Chris Sawyer, known as ‘The Hog Man,’ uses ingenuity and traps to remove feral hogs from ranches in Burnet and Llano counties. He sells them to meat packing plants in San Saba and near Enchanted Rock. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro
STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
Feral hogs have been tearing up Andy Smith’s ranch, costing the Llano County landowner thousands of dollars in feed for his cattle each year. At a nearby pecan grove, the hogs are eating up the profits and destroying the trees.
Like a lot of local landowners, Smith went looking for help. He found Chris Sawyer, a Hill Country trapper known as “The Hog Man.” Others hire sharpshooters such as Tyler Bost, a butcher by trade who helps control the Highland Lakes hog population. Either way, trapping or shooting, hogs are hard to handle.
The estimated 1.5 million to 2.6 million feral hogs now eating and digging up the land in Texas cause about $52 million a year in damages, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
A new Texas law that went into effect September 1, 2019, removed the hunting license requirement for hog hunters on private land who have the landowner’s permission. Those hunting on public land must still have a license.
Feral hogs were not always the scourge they are today. First introduced to North America about 300 years ago, they began as domestic animals. Escapees and hogs let loose for hunting bred quickly — a sow can litter twice a year with up to 12 young at a time. Each generation develops the necessary strength and skills for survival.
The species is tough, intelligent, and will eat just about anything.
“They’ll eat each other if one dies,” Sawyer said.
Bost pointed to the animal’s natural body armor of tough, 2-inch thick skin, called a shield, and its razor-sharp teeth.
“It’s got to be one of the toughest animals in the world,” he said. “It’s crazy how tough they are.”
Sawyer has found that hogs don’t go willingly into his pens. He uses box traps on the ranches he works, devising trails that trick the hogs into thinking they are on their way to freedom and food.
Hogs are best hunted and trapped during the heat of the summer. They don’t have sweat glands and despise the heat, so they rest during the day and root for food at night. They also stay close to water or mudholes to keep cool.
The key to removing the animals, according to both Bost and Sawyer, is finding the right place and being patient.
“If they don’t show up, you can’t give up,” Bost said. “More than likely, they’ll come through. They’re habitual creatures.”
Along with being brainy and brawny, these wild beasts are also tasty.
“It’s a really good meat that has had a dirty reputation,” Bost said. He often eats homemade sausage links with cheese for lunch. “It’s cheap to shoot, cheap to process, and tastes delicious.”
Sawyer sells his trapped hogs to meat packing plants near Enchanted Rock and San Saba for 30-50 cents a pound. After processing, the meat is shipped around the world.
Sawyer doesn’t charge landowners for his trapping services. His payment is whatever the meat packing plants give him.
“I’ve caught enough hogs (in a single trip) to make a thousand (dollars),” he said. “And I’ve caught enough to make thirty dollars.”
This is good news for landowners who struggle with controlling the ever-growing population of feral hogs. The two landowners who hired Sawyer saw an immediate decrease in expenses and increase in incomes.
“In two years, I caught over three hundred hogs at Andy’s ranch,” Sawyer said. “I quit counting around three hundred.”
Recently, while collecting trapped hogs from his pens, Sawyer saw a herd of about 10 sows with their babies some 20 feet away. Working in a trade he learned from his father and hopes to pass on to his kids, The Hog Man made a mental note to quickly sell his current captures and make room for the next generation.