By DAVID KRIER
A 350-pound feral wild boar that had been tearing up the landscape around Bell Center for years recently met his match in the form of J. D. McComas, a USDA feral swine/disease technician who had been tracking the beast since last June and finally caught up with him thanks to the March 22 snowstorm.
“He was a fully mature, very evasive boar with plenty of food and places to hide,” said McComas, who is based in Sun Prairie but has been working with seven landowners along Sand Creek between Bell Center and Rolling Ground. “He disappeared for the winter, which was very unusual. I don’t know where he went.”
McComas had 12 trail cameras set up in the area and had photographed the animal, estimated to be 5-8 years old, a number of times over the past 10 months. He had also collected scat samples and recorded hoof prints.
But his big break came following the late March snowstorm when he caught the animal on his trail camera and was able to then track him through the snow, jumping him from his bed and fatally shooting the big boar.
McComas is part of the state’s Feral Swine Task Force, which is a collaboration between the DNR and USDA to eradicate feral pigs in Wisconsin. It is part of a national effort that began after Congress recently allocated $20 million to implement a national feral swine management program in all 39 states where there is a recognized feral swine population.
“We’re starting in the north and working our way south to states like Texas where the problem is huge,” McComas said. In Texas it is estimated that 3.5 million feral swine do $60 million in crop damage each year. Several counties pay bounties of $5-$10 per pig tail, with Caldwell County near Austin paying out 5,500 bounties in the first nine months of 2014 alone. Companies like Helibacon near Houston offer two-hour helicopter hog hunts with AR-15 machine guns for $1,800. Hog hunter Bubba Ortiz shot 469 feral pigs in the city of San Antonio last year alone.
In Wisconsin, the feral swine population is mainly located in central and northwest Crawford County. In September 2008, a 55-year-old former Gays Mills area game farm owner was accused of releasing 31 feral hogs near his farm on Feb. 9, 2002. It is believed those feral swine are the origin of the wild pig population in Crawford County.
Robert Scott Johnson, who owned the hard Rock Elk Farm on Little Haney Road, was accused of releasing a trailer load of wild hogs that he brought to the area from San Marcos, Texas. Witnesses said he wanted to establish a population of wild hogs around his elk ranch so hunters could also hunt them.
Over the years private hunters and the DNR have trapped and hunted the descendants of that first group of wild hogs to the point that they may have now been eliminated with McComas’ recent kill. At a public meeting in January 2009, the Wisconsin State Director of USDA Wildlife Services, Jason Suckow, estimated the Crawford County feral swine population at 10 animals.
Between 2002 and 2009, wildlife management officials estimated that nearly 300 feral pigs had been killed in the Gays Mills/Petersburg/Bell Center area.
“We can eliminate them right here, right now,” Suckow said at the 2009 meeting. “As long as we have co-operation from everyone.”
McComas said that time may have now arrived, although he couldn’t be positive that all feral pigs in the area had been eliminated.
"All I was able to detect in all this time was that one big board," he said. "We are going to continue to monitor this area for quite a while and we want to work with area land owners right away."