INDIANOLA — Johnny Heskett's eyes are always scanning for tracks. One hand on the wheel of his all-terrain vehicle, the other hand holding a cigarette, and eyes constantly checking the ground for hog tracks. Occasionally he stops and gets out.
“See, these tracks are more spread out, means it's a big one,” Heskett, owner of Heskett Hog Hunting in McAlester, says as he bends down. “Last weekend one of our dogs got torn up pretty bad by a big hog. They can be pretty nasty.”
Feral hogs can be found in all 77 Oklahoma counties, according to the state Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
Feral hogs are domestic swine that mated with wild boars many years ago, and the population of wild hogs has risen since. The earliest records of feral hogs in Oklahoma are from the south-central and southeastern portions of the state. They have spread over the last 40 years.
It's difficult to estimate how many feral hogs inhabit the state because they reproduce so quickly, said Russell Stevens of the Noble Foundation.
“They can have up to two litters per year, with four to 10 young being born in each litter,” he said.
A 2007 statewide survey by the Noble Foundation estimated there were as many as 500,000 feral hogs in Oklahoma.
Source of problems
Feral hogs have become a problem for landowners because they tear up land and eat food intended for livestock. Hogs destroy crops by rooting or rolling around in and trampling crop land. The most extensive crop damage occurs at planting time or when the crop is nearly mature, Stevens said. Hogs also have been known to prey on livestock, usually young lambs or goats.
The Agriculture Department in June announced several rule changes affecting tracking and transporting of feral hogs that will go into effect Nov. 1. A system referred to as Judas pig tracking will allow hunters to capture a hog and put a tracking device around its neck. The hog then is released into a controlled area where it joins a herd of hogs. Hunters then will track, capture and remove the hogs.
“It's just another tool in the arsenal for hunters and tracking a large group of hogs,” Stevens said.
The amended Feral Swine Control Act prohibits importing feral swine for any reason except sending them to a slaughter facility in a sealed trailer. Also, livestock markets have been removed from the list of facilities where feral swine may be sold. Live feral swine may only be sold to licensed handling facilities, licensed sporting facilities and slaughter facilities.
Heskett said the provisions can only help hunters alleviate the feral hog problem for landowners.
“They don't care how it's done, they just want the hogs out of there,” Heskett said. “We get to do something we enjoy doing, and they get rid of a problem.”
On a recent Friday night, Heskett, 27, and his guide, Josh Kinsey, 22, hunt along the South Canadian River outside of Indianola.
A pair of hog tracks walks along the left side of Heskett's neck, a tattoo he got two years ago. He has hog bones in his yard and a hog head hanging in his house.