Wild hogs have been in Mississippi for nearly 500 years
The wild hog is both loved and hated.
For some of Mississippi’s wildlife enthusiasts and landowners, it provides a challenging hunting experience and some of the best table fare this side of the Mississippi.
For others, it causes thousands of dollars in damage to agricultural crops and out-competes many native species of wildlife for valuable food resources. In this article, we will explore the history of one of the most controversial animals found in the Magnolia State.
The first wild hogs in the state can be traced back to Hernando De Soto. In May 1539, De Soto landed at what is now present‑day Tampa Bay, Florida, with his army of conquistadors. To help feed his army, De Soto brought along with him a herd of swine from Cuba. The exact number of the herd is questionable; however, several accounts put the herd anywhere from 11 animals to well over 300. However, all accounts point out that the breed was very hardy and multiplied very rapidly.
De Soto’s expedition traveled through Mississippi from 1539 to 1541. Along the way, swine escaped, were traded and/or taken by the natives. It is from these animals that our first feral populations were established.
Hernando De Soto was not the only European explorer to bring swine to Mississippi. Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville, a French explorer, brought swine along with other livestock to what is present-day Biloxi in 1699. Swine from d'Iberville’s herds later spread throughout southern Mississippi and Louisiana.
Following the early European explorers, early settlers to the state brought along with them livestock, including swine. A common practice of the day was to allow the swine and other livestock roam free until the fall when it was necessary to capture them for slaughter. However, many of these animals escaped to the deep swamps and river bottoms where they roamed wild.
In the early 1970s, the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission released wild hogs into an enclosure on the Copiah County Game Management Area where they were allowed to breed and populate. In September of 1971, six of these wild hogs were captured and released into the Pearl River Game Management Area for hunting purposes. The population there has since grown to the extent that hogs have caused damage to the nearby Natchez Trace Parkway and nearby agricultural fields. The remaining wild hogs in the Copiah enclosure were captured and moved.
In 1973, an unknown number of wild hogs were released near Port Gibson. These animals have since spread throughout southwest Mississippi and southern Louisiana. Since the early 1970s, wild hogs have been released around the state specifically for hunting purposes. To help deter the spread of wild hogs, the state passed a law making it illegal to transport and release wild hogs into the wild. Spurred on by illegal releases and their prolific breeding, the wild hog is now found in at least 65 of Mississippi's 82 counties.
James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plant resources throughout Mississippi. Their website is www.wildlifemiss.org.