A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Art Lander’s Outdoors: Rural Kentucky landowners asked to be on lookout for wild pigs on their property

Landowners in southeastern Henry County recently received a letter from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) asking for help in locating the remaining wild pigs in the county.

“In the last three years we have prioritized four areas across the state to concentrate our efforts,” said wildlife biologist John Hast, program coordinator for the department’s wild pig eradication efforts. “We know wild pig reproduction is occurring in parts of Henry County, where Casey and Pulaski counties join, and in parts of Hopkins County and Floyd County.”

The Henry County population has been reduced in recent years because of landowner cooperation, and aggressive eradication efforts, including live trapping and aerial gunning.

An estimated 24 Kentucky counties have small, scattered populations of wild pigs. No counties have significant densities of wild pigs, with most areas only having a handful of sounders (family groups). (Photo provided)

“We know there’s a few still out there. We just don’t know where exactly,” said Hast. The letter was sent to landowners in hopes of finding the few pigs remaining in the county.

Hast said there are about 24 Kentucky counties with small, scattered populations of wild pigs. No counties have significant densities of wild pigs, with most areas only having a handful of sounders (family groups). “We’ve made a dent in populations, by working with landowners setting traps.”

The department’s eradication efforts are coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services. Funds were set aside in the 2018 Farm Bill to hire people and buy equipment solely for wild pig trapping.

The trapping services offered by KDFWR are free, and landowners can keep the wild pigs trapped if they want to eat them.

Technology has made the trapping more efficient in recent years. Baited corral traps no longer are sprung by trips wires. There are cameras on the traps so biologists can observe what’s happening, and they use cell phones to spring the traps. “We can wait until the whole group is in there, then drop the door,” said Hast.

Wild Pig Sign

Wild pig sign is often discovered in the fall, as landowners begin seasonal mowing, crops are harvested and deer hunters spend more time in their hunting areas, scouting, setting up ground blinds and tree stands, and hunting.

There’s an estimated six million wild pigs in about 35 U.S. states. In 2013 the Associated Press reported that wild pigs were responsible for more than $1.5 billion in damage annually, feeding on fields of clover, alfalfa, corn and other grains, while trampling fields and rooting up pastures. (Photo provided)

Sign varies, depending on the time of year. In the spring there is often rooting up of pasture fields, where wild pigs are looking for insects and invertebrates.

After a hot summer, there may be trails in the grass around woodland ponds and wallows are visible in soft mud, where water levels have receded. Wild pigs wallow in the mud to cool off.

Nearby there may be trees where wild pigs have rubbed their backs, leaving dirt streaks at the base of trees.

Wild pig hoof prints are U-shaped, more rounded than a deer’s hoof print.

After the leaves have dropped and acorns are covering the ground in oak woods, there are distinctive zig-zag pattern in the leaves (made by pig snouts) as they forage for acorns.

Compete with Native Wildlife, Pose Disease Threat

Wild pigs are uninvited pests that compete with native game species for food and living space.

They are incredibly destructive and pose a direct threat to rare and endangered species on sensitive areas such as nature preserves. They have huge appetites. Their incessant rooting can damage topsoil, and affect the regeneration of many important trees and plants.

There are an estimated six million wild pigs in about 35 U.S. states. In 2013 the Associated Press reported that wild pigs were responsible for more than $1.5 billion in damage annually.

Farmers, who depend on the land for their livelihood, are hard hit by wild pigs feeding on their clover, alfalfa, corn and other grains while trampling fields.

Nearly half of the estimated number of wild pigs in the U.S. are found in southern states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Wild pigs (Sus scrofa) are not native to this country.

They were imported from Europe, first by Spanish explorers in the 1500s (for food), then in the 1900s by people who wanted to hunt them for sport.

While the wild pigs in the U.S. today can be traced back to a variety of genetic origins, they all are considered invasive, exotic species that pose serious ecological, economic and disease threats.

Wild pigs are mobile reservoirs for a host of parasitic, viral and bacterial infections. Some of these, such as swine brucellosis, are transmissible to humans.

Illegal Releases

Wild pig populations can be reduced through landowner cooperation, and aggressive eradication efforts, including live trapping and aerial gunning. (Photo courtesy of USDA)

The wild pigs in Kentucky are a result of illegal releases. It is illegal to possess, sell or transport wild pigs in Kentucky.

Hunters should, and can legally, take wild pigs when encountered, but deliberate hunting is counterproductive. It only serves to disperse populations and makes them more difficult to pinpoint. This is because wild pigs are intelligent and quickly adapt to human pressure or disturbance. They soon become nocturnal, even after being subjected to only moderate hunting pressure. “If you’ve got wild pigs call us, hunting is not the solution.”

Sounders (family groups) have a core area of 400 to 1,000 acres, depending on the quality of the habitat, and move around as a group.

Wild pigs are extremely adaptable. They can thrive in a variety of habitats, but don’t do well in cold climates, with harsh winters, since wild pigs need high quality (high calorie) forage.

Kentucky’s wild pigs live primarily in forested terrain. Adults may weigh 130 to 200 pounds, but since they free-range for food, they tend to be leaner than domestic hogs. Coloration is typically dark, with coarse black and brown hair.

Under ideal conditions, the breeding potential of wild pigs is startling. Sows can breed when they’re less than a year old and may produce one or two litters a year.

Report any wild pig damage, sightings, harvests or illegal releases by calling the department’s Information Center, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at 800-858-1549, or contact wildlife biologist Terri Brunjes by e-mail at terri.brunjes@ky.gov, or by telephone at 502-892-4548.

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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