Nov 26 2015
  • Today

    74°F 68°F

  • Tomorrow

    71°F 42°F

Hunting season began for me several weekends ago when my car was “attacked” by a feral hog on RR2241 between CR215 and the Harlow-James place. Of course, this is an exaggeration, but the incident did result in the death of an unsuspecting animal. The word “attacked” was used because I didn’t hit the hog, it hit me. As it crossed the road going north, it ran into the passenger side of my car as I passed. Thankfully, it was a small pig and didn’t do any visible damage. The thud indicated it hit my passenger side front tire, and I may or may not have driven over it. Had the animal been like its cousins I encountered one night earlier in the year as they presumably went for water in Lake Buchanan, there would have been considerable damage. Those hogs were quite large and had developed the humped and bristled back look, possibly even tusks. I know the little pig was killed, as on my return trip, a convention of buzzards clustered in the ravine where it occurred.
Anyway, the incident made me contemplate to what extent the presence of these wild hogs roaming the countryside might affect the up-coming deer hunting season in Llano County. Feral hogs were few and far between when I was growing up around here. But, in a way, it could be said that ALL the hogs in Central Texas in the early days of settlement were “wild” simply because they weren’t penned up by their owners. Every family raised hogs, or else there would have been no bacon, sausage filler, or major source for lard. Early tax records indicate livestock ownership in Llano County ranked hogs third in worth, behind horses, then cattle, with sheep and goats last. My great grandfather, Ike Maxwell, came to Llano County in September, 1854 at the age of 17 and remained here until his death in 1931 at age 94. He confirmed that families let their hog population roam freely around the country until it was “hog-killing time,” which was during the first cold spell that lasted a few days. In other parts of the United States, this occurred between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but in Texas, it was more often January or as late as February before the temperatures were cold enough to prevent the meat from spoiling. Hogs were rounded up and brought in for slaughter.
Ike stated that peaceful Indians in the area, who would have been from the Tonkawa tribe, since Comanche, Apache, and Kiowa were hostile, aided in rounding up the animals. (It is not known if the Indians received any payment or part of the meat for their help, but there’s a good chance there was some sharing). The Tonkawa territory historically ranged from the Colorado River toward Austin at Barton Springs, and the land west of the Colorado was the marauding territory of the hostile tribes who visited our area every month during the full moon. Apparently, even after the Indian Era was officially over in the mid 1870’s, land owners with property fronting the Colorado River allowed peaceful Indians to periodically camp as late as the early 1900’s. A grandson of Ike Maxwell, Oliver Maxwell, who was born in 1902, recalled seeing these Indian camps as a young boy. Frightened from tales he and his twin sister had heard from their father, grandfather, and other old timers about earlier Indian encounters, the twins used to hide under the front porch of their home in fear. Oliver also remembered his grandfather tell about a young Indian boy who helped hunt and retrieve the family’s hogs when the time was right. (The ears of hogs were marked to distinguish ownership) What stood out in the mind of the grandson was the fact that the Indian helper did not speak English and kept repeating the same nonsensical phrases over and over in efforts to verbally communicate. In spite of different cultures and language barriers, the two were able to accomplish their task even though neither one had a clue what the other one was saying.
The practice of rounding up hogs is casually confirmed in the written accounts of the Indian attack on the two sons of George W. Wolf/e in 1869 near their home at Wolf/e Crossing on the Colorado River. This crossing was first used by the soldiers at Fort Croghan to connect with their sister fort (Fort Martin Scott) in Fredericksburg. The route is at the end of RR2233 in present day Sunrise Beach, but private gates now prevent public access to the river crossing itself. According to the story, the Wolf/e brothers were “hunting hogs” on the Llano side of the river near the family home when they were confronted by a small band of Indians. The older boy, Hiram Andrew, was shot with arrows and killed, but the younger brother, Washington (Wash), was taken captive, although he was released a few days later in Mason County. J. R. Tate, who grew up in the area told his daughter, Winnie Tate Morgan, that he knew the exact location of the tree that marked the grave of Hiram Wolf/e.
