Build a better hog trap and the world will beat a path to your door.
Well, maybe not the world, but certainly a lot of farmers, ranchers, land owners and property managers who deal with this increasingly damaging pest will be interested in anything that helps reduce wild hog damage.
And that damage is significant. Estimates indicate Texas agricultural interests lose some $52 million per year to a population of feral hogs believed to be near 2.5 million. Oklahoma populations range from 617,000 to 1.4 million, with recent trends indicating a number closer to the higher figure. Nationally, wild pigs account for as much as $1.5 billion in losses each year.
Controlling feral hogs is made more difficult by the animal’s population dynamics. Female pigs may reproduce as young as six months and are capable of producing two litters per year with as many as 10 pigs per litter.
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Typical control methods—trapping and hunting—can neither reduce nor maintain populations. Chemical controls, currently, are illegal.
Consequently, farmers, ranchers and landowners need a control strategy that will at least make a dent in the feral hog population.
Josh Gaskamp, ag research associate with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Oklahoma, may have a better hog trap.
Gaskamp discussed a new trapping system, tabbed the “Boar Buster,” at the recent Oklahoma Peanut Expo in Lone Wolf.
Like many useful inventions, the Boar Buster evolved from work designed with another target in mind, white-tailed deer. “I started at the Noble Foundation with white-tail deer research,” Gaskamp said. He was using a drop-net trap to get a handle on deer populations and found that feral hogs were just as likely to come in and take the bait as the deer. His technique included a large, heavy net suspended above the baited area that’s manually dropped on target species when enough animals come in to feed.
Gaskamp discovered that large numbers of feral hogs would congregate in the middle of the target area and could be trapped with few escapes. Trappers could then dispose of the animals quickly.
The potential seemed to have merit as a means of controlling an increasingly costly pest problem.
Gaskamp said Oklahoma feral hog numbers had increased significantly over the past few years with recent estimates close to that 1.4 million figure. “The highest population density is in the southeast part of the state, all along the Red River. In 2007, feral hogs were identified in all but three Oklahoma counties. In 2013, they are in every county.”
He said trapping has offered the most economical control option. “Hunting is not effective.”
Trapping, too, has its drawbacks. Typical trap design is a box-type enclosure set up with a door that closes when hogs reach a certain spot inside the trap and set off a trigger. “That was the best control option for a time,” Gaskamp said.
Drawbacks included potential for catching non-target species, and catch numbers were relatively small. “We also would see ‘trap-shy’ hogs, hogs that would not enter the trap.”
The box trap evolved into a corral trap that offered an opportunity to catch more animals at a time. It was also easier to set up, using heavy wire on tee-posts. Trappers would bait the area and leave the doors open for several days while the hogs got used to the enclosure and felt comfortable entering and leaving the corral. Trappers then set the trigger to capture the unsuspecting hogs. The corral traps did capture more animals, Gaskamp said. It was also more portable, but set-up time and expense remained issues.
“They tried using wider doors to entice more animals to enter,” he added. “But we see no evidence that wider doors made more catches.”
Capture rate for corral traps, he said, is 49 percent. The drop net capture rate is 86 percent. “To keep a feral hog population level, we need to reduce population by 70 percent,” Gaskamp said. “That 86 percent puts a dent in the numbers.”
But the drop-net technique also needed a few tweaks. “Texas land owners want the option of removing live hogs from the traps,” Gaskamp said. Some want to move animals to other locations for hunting, for instance. “With the drop net, we don’t have live hogs.” Moving the animals from under the net allows for escapes, and with a large catch of panicked hogs, some tear through the net. Typically, drop-net catches were dispatched on the spot.
Gaskamp went back to the drawing board and designed a suspended trap, made of wire and metal posts, that could be dropped over hogs lured to bait placed in the middle of the trapping area. He’s refined that design several times to come up with the “Boar Buster,” now a lighter, easier to manage trap.
His first efforts, including the drop-net, required a person close by the trap site to manually drop the net or the cage over the hogs. Later versions used remote devices that alert a manager when hogs are in place. The manager drops the trap remotely with a laptop computer. The latest version uses a game camera and an electronic device that texts the operator when hogs are in place.
He said the traps are portable. “We can take the trap to the pigs, set it up close to where they bed down. We also can load out live hogs.”
The game camera allows operators to wait until they see that an entire sounder of pigs is in the trap zone before spring it.
He said the system is effective and efficient, requiring fewer man-hours to catch feral hogs and also capable of catching more pigs per hour than other traps. “We reduce the number of trap-shy hogs,” he said, “and eliminate non-target captures.” He said the system also has no obstacles on the ground that would make a hog “trap wary, so we can trap the entire sounder.” The Boar Buster advantages also include portability.
Concerns include the necessity of having a person available to spring the trap, and cost may be an issue.
He thinks expense may be reduced by building a trap smaller than a 60 foot by 60 foot model. The Boar Buster can be smaller because the hogs do not occupy the entire area but concentrate around the bait, which is placed in the center of the trapping zone.
Capture rate is 88 percent. He said escape rate of trapped hogs is less than 10 percent. “It’s a metal trap so they can’t get out.”
Proper baiting technique, Gaskamp said, is important. “Limit bait only to what a sounder will eat in 30 minutes.
He’s researched the system for two years and continues to refine the design. A new proto-type uses less metal, he said. That should make the trap more portable and less expensive. He expects the trap will soon be commercialized and available to farmers, ranchers and landowners who have been looking for a better hog trap.