By MIKE OWEN | The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — Faced with growing reports of wild hogs encroaching on residential areas, the city of Columbus has contracted with a local company to capture and dispose of the destructive and potentially dangerous animals, according to city officials.
The city has contracted with Jager Pro, a local hog trapping and hunting company created about seven years ago by a retired U.S. Army marksman, Rod Pinkston.
"They're evaluating the areas where we've had sightings and identified two areas they think are still active," said city Director of Public Works Pat Biegler. "We talked to the Department of Agriculture and other agencies about them. They have a very good reputation."
The city will pay Jager Pro about $3,500 to dispose of the hogs, Biegler said.
"They are so destructive and they can be dangerous," Biegler said. "They are in neighborhoods doing significant damage."
Biegler said the city is asking the public to let Jager Pro handle hogs.
"We're discouraging anybody from interacting with them at all," Biegler said. "We want to make sure the professionals deal with them and nobody gets hurt."
Columbus Councilors Bruce Huff and Gary Allen brought the hog problem to the city's attention at a recent council meeting. Huff said hogs had been seen — several had even been captured — in the Washington Heights area. Allen said he'd heard reports of sightings in the Chattsworth Road area.
After doing some reconnaissance, Jager Pro has determined the most activity is on Chattsworth and Moye Roads, which are on opposite sides of a large wooded tract that includes part of Fort Benning.
One reason residents are seeing more and more wild hogs is an increase in the number of firing ranges in that area of post. As more land is cleared for ranges and as more and more human activity takes place on them, the hogs are pushed out of their habitat, according to Pinkston, founder and CEO of Jager Pro.
Not only is Pinkston a retired Army marksman, but he was also the coach of the U.S. Army Olympic Marksmanship team that earned two gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games. On top of that, the fact that he was raised on a hog farm makes his current line of work seem appropriate.
"Everything I've done in my life has prepared me for this job," Pinkston said.
How one disposes of wild hogs depends on the time of year. In winter, when crops have been harvested and the acorn crop devoured, luring the hogs with an automatic feeder into large trapping pens works best, Pinkston said.
When farmers plant their crops, Pinkston said, hogs will do tremendous damage to the seeds and young plants. Because they have that ready source of food, they're harder to lure into traps. So during planting season, it's most effective to hunt the hogs. They hunt using thermal imaging technology because wild hogs are nocturnal animals.
A University of Georgia study determined that wild hogs do about $52 million in agricultural damage every year and another $30 million in other property damage, Pinkston said.
Pinkston said the key to trapping the hogs, which is the approach they're taking now, is to get the whole pack, or sounder, of hogs. He equates trapping part of the sounder with putting out part of a house fire.
One reason he wants to get all of them is because the ones that get away will be much harder to lure into the trap because they've learned it's dangerous.
"Hogs are the fifth or sixth smartest animal in the world," Pinkston said. "If you don't get them all, all you've done is educate the others."
Jager Pro is in the "intel" phase of the hunt right now, Pinkston said. That means using night vision cameras set up to determine where the hogs are moving around at night. Once that's determined, they set up an automatic feeder to lure the hogs to the specific area. Then they erect a large pen with one or two eight-foot gates that can be activated remotely.
The process, which Pinkston developed and markets, is called M.I.N.E., or Manually Initiated Nuisance Elimination. He sells the technology all over the nation and world, he said.
Using his system, Pinkston said he can monitor the pen on his phone and when he thinks the entire sounder is in the trap, a click of a mouse brings the gates down.
Once the hogs are trapped, they're dispatched by rifle fire and taken to the landfill. Pinkston said he would like to donate the meat to local food banks, but USDA regulations prohibit that.
Pinkston said his six-man company is made up entirely of veterans and has 154 years of combined military experience.
"We went from hunting two-legged insurgents to four-legged insurgents," ha said. "We study hogs the same way we did Iraqis and Afghans."
Information from: Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, www.ledger-enquirer.com