They also eat such wildlife as deer and quail and feast on the eggs of endangered sea turtles. Because of their susceptibility to parasites and infections, wild hogs are potential carriers of disease. Swine brucellosis and pseudorabies are the most problematic because of the ease with which they can be transmitted to domestic pigs and the threat they pose to the pork industry. And those are just the problems wild hogs cause in rural areas.
They treat lawns and gardens like a salad bar and tangle with household pets. Hogs, wild or otherwise, are not native to the United States. During wars or economic downturns, many settlers abandoned their homesteads and the pigs were left to fend for themselves. In the s, Eurasian wild boars were brought to Texas and released for hunting. They bred with free-ranging domestic animals and escapees that had adapted to the wild.
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And yet wild hogs were barely more than a curiosity in the Lone Star State until the s. Hunters found them challenging prey, so wild hog populations were nurtured on ranches that sold hunting leases; some captured hogs were released in other parts of the state. Game ranchers set out feed to attract deer, but wild hogs pilfered it, growing more fecund. Finally, improved animal husbandry reduced disease among domestic pigs, thereby reducing the incidence among wild hogs.
Few purebred Eurasian wild boars are left today, but they have hybridized with feral domestic hogs and continue to spread. Escaped domestic hogs adapt to the wild in just months, and within a couple of generations they transform into scary-looking beasts as mean as can be. The difference between domestic and wild hogs is a matter of genetics, experience and environment.
Most domestic pigs have sparse coats, but descendants of escapees grow thick bristly hair in cold environments. Dark-skinned pigs are more likely than pale ones to survive in the wild and pass along their genes.
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The two teeth on top are called whetters or grinders, and the two on the bottom are called cutters; continual grinding keeps the latter deadly sharp. Wild hogs are rarely as big as pen-bound domestics; they average to pounds as adults, although a few reach more than pounds. Well-fed pigs develop large, wide skulls; those with a limited diet, as in the wild, grow smaller, narrower skulls with longer snouts useful for rooting. Wild pigs have poor eyesight but good hearing and an acute sense of smell; they can detect odors up to seven miles away or 25 feet underground.
They can run 30 miles an hour in bursts. Adult males are solitary, keeping to themselves except when they breed or feed from a common source. Females travel in groups, called sounders, usually of 2 to 20 but up to 50 individuals, including one or more sows, their piglets and maybe a few adoptees. Since the only thing besides food they cannot do without is water, they make their homes in bottomlands near rivers, creeks, lakes or ponds. They prefer areas of dense vegetation where they can hide and find shade. Porter stops to let his own two dogs out of their pens in the bed of the pickup and they, too, are off in a flash.
When the truck reaches the area where the pigs had been, Porter, his partner Andy Garcia and I hear frantic barking and a low-pitched sighing sound. Running into the brush, we find the dogs have surrounded a red and black wild hog in a clearing. Two dogs have clamped onto its ears. The dogs back off and quiet down as he grabs its rear legs and drags it back to his truck. Stewart and his hunting and wildlife manager, Craig Oakes, began noticing wild hogs on the land in the s, and the animals have become more of a problem every year.
Many hunters prefer working with dogs. Two types of dogs are used in the hunt. Bay dogs—usually curs such as the Rhodesian Ridgeback, black-mouth cur or Catahoula or scent hounds such as the foxhound or Plott Hound—sniff out and pursue the animals. A hog will attempt to flee, but if cornered or wounded will likely attack, battering the bay dogs with its snout or goring them with its tusks. Some hunters outfit their dogs in Kevlar vests. Catch dogs grab the bayed pig, usually at the base of the ear, and wrestle it to the ground, holding it until the hunter arrives to finish it off.
Dogs show off their wild-hog skills at bayings, also known as bay trials, which are held most weekends in rural towns across Texas. A wild hog is released in a large pen and one or two dogs attempt to bay it, while spectators cheer. Occasionally bayings serve as fund-raisers for community members in need. Ervin Callaway holds a baying on the third weekend of every month. His pen is down a rutted dirt road off U.
His son Mike is one of the judges. We count off any distractions, a tenth of a point for each.
When it tries to move away, a young man uses a plywood shield to funnel it toward the dogs. They stop less than a foot away from the hog and make eye contact, barking until the animal shoots between them toward the other side of the pen. As the dogs close back in, the hog swerves hard into a fence, then bounces off. The smaller dog grabs its tail but is spun around until it lets go. The pig runs into a wallow and sits there. The yellow dog bays and barks, but from maybe three feet away, too far to be effective, and then it loses concentration and backs off.
The pig exits through the chute. Neither dog scores well. Several states, including Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and North Carolina, have outlawed bayings in response to protests from animal rights groups. That five-day event began in and draws about 10, people annually. The event was canceled because of disputes among the organizers. But bayings continue to take place on a smaller scale elsewhere, as do bloodier hog-catch trials in which dogs attack penned-in wild hogs and wrestle them to the ground.
The legality of both events is in dispute, but local authorities tend not to prosecute. A local prosecutor would have to argue these things, and so far nobody has. Quaca, 38, began rifle hunting when he was 4 years old but switched to bowhunting at age He likes the silence after the shot. As a teen, he eagerly helped neighbors clear out unwanted hogs. A customer dubbed him Pig Man, and it stuck. About an hour before sunset, Quaca takes me to a blind near a feeding station in the woods. A slight breeze eases through the blind. But as it gets darker, there are still no hogs.
Those deer will stay however long they can and never notice us. But the pigs are smart. The darkness grows, and Quaca starts packing to leave. The sumbitches will get you every time. The next morning, Tom shows me some flash photographs of the feeding station taken by a sensor camera about a half-hour after we left. In the pictures, a dozen feral pigs of all sizes are chowing down on corn.
To be sold commercially as meat, wild hogs must be taken alive to one of nearly statewide buying stations. One approved technique for capturing hogs is snaring them with a noose-like device hanging from a fence or tree; because other wildlife can get captured, the method has fewer advocates than trapping, the other approved technique.
Trappers bait a cage with food meant to attract wild hogs but not other animals fermented corn, for example. The trapdoor is left open for several days, until the hogs are comfortable with it.
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Trapped pigs are then taken to a buying station and from there to a processing plant overseen by U. Department of Agriculture inspectors. According to Billy Higginbotham, a wildlife and fisheries specialist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, , Texas wild hogs were processed between and Most of that meat ends up in Europe and Southeast Asia, where wild boar is considered a delicacy, but the American market is growing, too, though slowly.
Boasting one-third less fat, it has fewer calories and less cholesterol than domestic pork. But there were far more entries in the barbecue division; this is Texas, after all. Then you put the hot coals under it and cook it low and slow. The LaSalle County Fair also includes wild hog events in its rodeo. John Pickrell. Jill McDonald. The Trilobite Book. Riccardo Levi-Setti. Fossils Collins Gem.
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