Hunting with less of an ethical debate — hunting invasive species

Hunting and eating feral hogs less likely to cause furor-

I enjoy editing this on-line newspaper, but one of the things I don’t like is the never ending debate over whether hunting is right or wrong. It can never be settled and leads to disunity among those who use the outdoors and wildlife. I do have ethical problems with some kinds of hunting and also with allowing some animals to overgrow their habitat, e.g., white-tailed deer in some parts of the East and the Mid-West.

One kind of hunting I think is needed, which could often provide healthy food in a non-controversial way, and clearly helps stabilize our environment is hunting non-native, invasive species like feral hogs.  I saw a feature on television where in Hawaii they hunt feral cattle.  Many other kinds of invasive non-native animals are edible. I don’t know if Burmese python are edible, but hunting them sounds like an exciting thing to do, and a real menace to birds, fish, mammals and native reptiles might be  controlled.

USDA’s Wildlife Services does have a program to control feral hogs, and I welcome it as a departure from their usual killing (not hunting) of our native wildlife. However, their feral hog program is not enough. Invasive species are way out of control.

Grist Magazine has an article The ultimate guilt-free diet: Hunting invasive species. By Enrique Gili.

Imbalances in wildlife, both native, but especially non-native, is one of the best ways to spread old and new diseases to humans. These animal to human diseases, zoonoses, are something we have written many articles about at The Wildlife News.

David Quammen has a thick new book about this danger, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. W.W. Norton. He certainly makes a good case that the next new serious plague will come as a spillover of a disease from an animal. It is clear now that that AIDS (HIV-1) emerged out of the central African chimpanzee population in about 1908 when HIV from a chimp got into a human (probably a bush meat hunter who might have cut himself) and then passed it on. Where the chimps got HIV is not known. It kills them too.

Our factory farms, with their crowding and continual low level use of antibiotics, keep generating new outbreaks, although so far, they have not developed into plagues.

Lyme Disease is a classic zoonosis, and for humans mostly the product of suburban living near small woodlots that harbor many white-footed mice, a certain species of shrew, and billions of tiny deer ticks when there are not fox present to keep the small rodent population in check. In this case, hunting is not any kind of answer. I don’t want to overstate my argument.






  1. Nancy Avatar

    Had dinner this evening with a friend from Louisana and we discuseed the subject of feral hogs. He mentioned that while Texas has had a big problem with them it now appears many landowners, rather than just being grateful for hunters willing to help eradicate them, are now taking the “guided” hunt ($$) approach on their lands.

    Sound familiar?

  2. Jeff Avatar

    Kansas has taken a different approach than a lot of states—they banned hunting hogs as they believe allowing hunting encourages people to release hogs especially European boar hoping to start the sport in their state. Hogs were limited to a few states in the south, but over the years folks have release them all over the U.S. Kansas has been fairly successful in preventing their spread by banning hunting and doing Dept. of Ag culls instead…just a twist on the topic. When reading Omnivores Dillema I did enjoy thinking of the acorn fed hog he shot in California.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      For those exotic species that people want to perpetuate so to hunt, it is probably important that government killing (not hunting) or sterilization programs also be used.

    1. WM Avatar

      ++Python anyone?++

      Here is a credible answer to “Is Florida, invasive species, python edible?” by a well known snake guy in an extensive Q&A NPR interview, along with answers to alot of other questions about pythons (and invasive iguanas), apparently current as of 2011(?).

      Short answer: Everglade Burmese python apparently has high levels of mercury. Reason not identified.

      1. WM Avatar

        Geez. Sorry, PBS/Nature not NPR.

      2. Mark L Avatar
        Mark L

        Hmm….eats live prey, including fish…sounds like a good mercury candidate. Maybe market them as a ‘highly mobile mercury absorbent device’?

        1. WM Avatar

          It should come as no suprise the source is bioaccumulation up the food chain to the python. BUT there seems to be some disagreement if it is man-caused (rainwater laden atmospheric Hg origin from urban areas + ag sulfate runoff = formation of toxic methylmercury compounds) or from naturally occurring exposed surface sediments mixing with naturally occuring or ag sulfates, if I read the USGS study abstract correctly.

          Mercury levels in Everglades wildlife that might be consumed by humans (or other animals) is over 5X the safe level for humans! The topic gets lots of press there, with little offered in the way of a solution.

          Guess those guys hunting and reducing the invasive python population in the Glades will have to settle for a skin on the wall. Oh dear, would that be a trophy?

      3. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan


        The Burmese python as a major carnivore, including one of carnivorous fish, probably is high on the food chain, explaining why it has a lot or mercury, and I’d suppose other pollutants concentrated in it.

  3. CodyCoyote Avatar

    Some might consider Angus, Hereford, Charolais, Simmental, Galloway bovines and Ramboullet, Moreno, Targhee et al ovisi , and any horse at all not named Appaloosa , to be ” invasive species” here in the West.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      I mentioned the cow hunt in Hawaii, and of course cattle are invasives everywhere because their ancestors are all extinct.

    2. Nancy Avatar

      Interesting you should bring up Appaloosas CC.

      Its a breed of horse I seldom ever see in ranch pastures around southwest Montana even though the breed has a long history, not to mention a great reputation, as a stock horse.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      That sheriff got it right – “even though the law says you can go 85 MPH” common sense ought to kick in at some point, especially at night, in areas ripe with wildlife.

      3 mulie does have now been hit and killed within a mile of my place, in the last month.

    2. sleepy Avatar

      That road is a private toll road, owned and operated by a Spanish company. Perhaps it should be fenced well enough to keep the hogs out, or even better, a few well-timed lawsuits against the company might achieve some result.

