Five counties in Pennsylvania are home to wild hogs
Larry Lint of The Pig Farm in Northern Butler County looks over some of his breeding stock of Europen hogs. Lint offers guided hunts for wild pigs inside a 90-acre enclosure.
Jim Zora has bird dogs, so he likes to hunts pheasants, quail and the like. But when he wanted to give his then 11-year-old son a real thrill, he took him hog hunting.
They didn't chase the friendly little pink pigs you might remember from those Babe movies, though. These were European hogs, each 300 or more pounds of bristly hair, tusks and, more often than not, a surly disposition.
"These pigs are just downright nasty," said Zora, a dentist from South Hills. "They'll come after you. I can't remember the last time a deer did that. That sort of turning the tables a little bit makes things very interesting."
"They're the ultimate game animal," said Larry Lint said, owner of The Pig Farm, the game preserve near Parker in Butler County when Zora hunted. "They're tough, they're smart, and they're a lot of fun." The excitement of hunting hogs may be causing some problems in Pennsylvania, however.
Up until recently, any hog hunting that went on here occurred inside the fences of a game preserve, like The Pig Farm. Now, though, Pennsylvania has hogs living in the wild, said Dave Griswold, assistant director of the bureau of animal health at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Bureau of Wildlife Services kicked off a survey last fall to determine just how many wild hogs are here. They expected to find a few hundred. Instead, their estimate was a shockingly-high 3,000 animals.
They are primarily living and reproducing in five Pennsylvania counties: Butler, Bedford, Cambria, Bradford and Tioga.
Some of those animals are escapees from the various preserves, Griswold said. The pigs in Butler County, for example, used to belong to Lint. They escaped when someone cut his fences and turned them loose.
Lint caught one of them in a trap just a few days ago.
"She weighed about 200 pounds and she was as healthy as anything I've got living inside my fence," Lint said. "She was pregnant, too, so obviously there's a boar out there breeding them."
In other cases, hunters have willfully released hogs into the woods in an attempt to provide themselves with sport, Griswold said. That's problematic because wild hogs will "eat anything they can put their snout on," including acorns, white-tailed fawns, ground-nesting birds like grouse, and domestic lambs, said Harris Glass, state director of USDA Wildlife Services in Pennsylvania. That puts them in direct competition for food with native species like deer, turkeys and bears.
Hogs can also carry diseases like pseudo rabies and bruceslosis, making them a threat to the state's $241 million swine industry.
For all of those reasons, state wildlife and agricultural officials would like to rid Pennsylvania of wild hogs before it's too late. They tried to do that last fall by baiting hogs into traps where entire family groups could be killed.
Hunters, though, have inadvertently been making that job harder. They killed an estimated 300 hogs last year, but by pressuring them, especially around baited areas, hunters are actually causing the pigs to spread out rather than controlling populations, Griswold said.
"It seems like a contradiction, but hunting is going to lead to our inability to control hogs in Pennsylvania. In this case, it's counterproductive," Griswold said.
That has to change, and soon, Glass said. The window of opportunity for ridding Pennsylvania of hogs is fast closing, if it hasn't already, said Glass.
"If we can start now, we could possibly get this population under control and possibly eradicate it. But it's going to take getting everyone on the same page very quickly," Glass said.
Pennsylvania is not alone in trying to deal with a new population of wild hogs. In recent years, hogs have shown up everywhere from Iowa to Michigan to Kansas.
In an attempt to get rid of them, Iowa recently made it illegal to release the animals into the wild. Kansas did the same, then took things a step further and made it illegal to hunt them.
Such a regulation may go into effect in Pennsylvania soon. Dave Griswold said the state Department of Agriculture may soon institute a quarantine order that would make the shooting of wild hogs illegal. He expects the order to have the support of several of the state's largest sportsmen's groups.
The Game Commission, meanwhile, recently created a new regulation making it illegal to release any non-indiginous wildlife, including hogs, into the wild in Pennsylvania.
As for anyone wanting to hunt pigs inside a fence, Larry Lint can be reached at 724-791-0032 or www.HuntingPigsPA.com .