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Anthony Hood with wild hogs killed in Black Warrior Management Area.
Courtesy Photo
Anthony Hood with wild hogs killed in Black Warrior Management Area.

Hog in the wild
Destructive wild swine targets of organized hunts

By Paul Huggins
DAILY Staff Writer

phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

Hunting hogs probably conjures up images of clamoring to a slop trough and firing away at a lethargic animal that's wallowing and grunting at his executioner as if the shotgun were something to eat.

Those who participated in Black Warrior Management Area's first hog hunt recently will tell you a different story, one that portrays pigs as even more challenging game than white-tailed deer. And don't be surprised if they describe them as having the climbing strength of a mountain goat, the agility of a deer and the reproductive capacity of a rabbit to complement their amazing sense of smell, razor-sharp teeth and tusks, and uncommon intelligence.

They probably also will warn hikers to run and climb a tree for safety should they stumble upon hogs in the wild.

'They're a lot smarter than people think," said Steve Kirkland, who harvested a sow during the special hunt held specifically to reduce a growing nuisance population of feral hogs in Bankhead National Forest. "And they can hear and smell better than deer. Their sense of smell is strong enough to find roots underground."

The feral hogs are such challenging game that the more than 700 hunters who went after them during the eight-day hunt only killed 20.

Kirkland said it took him four mornings just to find some hogs, and once he did they scooted off. Before they scrammed, he saw the hogs climb a steep bank and leap from a 6-foot-high bluff into a rocky creek and never slow down.

The Lawrence and Winston County chapters of the Alabama Wild Turkey Federation helped sponsor the hog hunt in hopes of drawing outdoorsmen to rid what has become a pest in recent years within Black Warrior Wildlife Management Area of the Bankhead.

The wild hogs, which mostly consist of farm escapees as well as some game animals intentionally — and illegally —brought in for hunting, are tearing up fragile habitat, consuming limited food supplies and, to the federation's dismay, destroying wild turkey nests and devouring their eggs.

In addition to the hunt, which lasted from Aug. 12 to 20, state wildlife officials have removed 30 from the Bankhead via live trapping since January. The U.S. Forest Service also allows hog hunting in conjunction with other game seasons outside the wildlife management area.

The hogs also are found on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, where they're mainly confined to the Limestone Bay area on the north side of the Tennessee River between Alabama 20 and the Interstate 65 bridge. Their rooting for food destroys parts of agricultural fields and forestland.

Neither Wheeler nor Bankhead officials have estimates on hog populations, but there are enough to warrant removal programs. The refuge allows hunts during deer season, though hunters are limited to bows and flintlock rifles.

Allison Cochran, U.S. Forest Service biologist for the Bankhead, said the hogs tend to congregate and wreak havoc along streams where the forest has many of its endangered plant, mussel and snail species. In addition they will hide in caves that are home to the Bankhead's two endangered bat species.

"The No. 1 thing about them is they are a non-native species, and they are taking away limited food sources and habitat from the native wildlife," she said.

Hogs are not indigenous to America, except for the Southwest. The feral hogs are descendents of swine European settlers brought here.

Man is their only predator in these parts and their skin layer of fat protects them from poisonous snakes, which the hogs will gobble up as easily as they can grunt.

"They'll eat everything in front of their nose," Cochran said, "narrow-mouthed toads, roots, turkey eggs, berries, nuts, acorns, anything in their path."

Hogs also are "prolific" at reproduction, capable of giving birth before they're a year old. Producing litters of eight to 12 piglets, a population can double in a year, and Cochran said removal programs must harvest 70 percent annually just to keep populations steady.

As for whether they are dangerous, Cochran said, she has never heard reports of hikers encountering swine, probably because the hogs will be aware of man first and take off. Also, like most animals in the forest during the hiker-active summer months, hogs prefer to lay low and stay cool during the hot part of the day and search for food at night.

Charles Seifried, a photographer who estimates he has spent six to eight months hiking and camping in the Bankhead the past 20 years, said he has never seen a hog there and hopes he never does. He has seen their damage and heard of wild hogs in the Great Smoky Mountains destroying a campsite in 30 minutes.

"I'd rather see a bear than a big ol' hog," he said. "I've camped with the bears and they don't bother me a bit. But wild boars, they'll come after you if they've got their young. And they've got those teeth, they'll cut you to ribbons."

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