While the Missouri Feral Hog Elimination Partnership (the Partnership) encourages private landowners to work together on trapping efforts to eliminate feral hogs, federal and state officials assure landowners feral hog hunting closures and opportunistic take regulations do not apply to private lands.
The US Forest Service (USFS) moved forward with prohibiting the hunting of feral hogs on public land in the Mark Twain National Forest (MTNF) in December to allow trapping of hogs to be more effective. With the USFS’s closure of feral hog hunting in MTNF, they also announced the allowance of opportunistic take of feral hogs in the MTNF during all deer and turkey hunting seasons. Most public land agencies closed feral hog hunting in 2016, including the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) due to the ineffectiveness of recreational hog hunting at eliminating feral hog populations.
Other states have seen similar issues with recreational hog hunting. At Fort Riley Military Installation, researchers from Kansas State University found that cage traps proved to be their most effective method of controlling a feral swine population. They also found that public hunting of feral swine proved unsuccessful at eliminating feral hogs. They recommended that hunting should not take place in the same areas where trapping occurs.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission found large-scale trapping as the most effective and economical means currently available to reduce feral swine populations. The state reports sport hunting of feral hogs has been more hindrance than benefit to swine removal. In Kentucky, the inability of recreational hunting to control or suppress population growth among wild pigs led Kentucky to use an adaptive science -based approach, which includes trapping, aerial removal, and selective shooting. This has proven efficient and can eliminate a relatively large population. Tennessee attempted to control feral swine populations using no bag limits on hunting. They found that during this period of unlimited hunting the wild hog population expanded the most.
“The decision to close the Mark Twain was made because after decades of allowing feral hog hunting and trapping as part of an all methods approach, feral hog numbers increased throughout southern Missouri, as well as feral hog damage across wildlands and farmland,” said Amy Salveter. Salveter represents the USFS on the Partnership’s feral hog incident command. “However, this decision applies to MTNF public lands, not privately-owned land.”
Shortly after the MTNF announcement, the Conservation Commission directed MDC to propose regulation changes identical to the USFS regulation to ensure consistency of feral hog regulations on USFS and MDC managed lands. The Commission initially approved the proposed regulation at its January 2020 commission meeting. The changes would allow hunters with the proper unfilled deer or turkey hunting permit to take feral hogs during all deer and turkey hunting seasons and will include a formal public comment period on the rulemakings. Comments may be made on any proposed regulation at https://mdc.mo.gov/about-regulations/wildlife-code-missouri/proposed-regulation-changes.
The Commission will consider public comments at the May 2020 Commission meeting and if approved the regulation would go into effect August 31, in time for the 2020 fall deer and turkey seasons. The USFS announcement is effective immediately.
Opportunistic take refers to takings that result from, but are not the purpose of, carrying out an otherwise lawful activity. In this case, it allows for opportunistically taking a feral hog while in pursuit of deer or turkey during the appropriate hunting seasons.
“Opportunistic take will allow a hunter the opportunity to harvest a feral hog if they see one while hunting,” said Aaron Jeffries, a MDC Deputy Director. “During the hunting seasons there tends to be a lot of activity on public lands and trapping can be more difficult.”
Jeffries added that MDC has heard some feedback that landowners are unsure about what they can do on private land regarding feral hogs.
“Feral hogs are not wildlife, they’re a nuisance animal and landowners can certainly defend their land against feral hogs, by using any means possible,” said Jeffries. “However, we hope landowners will work with the Partnership to strategically trap and eliminate whole sounders of feral hogs.”
Conservation officials urge trapping because shooting into a group of feral hogs, called a sounder, is known to disperse the hogs in various directions. Even if feral hogs return to a bait site hours or days later where other hogs had been shot, the likelihood of being able to shoot the entire sounder is reduced. Shooting near trapping operations disturbs the hogs and they soon learn that when they come to bait they will be shot. This results to ineffective trapping efforts and can require traps to be moved to a new location.
The Partnership’s operational plan is currently in action, providing additional trappers and resources on private and public land around MNTF, by reallocating staff from their regular duties to assist with the feral hog elimination effort.
Currently, the Conservation Commission is providing $1.8 million in funding to USDA for trapping services, and local MDC staff contribute more than 25,000 hours annually towards elimination efforts on private and public land. Other agencies are contributing staff and resources that will step up the effort to fight the battle against feral hogs. The new plan calls for rotating 150 MDC staff in parts of the Ozarks to speed up elimination efforts.
For more information about the MTNF closure and incidental take regulation go to http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/mtnf/feralswine. For information about MDC’s regulatory process, go to https://mdc.mo.gov/about-us/about-regulations. To report feral hog sightings, request help in eliminating feral hogs on private land, or learn more about feral hogs, go to www.mdc.mo.gov/feralhog.