OKLAHOMA CITY — Move over, Dog. There may soon be a new class of bounty hunters on the prowl in Oklahoma.
State Rep. David Smith, R-Arpelar, has proposed legislation that would create a feral hog bounty hunter license. Under the measure, landowners interested in having wild swine hunted will register and pay 25 cents an acre, and make their property available to license holders.
Prospective bounty hunters, meanwhile, will pay $35 to obtain a six-month license. They can then submit the tails of the hogs killed to receive a $10 bounty. Licensees and landowners would pay into the bounty fund.
Smith said his constituents are complaining that the wild hogs are causing millions of dollars in damage and destroying the land in his four-county southeastern Oklahoma district. They told him they were willing to pay a per-acre fee in order to try to eradicate the problem.
“The ranchers and the farmers, they’re not going to stay up until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning to hunt the hogs and then get up at 5 and go back to work, so I’m trying to get an incentive for people to go out and help them take care of the hog problem,” Smith said.
Feral swine, which are typically most active at night, roam 70 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, but are most common in southern parts of the state, according to the Department of Wildlife Conservation. An estimated 600,000 to 1.5 million feral swine roam over Oklahoma.
Brad Phillips, a board member of the Oklahoma Feral Swine Control Association, which supports feral swine agri-tourism efforts, said the state Department of Agriculture already provides a seven-page list of individuals who are willing to come onto private property and hunt the hogs free of cost to landowners.
“I just don’t think it’s the right idea for Oklahoma at this time,” said Phillips, of Perkins, of the proposed legislation. He already traps and hunts the swine using dogs.
“We already have a pretty good bounty system right now either at licensed hunting facilities or licensed kill facilities,” he said. “They’re already worth $50 to $150 (per head) depending on the demand, the size of the hog.”
He questioned why someone would accept $50 for five swine when they can easily make $250 to $300 using another option.
“As a landowner, I’m not going to pay a per-acre price to anybody who signs up to be a bounty hunter to come onto my property,” he said.
Micah Holmes, a Wildlife Conservation Department spokesman, said his agency wants to work with Oklahomans to implement the best science and method for hog removal.
“All in all, we think out-of-the-box ideas are good,” Holmes said. “We need to be thinking creatively about how to remove hogs, but we do have some concerns about this bill.”
Georgia officials tried a similar program, Holmes said. A study of that effort found “these bounties just don’t work like people think they would,” he said.
Holmes said such efforts could actually spread the hogs around more. The swine often move about in “sounders” — or groups — of 10 to 30, and a hunter may only be able to take out five hogs at a time. The hogs then divide into three or four different groups and shift to land where they weren’t before, the study found.
They then reproduce quickly, he said.
“Really, the best thing you can go do to control hogs is to try to get the whole sounder,” Holmes said. “Unless you catch that whole family group, it just moves them around more.”
Roy Lee Lindsey, executive director of the Oklahoma Pork Council, said bounty hunter programs are rarely successful in reducing the overall population.
“When we think about things like a bounty, we have concerns that you’re monetizing feral swine,” he said. “The last thing we want is to create any kind of incentive for folks to create more feral swine. When you start paying for something, then you create an incentive for more of it.”
He also said bounty programs in other states struggled with fraud. He said it’s difficult to ensure the tails turned in come from Oklahoma hogs or properties that are part of the program.
“I think there are better ways for us to address the feral hog population than to create bounties for them,” Lindsey said.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.