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HUNTERS get chance to go hog wild

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TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Hunters out to bag a buck also may take home a ham under new regulations that permit the hunting of wild hogs on most state-managed lands.

The rules approved this month by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission allow the hunting of feral hogs during regular hunting seasons, using whatever methods are legal for that season.

The rules are aimed at hog populations that are destroying farmland and competing with wildlife for food and habitat.

``They'll eat just about anything,'' said Bill Dinkines, the state Wildlife Department's assistant chief of wildlife. ``I've heard them described as vacuums. They'll go through an area and just suck up all the acorns.''

No one knows how many hogs are running wild in Oklahoma, but populations of the prolific beasts have been identified in 56 of the state's 77 counties.

``We've even trapped two of those things in Oklahoma City coming out of the Canadian River,'' said Dr. Gene Eskew, a staff veterinarian with the state Agriculture Department.

The hogs sometimes roam in hordes of 30 to 40. They uproot pastures, often causing so much damage the fields appear to have been ``cluster bombed,'' Eskew said.

Feral hogs also can carry diseases that threaten domestic stock, including pseudorabies and swine brucellosis.

Under the new regulations, a hunter could shoot hogs with a shotgun during spring turkey season, for example, or use a muzzleloader during the primitive firearms deer season.

Hunting is limited in far southeastern Oklahoma _ specifically in the Honobia Creek, Three Rivers and Broken Bow wildlife management areas _ to the nine-day deer gun season around Thanksgiving.

Hunters also must have a filled or unfilled deer license and comply with other state hunting regulations.

The aggressive, ill-tempered hogs are blamed for damage to hurricane levees in Louisiana, crop damage in Texas and considered a threat to rare and endangered species in California. Other states allow feral hog hunting as sport, and hunters find them a challenge.

``They're pretty tough critters,'' Eskew said. ``They're kind of considered to be the poor man's grizzly bear.''

In Oklahoma, the hogs are the products of illegal dumping of domestic animals. The state has a long tradition of residents releasing hogs in the wild and returning later to harvest them. That has made hunting a touchy issue in some areas where residents lay claim to free-roaming animals.

In the past, the state avoided controversy by labeling wild hogs as domestic livestock.

Dinkines doesn't expect many hunters will be on the prowl for hogs alone when hunting seasons open this fall. He anticipates deer hunters will take the opportunity to kill hogs when they can.

With the hogs typically producing 12 piglets a year, Eskew doubts the new regulations will put a big dent in the porcine population.

``The regulations are not very strong,'' he said. ``I don't know how you bring them under control. We will never eliminate them. We would hope to be able to reduce their numbers.''
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