The other day, I went hunting for wild hogs, aka feral pigs, at the expansive and scenic Green Swamp Wildlife Management Area (WMA)―“a protected area set aside for the conservation of wildlife and for recreational activities involving wildlife.” Green Swamp is a rugged 10 by 12-mile wonderland rich in deer, turkey, raccoons, wild hogs, bob cats, otters, snakes, mosquitos, and birds of every description. It’s also full of good-sized hogs as you can see by the hog track next to my boot wrapped in snake guard.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is responsible for managing and supporting the 160 WMAs throughout Florida for both hunters and wildlife. I have been to the seven WMA closest to home―25 to 50 miles away. Between December and April of each year, multiple hunts are permitted and identified by the game that may be hunted and the caliber of weapon that may be used. “Centerfire” is the term used for the cartridge of big caliber guns such as .223, .30 caliber, .30-30, 357, and .45.
A “Rimfire” only season designates .22 caliber for small game hunting. Muzzleloader-season is for deer and wild hogs using .50 caliber ball or conical bullets. Turkey season requires shotguns. There is also an archery only season and a wild hog hunting season using dogs. Hogs may be hunted throughout December to April. They are an invasive pest and do a lot of damage to fields and wildlife.
The late John Madden, legendary football coach and sports announcer, once said, “Well, when you're playing good football, it's good football and if you don't have good football, then you're not really playing good football.” While hiking the Virginia Appalachian Trail in the mid-nineties with my daughter we had our own ‘Maddenism.’ ‘If you’re not miserable you’re not having a good time. To have a really great time you have to be really miserable.” I think we were employing reverse psychology to make ourselves feel better.
My last hunting trip was a whopping success; it was miserable! Let me count the ways: 81 degrees, too hot and too humid, hordes of buzzing mosquitoes, and wearing 18-inch muck books wrapped with snake guards is not walking, it’s plodding.
1996. Tom, his mother, and daughter
My daughter and I used to carry fifty-pound packs on our backs and it sucked even then, but now 35-years later, my thirty-seven-pound pack feels just as bad, not to mention carrying a six-to-nine-pound rifle and wearing four-pound boots.
The good aspect of my day in the woods was that nothing attacked or bit me and I returned to my car in one piece. Similarly, my GPS worked perfectly and it didn’t rain which if it had, would have made the trip a 'great' trip. I’ll admit it was a relief to string up my hammock for a short break.
Since I don’t know how many more years I have left to walk in the woods carrying a rifle while pretending to hunt, I plan to go out as often as possible and rejoice in the beauty I see all around me and the fact that I can still do it. Getting exercise is an added bonus. I covered about two miles over unpleasant terrain. On the Appalachian Trail, it was good for amateurs to cover a mile each hour and that’s what we did. For comparison purposes, the standard U.S. Army marching rate is 3.4 miles an hour while loaded down with gear.
My old man goal is to be as active as possible for as long as possible doing the things I like. If it hurts, I don’t do it, but being miserable isn’t hurting.
Impenetrable Saw Palmettos―best to go around
Thirty-five states in the U.S. have WMA that are challenging to hike or hunt, but all fifty states allow hunting at U.S. Forest Service land, Bureau of Land Management acreage, State land, land owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service property. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildlife_management_area
Where can you hunt? Nevada has the highest percent of State land open to hunting with 76.5%. Alaska is next with 74.3%, followed by Utah and Oregon.Florida has 17.1% of its State open for hunting. Believe it or not, even tiny Rhode Island, the smallest state in the Union, has archery, shotgun and muzzleloader seasons for deer and turkey hunting.
If you have an old .22 rifle or shotgun up in the attic, have it checked by a gun dealer and put it to use target shooting at an authorized range and then go out and use it in the field. Google the WMAs around you and see what’s doable in terms of travel time. In Florida and probably elsewhere, people over 65 do not need any permits or classes to hunt or pretend to hunt. We can just go.
Once I recover from this last hunt, I’ll be back out there for Muzzleloader season.
I’m using hunting to represent all the outdoor activities we used to do when we were younger. I could have said hiking, boating, fishing, bird watching, placing a wrath on veterans graves site during December’s Wreath Across America event (https://militarybenefits.info/wreaths-across-america/), camping, or watching the sandhill cranes in NE. I find that hunting puts a bounce in my step, joy in my heart, and purpose and passion in my life.
