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Wild Hogs: Nuisance or Opportunity?

The white-tailed deer is the most popular game animal pursued each winter by Florida’s more than 200,000 hunters. But, there’s another big-game species that’s hunted quite a bit too and is especially popular with hunters in the southern and central parts of the state: the wild hog.

Wild hogs, also called wild boars or feral pigs, aren’t native to Florida. They either were introduced by colonists or may even have been brought over by the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto as early as 1539. Hogs provided a major food source for the early settlers, and those pigs that escaped or were released adapted and prospered readily in Florida’s mild climate and varied habitats.

Though nonnative, you can hardly tell, because wild hogs are plentiful and can be found in all 67 counties. They prefer moist forests, swamps and pine flatwoods. Abundant populations of wild hogs occur west of Lake Okeechobee, between the Kissimmee and lower St. Johns river basins, and farther north along the Gulf coastal marshes between the Aucilla and Withlacoochee rivers.

Wild hogs feed by rooting up the ground with their broad snouts. Because of this, they can be very destructive to landscapes and are considered by many agricultural producers to be nuisance animals. Their diet consists of grasses and flowering plants in the spring, fruits in the summer and fall, and roots, tubers and invertebrates throughout the year. They can cause great damage and leave areas looking like plowed fields.

As with all animals, it’s against the law to release wild hogs on public lands. It’s also not recommended on private lands either, unless the property is surrounded by adequate fencing. This is because you might want wild hogs on your property, but your neighbor may not.

Wild hogs have an annual home range of more than 10 square miles and are prolific reproducers. A healthy female (sow) can breed when only 6 months old and every six months after – producing four to 14 piglets per litter.

They’re not listed as game animals by the FWC, but are considered wildlife. Even though wild hogs can have negative impacts on native vegetation and wildlife, they’re an important food source for several native species, including the alligator, bobcat and black bear, as well as the endangered Florida panther and threatened American crocodile.

Wild hogs also make for a great hunting opportunity. This especially is true in the southern portion of the state where, in some areas, wild hogs actually have replaced deer as the preferred hunting species. Because of the abundance of hogs there, and the fact these regions tend to have smaller-bodied deer with lighter racks, hog hunting has gotten pretty popular in those parts.

On private property, with the landowner’s permission, you may hunt or trap wild hogs year-round. Also, there are no size or bag limits. You may harvest either sex, and you don’t even need a hunting license to do so. That goes for nonresidents as well.

You’re probably starting to see why hog hunting means so much for some folks and why it has become big business for those hunting guides specializing in paid hog hunts. Not to mention how good a tender sow can taste and how much bacon you can get off a good-sized hog. If you don’t know how to clean one, don’t worry, because I’m sure there’s a good meat processor in the area that will do it.

When hunting in one of the state’s many wildlife management areas (WMAs), wild hogs may be taken only during specific hunting seasons. On most WMAs, wild hogs may be hunted during all hunting seasons except spring turkey. But, you must use a bow during archery season and a muzzleloader during muzzleloading gun season.

Daily bag limits apply on some WMAs, and in some cases there’s a minimum size limit on what you can shoot. You’ll just need to obtain the WMA regulations brochure to learn what you can and cannot do regarding hunting wild hogs. These brochures contain maps of the area, and you can pick them up at county tax collectors’ offices in close proximity to the WMA. They also can be downloaded from the FWC’s hunting website at MyFWC.com/Hunting.

When hunting hogs on WMAs, you’ll need a valid Florida hunting license as well as a management area permit. These can be purchased at tax collectors’ offices, most places that sell hunting and fishing supplies, by calling toll-free 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or by going online at www.fl.wildlifelicense.com.

And during this time of year, many of the WMAs’ small-game seasons are going on. The great thing about that is you never need a quota permit to hunt during a WMA’s small-game season, and on most of them, hogs are legal game. The only thing is, you can’t use a centerfire rifle during that season, but you can use a shotgun with buckshot or a slug, or a rimfire rifle like a .22 magnum, or even a pistol if you want.

In addition to still-hunting for hogs from a stand or blind, there are those hunters who prefer to catch them with traps or by the use of dogs. Special pens with trap doors work well when baited with acorns or slightly fermented corn.

Dogs, such as black-mouth curs and pit bulls, make good “catch” dogs, because they can be trained to capture hogs by biting their ears and pinning them to the ground. If you have more hogs on your property than you’d like, and you’re not personally into hunting, you could open your land up to a few hunters – perhaps even lease out hunting rights – or contact a nuisance wildlife trapper.

The FWC maintains a list of people who make a living removing unwanted wildlife, and these folks have all the tools and professional experience for getting the job done. The Nuisance Wildlife Trapper Directory lists trappers’ names by the counties in which they operate, and is available at MyFWC.com/Trappers by selecting “Trapper Business Registration” listed under “Nuisance Wildlife.”

So, whether you think wild hogs are a nuisance or a hunting opportunity, they’re a critter some of us are dealing with one way or another. Here’s wishing all you hunters a great season and a wonderful new year. Remember: When you can, take a kid hunting. Be a mentor – pass on the tradition.

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By Tony Young

FWC Media Relations Coordinator,

Division of Hunting and Game Management