Possums – Odd and Ancient (Part 2 of 2)

Possums are 70-million-year-old survivors from the time of dinosaurs and have none of the normal qualifications for survival, making them a bit different in the world of wildlife.

  • Trappers Hate to Trap Possums 
  • Possums Live Slow, Die Young
  •   Possums Are Used for Alzheimer Studies
Possums are 70-million-year-old survivors from the time of dinosaurs and have none of the normal qualifications for survival, making them a bit different in the world of wildlife.
Possums are 70-million-year-old survivors from the time of dinosaurs and have none of the normal qualifications for survival, making them a bit different in the world of wildlife.

By Jill J. Easton

At two years old a possum is timeworn.  By their second birthday, a possum is starting to look and act like a codger.  Their fur loses whatever gloss and shine it once had, and bones develop arthritis and other aging diseases.  They also start exhibiting signs of senility.  They forget and eventually have problems doing even simple tasks like getting food and water.  In the wild, a possum that makes it to their third birthday is almost unheard of.

Possum’s May Help Provide Answers for Alzheimer’s

Several scientific studies are currently underway on possums since they age out so young.  Biologists hope to discover ways of combating human diseases like Alzheimer’s and senile dementia based on what happens to the animals during their rapid aging process.

Little Use for Possum Fur

Unfortunately, American possum fur is not in high demand for clothing.  Opossum skins are thinner than most furbearers, which makes them a poor choice for coats or other heavy garment uses.  In recent years, the pelts were used as a cheap substitute fur for trim, but the fur glut has made other skins more popular.

For fly-tying dubbing, possum is considered the best natural substitute for harp seal and is also used for Atlantic salmon and steelhead flies.  In the 18th century squares of the fur were commonly used as bathtub sponges. 

Trappers Hate Possum’s

Trappers hate possums because they clog up traps that could be catching more valuable animals.  Right now in the year 2017, a prime XXL possum pelt may bring seventy-five cents.  The skinned and fleshed grinner I recently sold – a good, big, prime pelt – brought fifty cents.  This is less than they were worth 70 years ago.

That seems to be about it.  No wonder possums have so few friends.

Love or hate them, it doesn’t much matter.  Possums will continue colonizing the world in their slow-moving, simple-brained way, eating chickens, stealing dog food and being the unique animals that they are.

How Not to Catch Possum’s

If there is a possum anywhere in range it will get caught. Given the chance it will get caught several times.  If you want to trap in an area where grinners are present: plan on several days of gray bonanza, or put out lots of traps and hope that a few will be left to trap animals that are actually causing problems, or have value as fur.

Possums respond to almost every lure and bait, they usually blunder into traps that are set for other animals.  The only places I haven’t caught possums is in coon and mink sets right on the edge of water and in cage traps.  Evidently, going through a door is too complex for their simple minds.

Killing a possum is much more difficult than catching one.  The best place to shoot a possum is in the ear with the gun angled toward the nose.  There are stories about trappers who have put half-a-dozen bullets into a possum, left it for dead and found the same possum in the same trap the next day.  You aren’t going to win with possums, the best you can do is grin and bear it.

Possum’s Eat Deer Ticks

One good thing is, they eat deer ticks.  In that way, they help control the spread of Lyme disease.  Maybe one good reason why we should always let them live unless they are a schoolyard nuisance or are diseased.

Possums – Odd and Ancient (Part 1 of 2)

  • Possums are Marsupial’s
  • Possums Play Dead to Live
  • Possums have More Teeth than Any Other Mammal
Possums are 70-million-year-old survivors from the time of dinosaurs and have none of the normal qualifications for survival, making them a bit different in the world of wildlife.
Possums are commonly thought by scientists and wildlife biologists to be 70-million-year old survivors from the time of dinosaurs and have none of the normal qualifications for survival, making them a bit different in the world of wildlife.

By Jill J. Easton

Possums are weird.  These 70-million-year-old survivors from the time of dinosaurs have none of the normal qualifications for survival.  They are slow and empty-headed, their main trick is to play dead.  Almost nothing will eat possum, especially one that looks and acts long-dead.  But more about that later.

Possums are not one of the major predators of ground-nesting birds, but they will eat eggs, chicks and anything else that comes within their limited hunting range.  Next to hogs they are probably the largest producer of hungry offspring.

