As it relates to the world of guns, the term ‘epidemic’ is thrown around willy nilly. Normally, it follows the phrase “gun violence” and is used by politicians seeking to curtail the rights of law abiding citizens like you and me. Down here in Texas, the word epidemic is more closely associated with the words “feral hog” and describes the widespread outbreak of the porcine problems that our ranchers and farmers face on a daily basis. While using helicopters and thermal night vision gets a lot of attention, the truth is that those methods are woefully inadequate at reducing the number of pigs in the wild. More effective, albeit “boring” methods must be put in place for ranchers, farmers, and landowners looking to thin the herd . . .
To give you a bit of background, I spent my formative years in a fairly rural part of Texas where driving one hundred miles in an evening to take a nice gal to the movies and dinner was considered par for the course. Places like my hometown are where your meat and cheese are grown. In fact, if you ever have the lamb burger at Hopdoddy in Austin, you’ll be eating a burger sourced just a few miles from where I shot my first deer.
My introduction to the depredation caused by the feral hog came by way of a classmate’s dad who flew helicopters for the state on their very first aerial hog eradication program. As a wet behind the ears teenager, I listened in disbelief as he spoke of full days spent killing pigs from the air. Normal culls yielded approximately four thousand pigs over the course of two weeks. Their worst was twenty five hundred pigs in fourteen days. Their best was closer to six thousand. I listened to his stories of hog sorties while feeling far removed from the problem as sightings of feral hogs at our small family place were few and far between.
A decade ago, I left the small town life for the bright lights of the big city to pursue a college degree and the lucrative salary promised by a career in technology. Around the time that I got my feet under me in Austin, I got the opportunity to fly to Columbus, Georgia to go on a night vision hog hunt with the fine folks at JagerPro.
In the video above, JagerPro founder Rod Pinkston delivers a master’s class in hog eradication. Many of the points in the presentation made by Rod were conveyed to me personally when I interviewed him several years ago for my review of his hunting program. The biggest takeaway for me was that their hunting of pigs with fancy night vision gear was the “show” side of his business while trapping and killing en masse was the “go” portion of things. Admittedly, it makes sense. Killing the whole group is the only way to go, and given their prolific breeding schedule, taking out a juvenile female might mean killing off the potential for her to create another fifty or so versions just like her. There’s no doubt that shooting pigs is fun, but if you want to get serious about removing them, trapping is the only answer.
I didn’t give much thought to the idea of implementing a trapping solution at the family ranch until two events collided with perfect timing. The first, a sow springing forth from some low brush while my mother was riding horses with a friend. As horses do, the mare she was riding startled, bucked, and hauled ass sans rider. My mom suffered a few broken ribs and a lengthy walk to go retrieve her horse. At that moment, feral hogs got the green light for “kill on sight” status. The second, and a bit less exciting, was Dr.Billy Higginbotham’s article on pig trap triggers. Dr. Higginbotham’s article was well researched and easy to digest, and I found that he presented an alternative to Rod Pinkston’s M.I.N.E. trapping system. With all the respect Pinkston’s system deserves, it is very solution, and one that I wasn’t ready to pony up for. But thanks to their combined knowledge, I was able to build a trap that combined elements of their work.
The first order of business was to create the enclosure. I elected to use an existing hog trap as the gate mechanism and to build a round pen off of it. We had limited success using the rectangular trap design in the past and after reading Higginbotham’s article, it was easy to see why. We would regularly see sounders (herds) of feral pigs numbering ten or more, usually populated by one or two mature sows with several juveniles of various sizes. When the trap would bear fruit, it was usually the juveniles. This came as no surprise as research from Pinkston showed that the sows would usually hang back to see what would happen to the young (and stupid) ones. The small trap would spring, catching some young pigs, while the sows, usually pregnant, would leave the scene to live another day. Both Pinkston and Higginbotham are fans of the large enclosure which allows trapping of the entire sounder.
Reading through Higginbotham’s article, the bucket trigger he describes seemed to be the best triggering mechanism to use as it allowed only the mature sows to trip the trigger. Given that they’re the last in, it makes sense to tailor a trigger mechanism to their size and strength.
Any geologist reading this with some knowledge of the makeup of the Texas Hill Country is certainly laughing already. I know this because I enlisted the help of one to build my trap. His first question was, “What will you do about the rock?” To those not in the know, most of the Texas Hill Country sits atop a very thick slab of limestone. Driving the fence posts necessary to support the cattle panel for the enclosure was a fool’s errand. My geologist and I resorted to fitting a masonry bit to a hammer drill and driving 1/2″ rebar in place. Should you elect to replicate the design shown here, be sure to know your soil.
Hours of cursing later, we had a suitable enclosure built, and tied into the original hog trap. The next order of business was to set up the bucket trigger mechanism as specified by Higginbotham. We filled the bottom third with concrete, allowed it to set, and then drilled holes above the concrete line. The bucket was filled with corn and set atop a cinder block in such a way that aggressive rooting would be required to upset it.
After that, we found the one place inside the enclosure where a fence post could fit between the bedrock, and set it in place. Next, we attached a pulley, and ran wire from the bucket handle through the pulley, and over to the trap triggering mechanism.
As the original trap used a swing door, we used a series of hose clamps, and a gate latch from Home Depot to create a reliable latching mechanism.
Due to the usage of cattle panel in the trap, several pieces of license plate were used to fabricate bit of surface area for the clamp, and then we adjusted the wire tension so that the bucket falling off the cinder block would spring the trap. We admitted that we wouldn’t any aesthetic awards, but function was the name of the game at the time.
Testing complete, we shored up the various loose ends, filled the feeder with corn, and let it run for several weeks with a game camera in place to capture the comings and goings of the local fauna. Over the course of the next several months, the game camera showed that a group of sows with about a dozen very small juveniles were visiting the trap each night. The most important part, and really the lynchpin of the system, was that the sows had grown comfortable enough to enter the enclosure, and then make a beeline for the bucket. There, they rooted around, knocking the bucket off each night.
Having trained them to knock the bucket over, the trap was set, and the next morning, three very pissed off sows and a group of piglets were in the trap. The issue as you can see above from my father’s message was that the juveniles were small enough to slip through the cattle panel creating a bit of a chaotic situation. They knew that the people approaching with a well worn pump action shotgun and a box of 00 buck were scary, but they had grown accustomed to being near the group. The sound of gunfire convinced them to run off, leaving their mothers behind.
As I’d hoped, three sows were put down, and field autopsies indicated that two of them were pregnant. The third was the mother of the juveniles. I would have preferred to trap the whole group, but by all accounts, our first go at trapping had been a success. A dozen pigs would not live to procreate, and the game camera indicates that the juveniles have returned to the trap, and are learning to knock over the bucket as they get bigger.
Ultimately, the M.I.N.E system is quite a bit sexier for this sort of work, but the bucket trigger detailed by Dr. Higginbotham did a satisfactory job. Future revisions of this trap include an additional layer of chicken wire to ensure that the next generation of juveniles will not be so lucky.
While this doesn’t even begin to approach “hunting”, I’m reminded of a question Rod Pinkston posed to me in our first interview. “If you had termites in your house, do you give a shit how I kill them?”, he said. Truthfully, no I don’t. The feral hog problem is real, and trapping systems like the one I built with the help of Dr. Higginbotham and Rod Pinkston are the only proven answer to the problem at hand.