Helicopter-Flying USDA Agents Declare Open Season on Wild Hogs

Cinghiale (Sus scrofa) in corsa

Wild hogs are one of the most destructive animals in the United States. They are highly aggressive, attacking animals and people alike. They also have a tendency to ruin crops and carry diseases. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that these animals cause an incredible $1.5 billion in damage nationwide every year.

It is for this reason that the federal government has declared “open season” on hogs in the state of South Carolina. They’ve even lead the charge in some instances. Officials have shot some 1,000 hogs from a helicopter every year for the last five years. Federal wildlife agents have been the main hunters of these animals, and they are currently looking for more places to hunt.

The USDA is considering expanding their hunting grounds beyond their current locations. They are even hunting hogs in wildlife refuges, where hogs roam in open marshes. However, with the hog population in the U.S. being in the millions, the agency wants to make a bigger impact.

Statewide, South Carolina is home to an estimated 150,000 hogs. Hunters kill around 30,000 of the animals annually, according to the Department of Natural Resources. USDA federal agents shoot 1,000 of the animals each year as well. However, despite these efforts, the hog population is still increasing at a rapid rate. Wildlife officials state that this is because the animals reproduce so quickly. It is for this reason that the aerial hunting program was started by the USDA agents.

“We are there to reduce damage and knock down that hog population,” Noel Myers, state director of the USDA’s wildlife services division, said. “We are looking at expanding to other areas of the state to kind of see how it works.”

The aerial hunting program being used in South Carolina is similar to those used by western states like Texas. Texas, being home to the largest population of wild hogs, has private businesses dedicated to hunting in this fashion.

Ben Gregg, director of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, said that while he favors reducing the hog population, he questions why more people weren’t told of the program. Gregg had recently only become aware of the program, as the USDA did not advertise it.

“It seems like anything they do on this scale would have to have some type of public input,” Gregg said

Robert Abernethy, who heads the Longleaf Alliance, believes any tool to reduce the feral pig population is worth considering. His organization advocates for the restoration of the longleaf pine forests that once populated South Carolina.

“If you plant longleafs without dealing with your hog problem, they will get into that newly planted stand of young longleafs in 12 months and they will dig up and eat that seedling,” Abernethy said. “They will decimate a longleaf pine plantation. Anything that’s effective to get hogs is a good idea. They are so destructive.”