Pigzilla And the Giant Hog Craze

This critter that burst into the headlines last year was definitely spectacular -- but only slightly more amazing than the uproar that it set off! (October 2008)

Despite the furor over Pigzilla and other monster pigs, the average Bama wild porker weighs less than 200 pounds.

Photo by John E. Phillips.

In Alabama, a hunter can end up with the bragging rights for downing a hog with a weight of 600 pounds or better in three ways. The easiest way: Simply shoot any sizable boar hog and then have one of your buddies "guesstimate" its weight. As long as no one ever puts the porker on the scales, it's likely to grow even bigger as the tales of your triumph are passed around.

Another method: Trap a live hog, keep it in a pen to fatten, release it, and hunt it down and shoot it. As long as such a feral pig isn't relocated from the site of its capture, this is legal.

Or you can shoot a sizable wild hog and record the event by means of creative camera techniques: Just stand several feet (or yards) behind the hog while the person taking the picture moves up close to the animal; the hog fills the entire frame of the picture -- and so appears larger than the hunter standing behind it. (A more-technological version of this stunt would employ the wonders of modern digital programs like Photoshop.)

The worst thing that ever can happen to a gigantic trophy-sized hog is for it to be weighed on an accurate set of scales, because the hog's supposed weight drastically shrinks.

All of the above is meant to highlight the point that the rash of giant wild hogs harvested around the southeast in recent years should be taken with a grain of salt.

"Any feral hog that weighs more than 600 pounds and is harvested in an enclosure is suspect to have been fed on something other than wild forage," pointed out Keith Guyse, assistant chief of the Wildlife Section for Alabama's Division of Freshwater Fisheries and Wildlife.

The average feral hog in Alabama weighs from 50 to 175 pounds. So in 2007, when Pigzilla, the giant Alabama hog that reportedly weighed 1,051 pounds, jumped into the national spotlight, a lot of skeptical eyebrows were raised among Alabama hog hunters.

As it turned out, that skepticism was well founded. When you look deeper into the story, you learn that 11-year-old Jamison Stone shot the hog in a 150-acre low-fence enclosure at Lost Creek Plantation near Anniston. He reportedly shot this monster hog using a Smith & Wesson Model 500 revolver with a holographic scope with a ported barrel firing a 350-grain Hornaday cartridge.

The first warning sign, however, was that this area of the Cotton State has been never known for producing large numbers of any size hogs.

After a flurry of publicity, scrutiny came next. Later it was revealed that the hunter and his father had been hoodwinked, along with the local and national media. The would-be-hunters were charged $15,000 to shoot a trophy wild hog that turned out to be "Fred," a domestically raised hog purchased for $250. In fact, Fred had only recently been moved to the Lost Creek Plantation.

Jamison's father, Mike Stone, arranged the hunt for his son with Keith O'Neal and Charles Williams, owners of Southeastern Trophy Hunters. They in turn brokered the hunt with Eddy Borden, the owner of Lost Creek Plantation. Mike Stone was assured his son would harvest a wild hog. The boy got his pig, but Fred was more like a pet at the farm of Rhonda and Phil Blissitt, on which it had been raised.

As soon as photos of giant porker with the youngster posing behind it began to circulate, suspicions were aroused. The hog looked even larger than its 1,051 pounds because of the camera angle used. From that point on, the tale of Pigzilla began to unravel.

Keith Guyse explained that people who put a domestic hog inside a pen, shoot it, and call that action "hunting" haven't broken any laws. If the animal is moved and then released into the wild, however, the law's been broken.

Pigzilla gave hog hunting in Alabama a huge amount of bad publicity nationwide. The entire Pigzilla incident was an embarrassment to legitimate hog hunters in the Cotton State.

REAL WILD HOGS IN BAMA

Alabama has a long history of hunting wild pigs. But these porkers are the feral variety, not the Russian wild boars you often hear touted for their ferocity. Our wild hogs are descendents of domestic stock that escaped into the wild during the last five centuries.

The Cotton State's hogs date back to Hernán de Soto, an early Spanish explorer who trekked though present-day Alabama in the 1500s. His band of discovers brought hogs along as a food source and settlers who followed did the same.

In those days, no one had heard of fence laws, and hogs roamed at will. In the fall, the critter would be rounded up for either a "hog killing" or a sale. With the implementation of fence laws in the early 1900s, landowners tried to round up all the hogs but the effort turned out to be about as easy as herding cats. The hogs took to the thick briars and wetlands, and adapted easily to those sanctuaries. Their highly developed sense of smell made them difficult to slip up on, which added to the difficulty of capturing them.

Thus, a number of the pigs went wild, creating the feral hog population that continues today in Alabama. Now that the critters have become established in the Bama woodlands and swamps there is little likelihood that they will ever disappear. While that is great for hunters, it is not good for wildlife habitat.

Widespread throughout Alabama, the wild hog herd has grown in recent years. They have a much higher reproductive than mortality rate, with the average wild sow producing 12 to 18 piglets per year, and an 8-month-old sow able to reproduce.

