In the tape recording I did with my grandfather back in 1965, we talked a little about hogs in the woods before and after World War I. But it wasn’t anything like what we have going on today with the feral pigs increasing in number throughout the Ozarks. They were called free ranging pigs back then and were semi-tame. I think though that they played a big part in the near extinction of whitetail deer and wild turkey in the Ozarks, that and the depressed times when everyone was so hungry they killed every thing they could come across.
In nature, diversity doesn’t work any better than it does among people. It is often disastrous. Feral hogs are good examples. Those hogs destroy a lot of turkey nests but the presence of the hogs is disastrous in many other ways. They don’t follow the rules which nature imposes on native creatures. Everything else is limited by one of the rules… biotic potential or reproductive potential.
Rabbits and field mice are good examples of great reproductive potential. Each species can put forth hundreds of young in a spring and summer season, but they are kept under control by so much predation and disease. That’s what biotic potential is… the inclination of a species to survive well, to have a longer life with less worry about disease and predation. Deer are good examples of high biotic potential and low reproductive potential. So are bear and coyotes… fewer young, but a greater ability to survive.
Feral hogs are a disaster because they have a tremendous reproductive potential, sometimes three litters born from one old sow in a year, up to a dozen or more choates at a time, and yet they survive so well, a tremendous biotic potential few mammals have.
They have good hearing, good eyesight and a tremendous sense of smell. And an old sow is aggressive… she has the meanness in her to protect her young. With young pigs she will tackle a couple of good-sized hounds, and a man if she feels he is a threat. I know. An old wild sow chased my Labrador and me back to my boat once in the fall, years ago. When they are angry, they have a habit of snapping and chomping their jaws and teeth, like an old sow black bear does when her cubs are threatened.
One of the stories my grandfather told was of the time in 1908 or 1909 when he was only 14 or 15 years old and had a great coonhound given to him at a younger age. The dog and he spent a lot of nights hunting raccoons to eat and for the sale of the hides. A landowner named Fen Marlowe killed his dog by giving him poisoned meat while he was out scattering it for coyotes. He made the mistake of telling someone, and laughing about it, and the word got back to my grandfather, who owned one of those Stevens ‘Marksman’ .22 caliber rifles often ordered through the mail for about 2 dollars. He learned what Marlowe’s earmark was for his free ranging hogs. In that time, area settlers had their adult hogs marked in various ways with notches cut into the ears. Grandpa told me that Marlowe was better off than most of the Big Piney farmers, and owned a lot of hogs with a very distinguishing ear- mark. In the fall they would all get together and round up the free ranging hogs using hog-dogs, and mark the ears of young choates and kill the bigger marked hogs for butchering. Those hams were smoked and cured and lasted families all winter. But Marlowe had none that fall to butcher. Grandpa had killed more than a dozen of them in the summer to revenge the death of his dog. I remember him saying, as he sat in his hand-made rocking chair and ran his fingers through his thick white hair, “I lost my best dog ever through Fen Marlowe’s danged cuss-edness… but he paid a price. He lost all his hogs because of my danged cuss-edness!”
Sometime this year I am going to produce a CD with an hour or so of his stories for those who might want to hear them. But I will have some more to say about the problem of feral hogs which are more and more a plague upon the Ozarks in next weeks column, and an answer to reducing that plague if you have them on your land or land you hunt.
To speak to me, call my office at 417/777-5227 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The post office address is Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613. To read past columns you may have missed, see my website, larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.