History and background on Wild Hogs in Georgia


When you mention hog hunting some people who have never seen a wild hog visualize a Vietnamese Pot bellied pig and think how cruel. And Iíd have to agree with them if thatís what we were hunting. But a pot-bellied pig resembles a wild hog the same way that a house cat resembles a saber-toothed tiger. A pot-bellied pig is small, chubby, not too bright, and very affectionate. A wild boar is big, hard muscled, has three-inch canine teeth that grow continuously, and is in no way affectionate. The Law" the survival of the fittest" interpreted by Mother Nature, the most unmerciful hanging judge that has ever lived, has developed an animal that can kill and eat anything that has ever lived.

Feral hogs have been in Georgia since the 1520ís. They first were brought into Georgia by the early Spanish expeditions (Quejos 1521 / Ayllon 1526 / Soto 1540 / Luna 1560) as walking commissaries for the large parties of men looking for gold. They provided an important source of food and lard while reproducing rapidly. Unfortunately there are no accurate records on the exact number of hogs that entered Georgia, escaped, or were traded to the Native Americans for corn, beans and other staples to vary the Spanish explorers diet. Later, the Spanish reentered Georgia to jealously defend "their land" from other European encroachment. Even the Okeefenokee Swamp was explored around 1597 by Fray Pedro Ruiz looking for French or English trespassers.

While Iíd like to think that some of the feral hogs could trace their lineage back to these hardy ancestors it is unlikely that these first immigrants were able to survive this drastic environmental change.

The most likely first viable colony of breeding hogs came from the missions where the Spanish hogs were given the opportunity to acclimate themselves to the dangers of the new environment. The Santiago de Oconi mission was established near the Okeefenokee swamp in 1620 for the native tribes, the Ibihica and the Oconi, but was destroyed in 1656. Also around this time, European diseases wiped out most of the native tribes of Georgia, leaving large areas of land and large groups of animals without owners. In the seventeenth century, the domestic Spanish hogs and the European wild hogs resembled each other very closely. Various domesticated animals could have escaped into the swamp and survived including the Spanish hogs and became feral.

The area of Florida and Georgia proved ideal breeding ground for the new immigrants. Hogs can multiply rapidly given the right conditions with plenty of food and to an omnivorous feral hog, anything is edible; acorns, roots, baby and wounded animals if they can find them, even poisonous snakes. You never find snakes in a hog pen. If a snake bites a hog, due to their protective shield, the bite doesn't bother the hog (unless the hog is very small) and the snake usually ends up becoming a source of protein for the hog. The domestic Spanish hog of the 1500s was one of the sources for the genetic material of the piney woods rooter hogs.

Another genetic source for the rooter came from the English settlers to the North. Around 1607, the English established the Virginia colony at Jamestown. In 1733, James Oglethorpe established an English colony in Georgia with one hundred and fourteen people from England. By 1736 there were roughly two thousand Georgia citizens. The first colonists were mostly tradesmen and farmers who were used to the old usufruct rights of letting their cattle and hogs run loose and used English style earmarks (cuts in the ear/s) to identify animal ownership. Most hog owners would check on their hogs by every so often feeding a few ears of corn to the sounder each night. This allowed them to see if a pig was missing and alert the neighbors to the possibility of a four or two-legged predator in the area. Hogs that couldnít be enticed by an ear of corn to the crib would be the first sought when the farmer wanted fresh meat. The colonistís diet consisted largely of salt pork, usually fried with corn bread, sweet potatoes, and molasses. Fresh meat was rare with the exception of wild game. The economy of the colony were based on barter, trading surplus goods for needed goods or skills, such as hogs for cloth, a side of bacon for shoeing a horse, a sow for an ox, or bacon for furs which could be traded for a gun.

Swine were the most common livestock although cattle, cats, chickens, and dogs were also found on the farms. Although cattle were present in large numbers, there wasnít a market for cow meat. Cattle were raised principally for muscle power (oxen) or for their hides. A farm manager in Virginia in the seventeenth century was fired for letting the cattle get too healthy. It was felt that a skinny cow gave better leather than a fat cow as you had to render all the tallow out of the hide before you could use it for shoes, harness, etc.

Normally hens were left alone to lay eggs but roosters better watch the foxes, possums, raccoons, and the farmer when it was his turn to feed the parson on a Sunday evening. An old adage was "When a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick!".

