Indiana's Wild Hogs
Chuck Brenner with a Indiana wild hog.
"While many may be cheering the arrival of wild hogs as an exciting species to hunt, they would be misguided."
Feral hogs, wild boar, Eurasian boar, razorbacks, Russian boar, they are one of the hottest topics with Indiana’s sportsmen and one of the worst invasive species to threaten the Hoosier state, ever.
While there is extreme interest in wild hogs, very few Hoosiers have any knowledge of them. In a recent event near Middlebury, a homeowner feared two pigs in their backyard were wild and dangerous. After dispatching the swine it was discovered that the two “wild hogs” were actually a neighbor’s pet pot-bellied pigs.
Some incidents actually are with wild boars. Chuck Brenner, one of Indiana’s most experienced wild hog hunters, had a run in that forever changed his attitude towards razorbacks.
Chuck checks a fresh hog wallow.
Chuck was squirrel hunting on a friend’s property. “I was going up through a draw that had just been logged, heading for an area that still had standing timber.” Chuck explained. In a spot where the ravine narrowed, tree tops had been pushed into a pile. On one side of the draw was a high rock bluff, the other, a muddy creek bottom. The only dry route was to go up over the butt end of the tops. “I grabbed a branch to pull myself up, but the movement of the top woke up two hogs that were bedded underneath.” In a split second a big boar charged Chuck. “I had no choice but to jump on top of the tree tops, but I lost my shotgun in the process.” The boar refused to retreat as Chuck used the thick tree limbs as a shield. After Chuck regained his composure, he remembered he was carrying a self-made hunting knife with a seven-inch blade. As the hog would lunge for him, Chuck would jab it in the neck. The knife seemed to have little effect at first, but after multiple stabs Chuck hit the hog’s jugular vein. Even mortally wounded, the boar refused to give up. It stood its ground, growling at Chuck like a dog until it keeled over.
The sow cleared a good amount of forest growth to make her nest.
The attack sent cold chills through Chuck as he thought of what might have happened if he had been accompanied by one of his children. Since then he has made it his passion to rid Indiana of this invasive species and has killed an estimated one-hundred wild hogs.
So where are Indiana’s wild hogs? That’s a good question. Before the 1980s wild hogs were considered a southern problem far from Indiana’s borders that weren’t expected to spread this far. But somehow in the past twenty years they seemed to leapfrog hundreds of miles north. Rumors persist that in the 1980s hunters captured or purchased wild hogs and released them into the hill country of southern Indiana for their own private hunting preserve. Regardless of the mystery, wild hogs are now documented in a dozen or more of Indiana’s counties. Most of them are in southern Indiana. Jackson, Washington, Lawrence, Orange, Martin, Dubois, Spencer, Pike, and Warrick have established populations. Owen County in west-central Indiana also has reports of wild hogs as does Wayne and Randolph Counties in Eastern Indiana. Others are in Butler, Darke, Preble Counties of Ohio and could spread to adjoining Franklin and Union Counties in Indiana.
The population numbers are hard to estimate on an animal that is nocturnal and resides in some of the most inaccessible areas of Indiana. Some experts guess that Indiana has a scattered population of about 1,000 wild hogs, but that number could change quickly. With the ability to produce two litters a year and an average of 4 to 6 piglets per litter, one sow and her offspring can easily grow into 2,200 hogs in ten years. Few experts want to predict how fast hogs can spread, but even using conservative estimates, Indiana’s 1,000 hogs could grow to over 1,000,000 in just sixteen years.
There was the remains of a baby hog under this nest. It appeared the sow had rolled on it.
There are generally two types of wild hogs in Indiana. The first type is domestic or feral hogs that are in the wild. The second type is the wild descendant of Russian or Eurasian boars.
Feral hogs can be found anywhere in Indiana. Any place where domestic hogs are grown there is the potential of intentional or accidental release. Like their wild cousins, domesticated hog are very adaptable and can eat almost anything from earthworms to baby fawns. Within weeks of their escape, domestic hogs can acclimate to their wild environment.
The wild hogs that most Hoosier hunters envision are the razorbacks that are descendants of the Eurasian boars. Unlike their domestic cousin bred for weight, wild hogs are lean and mean. Adult hogs average between 75 to 250 pounds but some can grow almost double that, making them miniature bulldozers that can plow through the thickest cover with ease.
While many may be cheering the arrival of the wild hog as an exciting species to hunt, they would be misguided. Wild hogs bring more negatives than positives. Some of the major issues are disease, damage, competition, and cost.
Wild hogs harbor many diseases including pseudorabies, swine brucellosis, tuberculosis, bubonic plague, tularemia, hog cholera, foot and mouth disease, and anthrax. Internal parasites include kidney worms, stomach worms, round worms and whipworms. Liver flukes and trichinosis are also found in hogs. Domestic livestock, humans, pets, and native game animals have little or no resistance to many of these diseases, which is why rubber or plastic gloves should be used when butchering any wild hogs.