If you’re curious to learn more about wild hogs, what follows is an interesting but lengthy footnote about wild hogs/feral pigs taken from several different articles:
“…Few wildlife species cause problems that outweigh their positive values and should be considered pests. Although we recognize that wild pigs provide recreational benefits to some hunters and landowners. Since their introduction to North America, wild pigs have become one of the more serious wildlife problems in the United States…One could argue that the scope and severity of problems caused by pigs outweigh their benefits in many areas. In these cases, managers may decide that population reduction or eradication is the preferred management objective….” https://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/feral_swine/pdfs/managing-feral-pigs.pdf
“Feral swine have been reported in at least 35 states [now it’s 38]. Their population is estimated at over 6 million and is rapidly expanding. Range expansion over the last few decades is due to a variety of factors including their adaptability to a variety of climates and conditions, translocation by humans, and a lack of natural predators.”
According to the NYT, “In the United States, their stronghold is the South — about half of the nation’s six million feral pigs live in Texas.”
Mississippi State University hosts a website called “Wild Pig Info” with pictures and information.
“Management of Wild Pigs
Nonlethal methods include installing fencing to exclude pigs, using guard animals to protect livestock, and vaccinating animals to prevent disease spread. Lethal methods include trapping, shooting, and hunting with dogs.” https://www.wildpiginfo.msstate.edu/index.php
USDA, Feb 21, 2017: “Feral swine carry more than 30 diseases that pose a potential threat to humans, livestock, and wildlife, and the total cost of feral swine damage to U.S. agriculture, livestock facilities, private property, and natural resources is estimated to be $1.5 billion annually…Wildlife Services is using a combination of methods to find and remove feral swine, including the use of surveillance cameras, cage and corral traps, and aerial operations.”
Robbins, Jim, “Feral Pigs Roam the South. Now Even Northern States Aren’t Safe: The swine have established themselves in Canada and are encroaching on border states like Montana and North Dakota,” The New York Times, Dec. 16, 2019, Section D, Page 3.
“HELENA, Mont— Ranchers and government officials here are keeping watch on an enemy army gathering to the north, along the border with Canada. The invaders are big, testy, tenacious — and they’ll eat absolutely anything.
“Feral pigs are widely considered to be the most destructive invasive species in the United States. They can do remarkable damage to the ecosystem, wrecking crops and hunting animals like birds and amphibians to near extinction.
“They have wrecked military planes on runways. And although attacks on people are extremely rare, in November feral hogs killed a woman in Texas who was arriving for work in the early morning hours.
“Generally an invasive species is detrimental to one crop, or are introduced into waterways and hurt the fish,” said Dale Nolte, manager of the feral swine program at the Department of Agriculture. “But feral swine are destructive across the board and impact all sectors.”
Wild pigs occupy the “largest global range of any non-domesticated terrestrial mammal on earth,” researchers in Canada recently concluded.
“Now they are poised to invade states along the [U.S.] border, threatening to establish a new beachhead in this country [the U.S.A.].
“It’s concerning that Canada isn’t doing anything about it,” said Maggie Nutter, one of 80 concerned ranchers and farmers who met recently near Sweet Grass, Mont., to discuss the potential swine invasion. “What do you do to get them to control their wild hog population?”
“[U.S.] States and federal agencies are monitoring the border. Should the pigs advance [from Canada], wildlife officials plan an air assault, hunting the pigs from planes with high-tech equipment like night-vision goggles and thermal-imaging scopes. They’re testing waterways for pig DNA, and turning to more traditional approaches — hunting dogs and shotguns.
“Why the worry? The harm caused by snuffling, gobbling wild hogs is the stuff of legend. ‘The damage in the United States is estimated to be $1.5 billion annually, but likely closer to $2.5 billion,’ Dr. Nolte said.
“They are very smart and can be very big — a Georgia pig called Hogzilla is believed to have weighed at least 800 pounds— and populations grow rapidly. Each female is capable of birthing at least two litters a year of six or more piglets.
“Nature’s rototillers,” experts have said. Feral pigs don’t browse the landscape; they dig out plants by the root, and lots of them. Big hogs can chew up acres of crops in a single night, destroying pastures, tearing out fences, digging up irrigation systems, polluting water supplies.
“Pigs will literally eat anything,” said Dr. Ryan Brook, a professor of animal science at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
“They eat ground-nesting birds — eggs and young and adults,” Dr. Brook said. “They eat frogs. They eat salamanders. They are huge on insect larvae. I’ve heard of them taking adult white-tailed deer.”
“Hitting a two- or three-hundred-pound pig on a highway is not that much different than hitting a two- or three-hundred-pound rock,” Dr. Nolte said. Two F-16 fighter jets have crashed after they hit pigs on the runway.
The swine are also reservoirs for at least 32 diseases, including bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis and leptospirosis. Outbreaks of E. coli in spinach and lettuce have been blamed on feral hogs defecating in farm fields.
But where pigs are already well established, hunting can reduce their numbers. Gunning feral pigs from helicopters with semiautomatic weapons is a popular sport in Texas. (There are no hunting seasons for feral swine in the state; the animals, which cause $400 million in crop damage in the state annually, can be shot year round.)