Fences were put up to keep cattle and hogs out of gardens and grain fields not keep an animal in a pen. In those days, forests of oak, hickory, and beech covered vast areas and hogs were allowed to forage through them during the day gleaning any available food they could find.

Under these conditions the Spanish feral and English domesticated hogs freely intermingled their genes and multiplied, developing into what were termed "razorbacks" or "piney woods rooters". "Razorbacks" because when a male hog is excited, his mane of stiff hair bristles stick up so far and thin. The piney wood rooters because a hog will "root" around in the leaf decay looking for roots and bugs to feed on and since their location was the "Piney Woods"Ö

The piney woods hogs are shorter and stockier than the Eurasian wild boars. Also they tend to be more territorial than most present day feral hogs and do not tend to migrate until they deplete all available food or had water supply problems. So all a man needed to do was let his hogs forage for themselves, mark them once a year, and harvest the surplus as needed. Neighbors cooperated in rounding up and marking the cattle and hogs using baits of corn that the stock would follow or would use cur dogs to herd the gather into catch pens. After capture, the adult animals were separated according to brands, marks or types (color, shape or markings) and, with their young, allocated to the proper owners. The more crafty and cunning hogs were never captured and remained free roaming as feral hogs without mark or brand.

During the nineteen twenties and thirties small farm families moved from the country into the city where higher paying jobs were available abandoning livestock to forage for themselves. City people noticed the peculiar habits of their country cousins and jokes, movies, and books depicting their lifestyle in a humorous light became common. Very little of the stories had any basis in fact.

Free roaming domestic hogs ran loose on open range as late as the 1950ís. In the fifties after WWII, large groups of people broke their connection to the land and moved to the city working at factory jobs where money was more plentiful. Families now had more spending money to buy items they normally couldnít have afforded. An old fashion cur dog was no longer "good nuff", they started buying registered dogs like Fox terriers (like Asta), collies (Lassie), or German Shepherd Dogs (Rin Tin Tin). Family cars became more common. Changes in eating habits also occurred because people had more money; they no longer wanted whole grain bread but desired white bread, molasses went out of favor and was replaced with refined white sugar, and "soft fat" was not as desirable as "hard fat". If you notice, we switched to a less healthy diet. The "hard fat" can only be obtained from the Chinese or Chinese hybrid breeds of hogs that are feed a high grain diet and hormone supplements.

The Chinese breeds first came to England in the 1770s and were used to "upgrade" the European hog breeds by increasing the amount of fat in the muscle, giving the meat a nice marbling. These improved breeds spread to America and the hog breeds that could "root out" a living in the woods were no longer the preferred breed of choice. The Choctaw is an example of what a common, original European hog breed was like.

The first "true wild hogs" were brought into the western part of New Hampshire in 1888 and released into a 26,000-acre enclosure named the Blue Mountain Forest in Sullivan County by the late Austin Corbin for hunting purposes. But the importation that really established the European Wild Boar in the South occurred after the turn of the twentieth century. In 1908, the Whiting Manufacturing Company of England bought a large tract of land on Hooperís Bald Mountain in Graham County, North Carolina. Around 1909 Mr. George Gordon Moore established a game preserve. On April 1912 a shipment of 14 young European wild hogs were released onto a 500-acre hog lot with a split rail fence nine rails high. They included 11 sows and 3 boars weighing from sixty to seventy pounds. The hogs were purchased from an agent in Germany who claimed they originally came from the Ural Mountains of Russia. The hogs arrived in Murphy on a train and were transported to the lot by ox cart with a sow dying enroute. From the beginning, the lot was not hog tight and some escaped by rooting out and returned at will. Most of the hogs remained in the lot steadily increasing their number for eight to ten years. In the early nineteen twenties a hunt with dogs was conducted. Of the sixty to one hundred hogs in the pen at that time, only two were killed but several escaped during the hunt scattering into the surrounding mountains where they met up with some piney wood rooters and freely mingled their genes with the already well blended feral domestic hog mixture common in the South.

Over time this new mixture became known as "Russians", a term used to describe the type of hog similar to the ones that came from the Ural Mountains of Russia. Pure Russian boars generally have longer legs and snouts and their head to body ratio is much greater than a feral hog. They also tend to have shorter, straighter tails.

Domestic hogs still escape from pens and other enclosures and "head for the hills" to go wild. The modern domesticated hog is much larger than the earlier hogs that went feral with some reaching weights over half a ton. A cross between these two divergent stocks can create a wild hog of gigantic proportions.

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