Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wild Hogs Expanding Range

Wild Hogs

       This past Saturday, October 29, 2011, at 5:00 in the afternoon, I heard a terrible noise in the dry leaves getting close to my tree stand.  I immediately stood up, grabbed my bow, and waited.  I kept looking in the direction of the noise as the sound was getting louder and louder.  Finally some 60 yards from my stand, I saw five big black hogs walking abreast feeding through the oak timber gathering nuts as they were moving through the woods.  Behind the first line of hogs, a very large herd of animals, more than I could count without getting them mixed up, was moving just to the west of my stand.  These wild hogs took several minutes to walk past my position just out of bow range.  I estimated the herd contained 30 or more animals.  This was the second largest group of hogs I have witnessed in Bankhead Forest.  The largest number I saw several years ago in one group was in excess of 40 or more animals near Cedar Ridge on the northwest part of the forest south of Mt. Hope.

Feral Swine       I have hunted the management area and forest property east of highway 33 for several years and had no idea that the animals had increased their numbers to such an extent into this part of the forest as was evidenced this week with the extremely large herd I observed.  Over the last few years, hogs have expanded their territory to include the entire northern portion of William B. Bankhead National Forest in Lawrence County.  They have spread from the Morgan County line to the east all the way to the Franklin County line to the west.  These animals are probably here to stay and it appears that not only their range but also their population is increasing throughout north Alabama.         The origin of the wild hogs in Bankhead Forest is not clear but it is obvious that hogs have been in this area since the early settler days.  Even when domesticated hogs are allowed to range free, they are noted as being one the quickest domestic animals to revert to their wild nature and become feral pigs.  The first hogs I saw in Bankhead was prior to Turkey Foot Station game warden house and hunters camp building west of Sipsey River on the Cranal Road being torn down.  It was probably 30 years ago late one afternoon that I was hunting a honey suckle thicket behind the old hunters camp building at Turkey Foot Station when two feral pigs that weighed approximately 50 pounds each walked down an old log road past my stand.  I remember thinking that someone's pigs must have escaped from their pens; however, these pigs were some five miles from the nearest house.  Even though the hogs were in the middle of the forest, I had no though of shooting someone's pigs.  Today, I encourage all hunters to kill ever hog you see in the forest.        Hogs are some of the most environmentally destructive animals that roam the hills and valleys of our woodlands.  A group of wild hogs can root up an entire mountainside in search of things to eat.  In the last few years in the upper West Flint Creek, Capsey Creek, and Brushy Creek regions, I saw where hogs had plowed up large areas of the forest floor looking for roots, grubs, and small animals to eat.  They will eat just about any living organisms that are easily accessible from snakes to wildflowers and everything in between.  They can cause erosion problems, destroy sensitive rare wild flowers and plants, and are in direct competition with deer, turkey, and other wildlife that depend on the mast crop.  In addition, hogs are becoming a problem for farmers by destroying their crops and damaging their property.         Wild hogs are one of the most prolific big game animals having as many as 12 or more young per single litter.  The exact size of their population in Bankhead Forest is not known, but you can be sure that their numbers are increasing throughout our area, and their reproductive potential has a tendency for a rapid increase or explosive growth in their numbers.  Probably their worst predator is the coyotes that will prey on their young and an occasional bobcat.  Other than these carnivores, the only way to effectively control their population without spending a lot of money trapping is by hunting.  Under normal hunting pressure, wild hogs seem to be able to maintain and even increase the number of individuals; however, the liberal hunting season seems to be the only factor that is limiting their population explosion in the Bankhead Forest. Even though hunters are killing hogs year around on general forest service property outside the wildlife management area, wild hogs are going to be very difficult to control and remove from all the farmlands surrounding the forest.  If the trend continues, hogs will probably spread throughout the entire county over the next several years creating a lot of destruction to crops.  At present, I do not want to sound an alarm because our local hunters will not hesitate to put a ham on the dinner table if their sights line up with a wild hog in the Warrior Mountains.

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