Thousands of wild swine lurk in bottom lands and swamps near rivers and creeks in almost every county in North Carolina. Some carry diseases harmful to humans and other animals, and they cause countless monetary damage to agriculture.
Most farmers despise wild pigs and go armed to kill or they pay professional hunters to trap and shoot swine. Some folks, especially hunters, say they are a tasty delight and are more healthful to eat than domestic hogs.
The North Carolina Wildlife Commission takes a liberal view on killing wild swine. There is no bag limit, no closed season and they may be hunted at night with lights on private land in all 100 counties. About the only requirement is a valid hunting license. Transporting wild pigs requires an ear identification tag. Violators face a $5,000 fine for each pig without state documentation.
Although many scientists and farmers see swine with a negative eye, there are others who revel in hog hunting.
Matt Sherwood, who runs a year-round guide service in Johnston County, 42 miles east of Raleigh, says he attracts hunters from across the nation and many parts of the world. He harvests an estimated 150 swine annually hunting at night from elevated box stands near feeders.
We manage the hog population on my property by not shooting sows and babies and have trophy hogs, he said. The population is stable and not growing by any stretch of the imagination.
Sherwood carries a relatively positive view about all aspects of wild boar. He says not only are they good to eat, they are not as harmful to crops as some think.
The meat tastes like a combination of domestic hog and venison. Its the best taste I know, he said. And they are not nearly the problem as the natural resource people have you believe. They will definitely damage a corn field but no more than deer in a bean field.
Johnny Dale of Buffalo Creek Lodge and Guide Service farms and hunts 3500 acres in Sampson County, 70 miles east of Raleigh. He sees a growth pattern in the wild swine population and a continuing danger to crops.
Dales operation takes 300 hogs annually hunting along the Black River during the day.
I farm, too corn, beans and wheat, he said. And its a constant battle to control hogs. We fence in our fields to try to keep them out.
Weapons of choice
Most swine are killed with rifle or bow and arrow. Bud Ratcliff in Anson County, 149 miles south of Raleigh, takes a different approach. He hunts with dogs and dispatches pigs with a Bowie knife.
The catch-dog grabs a hog by the ear or nose and we stick it with a knife. The hogs dead in 30 seconds, he said. January, February and March are our favorite months. We come to a halt during deer season and slack off in turkey season. We dont want to get in the way of other hunters in the woods.
Ratcliff and his team of two other hunters run six dogs known as Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dogs in the typical hunt in Anson and bordering counties. In eight years of hunting he reports no dogs lost to swine. He does not consider his sport dangerous and often takes along his 5-year-old son.
Sometimes they break loose from the dog and youll have to dodge the hog, but he cant turn around and bite you like a dog. My boy will go with me and he loves it to death.
Many of the Ratcliff hunts are on behalf of farmers experiencing crops damaged by hogs. He also conducts guided hunts.
Wild hogs tear up farmland everywhere, he said. A farmer can plant a 14-acre field on Thursday and itll be gone by Saturday.
Rupert Medford, a wildlife commission biologist in the Union-Anson County area, sees the population eventually growing to the point all counties are infested with wild boar.
They key in on bottom lands with rich soil and more food, he said. Theyll eat the food source and then move on to another area.
Examine before eating
Medford advises hunters to always use long rubber gloves when cleaning wild hogs.
Use common sense and dont eat any animal that looks sick, he said. Most wildlife have some disease, so use precaution.
Dr. Tom Ray, a veterinarian who directs livestock health programs for the state Deptartment of Agriculture and Consumer Services, worries about the affect wild swine are having on the state.
Theyre incredibility harmful, he said. They have a negative impact on the ecosystem, crops and small game. There is nothing they dont cause a serious negative impact on.
A big concern for Ray is disease and parasites carried by wild swine. He estimates 80 percent of the domestic pig population could be wiped out in six to eight months from some wild hog diseases.
Few, if any, studies or surveys exist that capture swine population and effects. Ray believes 4 million to 5 million roam the United States, with about half in Texas. He says one sow in two years can be responsible for the production of 200 wild pigs.
Youd have to kill 70 percent of the population just to have the same population a year from now, Ray said. They are as intelligent as dogs if not better and have no natural predators.