By Tony Young
The white-tailed deer is the most popular game animal pursued each winter by Florida’s more than 200,000 deer hunters. But, there’s another big-game species that’s hunted quite a bit too and is especially popular with hunters in the southern and central parts of the state – the wild hog.
Wild hogs, also called wild boars or feral pigs, aren’t native to Florida. They either were introduced by colonists or may even have been brought over by the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto as early as 1539. Hogs provided a major food source for the early settlers, and those pigs that escaped, or were released, adapted and prospered readily in Florida’s mild climate and varied habitats.
Though nonnative, you can hardly tell, because wild hogs are plentiful throughout Florida and can be found in all 67 counties. They live in various habitats but prefer moist forests, swamps and pine flatwoods. Abundant populations of wild hogs occur west of Lake Okeechobee, between the Kissimmee and lower St. Johns river basins, and farther north along the Gulf-coastal marshes between the Aucilla and Withlacoochee rivers.
Wild hogs are omnivorous and feed by rooting up the ground with their broad snouts. Because of this, they can be very destructive to landscapes and are considered nuisance animals to many agricultural producers. Their diet consists of grasses and flowering plants in the spring, fruits in the summer and fall, and they eat roots, tubers and invertebrates throughout the year. They can cause great damage to a habitat’s groundcover and leave some areas looking like plowed fields.
As with all animals, it’s against the law to release wild hogs on public lands. It’s also not recommended on private lands either unless the property is surrounded by adequate fencing. The reason for this is because you might want wild hogs on your property — but your neighbor may not.
Wild hogs have an annual home range of more than 10 square miles and are prolific reproducers. A healthy female (sow) can breed at six months old and continue to breed every six months producing four to 14 piglets per litter.
They’re not listed as game animals by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) but are considered wildlife and property of the landowner upon whose land they occur. And even though wild hogs can have negative impacts on native vegetation and wildlife, they’re an important food source for several native species including the alligator and bobcat as well as the endangered Florida panther, black bear and American crocodile.
Wild hogs also make for a great hunting opportunity. This especially is true in the southern portion of the state, where in some areas, wild hogs actually have replaced deer as the preferred hunting species. Because of the abundance of hogs there and the fact these regions tend to have smaller-bodied deer with lighter racks, hog hunting has gotten pretty popular in those parts.
On private property with the landowner’s permission, you may hunt wild hogs year-round with any legal gun or firearm. Also, there are no size or bag limits. You may harvest either sex, and you don’t even need a hunting license to do so. That goes for nonresidents as well.
You’re probably starting to see why hog hunting means so much for some folks and has become big business for those hunting guides specializing in paid hog hunts. Not to mention how good a tender sow can taste. Because you sure can get a lot of bacon off a good-sized hog. And if you don’t know how to clean one, not to worry because I’m sure there’s a good meat processor in the area you can take it to.
Now I do need to make you aware that when hunting one of the state’s many wildlife management areas (WMAs), wild hogs may be taken only during specific hunting seasons. On most WMAs, wild hogs may be hunted during all hunting seasons except spring turkey. But if it’s during archery season, you must use a bow — during muzzleloading gun season, you’ll have to use a muzzleloader.
Also, on some WMAs, daily bag limits do apply. And in some cases, there’s a minimum size limit on what you can shoot.
You’ll just need to obtain the area’s regulations brochure to learn what you can and cannot do regarding hunting wild hogs. These brochures contain maps of the area, and you can pick them up at county tax collectors’ offices that are in close proximity to the WMA. They also can be downloaded from the FWC’s hunting website at MyFWC.com/Hunting.
When hunting hogs on WMAs, you’ll need a valid Florida hunting license as well as a management area permit. These can be purchased at tax collectors’ offices, most places that sell hunting and fishing supplies, by calling toll-free 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or by going online at www.fl.wildlifelicense.com.
In addition to still hunting for hogs from a deer stand, there are those hunters who prefer to catch them with traps or by the use of dogs. Special pens with trap doors work well when baited with acorns or slightly fermented corn. And dogs like black mouth curs and pit bulls make good “catch” dogs because they can be trained to capture hogs, which they do by biting down on their ears and pinning them to the ground.
If you do have more hogs on your property than you’d like, and you’re not personally into hunting, you could open your land up to a few hunters, perhaps even lease out the hunting rights. Another option would be to contact a nuisance wildlife trapper.
The FWC maintains a list of people who make a living removing unwanted wildlife and these folks have all the tools and professional experience for getting the job done. The names are listed by the counties in which they operate, and it’s available at MyFWC.com.
So whether you think wild hogs are a nuisance or a hunting opportunity, they’re a critter some of us are dealing with one way or another. Here’s wishing all you hunters a great season, and when you can, take a kid hunting. Be a mentor — pass the tradition down.