Allowing hogs to run wild in rural areas might be expected, but the same held true in the town of Llano. In the early days of settlement, it was necessary for every family living in town to raise a minimal amount of livestock. Horses were a must for transportation, but cows were also essential for milk, butter, etc., as were chickens or other poultry for eggs. Families also had hogs, but they allowed them to roam freely around town and on the streets. A favorite hang-out for hogs was in front of the town’s many saloons where water was thrown into the street. These locations were ideal for the hogs, which enjoy, out of necessity, wallowing in the mud. Wallowing, or coating the body surface with mud, is a natural behavior of pigs. Pigs use mud baths for thermal regulation because they have few sweat glands, high body fat, and a barrel-shaped torso that stores heat. Wallowing can lower a pig’s temperature by several degrees and is more cooling than a dip in cold water because the water evaporates off the pig’s coated body more slowly. However, even in cool weather, pigs will wallow to scrape off parasites such as ticks and lice. It is now thought they also rub their scent glands around wallowing areas, probably as a way of territory marking and sexual behavior.
Domestic hogs that roam freely in the wild are known as feral hogs. They have either escaped or were released. With each generation, the domestic characteristics of the hogs gradually changed to develop the traits needed for survival in the wild. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, feral hogs are unprotected, exotic, non-game animals. They may be taken by any means or method any time of the year. There are no seasons or bag limits, but a hunting license and permission from the landowner is required to hunt them.
The prevalent feral hogs of today are no relation to the peccary species known as the javelina. Instead, they are descendants of European hogs that were first introduced in Texas by the Spanish explorers over three hundred years ago. During the fight for Texas Independence in 1836, as families fled for safety in the Runaway Scrape, many hogs escaped or were released. In the 1930’s, Russian wild boars were introduced in Texas. Many of these also escaped to crossbreed with already existing hogs in the wild. Because of the prolific nature of the animals, as well as their resilience and intelligence level, the population of wild hogs in Texas has drastically increased to around two million in recent years. They can be found in all parts of the state, especially in the largely inhabited white-tailed deer range. Their numbers are much smaller in West Texas around El Paso and the western side of the Panhandle, but their distribution in these areas has already begun to expand and increase. Factors contributing to the increase in population and distribution are due in part to intentional releases, improved habitat, increased wildlife management, and improved animal husbandry such as disease eradication, limited natural predators, and high reproductive potential.
So, how does the increase in the number of feral hogs in Llano County affect the upcoming hunting season? If nothing else, hunters need to be aware that their presence in the area is inevitable. The animals are predominately nocturnal and twilight feeders, but they will feed during daylight in cold or wet weather. But, they are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter….just about anything out there. They are very opportunistic feeders. Much of their diet consists of the same type of foods consumed by the deer population, which means the hogs compete directly with deer, other wildlife, and livestock for food. In addition, they equally appreciate the corn and feeders hunters put out to attract the deer.
The greatest damage feral hogs have on livestock and wildlife, however, is the destruction they bring to habitat and agriculture. Rooting and trampling in search of food ruins crops, fields, livestock feeding and watering facilities. Even wildlife feeders may be destroyed. Their propensity to root and wallow destabilizes springs, creeks, and tanks. They even damage trees by rubbing against them. Because they also consume meat, they may prey on fawns, young lambs, and kid goats. The eggs of ground nesting birds, such as turkeys and quail, also become vulnerable.
Efforts are being made to control the growing numbers of feral hogs in Texas, which is where fifty percent of all such animals in the U.S. reside. Even though 750,000 are removed each year by hunters, trapping, snaring, or air-gunning from helicopters, they have managed to survive, adapt, and increase in numbers. Sows are capable of breeding as early as six months old, and with a 115 day gestation period, they can have two litters per year. Litters average four to six piglets, but under good conditions, they may have ten to twelve. No wonder some wildlife managers describe feral hogs as “four-legged fire ants.”
It is hoped the hunters who come to Llano County this season will find success and satisfaction in their visit… spite of any aggravation resulting from an over active swine population.
SOURCES:;; “The Feral Hog in Texas” (Rick Taylor); LLANO CO. FAMILY ALBUM (p. 195);;; Maxwell family history; personal interviews with Oliver Maxwell, pre 1994.