A federal biologist armed with a shotgun and riding in a helicopter last week put a dent in the wild hog population around Clinton Lake.
During two days of aerial hunting, 50 hogs were killed.
"I'm sure there are still a few more, and they are definitely not wiped out, but this certainly helped," said the gunman, Chad Richardson, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "There could be 10 or so that eluded us."
This was the second year the USDA used a helicopter to hunt wild hogs in the Clinton Lake hunting and wildlife area and nearby private properties. Last year, 25 were killed.
USDA takes blood and tissue samples from the dead hogs to test for diseases. Last year, the carcasses were dumped in a private landfill. This year, they were picked up by a rendering company that picks up dead horses and cattle.
Wild hogs, or feral pigs, have become a growing problem in Kansas and other states during the past few years. Kansas Livestock Commissioner George Teagarden last year turned to the USDA for help. Teagarden and USDA leaders say the problem stems from the surreptitious release of domestic pigs by people who want to hunt them. Domestic swine quickly become wild and rapidly reproduce offspring that are born wild and take on characteristics that include coarse hair and tusks.
Wild hogs cause problems for landowners because they carry diseases that can spread to livestock and domestic animals and because they also damage land and crops.
"They root around," said Dan Hanney, who lives near the lake wildlife area. The hogs have done some rooting in his hay field, he said.
Setting hunt limits
Hanney was wary of the helicopter hunt when it took place last year.
"I feel better about it this time," he said. "They were pretty professional and seem to know what they are doing."
Another Clinton-area resident, Scott Besler, wouldn't let the helicopter gunman hunt on his property last year. The USDA has to get permission from landowners in order to shoot the pigs on private property. This year Besler relented. He sees the pigs frequently and has shot many of them himself.
"They have never shown any aggression," he said. "They kind of snort and then want to get away when they see you."
Two years ago Besler shot and killed a wild boar that weighed 470 pounds. The animal had all the characteristics of a Eurasian boar, said neighbor Chip Taylor, a Kansas University professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. He thinks it was intentionally released by a pig hunter.
"This animal showed no obvious traces of domestic pig lineage and had to be one of the first introduced to this area," Taylor said.
There are businesses advertising on Web sites that breed and sell Eurasian boars for hunting purposes.
Last year the state banned the hunting of feral pigs, including on state wildlife land. That hunting, according to the USDA, was driving the pigs onto surrounding private properties. Land owners can shoot the pigs if they are on their property or designate someone to shoot for them. The designated gunman, however, has to obtain a free permit from the state livestock commissioner's office.
Richardson thinks the hunting ban is serving its purpose, which was to keep the pigs in a wildlife area instead of scattering them. That makes it easier for him to hunt them by air.
Last year 23 of the 25 feral pigs killed in Douglas County were on private land, Richardson said. This year all 50 pigs killed were on the state wildlife land. A majority of the land damage caused by the pigs was confined to the state land as well, he said.
Richardson also used the helicopter to scope out trouble spots in several other counties. He is working with landowners by providing some of them with traps and teaching them how to use them. The landowner can do what he wants with a hog killed by a trap.
Hanney wants to see the trapping program established in Douglas County.
"I think everybody around here could contribute a great deal to helping with this problem if they had some traps going," Hanney said.
Richardson said he intends to return to Douglas County and get a trapping program started this year. He has been working in Kansas thanks to a $125,000 legislative appropriation a year ago.
The aerial hunt in Kansas is over for this year, Richardson said. A statewide total of 257 hogs were killed by air and 75 were trapped and killed, he said.
There is at least one more big, wild boar roaming the Clinton Lake area that would make a welcome prize for a hunter, Besler and Hanney said. They say it is black and must weigh about 500 pounds.
"Most of these are ugly as sin but somehow I'd say this has gotten to be kind of a pretty one," Hanney said.