Hunting pressure is definitely not the answer says Davis, who has worked with Calhoun County farmers since peanuts became popular to eradicate the pigs. Hunting pressure, he explains, has forced these animals into becoming mostly nocturnal. They have an excellent sense of smell and good eyesight, so feeding at night has been an easy transition, Davis adds.

The Extension Specialist says hunting wild pigs has become a cottage industry along the Congaree. A few farmers have capitalized on the rapid rise in wild pig populations and rent out their land for night hunts. Others provide dogs to track and run wild pigs for hunters.

Neither night hunting or hunting with dogs during the day has made much impact on pig numbers along the Congaree River Valley.

Hunting pigs with a rifle and/or dogs makes lots of noise, Davis explains. Hunters can shoot one pig and the others are gone. With plenty of room to roam and plenty of crops for food, they can easily relocate to another area, then come back when the hunters are gone.

Wannamaker has invited hunters with federally approved silencers for their rifles. This allows night hunters to shoot more than one pig at a time, but still doesn’t seem to be making much difference, the South Carolina grower says.

“We have trapped wild pigs, put a camera on them to determine when they feed at night, so hunters will have a better chance of finding them in a peanut field. After one time of shooting the pigs, they changed the whole time they come out and feed. They just adapt really well to the environment, Wannamaker adds.

The onset of peanut production also increased the amount of irrigation being used in South Carolina crops, another factor in the population increase some contend.

“In the past these pigs would come out and feed and go back to the river for water. With irrigation, there is plenty of water, so they don’t have to move as much. Unless they are threatened, they will stay in and around a peanut field all year, Wannamaker notes.

Wild pigs reproduce at a prodigious rate, sometimes producing litters of piglets twice a year. They directly compete with native wildlife for food and they can negatively impact natural ecosystems.

Hogs present problems related to land, wildlife, and timber management. They can cause significant damage to agriculture and pose disease risks to humans, as well as, domestic livestock.

These animals have proven to be extremely difficult to control once they become established. They are not protected in South Carolina and there is no closed season or bag limit on private land.

Over the last few years in order to slow the spread of hogs in South Carolina, the General Assembly has made it illegal to release hogs into the wild or to remove a live hog from the wild without a permit.

Additionally, the DNR has instituted special hunts for wild hogs on Wildlife Management Areas where they occur. Despite the increased focus, farmers contend the problem is getting worse, not better in some areas of the state, including along the Congaree River.

Though peanut farmers seem to have the biggest crop losses from wild pigs, they are by no means alone in their quest to get rid of these animals.

South Carolina has 90,000 to 280,000 wild hogs, according to Jack Mayer, a feral-swine expert at the Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken, S.C. All 46 South Carolina counties have wild pig populations.

"We don't have a good handle on the actual population," he said. "We say there are 2,000,000-6,000,000 wild hogs nationally. That's a pretty big spread. The truth is we don't really know how many of them there are," Mayer says.

rroberson@farmpress.com