SPRINGFIELD -- Todd Staley went deer hunting but brought home the bacon instead. Staley shot a feral hog near Canton in Fulton County recently that weighed as much as two grown men. It’s an occurrence state wildlife officials hope doesn’t become too commonplace.
SPRINGFIELD -- Todd Staley went deer hunting but brought home the bacon instead.
Staley shot a feral hog near Canton in Fulton County recently that weighed as much as two grown men.
It’s an occurrence state wildlife officials hope doesn’t become too commonplace.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are trying to get a handle on just how many feral swine are in Illinois so control measures can be developed.
So far, feral swine have been confirmed in 14 Illinois counties, including Christian and Sangamon, although officials suspect they are present in as many as18 counties.
Staley said he saw some pigs running across the road and taking refuge at an abandoned farmstead not far from his farm outside Canton.
Soon afterward, the largest pig showed up on his trail camera.
“It was huge,” Staley said of the animal he later shot with a bow from his deer stand. “The butcher said it was a female, 400 pounds.
“I know there are at least a few more pigs out there.”
Spanish explorers brought domestic pigs to the New World for the same reason we raise them today — for food.
But in the days before barbed-wire fences, some escaped and lived off the land.
In the 1800s, Eurasian or Russian wild boars (razorbacks) were imported and released for hunting.
Today, wild pigs of domestic ancestry, relatives of Eurasian wild boars and hybrid offspring of the two roam free in 35 states.
Feral swine appeared in Illinois in the early 1990s. Most of those were brought into the state and released, said John Buhnerkempe, DNR chief of the wildlife resources division.
He said the department still hears anecdotal reports of pickup truckloads of pigs being brought into the state and turned loose.
Usually, small groups don’t establish breeding populations, but Buhnerkempe is concerned about reports from Fayette County, for example, where groups of 20 or more have been observed.
“Right now, it’s still localized,” Buhnerkempe said.
Feral swine have no predators except for man, and they breed at a dramatic rate. More than one litter a year is possible — with five to eight piglets per litter on average, according to a study by graduate student Black McCann of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Compare that with a doe that has one fawn each year — maybe twins.
“They can produce considerably more animals than whitetails can,” Buhnerkempe said. “If the population reaches a certain level, it can expand very quickly.”
“I’m just glad she was a female,” Staley said of the hog he shot. “They mass-produce like crazy.
“And once they get that big, there aren’t many wild animals that can mess with them,” he said. “You can’t kill enough of them.”
‘Kind of scary’
Buhnerkempe said wildlife biologists are concerned about the hogs consuming mast crops like acorns, which now sustain deer, wild turkeys and other wildlife.
Feral swine also degrade habitats with rooting and wallowing.
“We’ve got some photographs that look like moonscapes,” Buhnerkempe said. “It is kind of scary when you see it.”
Staley has witnessed the damage feral swine can cause first-hand.
After building a goose-hunting pit near the pond on his farm, Staley — who owns a landscaping business — installed sod to get grass established quickly.
The largest hog found something it liked under the sod and quickly undid Staley’s handiwork.
“It turned over 12 rolls of sod looking for worms or grubs,” he said. “I wish I would have had a gun with me then. I would have shot it then.”
Anyone with a firearm and a firearm owner’s identification card can shoot feral swine with permission of the landowner.
“Landowners control the take of feral swine on their property,” Buhnerkempe said. “They can do it as they desire.”
Corral traps, however, are the preferred method of control, because groups of hogs can be trapped.
Buhnerkempe said feral swine are very smart, and if they are harassed around the traps, they just won’t come back.
“Sometimes shooting scatters them,” he said. “But hunters may come across feral swine while in their tree stands, so shooting is OK during firearm deer season.”
Penalties are minor for importing and releasing feral swine, Buhnerkempe said.
“But in the future, we may see the department authorized to regulate feral livestock,” he said.
New rules are in the works, but it will be at least a 100-day trip through the administrative rules process once the regulations are drafted.
The first order of business, Buhnerkempe said, is to work with landowners to locate and begin controlling feral swine.
“We have to take on this problem right now,” he said. “Or we could be faced with something much more serious in five, 10 or 20 years from now if we don’t.”
Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.
On the Web
U.S. Department of Agriculture feral swine home page
To report feral swine
Call (217) 785-2511
Feral swine (Sus scrofa)
Hunters are asked to report any sightings of feral swine (also called wild pigs or feral hogs) this fall.
* Feral swine are free-ranging and not under a livestock farmer’s control.
* They compete with native wildlife for food and damage soil through rooting and feeding, which increases soil erosion and damages crops.
* They carry at least 30 diseases that can be threats to people, pets, livestock and wildlife.
* Damage done by feral hogs is estimated to be more than $1 billion per year in the United States.
* Feral swine are native to Eurasia, but populations now exist in at least 35 states, including Illinois. They have adapted since their introduction in the 1500s.
* States with the most wild pigs include California, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas.
* Wild pigs breed prolifically. If nothing is done, numbers of feral swine can grow faster than hunters can remove them from the landscape.
-- Sources: Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Agriculture
Curbing wild swine population
Wildlife experts want to find out where feral swine are found in Illinois so they can help prevent populations from becoming established — a problem faced in Texas.
“The number of feral hogs we have is so excessive, in many places that simple control by hunting or trapping is not enough,” said Michael Bodenchuk of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service in a video interview.
“With more than two million hogs in Texas, we’re not going to barbecue our way out of this problem.”
See Bodenchuk’s interview in “A Pickup Load of Pigs: The Feral Swine Pandemic,” produced by Mississippi State University Extension on YouTube.
Illinois counties with confirmed sightings of feral swine: Christian, Clay, Effingham, Fayette, Fulton, Henry, Jackson, Kane, Knox , Lawrence, Macon, Marion, Pike, Sangamon.