It’s a crew that comes from all walks of life — farmers, government employees, and semi-retired men. They come from all over the province. And once they get the call, they have 24 to 48 hours to assemble. Then they attempt to eradicate very intelligent, potentially dangerous animals that are invading farmland.
While it may sound like an action movie, it’s actually part of a program administered by Saskatchewan Crop Insurance to eradicate feral wild boar.
Dan Baber is a customer service rep with Sask Crop Insurance out of Melville. He looks after the Feral Wild Boar Control program. When someone reports feral wild boar to Sask Crop Insurance, Baber gets the information together and contacts one of the two hunt team leaders.
Sask Crop Insurance took over the program from the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) in March 2015. They’ve had about six calls since then, which is in line with previous years, Baber says.
Ian Esson is a hunt team leader and producer based near Beechy, Sask. Once he gets the information from Baber, he follows up with the person who called it in. He finds out if there are enough feral swine to warrant sending in the team. He checks with local producers to make sure the team can hunt on their land. He consults with Baber. Then he calls his crew and they go in.
Esson’s team of 10 isn’t the only group trying to control feral boars. Bob Brickley, a rancher near Moose Mountain Provincial Park, has been trying to eradicate the animals for 15 years.
Asked how he got involved with the hunt, Brickley says it was a question of necessity.
“When we started there were several hundred. They were coming out in droves in the night. It was out of hand at that time,” says Brickley. The feral swine stampeded livestock and drove them away from feed. They also destroyed crops.
Brickley and two or three of his neighbours started hunting the pigs. “We just thought we’d go and shoot as many as we could.”
But that proved to be counterproductive. That year they focused on a group of 14 pigs, but they never were able to get them all. All they managed to do was “educate” the surviving pigs.
“They’ll sense you coming and they’ll do evasive techniques to avoid you. And if you hunt them a second time and don’t get them, then it’s just about impossible,” says Brickley.
Esson has observed the same behaviour.
“We would just as soon the locals didn’t hunt them because they pretty well go nocturnal when they start getting pressured,” says Esson. The swine are very smart, with an acute sense of smell and hearing, he adds.
“We floundered and stumbled for a few years,” says Brickley. But they kept regrouping and figuring out how to overcome the obstacles. His team eventually grew to 14 people.
Co-ordinated hunts more successful
These days, both Esson and Brickley use a similar, highly co-ordinated hunting method designed to eradicate entire groups. And it’s nothing like a sport hunt.
“It’s not fun. It’s hard, hard, concentrated work. We’re co-ordinated to the tenth of a second to pull some of these off,” says Brickley.
Before the hunters move in, a plane scouts for groups of nesting pigs. Brickley says it’s much easier to kill the pigs when they’re concentrated in their nests.
Once the pilot has located the nest, the teams move in. About three people move into the nest to shoot the pigs. Other shooters take up point and flank positions to shoot any pigs that escape the initial onslaught.
Both Brickley and Esson keep safety top of mind for this phase. One danger is the boars themselves. Brickley says the pigs won’t normally attack people.
“But when you put them in a corner, when you’re in their flight zone, and you’re challenging them, that’s their defensive mechanism. And that is extremely dangerous.” Brickley says the team has had boars charge them.
Hunting accidents are another risk. Esson’s team wears red or orange clothing with reflective bands. They also have radio communication and GPS. Each time a team member keys the mic, it shows each person’s name and location.
Brickley says it’s important to hunt with people you have confidence in. Team members know what everyone is going to do if things don’t go to plan. They terminate the hunt before putting anyone in danger, he says.
Brickley’s team usually uses shotguns with double ought buckshot for the nest. It’s very hard for pigs to survive that many pellets, he explains. Also, the buckshot doesn’t go too far, so it’s safer for the guys waiting outside the nest.
Brickley says they’ve had “tremendous success” with their hunting methods at Moose Mountain. They’ve killed about 780 animals over the last 15 years, he says.
“Our biggest challenge has been re-infestation. If we wouldn’t have had that, I’m totally confident that we would have had them totally eradicated by now,” says Brickley.
The co-ordinated hunt has worked well for Esson, too. He’s been hunting for 10 years or more, and his team’s kill rate is around 75 to 80 per cent, he says.
“We’ve had some hunts that we’ve taken everything out that was there. And we’ve had some where, because of the terrain, some were able to escape us,” says Esson.
Brickley has helped other groups trying to eradicate boars. But he says many people aren’t interested in eradication because hunters want the feral pigs around. People don’t usually take the problem seriously until the pigs are causing losses on their land, Brickley says.
Brickley advises producers to take wild boar problems seriously and inform their rural municipalities. His hunt team has had financial support from the Wawota Wildlife Federation, which fundraised to hire their plane. The RMs of Hazelwood and Wawken also provided some financial support. The RMs and wildlife federation also raised the issue at meetings, he adds.
Saskatchewan producers can also report feral pigs to Saskatchewan Crop Insurance.
“Don’t hesitate to give us a call and we’ll look into it and see what we can do,” says Baber.
To report feral wild boars in Saskatchewan, contact your local Sask Crop Insurance office. For more information on the Feral Wild Boar Control Program, visit saskcropinsurance.com.