While no one really knows just how much financial damage wild hogs are causing in Florida, everyone knows there are plenty around. Estimates put the population at roughly 500,000 in the state, which ranks Florida second only behind Texas in the number of feral hogs in the U.S.
Jim Snively, vice president of grove operations for Southern Gardens Citrus, says their groves are like many ag operations in the state seeing hogs year-round. “Most of our damage is experienced in the tree middles on the tops of our bedded citrus as well as the water furrows in between our rows,” he says. “On the top of the beds, it creates a rough terrain that causes equipment damage as well as safety hazards for our operators. In the water furrows, it causes the same issues as well as disruption in the drainage of the grove.”
According to Ken Gioeli, natural resources Extension agent with UF/IFAS, wild hogs prefer large forested areas with abundant food, particularly acorns, interspersed with marshes, hammocks, ponds, and drainages. Thick cover is used as bedding areas and provides the protection they seek. Their ability to adapt and prolific breeding are the primary reasons they’ve become such a problem in the state.
“Wild hogs consume far more plant material than animal material,” says Gioeli. “Their opportunistic tendencies often lead them to forage in agricultural lands and forest plantations where they can cause significant losses of crops including corn, rice, sorghum, melons, peanuts, forage grasses, grains, various vegetables, and tree seedlings. Wild hogs also will exploit game feeders placed for deer, turkey, and other wildlife, and may destroy wildlife food plots by rooting. Wallowing also is a problem.”
To get a better handle on the extent of the feral hog problem, Joanna Huffman conducted a survey of Florida land managers for her UF/IFAS Master Naturalist certification project. 58.8% of respondents indicated they were experiencing moderate damage, while 20% indicated
With nearly 80% of land managers experiencing moderate to severe damage to wild hog populations, it is little wonder that many are trying a variety of measures to control the pest. Hunting and trapping is the most popular means of hog control. Survey results show 60% of respondents used hunting for control and 51% indicated using trapping.
When asked how effective their feral hog control strategies have been, 47% of respondents indicated the practices they currently used were only marginally effective, while 25% of them indicated total failure.
While hunting is the most popular means of hog mitigation, it is unlikely this measure alone will help eradicate or limit wild populations. Gioeli says it likely will take a combination of measures to fight the problem.
“Historically, we used hunters with dogs to reduce the population; however, with canker and liability issues (dogs don’t know property lines), we switched to trapping,” says Jerry Newlin, vice president of grove operations for Orange-Co. “As it turned out, trapping has been much more successful reducing the numbers. Unfortunately, you do encounter ‘trap wise’ hogs that are just about impossible to catch. When that happens, we work with the Fish and Wildlife Commission and hunt the tough-to-catch hogs — usually at night.”
“Current control strategies being employed have resulted in marginal success and a quarter of the land managers indicate total failure to manage feral hogs,” says Gioeli. “There is need for a follow-up survey to determine if there are policy or regulatory roadblocks inhibiting the effectiveness of feral hog management on private and public lands in Florida.”
Setting Sights On Hogs
- Hunting is an important control method for wild hogs because it provides recreational opportunities, is inexpensive, and can be useful in reducing the numbers of adult animals. Hogs are typically hunted in stands over bait such as corn or other grains. Dogs also may be used in hunting to locate and hold them at bay until hunters can catch or kill them. However, the dogs must be properly trained to avoid potential injury from the wild hog.
- Trapping is usually more effective than hunting, especially when the animals are active at night. Trap types include cages, leg-holds, and snares. Cages are considered most efficient. Corral cages can capture large numbers of hogs. These cages should be placed in shaded areas where hog traffic is active. These traps should be pre-baited for several days so the hogs become accustomed to entering the trap and it betters the chances of catching more animals at once. Steel leg holds or snares have been used to capture hogs, but are not recommended. They are less effective and illegal in Florida without a special permit.
- Shooting at night can be an effective control measure if hunting and other human activities stimulate the hogs to become nocturnal and trapping is less effective. Spotlights and other night vision optics can aid in this approach. Individuals should consult with Fish and Wildlife Commission officials for applicable regulations and permits.
- Excluding hogs with fencing is an effective but expensive control option. However, hogs are intelligent and resourceful animals and often find ways through many types of fencing. Chain-link fences, heavy-gauge hog wire buried at least 1 foot with heavy supports and posts, mesh fencing, or multistranded electric fence provide the best results.