It’s not uncommon for domestic animals to escape into the wild. Perhaps no formerly domestic animal attracts more attention than the feral hog. Also known as wild pigs or razorbacks, feral hogs are domestic pigs that escaped or were released into the wild. Once free, these escaped hogs can breed and establish wholly wild offspring. Over time, wild hog populations can expand and greatly affect native habitats and agricultural spaces. Most states recognize the feral hog as an invasive species due to the damage they can cause to the environment, crops, and native species. Some states, such as Illinois, have gone to great lengths to limit the spread of feral hogs. That said, where can you find feral hogs in Illinois, and are they dangerous? Keep reading to find out.
History of Feral Hogs in Illinois
Christopher Columbus first introduced domestic pigs to the Americas in the 16th century. Columbus intentionally released pigs onto islands in the West Indies with the intention of using the pigs as a food source for future voyages. Subsequent explorers such as Juan Ponce de Leon and Hernando de Soto likely also copied this tactic during their trips to the Americas. Over the next few hundred years, intentionally released or escaped domestic pigs spread throughout the southern and eastern United States.
The first reported sightings of feral hogs in several southern Illinois counties date back to the early 1990s. Since then, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) has received reports of feral hogs in 32 different counties throughout the state. In 2009, a breeding population was discovered in Fulton County. Around 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported the presence of breeding feral hog populations in Fulton as well as the surrounding counties of Clay, Effingham, Fayette, and Marion. To address this problem, the USDA and IDNR established a joint feral swine management program in 2011. Over the next few years, this program effectively eliminated the feral swine populations in these counties.
However, another population of feral hogs popped up in Pike County around 2016. Experts believe this population likely appeared due to free-ranging domestic swine escaping into the wild due to poor or no fencing. Public and private stakeholders managed to eliminate this population by 2019. Despite these efforts, yet another feral hog population appeared in Pope County along the state’s southern border. Feral hog management programs continue to monitor the presence of feral hogs in the state.
Where to Find Feral Hogs in Illinois
Generally speaking, feral hogs appear for one of 3 reasons. First, domestic hogs may escape or wander into the wild due to improper fencing. Over time, these populations turn feral. Second, sport hunters will occasionally transport semi-feral or feral hogs into the wild for hunting. This even occurs across state lines. Finally, feral hogs in one state or county may spread into an adjacent state or county. Most feral hogs in Illinois occur as a result of domestic hogs escaping confinement or wild hogs migrating from surrounding states.
Over the course of the 2000s, feral hog sightings occurred in nearly 32 counties across Illinois. That said, only a few of these counties supported stable breeding populations of feral hogs. These include Clay, Effingham, Fayette, Fulton, Marion, Pike, and Pope counties.
Management efforts have largely managed to eliminate most of the feral hogs in Illinois. Pope County currently ranks as the only county in Illinois with a somewhat stable breeding population of feral hogs. That said, you can likely find feral hogs in other surrounding counties.
Feral Hog Population in Illinois
Thanks to the efforts of feral hog management programs, Illinois supports a small population of feral hogs. Experts estimate the statewide population of feral hogs at less than 20. This represents a tremendous jump from a few decades ago when the population measured as high as 1,000.
Which States Have the Most Feral Hogs?
Presently, 35 states report having a feral hog population. The USDA estimates that these 35 states support nearly 6 million feral hogs. That said, the population could number as high as 9 million and extend to as many as 40 states.
Most feral hogs in the United States live in the southern half of the country. The states with the most feral hogs include the following:
- Texas – 2,600,000
- Oklahoma – 1,500,000
- Louisiana – 750,000
- Georgia – 600,000
- Florida – 500,000
- New Mexico – 500,000
- South Carolina – 450,000
- California – 400,000
- Hawaii – 400,000
- Alabama – 250,000
By far, Texas and Oklahoma sport the largest feral hog populations. Texas has very loose rules when it comes to hunting feral hogs. While this makes hunting hogs easy in the state, it can also inadvertently help feral hogs to spread. Killing one or two hogs in a group will cause the rest to scatter. This can lead to feral hogs spreading into surrounding areas, thereby worsening the problem.
Can You Hunt Wild Hogs in Illinois?
Illinois does not consider wild hogs as native wildlife. As such, the state does not tightly regulate the hunting of wild hogs in the states. However, it does restrict the hunting of feral hogs to the Illinois firearm deer hunting season. The deer hunting season typically runs from mid-October through mid-January. This includes the CWD deer hunting season, which runs from late December to mid-January. Outside of these seasons, it is illegal to hunt or shoot feral hogs in Illinois.
Illinois does not require a specific license to hunt feral hogs. Residents can hunt feral hogs with a general hunting license. Similarly, non-residents can hunt feral hogs with a general non-resident hunting license. Illinois does not limit the number of feral hogs that you can shoot (no bag limit) and permits baiting feral hogs. However, you cannot transport, guide, release, or hunt feral swine in an enclosure. Outside of deer hunting season, landowners must obtain a nuisance wildlife permit to remove feral swine from their property.
Are Feral Hogs Dangerous?
Feral hogs are one of the most invasive species in the United States. They damage soil, crops, and natural habitats by rooting, trampling, and wallowing. Their feeding behaviors not only erode soil and damage crops but also reduce water quality. Feral hogs also prey on native wildlife, such as small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. They damage nesting habitats for these animals and reduce their ability to feed and breed.
Additionally, feral hogs also carry numerous parasites and diseases. They can carry more than 30 different parasites and diseases that they can transmit to people, wildlife, livestock, and pets. Harmful diseases include swine fever, salmonella, trichinellosis, E coli, brucellosis, pseudorabies, and tularemia. Feral hogs may also attack humans or pets when provoked or threatened, and have been known to attack hikers, farmers, and campers. They also pose a danger to cars and trucks due to collisions with vehicles.
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