Hunting feral pigs doesn't seem to depress their numbers that much. One reason may lay in the color of the critters. Most feral hogs also usually have coats of black, red, brindle or other dark colors. Though hunters see a wide range of colors on wild hogs, the dark-colored hogs seem less susceptible to predators or hunting pressure. A dark-colored pig almost becomes invisible in thick cover. On the other hand, light-colored hogs tend to get weeded out as piglets. A white piglet often won't survive, because predators can spot it more easily.

Hogs destroy woodlands, croplands and wetlands, compete with native wildlife for food -- often monopolizing acorn and soft-mast crops -- root up pastures and roads, destroy crops, disrupt the flow of streams -- i

n the process affecting water quality -- and, finally, eat turtles, reptiles and amphibians, including some endangered toads and lizards. Bottom line: You'll be doing the environment a favor and not just having fun when you hunt wild pigs. It doesn't hurt that they're also delicious table fare.

REAL BAMA HOG HUNTS

If you've never hunted hogs and think it involves only 300- or 400-pound boars with large tusks that attack hunters with slashing razor-sharp teeth, you quickly learn that's more myth than actual fact.

To separate the legend from the truth about hog hunting in Alabama, Keith Guyse is a good source.

"A boar hog can weigh up to 400 or 500 pounds," Guyse noted, "but the average size in Alabama is about 125 pounds. Most hogs range between 75 to 150 pounds. Male hogs are generally bigger than female hogs, unless the female is pregnant with a litter of pigs. Also, within a population of feral hogs, you'll have a number of young pigs that will weigh less than 50 pounds."

Guyse went on to point out that the biggest hog taken in Alabama and weighed on certified scales weighed less than 500 pounds. "For a hog to grow over 400 pounds, it has to live in a place with a tremendous amount of food that it doesn't have to expend a lot of energy to eat," he explained. "There aren't many places in the wild like that in Alabama."

You can hunt feral hogs in many sections of Alabama. You'll find some of the best hog hunting in the state in the Black Belt and in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta on private lands. The hogs on public lands probably can teach courses on how to dodge hunters because they experience such a tremendous amount of hunting pressure.

Hog hunting has gained in popularity in Alabama just as the pig population has expanded. Even some out-of-state hunters travel here each season to target. "We have people traveling to Alabama from out of state to hunt hogs, because hog hunting is new, different or unusual to them," Guyse reported.

Three of the most popular hog hunting areas are found in Deep South Alabama. The Upper Delta Mobile-Tensaw Delta and W. L. Holland wildlife management areas are tailor made for the wild porkers.

The Mobile-Tensaw Delta and W.L. Holland WMAs are located in Mobile and Baldwin counties covering approximately 50,000 acres, and the Upper Delta WMA spans the same counties with 39,000 acres. These WMAs in south Alabama consistently produce bumper crops of feral pigs for hunters.

"The Upper Delta WMA and the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and W.L. Holland WMA produce a large number of hogs because the hogs are hard to reach in these regions," Guyse revealed. "The hogs stay in the wet, marshy areas that only can be accessed by boat."

Also, no good road systems run through these tracts, making their acreages even tougher to reach.

Similar to the conditions found in those wetland tracts, the corridors along our major river systems have a good number of hogs on them, too.

Surprisingly, Oakmulgee WMA, which spans 44,500 acres in Bibb, Hale, Perry and Tuscaloosa counties up in central Alabama, has had a feral hog population for many years. It has one of the best public locations for hog hunting in the state. Located within the Talladega National Forest, the WMA is bisected by the Cahaba River corridor.

In recent years, the nearly 98,000-acre Black Warrior WMA in north Alabama's Lawrence and Winston counties near Moulton has reported food numbers of hogs. That same condition has been seen on 56,000-acre Choccolocco WMA in Cleburne County near Heflin as well.

"Out of the 35 WMAs in the state, about half of them home feral hogs," Keith Guyse surmised.

HOGS HUNTS ON PUBLIC LAND

"Generally, you can take hogs on WMAs when hunting during other wildlife seasons," Guyse advised.

For instance, if you're squirrel hunting with a .22 rifle or shotgun and you spot a hog, and then you can take that porker. But, the weapon used must be appropriate to game season. You can't head to the squirrel woods with a centerfire deer caliber, just because you expect to meet a wild hog.

Of course, deer hunters, whether using archery gear, muzzleloaders or modern rifles, can take hogs on WMAs as long as the season for those weapons is open. You can even shoot a hog while you're on a turkey hunt. (Though that might not be a wise decision if it's a big boar: Pepper it with No. 4 or 6 shot from a shotgun and it's liable just to get mad!)

In recent years, however, some WMAs have begun to hold special hunts for hogs only.

To check the regulations for hunting hogs on individual WMAs, go online to www.outdoorsalabama.com. Next, click the link for Hunting. Finally, go to end of the list on the right of the page and click the link for Wildlife Management Areas.

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