Outback, the local shop over in Uvalde has a Nightforce on consignment, and they’ve also got the components for reloading. I made a call, and everything is ready for me to pick up this afternoon.
I never thought I’d own something like this, but it’s opened up some brand new horizons for me.
Like those hogs across the canyon.
The way I see it, instead of driving 25 miles around the end of the canyon to access my new hog hunting spot, I can hunt from right here on the porch. From this range, I bet I can shoot two or three before they even realize what’s going on. Then I can drive around and pick them up later.
I will be shooting over the top of my neighbor’s house and barn (you can see them in the photo above), but I don’t think that’s too big of an issue. Kat doesn’t think it’s a great idea, but I figure they probably won’t even notice, as long as I don’t start spraying the whole hillside. And with the cost of this ammo I don’t see that being much of a likelihood. I’ll have to pick my shots carefully.
It’s a heck of a way to kick off my second April in Texas.
March 26, 2013
I saw this today as I was reading through some news reports, and thought it was interesting for a couple of reasons.
First of all, I think this is about the most balanced reporting on ARs that I’ve seen to date. While the whole angle of the story was one man’s justification for the legal (and legitimate) use of ARs, I didn’t really see any significant spin from the editors and producers which could have influenced the biases of viewers. Instead, it’s just laid out there. The case is made, and the viewers can decide for themselves how to interpret.
Secondly, it’s about a method of hog control that has drawn some criticism. Do services like Hog Swat provide value to the property owners, or are they really an upstart industry playing to a bloodthirsty clientele for the profit of the operators?
Anyway, here’s the clip from CNN. What do you think?
March 4, 2013
“Come on up to Mississippi,” Rex told me. “The springtime weather is great. The dogwoods will be blooming, the magnolias will be in blossom. The bluebirds will be singing and the fairies will be dancing!”
I should have paid closer attention to the evil laughter as he hung up the phone, but I never notice stuff like that… until it’s too late.
Nevertheless, and before I go on, I have to offer a huge thank you to Rex, the whole Howell gang, as well as cousins and family friends who made the whole trip a real blast.
Rex and Camo worked awful hard to make sure everything was ready when we got there too. I can only imagine the hours of backbreaking work with pick and rake to simulate all those acres of hog rooting around the place. To the untrained eye, it sure looked like a place on the verge of being overrun by feral hogs… hell, he even put little hog track booties on Camo and let the dog make tracks all over the property!
So, well done, Rex! Well done indeed.
On a more serious note, though, Rex and the folks at The Christmas Place definitely made me feel right at home. From the family patriarch, Hershel right on down to the new generation, Austin, and all the good people in between, I was treated more like a friend than just a guest, and I felt completely welcome from the moment I arrived. The other newer arrivals were treated equally well, and by the end of the first evening it was really hard to figure out who was new in camp, and who had been coming for a lifetime!
And then there’s Camo.
Camo is Rex’s “dog”. She’s a hate-filled, spiteful beast who simply can’t abide hogs, deer, coyotes, or unsuccessful hunters. In fact, after coming back to camp empty-handed the first night, it was only through great, personal strength of will and the judicious application of a ball-peen hammer that I was able to keep that animal from chewing my leg off. I was also lucky to have come in just after she’d devoured one of the newer guys who’d missed a coyote. Camo was a little sluggish after that meal. If she’d been hungry, I’m pretty sure Rex would have been writing up my obituary this morning instead of making excuses for not killing any hogs.
Not that the hogs got away completely unscathed. In fact, it was quite the productive weekend with a total (including seven in the trap!) of 15 hogs removed from the habitat. Nevermind that one hunter accounted for a big part of that count in one bloody fusillade. In the quest to recover his stack of pigs, the group encountered another small sounder and added two more small ones to the tally.
Over the weekend, three other lucky hunters were able to knock over some good-sized hogs rooting through the cotton fields. I was fortunate enough to witness one of these, as we’d ridden out together and spotted the hogs in the field. Of course, I was just along for the ride and had left my rifle back at the camp, so all I could do was observe as the guys moved into position and opened fire.
But for my part, I was utterly impressed at Rex’s skill in finding spots for me that had seen hogs at one time (back in the Pleistocene era, I think), without ever putting me in an area that was currently active. I thought my little brother was the master at taking me to a game-rich environment and putting me on a stand where I wouldn’t see a bloody thing… but this weekend, Rex gave him a run for his money.
And then there was the blizzard. It started slowly, with a few flakes drifting harmlessly down on Saturday morning. I sat in my stand, intent on the trails around the big greenfield I was watching, and barely noticed at first. But in no time it had gone from a gentle sprinkling to a polar whiteout! It was the coming of another ice age! How could anyone hunt hogs, when we were shivering under a blanket of dense, wet snow?
