Florida Wild Hogs – Nuisance or Hunting Opportunity?
The white-tailed deer is the most popular game animal pursued each winter by Florida's more than 200,000 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 theKissimmeeand 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, leaving some areas looking like plowed fields. Because of this, they are considered by many agricultural producers to be nuisance animals. 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.
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.
Wild hogs have an annual home range of more than 10 square miles and are prolific reproducers. A healthy female (sow) can breed when only 6 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 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, bobcat and black bear, as well as the endangered Florida panther and threatened 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 or trap wild hogs year-round. 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.
Now I do need to make you aware that when hunting one of the state's many wildlife management areas (WMAs), you will need a valid Florida hunting license and a management area permit. 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.
During this time of year, many of the WMAs' small-game seasons are going on. The great thing about that is you never need a quota permit to hunt during a WMA's small-game season, and on most of them, hogs are legal game. The only thing is, you can't use a centerfire rifle during that season, but you can use a shotgun with buckshot or a slug, or a rimfire rifle like a .22 magnum, or even a pistol if you want.
In addition to still hunting for hogs from a stand or blind, 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. Dogs, such as 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.
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 a wonderful new year!