First the Facts

The Virginia Opossum, Didelphis Virginiana is the only marsupial found in the United States.  Marsupials are mammals that raise their young in pouches that provide protection and milk to the babies.  Other marsupials are animals like the kangaroo and koala, both found in Australia.

Possums have to have been designed from spare parts.  An adult’s head looks too big for its body, the back feet should belong to a monkey and the tail to a giant rat.  The opossum has 50 teeth, more than any North American land mammal, and a lower body temperature as well.  Its hairless tail is prehensile to grasp branches and is also used for balance.  Contrary to folklore, only young possums hang upside down by their tails.  The opossum has opposable thumbs on its hind feet which they use for holding on to branches.  Possums also have one of the smallest brains for their body size of any mammal, this makes them hard to kill.

In the past 100 years, possums have hugely extended their range.  They originally were animals of the south, but now possums have been found so far north that they are commonly found with their tails and ear tips frozen off.

Possum Sex Isn’t Simple

For many years, country folks thought female possums had sex through their noses.  When mama grinner was ready to give birth, she supposedly sneezed the babies into her pouch.  This isn’t exactly what happens.

The true story is a male possum has a bifurcated, or split, penis.  It is Y shaped with two separate sperm delivery heads.  Country naturalists assumed that since the male had a double it had to go into a double opening.  The only visible place on a female possum that was double was her nose.

The reality is just as odd.  The female possum actually has two separate sets of baby-producing equipment that branch out internally to match up with the two-pronged penis.  So mom produces two different sets of babies at birth.

And Then They Are Born

Marsupials birth their babies after a gestation period shorter than some first dates.  The babies are pushed out of the womb 11 to 14 days after the eggs are fertilized.  The preemie-possums are smaller than dried peas and twenty or more can fit on a teaspoon.

To survive, the tiny, blind, naked infants have to make a perilous journey under the mother’s tail, fight through the hair on her belly and squirm into her pouch.  Many fall off and die along the way.  Imagine climbing Mount Everest by wiggling along on your stomach with no clothes and not able to see or hear.  The possums who survive the epic journey still have to fight for milk since the teats in the mom’s pouch can only support 13 of the 20 plus babies that are usually born.

A week after their journey into the pouch the babies have tripled in size, at about 70 days their eyes open and a few weeks later the pouch reaches overflow stage.  Now the young opossums each weigh about an ounce and are the size of a deer mouse.  After being crowed out the babies climb up mom’s back and ride with their tiny prehensile tails wrapped around her fur.  For the next month mom teaches them to find food by digging grubs and worms and consuming almost anything vaguely edible, animal or vegetable.  After about a hundred days the young possums wander off to lead their own, mostly solitary, lives.

Now Let’s See, To Survive, They Die?

Opossums have one of the least practical modern survival mechanisms in the animal world; they play dead.  This might have worked well when being threatened by a velociraptor 70 million years ago, but it fails miserably when used against a pickup truck.

Possums do something similar to fainting.  The possum assumes the ‘grinner position’ flat on its side with lips pulled back to expose clenched teeth, often a foam of saliva drips out of the mouth.  On the other end a foul-smelling fluid leaks out the anal glands.  This discourages canines and other meat eating animals, but it makes possum’s easy targets for buzzards, eagles and bird predators who relish a temporarily immobile animal.

Some grinners can be prodded, turned over and even carried away without reacting.  Sometimes it takes as long as four hours for the animal to return to normal.  The awakening process begins with slight twitching of its ears.

Part 2 – Next Week – Trapping, How Not to Catch a Possum

Trapping Coyote: The Process (Part 5)

  • Coyotes: 40 Pounds of Muscle that Can Bite
  • Learn “Smart” to Trap Coyote
  • Leg-Hold Traps Work Best

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Jill J. Easton

A grown coyote can be 40 pounds of muscle and mayhem, and they are one of the smartest animals in the woods.  Fasten your traps well and don’t ever assume that a cowering coyote won’t bite.  Trapping coyotes should always mean catch and kill, not catch and release.

Learn Regulations

Before starting any trapping program learn the trapping regulations in your state.  Most wildlife agencies have regulation books and some states require licenses or trapper education courses before trapping.  Your state’s trapper’s association is another excellent place to get trapping training and pointers.  Make an internet search for local contacts.

Becoming successful at catching coyotes means setting your traps where the canines travel.  The best locations for coyote sets are in travel ways, the edges of roads between fields, places where animals have obviously been crawling under fences and around barns and stock feeding areas.  Put your sets in places where domestic animals won’t get caught.

Leg-Hold Traps Work Best

Leg hold traps in a dirt hole set (the trap is covered with a light layer of dirt and duff) work best for coyotes.  In snow country, #3 traps work best and in warmer climates #1.75 traps are big enough for coyotes.

“Generic predator sets work well for coyotes and will also catch coons and possums that may be part of the problem,” explained Jim Spencer, author of GUIDE TO TRAPPING (available from www.treblehookunlimited.com).  “Make the set upwind of the suspected travelway, choose a low backing like a log, bunch of grass or rock that will attract attention, punch a slanted hole four to six inches deep at an angle under the backing.  This is where the attractant, a bait or lure, will be placed.  About five inches in front of the lure hole and backing dig a shallow hole just big enough to accommodate the trap.

Either pound a stake into the trap bed fastened to the trap chain, or cable the trap to a nearby tree or log using 3/32nds or larger galvanized aircraft cable.  Set the trap then bed it firmly in the shallow hole and pack dirt around it until there is no wobble in the trap.  Then pack dirt around the outside of the open jaws and sift a light covering of dirt over the trap and blend it with the surroundings.  Finally, put either a meat bait or predator scent in the hole and stuff a few leaves in the opening to keep the bait dry.  Apply a squirt of fox or bobcat urine to the backing.  That’s all there is to it.”

To dispatch a coyote, simply draw an imaginary line from each ear to the opposite eye.  Place your .22 sight where the two lines cross.  Short solid point ammo is adequate for the job.

Traps, Lures, Gear Sources

Traps, lure and other equipment can be purchased from many trapping supply companies which can be found on line. Schmidt Enterprises and Kaatz Brothers Supply are two full line companies.

The Process: How to Set a Coyote Leg-Trap

trapping

Next Week: About Opposum

How to Protect your Property from Coyotes

  • Coyote Male-Female Pairs Bond for Life
  • Cold, Gray-Green Eyes Glow Yellow at Night
  • Coyotes are Smart and Fast, Can Run 30 mph

for-sto-01022017-hunting-picture-1of2

By Jill J. Easton

Coyote Migrations

Originally these canines lived only in the northern and western United States.  s the plains were settled and farmed, they gradually moved across the country following civilization, but it was not until the 1940’s that coyotes were regularly spotted in the south.

Today the coyote, Canis latrans, is found across America.  They prefer brushy or wooded areas close to farming or livestock operations, but many live in and around our largest cities (More than 100 animals are radio collared in downtown Chicago.)

Colors vary, but generally they are reddish gray with a buff belly; at a distance, some people mistake a coyote for a big fox.  They have cold, gray-green eyes that don’t seem to reflect light in the daytime, and glow yellow at night.  Coyotes can cross-breed with domestic dogs, and the resulting offspring are frequently fertile.

Coyotes hunt in male-female pairs that bond for life.  They can run faster than 30 miles per hour, have excellent vision, smell and hearing, and are one of the most adaptable animals on the planet.  It takes four to eight square miles to support each coyote pair.

Packs are made up of the alpha pair, their young of the year, and sometimes a few offspring from the previous year’s litter.  A successful foraging song dog contacts pack members when lots of food is located.  On a windless night, coyote howls can be heard for several miles.

Controlling Coyotes

for-sto-01022017-hunting-picture-2of2Whether you love them or hate them, short of a nuclear holocaust, coyotes are not going away.  Only a disease epidemic or mass poisonings could decimate their numbers.  However, when they become a problem they can be controlled.

“Prey controls the predator, and man can manipulate the system,” said Thurman Boothe, Arkansas Director of Wildlife Services for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).  “The natural environment will fill a niche, but management can reduce the numbers.”

Some of the ways to control coyotes when populations get out of balance include hunting (either with dogs or by calling) and trapping.

When coyotes overpopulate an area, they sometimes lose their fear of people and can eventually become dangerous to pets and even people.  If a coyote comes at you, wave your arms, yell and take stamping steps toward the animal.  Do not turn your back or run.  A coyote understands this as fear and will be much more likely to attack.

Back to the problems with coyotes killing calves in the Ozarks:  the coyotes became so fearless they stopped running from people.

“Several summers ago I heard the most awful squalling from down the road,” said great-grandmother Alma Staggs.  “A cow and calf had gotten on opposite sides of the fence, and when I came up several coyotes were near and locked in on the calf.  I yelled, but the coyotes didn’t run.  I got help real quick and we got the calf back on the right side of the fence.  Those coyotes had bad intentions.”

The Staggs decided it was time to take care of the coyote problem.  “First, we stopped burying dead cows in the pasture,” said Alma’s son Ron, who raises the cattle.  “Then we started killing coyotes as we saw them.”

The Staggs removal effort was aided by local trappers who caught additional animals.  In total, we trapped 35 coyotes on their land and on the adjoining national forest.  The next year the coyotes that were trapped were healthier and didn’t have the mange that plagued many of the animals during the first trapping year.

Since then, the Staggs’ have had no problem with coyote predation on cattle, but each year trappers continue to take out a dozen-or-more coyotes and each year the coyotes look better and weigh more.

Lower fur prices mean coyote trapping is no longer an important control.  Fox and coyote hunting with dogs and with calling devices removes a certain number of animals, but it is far from controlling their numbers.

“There is no question that the numbers have increased since the last predator control program in the late 1960’s,” said Booth.  “They are too good at what they do.  Bounties are not effective.  Perhaps it’s time to put predator control (poisoning) on the table again.  It would certainly do a lot to help wild turkey numbers bounce back.”

So there it is, an animal that is superbly equipped for what he does, smarter than we are in his environment and hard to control.  With the tools that are currently available, we aren’t going to beat him.  But on a cold, clear night, when you hear what sounds like a thousand coyotes lighting up the sunset with their song, maybe a part of you will be a little glad they are still out there.

Next Week: About Trapping Coyote

Coyote are Killers – both Good and Bad

Coyotes have an amazing ability to adapt to a changing world, but staying alive often puts them in conflict with humans and human needs.

  • Coyotes are Adaptable
  • Coyotes are Omnivores – they eat Animals and Plants
  • Coyote Screams are Scary 
  • How to Protect your Property from Coyotes

By Jill J. Easton

Coyotes have an amazing ability to adapt to a changing world, but staying alive often puts them in conflict with humans and human needs.
Coyotes have an amazing ability to adapt to a changing world, but staying alive often puts them in conflict with humans and human needs.

The banshee keening crescendo turned into high pitched screams.  The cacophony made our visitors from New Orleans run to lock the doors and draw the blinds.  The sounds were as dangerous as shrieking hurricane winds, but worse, had an otherworld edge.

We smiled at the city folk knowing that it was just the sound of a pair from our local coyote pack telling the rest of their extended family they found our carcass dump.  Evidently the family took them up on it, because the next morning only a few bones and heads were left.

Coyotes

Are they vicious killers of domestic cattle, chickens and goats?

Are they the eaters of pets and valued game species like turkeys and quail?

Are they partners in controlling pests like rats and rabbits?

Or are they the ultimate survivor, a useful omnivore that fills an important niche in the natural landscape across the continent?

Correct answer:  All the above.

The next important question:  How many are too much?  Cause the only way to totally wipe coyotes out of your land is to fence the perimeter one foot down and eight feet high.

The next important question:  How many are too much?  Cause the only way to totally wipe coyotes out of your land is to fence the perimeter one foot down and eight feet high. Coyotes have an amazing ability to adapt to a changing world, but staying alive often puts them in conflict with humans and human needs.
The next important question: How many are too much? Cause the only way to totally wipe coyotes out of your land is to fence the perimeter one foot down and eight feet high. Coyotes have an amazing ability to adapt to a changing world, but staying alive often puts them in conflict with humans and human needs.

The Good

For many of us, if it weren’t for coyotes, we would probably be up to our ears in rabbits, mice and rats.  This is one of the reasons coyotes are often found on working farms and ranches.  Coyotes can also be spotted along roads at night, cleaning up road-killed carcasses.  They even eat carrion when nothing else is available.

Coyotes help keep nature’s fruit basket stocked.  They do a wonderful job spreading the seeds of plums, persimmons, blackberries in their scat.  They also help spread soft mast crops and nuts.

Another important part of the coyote’s summer diet is insects.  They relish grasshoppers, for example.  Coyotes doing strange jumping dances in brushy fields are chasing the big bugs around and 80% to 90% of their scat in high ‘hopper areas can consist of grasshopper bits.

The Bad

The problem with coyotes is, they don’t just eat bugs and seeds.  Although these canines are classified as predators, they eat almost anything plant or animal.  Stone County Arkansas resident, Elmer Staggs, had five newborn calves killed by coyotes in one season on his mountainside pasture.  Chickens, goats and young hogs that aren’t put up at night also suffer from coyote predation.

Coyotes feed on other highly valued wild animals.  Eggs of ground nesting birds like turkey and quail are an important part of their spring diet.  Young fawns are another favorite meal.

Anything a coyote can put in their mouth that is vaguely edible, will become part of his poop.  Corn from food plots or row crops, peanuts and other crops like cantaloupe make meals for a hungry coyote pack.

Interesting Coyote Tidbits

  • Coyotes are copraphagic, which means they eat poop, especially cat poop, which provides trace minerals and nutrients that they don’t get from their own food and makes them resistant to diseases.  Wildlife biologists at Texas Tech did a blind taste test on scat for coyotes and other animals.  They put 10 different kinds of droppings in squares and counted the number of footprints in each square.  Cat droppings won paws down.
  • Coyotes have selective digestion. In tough times, such as during a snowy winter, they digest much more of the animals they eat than when food is more plentiful.
  • In bad times, coyotes limit the number of pups that are born in the spring.  Instead of 6-8, they have only one or two offspring.

Next Week: Coyote migrations can help define coyote control methods.

Trapping Tales to Learn From – Part 3

The simple Dog-Proof Trap (DP) is among most effective raccoon catch traps and will detain and hold the raccoon until the trapper arrives.

Catching Raccoons

  • Cute, Dangerous, Carries Many Diseases
  • #1 Eater of Ground Nesting Birds (Turkey, etc.)
  • Consider Calling a Licensed Professional
The simple Dog-Proof Trap (DP) is among most effective raccoon catch traps and will detain and hold the raccoon until the trapper arrives.
The simple Dog-Proof Trap (DP) is among most effective raccoon catch traps and will detain and hold the raccoon until the trapper arrives.

By Jill J Easton

Don’t let that cute mask, button eyes and cute stripped tail fool you.  Far too often, having raccoons for neighbors can become a terrible nuisance.   These animals are smart and they use their paws, teeth and innate ingenuity to break into any food source that isn’t locked up or chained down.  They destroy attics, scream intensely while mating (often under a house) and carry enough diseases to fill a hospital.

Raccoons Consume Ground Bird Eggs

In the wild they are the #1 eater of ground nesting bird eggs.  As a turkey hunter, I find this particular behavior a terrible character flaw.  The worst part of the whole coon problem is that right now they have almost no value as fur, so trappers and coon hunters aren’t willing to do the work it takes to put coon hides in their fur sheds.

Here is a quick biology lesson: the raccoon population in many locations is in the early stages of what some environmentalists call a “trophic cascade.”  This is the third consecutive year of rock-bottom coon prices, so very few trappers will spend any time catching coons.  As a result, these animals are multiplying faster than their food sources.  Over the next few years, coon populations will reach epidemic proportions and therefore there will be many more coons raiding garbage cans, eating bird eggs and pilfering around your property.  Finally, there will be a massive raccoon die-off.

Raccoons Carry Many Diseases

Hungry, over-populated coons will come down with a variety of diseases.  Rabies and distemper are two diseases that are most dangerous for domestic animals and people.

The good news is, it isn’t that hard to solve your coon problem, at least on a local basis.  There is a recently-designed trap that makes catching these masked bandits quite simple.  These traps go under the general name of dog proof traps, or DPs, and there are dozens of brands.  The best part is they are 99% safe around domestic animals.

for-sto-12132016-hunting-picture2of3The Duke DP is the one my husband Jim and I use, so we’ll use it as the example here.  As mentioned, though, there are many other brands and they all do the same job.  Each design has differences, but they all are designed to catch raccoons by a front foot.

The Duke DP is made of a piece of pipe about the size of the smallest Red Bull can with one end closed off.  The coon sticks a front paw into the pipe, which is baited with fish, hot dog, dog food, marshmallows, or anything else that smells like food to a coon, which is almost everything.  When the raccoon pulls on a bar inside the trap, it releases a spring which pins the animal’s foot inside the trap.  Because the coon can’t reach its paw, there is no chance for it to chew off its foot and escape.

These traps are small, simple to use, easy to set and they catch coons very efficiently.  One important caveat, though: what we are talking about here is a lethal solution. These traps will catch your problem coons, but they’re alive and they must, repeat MUST, be killed.  So you might want to leave this job to a professional.  It is biologically unsound to relocate coons because of the strong possibility of spreading disease.  It is, in fact, illegal in many states to transport and release captured animals.

Also, if coons are carried off and released, two other undesirable things may happen.  Since coon populations are high elsewhere and not just in your back yard, you’ll be dumping them into already occupied and overcrowded territory.  In addition, catching coons in a DP trap educates them to avoid such traps in the future, and if you release them away from your property, they’ll likely become a nuisance to someone else – and they’ll be harder to capture a second time.  And if you release them too close to your own property, they’ll be back on your bird feeder in very short order.  So remember, it’s not a catch-and-release operation.

Setting a Dog Proof Trap (DP)

The first step in setting a dog proof trap is to put bait in the bottom of the pipe, or use a piece of hot dog and stick it on the trigger.  Many types of bait will attract raccoons, but something with a fishy smell works best.  The cheapest cans of Jack Mackerel or sardines will draw coons from great distances.  If you are setting a lot of traps it is more economical to soak cheap dog food with fish oil and use that.  Since there is a good possibility that a cat may be attracted by the fishy smell, marshmallows are preferable when felines are nearby.  The long pliers in the picture are handy for locating the bait below the trap bar and for setting the trap as well.

Next, put the barrel of the trap across your leg and use the pliers to push down the bar as shown, then push the latch over the bar, set it into the trigger notch, and your trap is set.  The trap base is shoved into the ground to stabilize the trap, and you’re all set.  The final step is to either drive a stake into the ground to anchor the trap chain, or wire it to a tree or log.  Be careful where you set your traps, though, because a coon with a foot in a DP becomes a furry engine of destruction and will scar, mangle or completely destroy anything within reach.  In other words, catch them in the yard, not on the patio.

The best way to kill a trapped raccoon is with a small-caliber rifle or pistol, such as a .22 caliber round.  Draw an imaginary X between the ears and eyes.  Shoot a .22 bullet into that spot and you should have a dead raccoon with little fur damage.  To get the animal out of the trap, push down on the bar like you did to set it and upend the trap.  The coon’s paw should slide out and you are ready to make a reset. `

for-sto-12132016-hunting-picture3of3This is a simple, elegant solution for those ring-tailed raiders.  All it takes is equipment, bait and patience.  Not only will you be taking over an important job in the wild food chain, you will be helping to prevent raccoons from dying a slow miserable death from starvation or disease.

Remember to check your state trapping laws for proper licensing and firearm discharge.

Trapping – Part 2 in a Series

Hogs are such a big problem in many states that there is a public outcry for control of feral hogs.

The Hog Epidemic is Here Now!

  • Invasive Species, Out of Control
  • Existing Wildlife Threatened – Forage Issue
  • One SOW Yields 200 newborns in One year!
Hogs are such a big problem in many states that there is a public outcry for control of feral hogs.
Hogs are such a big problem in many states that there is a public outcry for control of feral hogs.

By Jill J. Easton

For landowners in an ever-increasing area of the country, hogs are a horribly expensive pest.  Their rooting makes land untillable, requiring thousands of dollars in leveling and reworking, and the pigs also eat and destroy billions of dollars of crops each year.  The hogs also compete directly with native wildlife for available food such as acorns, berries, and other forms of hard and soft mast.

