Bob Baker has been trapping feral hogs in Wharton County for about 15 years. Last year, he bagged 1,198 of the notorious swine, which can weigh more than 300 pounds, each.
But no matter what he does, the hogs keep coming back.
"You think you're making a difference," Baker said. "They're still there."
An estimated 2.6 million feral hogs run rampant across Texas. Few animals are more destructive. Using their delicate sense of smell, hogs can unearth and devour every kernel of corn a farmer has sown. They use their curved tusks to root through the grass for grubs. Wallowing in the mud, they scar the earth and cause river banks to erode. They prey on small animals from deer fawns to turkeys.
As if all that weren't enough, feral hogs carry dozens of parasites and contagious diseases.
"I can't really think of anything they do (that's) good for the ecosystem," said Linda Tschirhart-Hejl, a College Station-based district supervisor for Texas Wildlife Services.
For the time being, reducing the state's feral hog population is out of the question. But John Tomecek, an assistant professor and wildlife specialist at Texas A&M University, will be sharing some tips for controlling their spread on a local level at this year's South Texas Farm and Ranch Show.
Tomecek has studied feral hogs for years and hunted them from helicopters. Part of the problem, he said, is hogs' capability to reproduce, which is unparalleled for a species of their size.
Hogs arrived in Florida with Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century. Many of the domesticated pigs eventually escaped and adapted to the wild, Tomecek said. Some cross-bred with Eurasian boars imported from Russia, producing a species that can survive in the wild and breed up to three times a year.
"If you can imagine a 300-pound rabbit, that's what we're dealing with," Tomecek said.
Farmers and ranchers bear the brunt of the damage done by feral hogs, which cause an estimated $52 million in damage to the state's agricultural enterprises annually, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
But the hogs are increasingly cropping up in urban and suburban areas, including city parks and subdivisions.
On a recent September day, Keith Wheat, who works as a hog and coyote trapper in Victoria County through Texas Wildlife Services, took a drive through Riverside Golf Course in Victoria. Huge swaths of turf all over the practice course were uprooted and stubbled with divots.
By night, Wheat travels the course with an AR-15, chasing down the packs of hogs that rove the park. In recent weeks, they've done upwards of $100,000 damage, according to the course's superintendent, Brian Woolard.
"Thirty years ago, I loved hunting 'em," Wheat said. "Now, I wouldn't give you 20 cents for one."
Tschirhart-Hejl said Texas Wildlife Services takes an "integrated pest management approach" to battling hogs. Employees like Wheat hunt them with thermal scopes, while others take to the skies and try to take out an entire sounder all at once.
Tomecek said landowners can open their property to Texas Wildlife Services for professional removal to help knock the population back.
But it takes a sustained effort to keep hog numbers down. Fortunately, lower-cost solutions are available. Landowners can bait corral and box traps or spray grassy areas with pesticide to remove grubs and worms, Tschirhart-Hejl said.
During his presentation, Tomecek plans to discuss several simple traps that can be built easily using scrounged materials.
One thing is for sure, there are too many hogs for anyone to deal with the problem alone. That's why hunters and wildlife experts alike say collaboration is important.
"Everybody can do something on their property," Tomecek said.