The Dallas Morning News

For hunters, winter is hog heaven

With food scarce, cover limited, destructiv­e pigs easier to locate

- By SHANNON THOMPKINS Houston Chronicle

A sheen of ice coats a feral sow foraging in a marsh. The cold-weather period from January to March, when cover is thinnest and food hardest to find, can offer Texas hog hunters their best odds for success.

The crackle of breaking ice gave away the pigs’ location even before the herd shouldered out of the dark stand of flooded cattails and onto the bare, muddy levee.

In the low-angle light of this freezing January dawn, the group — three adult sows with their half-grown broods — glistened, their hairy bodies coated with a thin sheen of white as the water on their sides, faces and legs hardened.

I watched from maybe 20 yards away as one frost-faced sow greedily munched a cattail stalk, the thin sustenance gained from shoving her head

through the frozen surface of a half-foot of ice-covered water and using her snout to root the plant’s base loose from the soil.

The pigs were hungry and looked it. There’s no other reason to be wallowing in an icecoated marsh when the reward could never offset the energy expended in its pursuit.

But there was little else for them. The crop of acorns from the live oaks veining the coastal marsh and water oaks and southern red oaks farther inland were gone. So, too, were the tiny hackberrie­s, persimmons, wolfberrie­s and other mast on which the feral hogs had feasted during autumn. The choicest tubers and roots have been hit hard.

It’s down to cattails and whatever else they can find. Times were tough.

Fall’s abundance had turned to winter’s poverty. And for the coming couple of months, until March and April bring a flush of new life, the pigs would have to hustle for every mouthful.

Most vulnerable time

Feral hogs may be the ultimate omnivore, able to survive on just about anything or seemingly nothing under any weather conditions. But even these porcine versions of cockroache­s must deal with winter.

This, as harsh as it might sound, is good news. Winter leaves Texas’ wild hogs at their most vulnerable. And Texas hunters who pursue these invasive swine — these non-native hogs that are a pestilence on the landscape — can use winter’s effects to greatly increase their odds of successful­ly removing many of them.

And, in the bargain, the hunters get to extend their hunting season and collect some of the best pork to ever grace a plate.

There is no shortage in Texas of feral hogs or opportunit­ies to hunt them. Texas holds two million to three million feral hogs, the most of any state. They are classified as non-native invasives and as such can be hunted any time, day or night, with no limits and no restrictio­ns beyond possessing a hunting license.

Costly damage

The economic and environmen­tal reasons to smite them are well-documented and known to most Texans. The pigs are annually responsibl­e for an estimated minimum of $52 million in damage to agricultur­e and real estate in Texas. Texas landowners spend at least $7 million a year trying to repair hog damage.

The pigs are environmen­tally and ecological­ly devastatin­g. They compete directly with native wildlife such as white-tailed deer, damage watersheds and the life in them, and carry and transmit diseases.

The pigs also take a significan­t direct toll on native wildlife. Although only 10 percent of their diet is animal matter, that constitute­s a staggering total. One study found a population of 3,000 wild pigs annually consumes 3.16 million reptiles and amphibians.

Removing feral hogs — shooting or trapping them, the only legal methods — is a benefit across the board. And no time of year is more amenable to do just that than the winter months.

During late winter, landscape conditions and the hogs’ behavior work in hunters’ favor. The lack of vegetative cover gives hunters the advantage of making feral hogs easier to see.

It’s likely those pigs will be moving more during late winter than other times of the year, too. The pigs are having to hustle to find food, and that leads them to spend more time travelling. That increases a hunter’s odds of seeing the animals.

Also, the dearth of a dependable food supply and feral hogs’ piggishnes­s when they find a rich foraging area can be exploited. Feral hogs can be attracted and held (kind of) to a particular area — in front of a hunting stand, into a hog trap — through baiting.

 ?? Ray Sasser/Staff ?? Texas’ two million to three million feral hogs are annually responsibl­e for an estimated minimum of $52 million in damage to agricultur­e and real estate in Texas.
Ray Sasser/Staff Texas’ two million to three million feral hogs are annually responsibl­e for an estimated minimum of $52 million in damage to agricultur­e and real estate in Texas.

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