  4. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    I’m all for heavily hunting exotic species and I would certainly hunt feral hogs for the meat if I lived where they were prevalent. However, it is unfortunately unlikely to be a solution in really curtailing them in most terrain as they are highly productive and somewhat elusive. There is a hunter-response curve so that as they become harder to get, hunting pressure diminishes (hunters are prey-switchers like any other predator, although in my area the prey that many switch to after heavy winter kill of deer is Costco steaks and NFL TV). It is certainly worth encouraging though.

    1. Mark L Avatar
      Mark L

      SEAK Mossback,
      The young (feral hogs) are really good eating, and the sows are decent, even the older ones. The older males have too much funk for me…just too gamey. Unfortunately, I think the Kansas model will be necessary in a lot of places to root them out. Also, several bear have been shot in the southeast mistaken for large boar.

  5. mikepost Avatar

    I guess no one wanted to touch the feral horse menu with a 10′ pole…

    1. Mark L Avatar
      Mark L

      Sorry, I’m not French….I’m cajun. (I’ve eaten horse, but not a fan of it.)

  6. rork Avatar

    For pigs it’s shoot on site in Michigan (and our “orange army” is large), and you aren’t allowed to keep boar on game ranches anymore. Maybe one without the other doesn’t work so well.
    Most folks who know botany now commonly call white-tails invasives here, since they satisfy every part of almost every definition (unless you need “alien” too). Whether they can cause more extinctions than horses, I’m not sure.

    1. rork Avatar

      Site should be sight of course.
      My theory is that I wrote “sight” but it shape-shifted. It’s common, and oddly, never for the better. Like shooting the rare, majestic, albino silver pheasant – it shape-shifts into a chicken by the time the dogs bring it back every time. There is no other possible explanation.

  7. jdubya Avatar

    What about feral horses? Nevada is full of them, the range is over-populated and they have no effective predator. Lotsa people will pay to shoot a bison that is just standing there, why not an open hunting season on feral horses that like to run….when I was growing up we fed our dog Hills horse meat.

    1. WM Avatar

      Perfect. Might I also suggest feral horse on the menu at federal and state penitentaries, perhaps along side a little feral hog and a kudzu (invasive plant but edible) salad gathered by miniumum security inmates. Maybe that is an idea Congress and state legislatues could get behind to balance their respective budgets, while seeking political cover from these moron animal rights advocates that blocked feral horse slaughter through USDA meat inspection rules.

      1. Harley Avatar

        Feral hog, I can see that but horses? While I understand completely the practicality of the idea, it’s one I couldn’t back up. Invasive species… yeah, I guess so. But there’s just something about that whole scene that just turns my stomach, majorly. Talk about another messed up issue. Management gone very badly. I’ve seen those endless pens of wild horses that have been rounded up and then…. stay there. I loved that whole story about Wild Horse Annie but yet, there’s over crowding. I dunno, another mess that I myself can’t see a clear cut answer.

  8. RobertR Avatar

    If an invasive species is one that is not native but is smaller or bigger than the species that was native to a specific region. Why is a bigger species introduce to suit the needs of some?
    So it’s fine to shoot an invasive species without question but a nuisance native animal is wrong. It cannot be a one way street.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue


      “If an invasive species is one that is not native but is smaller or bigger than the species that was native to a specific region. Why is a bigger species introduce to suit the needs of some?”

      My apologies if I am wrong, but might this be in reference to those giant, aggressive, illegally reintroduced Mackenzie Valley wolves.

      1. Robert R Avatar
        Robert R

        Immer Treue

        It could apply to the Mackenzie Valley wolves, but I think it’s far more than just wolves. I call it bucket biology or experimental introduction of any species.
        You can call domesticated animals that have gone wild and populated out of control feral and you may as well say the same for all the exotics that have been introduce.
        The only time I will use the word reintroduce is if the animal has been proven without a doubt it’s native.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Robert R, as I wrote in the original article, one can make a good case that white-tailed deer, certainly natives, have overpopulated in a number of areas.

      I used to argue that they (whitetails) were a factor in the spread of Lyme Disease, but after reading David Quammen’s new book on zoonoses, I think I was wrong about Lyme Disease and the deer.

      Nevertheless I think there are too many of them, but it isn’t easy to define overpopulation of native species in an objective way. Invasives are easy. I say zero generally is the correct number.

      1. Harley Avatar

        Ralph, would you put wild horses in the invasive category? Just curious.

      2. RobertR Avatar

        Ralph, whitetail deer is a hard one to discuss because there are so many sub species for one and the urbanized deer only have one predator, man and with more and more private land being off limits to hunting a huge problem is being created. Most that do allow fee hunting don’t tolerate coyotes or any natural predator because it’s like livestock depravation to them and they are loosing money.

      3. jdubya Avatar

        Bigger restriction is the tick that carries the Lyme bacteria. They don’t like our heat and arid humidity.

  9. Cris Waller Avatar
    Cris Waller

    The Freakonomics Podcast did a story on the feral pig issue in their episode “The Cobra Effect.”

    Interestingly, a military base tried to eliminate the hogs by offering a bounty- only to have their population go up. A main factor was that hunters were using bait to lure in the hogs, so the ones who didn’t get shot were getting a fine meal that helped their productivity.

    Also, I know wild hog (and other invasive game animal)eradication programs have run into big opposition from hunters in some places, because they do not want a “game species” wiped out. So I don’t know that private hunting is the answer when an invasive species really needs to go.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan