How would you like to be paid to hunt? Full time. You get to live on your own “preserve” with one job: hunt wild animals that are damaging other endangered animals. All you have to do is kill as many feral hogs as you possibly can.
“I never would’ve imagined that this would be my job,” (Codey) Elrod says, trundling through Ossabaw (Island, Georgia)’s swampy midsection in a scruffy Chevy truck with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle riding shotgun. “But I sure do enjoy doing it.”
He is, officially, a “hog control technician” for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources — the only full-time, government-paid wild boar hunter in the South. The uniqueness of his job owes to the rapaciousness of the hogs. They’re a nasty, eat-everything, invasive species that are alien to Ossabaw and run roughshod over flora and fauna.
The primary fauna Elrod’s trying to protect are loggerhead sea turtles. The hogs love the turtles’ unprotected eggs that are laid in nests along the beach. Elrod’s apparently pretty good at his job.
“There he is,” Elrod whispers followed by three quick shots. A 50-pound sow, full of milk, squeals one last time.
Five minutes later, he fires again. And again. And again. And again. And again, the muffled shots nonetheless ricocheting around the tree-lined marsh. In all, eight shots fired. Five hogs dead.
But the smelly buggers are prolific. Which makes for good hunting..
Elrod hustles, particularly during turtle nesting season when he speedwalk-hunts the island every day. He kills, on average, 1,117 hogs a year. (Another 400 or so pigs are taken annually by other DNR officials or during managed hunts.) In 2016, he killed 1,561 hogs – an Ossabaw record for the 12-year-old program.
In the five years before Georgia hired a marksman (Elrod was the third sniper), 31 percent of loggerhead turtle nests were partially destroyed by hogs and other predators. In the last five years, only one of every 10 nests has been partially destroyed.
“Predation has been low and hatching success relatively high since Codey’s been around,” says Mark Dodd, a senior DNR wildlife biologist. “Having a skilled predator control person around is very important on our remote islands.”
He’s not restricted to using his silenced AR.
Elrod uses every hunting tool in his bag to kill pigs: dried corn bait; thermal-imaging scopes; dogs Bobo (pit bull) and Rudy (black mouth cur); and traps. Trapping garners the highest yield, but takes a lot of time. He won’t hunt the dogs in hot weather; cool-down ponds also attract alligators.
Mostly, though, Elrod shoots hogs one at a time with non-lead bullets that won’t harm bald eagles and other scavengers. High tides, he says, push hogs onto higher ground making them easier to spot. Wind swooshes everything around, masking his movements. Rain silences his footsteps.
You can help Elrod out on the island if you want.
Georgia runs two hog-only hunts on Ossabaw each year. They’re quite popular. A lottery system winnows down hunters. It typically takes three tries before a hunter is chosen. Forty-five hunters killed 27 hogs during the four-day hunt in February.