Men and women from all around the area converge on Red River County the first weekend of March to participate in the annual Wade T. Witmer Memorial Hog Hunt. Started six years ago to honor the memory of the county’s 2009 #1 Hog Hunter, the event serves two other purposes—to reduce the feral hog numbers and to award large cash prizes and honor to the hunters. This land is where Annie grew up. She went to school with Wade’s grandfather who is a really special man.
Hunters must have a valid hunting license, although feral hog season is any day of the year. Registration, via the web or in person at Clarksville, the county seat, requires a $200 fee for each hunter. The money funds the three prizes–$1,000 for the largest (measured in pounds) dead hog, live hog, and the heaviest combined weight of five hogs (dead or alive). Hunters may hunt alone or in teams of no more than four. If a team enters the competition, and it is a grueling one, an elected team captain coordinates its activities and all submissions.
Hogs are weighed Sunday 12 noon until 2:00 PM at the Red River County Fairgrounds. It does not matter if the feral hogs are dead or alive, but live ones must walk onto the scale under their own power. Disposal of all hogs after the hunt is the responsibility of the hunter(s). None are released back into the county.
Texas’s feral hog population is in excess of 1.5 million, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Rick Taylor. The hogs came to America with the Spaniards over 300 years ago. Some escaped from farmers, took to the woods, and interbred with the wild ones.
Fully-grown hogs range in size from 150-400 pounds with two four-inch tusks on the bottom and another two tusks continuously growing on the top of their jaws. Sows mature at six months and can give birth to two litters a year with four to 12 piglets in each litter. When born the piglets have coarse reddish hair that turns black or dark brown as they age; however, if descended from wild domestic pigs, the hogs may have white, brown, and black markings. They travel in groups called sounders and are enemies of farmers.
Feeding at night on farm crops, being especially partial to corn, soybeans, peanuts, and milo, the hogs can destroy a crop in a night. What they don’t eat, they root up. In addition to farmers’ crops, the hogs eat acorns, small animals, carrion, and even their own young. Gifted with keen senses of smell and hearing, but poor eyesight, the cunning hogs are a challenge to trap or shoot; however, hogs stink. Think dead possum under the house or dead rat in the wall. A hunter can smell a feral hog before it comes into view.
Any reduction of the county’s feral hog population made by the hunters is welcome relief to its economic health. In fact, the hunters are the hogs’ only enemies, unless the wildcat or bobcat that catches an occasional piglet is counted.
Three days before Sunday’s weigh-in, hunters go to the woods and fields to strategize and scout their prey. Since the hogs usually follow deer trails, the hunters set up blinds from which they hunt near the spots the hogs are known to travel or feed. Often, a hunter will seed a site with corn, scattering it around a blind, hoping that the hogs will find it and make a habit of coming every night to an easy smorgasbord. This practice is illegal for hunting animals other than feral hogs.
If a mechanical trap is deployed, it must be set in an area accessible to motor vehicles. Getting a live angry 300-pound feral hog, trapped in a heavy metal cage, out of the woods, loaded onto a truck or pickup, driving to the Fairgrounds, unloading, and weighing the tusker takes a lot of doing. Nerves of steel and muscular bodies are needed to deal with a squealing, struggling, stinky hog.
Last year’s first place “live hog” winner was the Hog Mafia Team with a total of 1068 pounds. The team also won the heaviest single hog that weighed in at 279 pounds. The Tactical Sportsman Team won first place in the “dead hog” category with 914.5 pounds. All in all, dead hogs weighing 5610 pounds and live hogs weighing 6325 pounds were killed or captured.
Next year’s hunt is now accepting registrations. It’s an extremely competitive event that contributes to the reduction of the feral hog population in Red River County and gives hunters a splendid opportunity to pit their brains and brawn against wily beasts. Everyone is a winner, except the captured or killed hogs.
Annie Ambles avoids the piney woods and its feral hogs