In recent months, I’ve been posting a few bits and pieces about wild hogs and the inherent controversies that travel along with those animals—things such as hunting access, the ethics of killing, and what it means to be non-native. I’ve tried to keep the tonality even and open-minded, knowing full well that I’d miss making some worthwhile points. After reading my stuff, an acquaintance named Jerick Henley, from Oklahoma’s Chain Ranch, took the time to write me and give some of his own thoughts on wild pigs. It’s a worthwhile read from a well-informed guy. I came away from his email with the pleasant feeling of seeing something a bit more clearly.
Steve: Hope all is well. I wanted to give you some additional perspective on the ongoing hog hunting debate. You’ve sparked some great dialogue on social media and with your article on Dark Rye. As an outfitter located in the heart of the pig problem area, we’ve tried to find some balance between controlling the population and earning a living. At some point in your debate, the question was posed as to why farmers, landowners, or outfitters charge for pig hunting if it’s such a problem. We had this discussion in the beginning as well. So we did a little experiment. We allowed hunters to come on to the ranch to hunt pigs for free. Not sharp shooters, not professional hunters, but average guys looking to fill the freezer. We spent a small amount of time with each hunter trying to get them pointed in the right direction and also laying down a few rules. We’re a working cattle ranch so we can’t just let them run around without some guidance. After a couple of months we tallied the total kill on our overabundant hog population: 25 hunting days (meaning one day for one hunter) with 6 pigs killed. So in two months our experiment provided for less than a 25% success rate. Which, if I was hunting elk, mule deer or any other big game animal, would be fantastic, but for pig control we weren’t making a dent in the population, and it was costing us some amount of time and energy to manage the hunting. The hunters weren’t familiar with the property of the game movements and typically only had a day or two to hunt so the success rate wasn’t very good.
Fast forward several months and we began experiment #2. This time we set up feeders on about 6000 acres, invested in the corn to fill them and a blind/stand at each location. We advertised for hog hunts at a cost of $100 per day (which included lodging but no meals) and $100 for every hog killed, regardless of size. It took several weeks to get the word out but by the end of the first month we had booked roughly 40 guys for a 90 day period. At the end of the 90-day experiment, the totals looked better. 40 hunting days with 23 hogs killed, a 58% success rate. The hunters were happy. We were happy. AND there were less pigs… which made everyone happy!
All this took place about seven years ago and we’re still charging $100 for the day of hunting and $100 for each pig. We’re booked through May of next year. I think there can be a balance between providing access, controlling the hog population and recouping our costs. This may not be the answer everywhere but it seems to be working for us and our hunters. The number one comment I get from our visitors is that other places charge too much for pig hunts, so this probably validates your original argument. However, I think that the “market” will correct itself because as the feral hog population continues to sky rocket, high-priced hog hunts will fall to the wayside.
The other issue that seems to be a hot topic is that of using nontraditional hunting methods to kill the hogs, i.e. helicopters, night vision, etc. I agree that this could be confusing to the new hunters in our sport but I’d also remind them that we’ve had to take drastic measures to control overpopulation in the past. The snow goose is a good example. When the geese began to decimate their breeding grounds, the USFWS declared a spring season, the legal use of electronic calls, unplugged guns and no daily limits. All of these measures are completely contrary to waterfowl management practices of the past 75 years but had to be done to control the birds. I don’t know many waterfowl hunters that are confused by the different tactics.
The great hog debate rages on but there’s my two cents. I personally wish they would all disappear. We’re extremely confident that they’ve damaged the quail and turkey populations on our ranches and may actually be affecting the deer herd as well.