Of course, since the ground temperature was well above freezing, and the air was probably in the mid-30s, the “blizzard” was really more like a couple of good, heavy flurries of tiny, cyrstalline ice flakes. The heaviest outburst lasted about five minutes (if that), and accumulation was exactly zero-point-zero inches. But to those Mississippi boys, that was close enough to count as a blizzard… and for Rex, it was as good an excuse for not shooting a hog as he could come up with.
And there it is. My cooler was empty on the 13 hour drive back to Texas, but that didn’t really matter. I’m not even sure there’s room in the freezer for a hog anyway. But that wasn’t really the point of the trip. I spent the weekend hunting in the land of Faulkner with a family whose roots in Mississippi are pretty deeply sunk. I got to meet some excellent people (even Rex) and one cool dog (Camo). We imbibed and ate good food, told tales (some taller than others), had a great time, and even managed to put a few hogs on the skinning pole.
I can’t wait to go back!
February 27, 2013
I know, I don’t have to spell it out, but it’s always fun to mentally repeat the old mnemonic. Try it with me, “M-I-Crooked letter crooked letter-I-Crooked letter crooked letter-I-humpback humpback-I!”
Isn’t that better than just writing, “MS?”
Anyway, I’m trying to jam through a bunch of work stuff today so I can head my rig east and north tomorrow… heading for the land of the magnolia and tupelo honey. There’s the Old Muddy, and the Delta, and riverboats… the home of the blues, and of Elvis.
I’ve been following the goings on over at Rex’s Deer Camp Blog, and it looks like they’re really starting to get heavy with swine up that way. In fact, if they don’t do something soon, those pigs are gonna push ol’ Thunderhoof clean out of the state! It’s no wonder Rex called, just begging for my help. He was trying to get some world famous hog hunter, but I’m afaid he’ll have to make do with just me.
Of course, from what I’ve seen most of the hogs in Mississippi aren’t much bigger than piglets. With that in mind, I’m not going to bring the heavy artillery… just the 105mm howitzer, a handful of grenades, and my Red Ryder (for the really tough ones). I guess I’ll also bring the .44 magnum, hand cannon, with these new Winchester RazorBack XT loads. I haven’t read the box yet, but I’m guessing these things will seek out the hogs and lay the smack down on them. I won’t even need to aim!
I probably won’t be posting for the rest of this week, but I hope to take some pictures (I may need a macro lens for those little pigs), and maybe even some video (if I remember to get the camera out of the truck this time). Something tells me that, one way or another, there should be a story or two coming out of this trip.
February 25, 2013
Just running through my YouTube favorites, and saw this recent post from Texas Parks and Wildlife.
The idea of using poisons to control any feral or wild species is always fraught with controversy and challenges. The foremost, of course, is how do you limit the toxic material to the target animals without spreading it throughout the food chain? It looks like the TPW work with Sodium Nitrite (a common food preservative) is showing promise. Will it be effective? I guess time will tell. But the video is well made and informative. Have a look, and let me know what you think.
October 2, 2012
OK, so it’s not the whole state yet, but in two Texas counties, hog hunters have the opportunity to collect two bucks for every feral hog tail they bring to the designated check stations. Hays and Caldwell counties are in a competition for $20,000 of state wildlife management funds that will be used to implement hog control programs.
There’s a good piece in the Austin Statesman, explaining a little more about the program, as well as the drop-off locations for those who might choose to participate.
In other porcine news, it looks like the California DFG’s SHARE program has now added the Tejon Ranch to the list of participating properties. The SHARE (Shared Habitat Alliance for Recreational Enhancement) program is a cooperative effort between the department and CA landowners that provides public hunting opportunities, usually for a nominal fee. The Tejon hunt is a huge bonus to the program, and I encourage all of my CA hog hunting friends to get an application in for one of the five hunts. There are only five passes for each hunt date, but each hunter can bring a hunting partner. Hunt dates are:
- December 7-9, 2012 (application open until November 20)
- February 1-3, 2013 (application open until January 15, 2013)
- February 22-24, 2013 (application open until February 5, 2013)
- March 22-24, 2013 (application open until March 5, 2013)
- April 19-21, 2013 (application open until April 2, 2013 )
Meanwhile, further to the north, there’s this story out of Oregon:
COQUILLE, Ore. — Oregon authorities are investigating how a farmer was eaten by his hogs.
Terry Vance Garner, 69, never returned after he set out to feed his animals last Wednesday on his farm near the Oregon coast, the Coos County district attorney said Monday.
A family member found Garner’s dentures and pieces of his body in the hog enclosure several hours later, but most of his remains had been consumed, District Attorney Paul Frasier said. Several of the hogs weighed 700 pounds or more.
Not a story about wild hogs, maybe, but definitely a wild hog story.