Feral hogs wreak havoc on land, carry disease. Officials aim for 'elimination' of species.

Total elimination of feral hogs in Missouri is the end goal for conservation officials, and they are seeing some strides being made.

The Missouri Feral Hog Elimination Partnership killed 9,857 feral hogs in 2021, bringing the total number of hogs killed since 2016 to more than 54,000.

Jason Jensen, incident Commander of Feral Hog Operations for Missouri Department of Conservation, said those numbers are slightly down from previous years. However, by covering more than double the amount of land, Jansen believes the overall numbers of feral hogs may be in decline. For 2019, 10,495 hogs were killed and 12,635 in 2020.

A summary feral hog report from 2021.
A summary feral hog report from 2021.

"In my opinion, that's certainly a measure of success," Jansen said. "When you more than doubled your effort, but only found fewer hogs that certainly would indicate that feral hog populations are not increasing, but they're decreasing."

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In 2021, the partnership assisted 1,308 landowners and scouted more than 3 million acres for feral hog damage. The top counties where feral hogs were killed include Iron County with 1,940 hogs, Wayne County with 1,329 hogs and Reynolds with 1,268 hogs.

From a free-for-all to coordinated culling, hunting feral hogs has changed over the years

Feral hogs are an invasive species that were reportedly released in Missouri in the mid-to-late 90s by private individuals, Jansen said.

"Those hogs didn't fly here, and they, for the most part, didn't walk here," Jansen said. "Certainly we have hogs that cross the boarder from Arkansas into Missouri or Oklahoma and Missouri, but for the most part those hogs were brought here and released."

With a 30-year career in MDC, Jansen remembers the first report he received from a landowner saying there was a sounder, or group, of pigs on their property. The hog hunting culture the grew from the invasive release still surrounds feral hogs today, but much has changed.

"It doesn't matter whether you're looking at feral hogs from an agriculture perspective or from a recreational perspective or from a conservation perspective, but they're extremely detrimental to our environment," Jansen said. "Hogs were released to establish populations so that people had something else to hunt or pursue."

The invasive swine can damage areas such as farmland, fragile glades and more by rooting for food.

Feral hogs from nearby Mark Twain National Forest may have rooted up this section of pasture.
Feral hogs from nearby Mark Twain National Forest may have rooted up this section of pasture.

"If you see an area that looks like it has been tilled, chances are feral hogs were the cause," according to MDC's website. "Other indications of hog damage include muddy pits, called wallows, or rubbings low on tree."

Farmers trying to raise row crops can see that decimation from feral hogs almost overnight, Jansen added.

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Since their invasive introduction, people were allowed to hunt feral hogs on public land, including MDC-owned, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service.

"There's never been a season on them. There's never been a permit requirement," Jansen said. "It was something people could hunt throughout the year."

MDC would put a map of where hog sign was spotted together and hunters could look at the locations before heading out to kill feral hogs. The state used that approach for a couple decades, but saw an increase to feral hog populations.

In 2016, things changed.

Jansen said MDC re-evaluated its messaging and closed its public land to feral hog hunting with the Corps soon following suit. The Forest Service closed Mark Twain National Forest to feral hog hunting in 2020.

There are exceptions. Mark Twain and MDC property gives hunters a chance at bagging a feral hog if they have an unfilled deer or turkey tag. Private landowners can, of course, hunt feral hogs on their property.

Methods of eliminating feral hogs include by bait traps or helicopter

Rather than shoot one or two swine at a time, MDC attempt to bait and trap feral hogs before shooting them or using a helicopter and drone technology to find and euthanize them, Jansen said.

A map of probable feral swine distribution for 2021.
A map of probable feral swine distribution for 2021.

"Feral hogs are absolutely the smartest animal that we have on the landscape," Jansen said.

If the feral hogs are on private property, it's up to the landowner what happens to the bodies. If they are killed on public land, they are disposed of on site and scattered around the landscape.

"We're more efficient and we're more effective than we've ever been," Jansen said.

MDC also has access to a helicopter. Lack of leaves means easier spotting, especially with using a drone locating sounders, Jansen said. Coordinates are sent to the helicopter, which is flown to where the sounder is and staff members kill the feral hogs.

Traditionally, the department would have the aircraft for six weeks, but has been able to use one the entire winter, including most recently at Hercules Glade Wilderness.

Can you eat feral hogs?

Oftentimes, Jansen is asked why can't the culled swine be used to feed the public. There are several reasons why feral hogs aren't recommended to be eaten, including that they carry diseases.

Group of feral hogs
Group of feral hogs

"If people do choose to butcher feral hogs, they just need to be aware of the various diseases that feral hogs can carry (and) can be transmitted to humans," Jansen said.

Feral hog samples tested in Missouri have revealed at least three diseases: swine brucellosis, pseudo-rabies, and classic swine fever.

Swine brucellosis: a bacterial disease that is spread among feral swine through close contact. Infected swine carry these bacteria for life, according to the CDC. This disease can cause severe, long-lasting health problems, and even death, if it is not diagnosed and treated quickly.

Pseudorabies: a disease of swine that can also affect cattle, dogs, cats, sheep, and goats, according to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Pseudorabies virus is a contagious herpesvirus that causes reproductive problems, respiratory problems and occasional deaths in hogs.

Classic swine fever: a highly contagious and economically significant viral disease of pigs, per the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The severity of the illness varies with the strain of the virus, the age of the pig, and the immune status of the herd.

Another side of complications is that under USDA regulations, Jansen said a livestock animal must be able to walk into a facility to be butchered. Catching and transporting feral hogs for butchering is not feasible.

"It's not like we can trap a sounder of pigs and euthanize those and then haul them someplace to be processed and then made available to the public," Jansen said. "That's not to mention the potential for disease transmission."

In 2021, lawmakers attempted make feral hogs part of Share the Harvest, but were unsuccessful.

Jansen said he and others in the elimination partnership are empathetic to people in hog hunting culture.

"There are people out there that enjoy that form of recreation, and the reality is that's not going to be available to them in the future," Jansen said.

Sara Karnes is an Outdoors Reporter with the Springfield News-Leader. Got a story to tell? Email her at

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Conservation official talks 'elimination' of invasive feral hogs