Texas estimates the state has more than 2.6 million wild hogs and the number is increasing rapidly.  One rancher in Oklahoma, using an airplane, killed 1,500 hogs on his land two years ago.  He still sees hundreds of hogs each time he flies.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture (APHIS) spent 51.77 percent of its 2015-16 Arkansas animal damage control budget on feral swine, working with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission which is trapping the animals.  So far the pigs are still winning.

Hogs reproduce at an alarming and astonishing rate.  A female pig born on New Year’s Day can be a grandmother by Christmas and can be responsible for 200 or more offspring in that time frame.
Hogs reproduce at an alarming and astonishing rate. A female pig born on New Year’s Day can be a grandmother by Christmas and can be responsible for 200 or more offspring in that time frame.

Last spring in Arkansas, I saw a big group of hogs that easily numbered 200 and included everything from bread-box sized squealers to giant sows that weighed upwards of 250 pounds.  People in the neighborhood were shooting two or three pigs per day and Arkansas isn’t considered one of the states with a bad hog problem.

Another pig problem is that most of the wild swine are not the domesticated hogs you see at the state fair.  These are either the descendants of Russian boar stock turned loose by guides and outfitters, or they are domesticated animals that have reverted to wild characteristics.  In a few generations they develop the longer legs, hairy body and the tusks of wild pigs.  If hunted, they also quickly turn nocturnal, making them more difficult to shoot.  Wild pigs grow large – 400-pounders, while not common, are far from rare – and their size makes them even more destructive to the environment.  When cornered, they can also be dangerous to dogs or people.

Led by Tennessee, many states have put strict controls, or made it illegal, to shoot wild hogs, especially on public land. The reasoning is two-fold: if it’s not legal to hunt them, it becomes less attractive for hunters to illegally release them; and hunting also disrupts hog feeding and movement patterns, making them much harder to trap.

for-sto-12052016-picture-3of4Regardless of the reasoning, the no-hunting regulation leaves landowners with basically only one option – trapping.  Fortunately, this method of control can produce results if done diligently and correctly.  Pen traps can catch 20 or more pigs at one time and can be bought or built using heavy duty wire or welded pen sections that can be moved from place to place following the pig’s movements.  The traps are baited with various substances, one of the favorites being corn mixed with Kool Aid or beer and allowed to ferment for a few days.  When the hogs enter the trap and begin to eat, their movements trigger a guillotine door that falls and contains them.  Most state regulations require that there is an opening on the top of the trap so turkeys, deer and bears can escape.

State wildlife agencies have started their own trapping programs and are growing more sophisticated with their trapping methods as the hogs continue to increase and/or get wise to the old trapping methods.  Some states are now using remotely operated pen traps: A camera is set up pointing at the trap.  The camera sends motion operated pictures to a cell phone when animals show up.  When most or all, of the hogs are in the trap, the gate is closed by a signal through the cell phone.

Snaring hogs is also a possibility, but even multiple snares in a location don’t collect enough animals to keep pig numbers in check.  It will, however, work in specific instances where only one or two hogs (usually older bores who live alone except for breeding) are causing the problem.

The next problem is deciding what to do with the hogs once they are in the trap.  If they are not taken care of within a few hours they will find a way to get out either by climbing the panels, rooting under or breaking down the enclosure.  The problem is once they are dead, then what?  Wild hogs, especially those under 200 pounds are surprisingly good to eat.  Big tusked boars smell horrible and I have been told they taste like they smell.  Stick to the sows and smaller males for food.  Wild pig meat is lean, makes great sausage and pork roast.  Make sure to cook it thoroughly since there is a danger of trichinosis in wild swine.

Thad Davis provides a visual example of the snare hoop diameter used most effectively with hogs.  Jill Easton Photo
Thad Davis provides a visual example of the snare hoop diameter used most effectively with hogs. Jill Easton Photo

If there is a permanent pig problem, a carcass dump is the best answer.  Make sure it is in an area far away from houses and livestock.  The dead animals will make you very popular with buzzards and coyotes.

The key to hog control, as any wildlife biologist dealing with the problem will tell you, is diligence.  It’s not something you can do for a while and then slack off.  It’s an ongoing thing, because the hogs don’t quit breeding.  Remember that year-old grandmother sow with the 200 offspring?  They’re ALL like that.

Next week we will talk about how to solve raccoon problems.