Pigs were brought to North America by early settlers nearly 500 years ago as domestic livestock. Today, feral or wild hogs are found in 40 states. Annually, these invasive pests cause millions of dollars in damage to agricultural crops and the environment.
Efforts to control the exploding population of these militant insurgents is a constant, expensive process, explained Rod Pinkston, a retired soldier and owner of Jager Pro LLC, a Columbus-based company founded and run by former soldiers who use 114 years of military experience to fight a “four-legged enemy.”
“Feral hogs are like rats, roaches and termites,” said Pinkston, noting his company recently contracted with Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division to eradicate a large herd of wild hogs on state land in Dooly County.
“They’re 150-pound pests. They not only destroy farmers’ crops, they destroy the mast crops (i.e., acorns, walnuts, etc.) that other wildlife compete for.”
Pinkston speaks at feral-hog conferences all over the country, explaining his company’s use of military tactics and equipment to counter the feral-hog insurgency.
Jager Pro contracts with private land owners and government agencies all over the U.S. Three-man “hog-control teams” equipped with long-range thermal spotting scopes and three thermal rifle scopes maneuver like infantry fire teams, stalking and destroying entire herds of feral hogs during night operations, Pinkston said.
A former Olympic shooting team gold medalist, Pinkston said when the “enemy” is spotted via night-vision devices and the team leader takes a knee, the other shooters know to move up to his left and right. Then, following pre-determined sectors of fire for safety and efficiency, each shooter takes down the hog or hogs in his sector.
According to Feral Hogs Community of Practice, an online resource for information about feral hogs and hog control, hunters have contributed to the problem by transporting hogs to other areas for future hunting.
In Georgia, which has the third-largest hog population, wild hog numbers are estimated around 500,000. According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division, the Peach State’s feral hogs, mostly a hybrid of domestic hogs and Russian wild boars, now are in 137 of its 159 counties.
Crop damage by feral hogs cost American farmers $52 million a year, according to www.agrilife.org. Hogs also cause environment damage to trees and endangered plants, and they not only compete for food with deer and bears, they also destroy and eat the nests of quail and wild turkey.
Pinkston said feral hogs are known to carry diseases that can be transmitted to people and domestic animals, including pseudorabies and swine brucellosis.
Jager’s contract with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division was prompted by concerns about E. coli found among hogs in that area, he added.
Because feral hog populations are so high and wild pigs reproduce so quickly, he said, state and federal wildlife management personnel are limited to damage management, not population control.
Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Management Division admits the best way to control feral hogs is a combination of shooting, trapping and hunting with dogs.
Pinkston said DNR officials have estimated removal of 70 percent of the herd needs to be done for nine years in order to get the feral hog population under control. Hunting only reduces the population by 20-25 percent a year.
“We can’t hunt our way out of this problem,” Pinkston said. “Hunters take out one hog at a time, but a sow piglet can start reproducing when she’s eight months old and can produce at least two litters a year.”
Pinkston said hunters can’t use the same methodology year-round. His team uses automatic feeders to lure wild hogs into remote-controlled traps. They also use night hunts, and hunts with dogs.
“If we could get landowners to follow the same management plan — if we could get everyone involved on the same sheet of music — we can win this fight,” Pinkston said. “It’s just like combat.”
For more information about feral hog populations in Georgia, go to Feral-Hogs-in-Georgia.pdf.