Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

March 27, 2013

ENJOYING NATURE: Shooting wild pig with a camera

By Don Hazel
Sun contributor

CROSSVILLE — Wild pigs you have all heard that they live around here, but most folks have never seen them and never will. The reason is that the pigs avoid humans at all costs. They usually live deep in the woods. Often they only come out at night and they skedaddle if they smell, hear or see a human.

I have seen plenty of pig sign in the woods this winter. Usually it is signs of rooting for acorns but I have also seen tracks, scat and wallows. Some of it was very fresh sign, so I guessed that they probably detected me and left in a hurry.

First, let’s understand what these wild pigs around here really are. You can call them wild pigs, feral hogs, wild boar, Russian boar, Eurasian boar – they are all exactly the same hybrid animal.

Pigs are not native to North America. Herman DeSoto brought domestic pigs to the U.S. about 1539. Eurasian or Russian boars were imported to a hunting preserve at Hooper’s Bald in North Carolina in 1912. The hunting club went bankrupt and when trees fell over the fences, the pigs escaped to spread in the Smokies and beyond. Imported boar and free ranging domestic pigs easily interbreed and the result is what is running wild around here today.

Like most non-native species, pigs upset the natural environment. Pigs are omnivores – they will eat just about anything. They compete for the food that native animals, such as deer, bear and turkey, rely on. Plus, they will eat rare salamanders, plants, ground nesting birds like quail and, even deer fawns and newborn calves. They will destroy a golf course or your lawn, rooting for insects in the soil. They can also carry diseases that can spread to domestic stock. In short, they are not native and not welcome, even if the babies are kind of cute.

I have had lots of folks tell me that wild boar are very dangerous and that they will charge you. That is not true. Those stories of wild boars charging a hunter make for good reading but that is not the norm. Rangers in the Smokies who have been hunting pigs at night for years say that they always run away … always. I have encountered them in the woods four times, once at close range; they always ran. Unless you corner one where it can’t escape, they will run away. In terms of causing injury to humans, you are in much greater danger around your neighbor’s poodle than you are around wild pigs.

Since wild hogs don’t like to stand still and pose for a camera shot, I decided to try to get a photo with my trail camera in a likely spot. I placed the camera deep in the woods where I had seen lots signs of rooting, far from any houses and where no one would stumble upon the camera and steal it. I threw a handful of corn in front of the camera just to make sure the pigs stopped long enough for a photo. I highly discourage everyone from feeding wildlife, any wildlife, except birds, but I figured a one-time handful of corn, in order to get a pig photo, wasn’t enough to cause any problems.

I left the camera in place for three days and, early one morning, my wife Nancy and I went out to retrieve the camera to see if we got any photos. As we were heading back home, we caught some movement in the distance and spotted a group of pigs running away from us. We watched them run for a long way. They were easy to follow against the dark leaves on the ground because one of the pigs was black and white. We were both excited to experience a rare sighting of pigs in the wild. The sight of the pigs raised our expectations of getting some photos on the trail camera.

I had the camera set to take three quick photos every 20 seconds, as long as there was movement. Well, when I got home and put the memory card in the computer, I found lots of pictures of pigs … over 300 photos. Two pigs first showed up at midnight but didn’t stay long. They returned again at 9:33 am and brought their friends. There were four females and five babies. The adult females included the black and white one, a big black one and two brown ones. The term for a group of female pigs with their piglets is a sounder. Males are usually solitary and don’t run in sounders. There couldn’t have been more than a hundred kernels of corn but the pigs stayed for 30 minutes looking for every last bite.

You can tell from the photos that these pigs have Russian boar blood because the tails are straight; domestic pigs have curled tails. The black and white female shows the influence of domestic pigs. Eurasian boar babies have that chipmunk striping color that will turn dark when they get older. All the pigs had a thick coating of hair. So these pigs are a typical group of interbred, imported wild boar and domestic pigs.

A few days later, with a white layer of snow covering everything, five of us were hiking in the same area and clearly saw where the pigs had recently rooted through the snow in search of acorns. The brown upturned leaves were so fresh that I told the others to spread out and look for the pigs ahead. Sure enough, we spotted three of them running away in the distance. Observing wildlife is always a treat, but spotting rarely seen species like pigs, bears, coyotes or bobcats is always special.

The wild pig population in the United States is estimated at about 5 million and growing. They are now in at least 39 states with Texas having about half of that number. Nature is constantly changing, evolving and adapting. But, an introduced, non-native species like wild pigs can change the environment more rapidly and in ways that many of us may not like. Unfortunately, they are here to stay until a pig specific birth control pill or some other plan is developed.

In the meantime, it is exciting to spot them in the woods. Get out there and look for your own little sounder.

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