Right from the beginning, hog hunting in this country has been a Southern thing. In fact, before the U.S. was even a country, feral hogs got a cloven foothold. Way back in 1539, when SpanishÂ explorer Hernando DeSoto and his army landed at present-day Tampa Bay, Fla., they brought with them a herd of hogs some estimate as high as 300.
Trekking from there to Mississippi, DeSoto and his army used the pigs for provisions, but some were traded to native people, while others escaped.
In the centuries since, more hogs were added to the mix, and today the prolific feral hog is found in an estimated 45 states. But it is in the South that the wild hog has been most frequently hunted. It’s there that it’s so popular and such a part of daily lifeâso much so that the wild hog is a Southern cultural icon.
From the fierce Razorback that adorns sports team at the University of Arkansas, to the many hog festivals dotted across the Southeast and Texas, southerners have got hog on the brain. The newest sign of Southern hog culture is the advent of the hog hunting contestâheld with use of dogs, guns or bows and quickly becoming a favorite in Texas and other places that have been overridden with hogs. Any way you draw it up, hog hunting is a staple of Southern life.
The Roundup was started to help get the word out that exploding feral hog populations have become a significant problem in Texas. The destructive hogs root up pasturelands and agricultural fields, compete with native wildlife for forage and can spread diseases to livestock.
Now in its third year, the Roundup has been a huge success. Hunters and trappers have answered the call and killed over 700 hogs last year alone. The prize money doesnât hurt, either!
âFolks here in East Texas live and breathe the outdoors and hunting,â says Virginia Solgot, Wulfâs marketing manager. âHog huntingâs always been a part of life here, but itâs become even more popular as weâve seen these hog numbers increase so dramatically.â
âWe love these Piney Woods,â says Murdock. âAnd chasing these hogs with our dogs is such an adrenalin rush. My familyâs been doing it for generations now. Canât imagine the Murdocks not doing it.â
The biggest hogs taken since the Roundup started have been by hog dog huntersâon foot or following on horseback. Last year, the big pig was a 303-pound boar taken by Ronald Murdock (right) and his brothers.
Itâs amazing when you think about it: After two or three hours chasing down a hog, the successful hog dog hunt yields just one giant hog. For the rancher whose pasture lands look like moonscapes because of rutting hogsâor the farmer whose newly planted fields are half destroyed by the same perpetratorsâhog dogging a wild pig or two just isnât enough to make the kind of dent needed in the feral population.
Roundup gun hunters have been taking a tactical approach, with a number of hunters using AR-style rifles, new hi-tech ammunition, night lights attached to the ARâs, pricey night vision scopes and thermal imaging spotters. Last year, event coordinators even had an inquiry from a potential hog hunting team that wanted to know if they could use a helicopter!
âI told them, as it says in our rules, âby any method legal in the State of Texas,ââ a Roundup official said. âHelicopter hog huntingâs been legal here for a couple years now, so, yes, they could have used a helicopter.â
Durant, Okla., is the scene of the Wild Hog Festival, two fun-filled days of events and activities that include a gun and motorcycle show with live entertainment. Hunters compete to bring in the largest wild hog. In Texas, thereâs the Ben Wheeler's Fall Feral Hog Festival.
Arkansasâ Calhoun County hosts the Hogskin Holidays Festival and Pork Cook-Off. While it doesnât offer hunting, the event was designed to honor Calhoun County as âHogskin County,â a name it got during the Great Depression when people would come here from surrounding counties to hunt and butcher wild hogs. Many of these hunters left the skins hanging on fences or trees, hence the nickname âHogskin County.â
There are also all the hog hunting contests, which include in Texas. Among them is the Atascosa Hog Dog Competition, the East Texas Wild Hog Round-Up, the Gordon FFA Benefit Hog Hunt and the Gator Countryâs Hog Challenge.
âDog-bay-catch hunters are a huge part of the Expo, as far as visitors and exhibitors,â says Jeff Scurry, a Georgia native, who produces the Expo with his brother Ken through their umbrella company, Scurry Outdoors South. âTruthfully, going out with hi-tech gear and shooting 40 hogs in a night isnât what theyâre all about. It just doesnât appeal to them.â
But as Southern hog populations have surged, thereâs been a big cost.
âMainly, the Southern farmers are the ones taking the hit with all the hogs,â adds Scurry, himself a life-long hog hunter (he prefers archery). âCotton, corn and alfalfa fieldsâthe hogs are just tearing âem up! And theyâre eating a whole lot of the acorns that deer and turkeys need.â
Nietteâs hunting rig is a .223 AR-15 rifle custom-made by DoubleStar Corporation and is topped with a D-760 Gen 3 Standard 6x Night Vision Scope, made by Night Optics USA. Heâs also got it decked out with a Streamlight Super Tac Long Range Infrared Active Illuminator light. For a night spotting optic, Niette actually uses a FLIR 307 H Series thermal imaging camera. He says the FLIR lets him distinguish whether heâs seeing a deer or a hog out past 600 yards.
Niette wonât give an exact figure as to what all this gearâs cost him, though he admits itâs in the $15,000 to $20,000 range.
âLast year, I killed 144 hogs,â Niette said. âAnd 67 of those were sows. If you donât keep after these hogs theyâll fill up the woods in a year. Even now, staying on them, you should see what they do to a newly planted peanut field in a night. Just chew it up.â