In states where they are well established hogs cause millions of dollars in damage. Wild hogs compete for forage with other game animals especially white-tailed deer. The problem is not only do they compete, they destroy habitat in the process, plus when the deer forage is gone hogs are more adaptable and consume things deer can’t. And of special concern to Hoosiers, they love morel mushrooms and can annihilate a patch in minutes!
Lastly, they cost farmers, homeowners, and strained state budgets millions of dollars a year trying to control them. They can decimate a crop overnight or destroy a family garden within minutes. Directly or indirectly they have a negative impact on any state they inhabit.
Unlike what is seen on the hunting shows, finding Indiana’s wild hogs is anything but easy. Currently most of Indiana’s wild hogs are found on private land in the hilly, forested regions of Indiana. Their bedding areas are found on overgrown hillsides preferring the thick forest regeneration areas that have been logged off. Between the maze of tree tops laying on the ground and the new profuse growth of raspberry canes, green briers, grape vines, and young trees, approaching them quietly is impossible. Many hog beds are found in tunnels or hollows in these thickets, or up against large trees that provide shade and cover.
Besides cover a few other things need to be present. The first and most important is water. Along with consuming water, hogs use it to stay cool and fend off parasites. Ideal hog habitat is riparian areas; bottoms with lush greenery, dense thickets, fresh water, and lots of mud.
The hair pattern can be seen in fresh wallows.
A hog’s propensity for mud makes it one of the easiest ways to ascertain if they are in the area. Since hogs don’t sweat, they use puddles, ponds, and streams to keep cool by wallowing in them, even in mild winters. If natural wallow areas are lacking, pigs will improvise and root out a wet depression. Even ruts on logging trails can be made into wallows.
If any hogs are in the area it will be obvious. The water will often be muddy from recent use and in many cases their stiff hair will have left an impression in the mud. There will always be tracks in the mud and often rooting nearby. If there is any doubt if a mud puddle is a wallow, look around. After getting a mud bath hogs, love to rub it off on nearby trees. Recently used trees will have a thick coating of mud laced with hog hair. Any tusked hogs will leave their marks as well. In the process of scraping the tree, their tusks gouge the bark leaving no doubt they were there.
Muddy hog tracks are distinctive as well. Their dew claw impressions are often visible with hoof prints and they appear outside the hoof print, not directly behind it like a deer. Hog prints are also more rounded in the front. If small tracks are found and it isn’t fawning season, chances are, they’re piglet tracks.
Hog tracks look much like deer.
The other thing hogs want is food, and lots of it. On the hunting shows hogs are often drawn in with bait and the hunter makes a quick kill or two. That method works where high concentrations of hogs have to compete for limited food. With the low populations of hogs in Indiana they have little competition for food, so baiting them can be unproductive.
The biggest problem is that hogs are nocturnal. While they may come into the bait, in most cases it will be too dark to shoot unless you have night-vision scopes or laser illumination.
Another problem is how the bait is done. A pile of shelled corn on the ground can be consumed by a sounder or group of hogs in minutes, leaving nothing as an attractant until it is re-baited. A mechanical feeder can be timed for daily feedings but it spreads the food making it only slightly more attractive than natural mast, berries, or other forage. Plus, rooting hogs can easily tip over any mechanical feeder which leaves the feeder prone to damage from the hungry pigs.
In hog prevalent states, one trick is to dig postholes several feet into the ground and fill them with shelled corn. The hog has lots to eat but has to root to get it, keeping it from being quickly consumed.
This Indiana razorback had nice tusks.
Even the best bait may not work because so much other food is available in Indiana. With a nose more sensitive than any dog, they have the ability to find food from miles away. (Their superior sense of smell is also the reason that extreme scent control should be observed.)
Green vegetation accounts for eighty percent of their diet but food can be anything; grubs, turkey eggs, grouse eggs, quail eggs, turtle eggs, mushrooms, crayfish, roots, carrion, salamanders, frogs, toads, snakes, corn, soybeans, water melons, and sometimes even newborn livestock! They will even root out rodent dens to consume the stores of acorns and the rodent as well!
So the question remains, how do you harvest Indiana’s wild pigs? There are ways, but none of them are easy. Wild hogs are extremely wary and do not hang around to see what your intentions are. They are very intelligent and quickly learn that man means death and cages mean entrapment. Still, the most effective way to harvest a wild hog is to trap them in a pen.
Trap doors and even entire pens can be purchased on the internet, but most hunters will want to make a cheaper variation of their own. It is common to build an open-topped square pen out of ready-made hog panel fencing fastened to T-bar fence posts driven into the ground. The pen has to be strong enough, high enough, and tight enough to contain a thousand pounds or more of frightened hogs.
