The good news is that a war on pigs is under way right now. We know more about managing them than we ever have. Generally speaking, three approaches to the problem are currently in use. None alone can win the pig war. But combined, they stand a chance.
Dr. Stephen Ditchkoff is a professor of wildlife ecology and management at the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. A deer biologist, he is better known these days for his pig work. In 2003, Ditchkoff and a team of graduate students began a wild pig research project on Georgia’s Fort Benning military base, which is infested with swine. By monitoring the animals with trail cameras, GPS collars, and bait, they learned that wild pigs are highly territorial.
“You’d get a sounder—a group of related females and young—that would use an exclusive space, about 800 acres on average,” Ditchkoff says. “With little exception, those spaces did not overlap. We began to wonder if we could create a pig-free space by eliminating an entire sounder.”
Ditchkoff’s team trapped two sounders at first and monitored that area for six months afterward. It remained virtually pig-free. So they trapped three more, clearing a total of 5,000 acres. Before they had to leave Fort Benning, Ditchkoff’s team killed almost every single pig from the 20,000-acre study area. Almost.
“We told the natural resources guys that there were two pigs left,” Ditchkoff says. “One of them had a GPS collar, and the other was ear-tagged. Those two pigs never got trapped—and within two years, there were 70 to 100 pigs back in that 20,000 acres.”
This is the key to understanding pig control, Ditchkoff believes. “I don’t care how many you kill,” he says. “The only number that matters is how many are left behind. Until we start talking about that, we have not embraced the philosophy that we need to.”
That philosophy is called whole-sounder removal. And few have heeded it more than Rod Pinkston, a retired U.S. Army master sergeant formerly stationed at Fort Benning, where he learned of the South’s pig problems. Pinkston is a lifelong hunter who grew up on an Illinois pig farm. He also has a keen grasp of the applicable military technology, like thermal night vision. In 2006, he created Jager Pro Hog Control Systems, named for the time spent earning his Jagdschein (hunting license) while stationed in Germany.
“After spending 17 or 18 years on a pig farm, I know these animals,” Pinkston says. “I know their behavior, their vocalizations. I know they don’t crap where they eat or sleep. I know you can’t leave a sounder in a trap overnight if you’re trying to catch multiple sounders from an area. They don’t teach you that in a college course.”