While easy to set up, a square pen can lead to a big problem; the corners make pile-up points for the hogs. Frenzied hogs will jump on the back of other hogs to climb over the wall and escape the pen or bend the fence panel down. This can be corrected by fastening horizontal “jump” bars or poles a few inches out from the fence wall or enclosing the top. The problem can be avoided all together by making the pen round.
Keep in mind that hogs are rooters with strong neck muscles. A weak fence can easily be rooted under. Laying down other hog panels as a floor and securely fastening them to the wall will prevent rooting, but all these added precautions lead to other problems: transportation and material cost, transportation being the biggest issue. Since hogs are thickest in remote areas, getting the pen or pen material to the trapping location can be prohibitive.
During the pen set up and baiting, scent control is key. Experts also recommend pre-baiting the pen without setting it for a period to get the hogs used to coming and going freely.
It is paramount that all hogs captured are immediately put down. Indiana law prohibits releasing hogs back into the wild, even if they are a sow with cute piglets. It is also prohibited to transport live wild hogs.
The most popular way to go after a hog is hunting, either by calling, spot and stalk, or in drives. Unfortunately it is also the most ineffective and tiring. In fact the IDNR considers the hunting of hogs to be a determent to their eradication efforts because it educates the hogs and makes them even more wary.
To be more effective, a hunter should get to know the hog’s territory. With multiple denning areas and countless places for them to feed, hunters must know the likely areas that the hogs will be, as well as the best routes to get there with a minimum of effort and noise.
If calling, quietly set up close to a denning area. The squealing piglet call works the best and can bring in a sow. Forget boar grunts or mating calls as they rarely sound authentic. Even knowing the terrain, hunters must spot a wary animal before it spots them.
Usually, hunting means plunging into daytime bedding areas to drive them out into the open. Rarely does this plan work as desired. Wild pigs know every hidden route to safety and use them without giving a hunter a shot. There is also the added risk that a hog may decide to charge their attacker. The razor sharp tusks slashing around in thick underbrush are not to be taken lightly.
Wild hog tusks can cut like knives.
Use the proper gun for the job. Wild hogs have thick layers of hide, scar tissue, and fat called a “hog shield” that blunts the force of buckshot, slugs, and soft lead bullets. Lever action rifles in .30-30, .44 Magnum, and .45-70 are popular. INDR considers wild hogs to be a nuisance animal and allows any legal means to hunt them. An AR-15 with a tactical red dot sight and single-point sling definitely has an advantage over a scoped bolt-action rifle slung over a shoulder. Trying to find a fast moving razorback in thick brush with a scope is next to impossible.
Winchester recently came out with their Razorback line of hog specific cartridges in the popular AR platform calibers of .223 and .308. These solid copper hollow points can punch through the toughest hide while providing controlled expansion and weight retention.
Cor-Bon also makes dangerous game cartridges. Like the Razorback line, their DPX Rifle line has solid copper hollow points that can penetrate the thickest hide. Unlike the Razorback, they have wide variety of popular calibers.
Now the question is: what is the future of wild hogs in Indiana? The IDNR won't promote hog hunting in fear that hunters will demand more opportunities to hunt them or worse; import and release more wild hogs themselves. Looking at Asian carp and zebra mussels they are correct in their fears, but it may be too late. Studying states like Texas, California, and Georgia, we may be past the tipping point. In twenty years homeowners in Middlebury may be finding real wild boars digging in their gardens. Grouse and quail populations, that are already low, may be eliminated. Deer and turkey populations may suffer. No one can say for certain, but as hunters we can help lessen the threat while having a little excitement as well.
For trap plans and more information on wild hogs go to: http://www.berrymaninstitute.org/pdf/managing-feral-pigs.pdf
IDNR asks that observations of wild hog activity or killed wild hogs be reported to:
Dr. Joe N. Caudell, Ph.D. Wildlife Disease Biologist, USDA - APHIS - Wildlife Services Joe.N.Caudell@aphis.usda.gov 765-404-0382
Information regarding illegal live possession or illegal releases of wild hogs should be reported to the 1-800-TIP-IDNR line (1-800-847-4367).
Can a person legally kill a wild hog in Indiana? A landowner, tenant, or other person with written permission of the landowner can shoot or trap a wild hog on that landowner’s private property without a permit. Be sure to check local ordinances before using a firearm. If trapped, the hog must be killed at the trap site or euthanized immediately after moving it from the trap site. However, wild hogs cannot be offered for compensation of any kind for hunting or taking purposes and cannot be released into the wild. A person cannot charge a service fee for shooting, trapping or removing a wild hog from private property unless the person has a nuisance wild animal control permit from the Division of Fish and Wildlife.
EDITORS NOTE: WildIndiana.com STRONGLY urges that hunters do everything in their power to prevent the importation and release of wild hogs in Indiana. For all the reasons presented in this article, hunters who go along with plans to release wild hogs are harming all of Indiana's natural resources and the agricultural livelihood of many Hoosier families. Don't support, openly or covertly, the importation of wild hogs!!!