Jacob Breeden, of Lignum in Culpeper County, recently shot and killed in his front yard what may be Virginia’s largest-ever feral hog, weighing a whopping 545 pounds.
According to state wildlife officials, the sizable male beast could have alternatively been an escaped domestic pig or a feral swine that someone fattened up for recreational hunting, which they do not encourage due to the significant damage the disease-ridden creatures can cause to crops, property and people.
Whatever it was when 17-year-old Breeden saw it tearing up his yard last Saturday, he grabbed his rifle.
“I went outside, and it charged me, he was flapping its jaws together and running toward me,” he said. “I was kind of shocked to see how big it was. When he came up to me the way he did, I had no choice but to shoot him.”
Breeden said he was scared for himself and his young nieces and nephews in the house, calling the thing with tusks “a wild boar.” His adrenaline kicked in and he took down the beast that measured 6 feet and 10 inches long from snout to tail.
Breeden, who lives in a wooded area, later weighed the hog at a nearby farm. He said he’s had encounters with supposed wild boars in the area before, but that he doesn’t usually hunt them.
“I believe it was a smart one that had been hanging out in the woods for a while,” Breeden said.
Mike Dye, district wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, said the creature could not be definitely identified at this point.
“If it was a feral hog, it was being fed — a lot,” he said. “They typically do not have the resources to get that big in nature.”
Feral swine are the same species as and often look very similar to domestic hogs, but are generally thinner with thicker hides of coarse bristly hair and longer tusk. The animals are called by many names including wild boar, wild hog, razorback, piney woods rooter, and Russian or Eurasian boar.
The average feral hog in Virginia is typically much smaller with an average weight of around 200 pounds for adult males and slightly smaller for females, Dye said.
“Larger feral hogs are somewhat uncommon as there is a high mortality rate as there is a lot of hunting pressure on this population,” he said.
The beasts are classified as nuisance species in Virginia and can be killed or trapped at any time of the year with no bag limit. They are very destructive to agriculture and environmental resources, including streams and rivers where they like to hang out to cool off, Dye said.
He added that it’s uncommon for feral hogs to demonstrate aggressive behavior like charging someone as Breeden described, but that it has happened. The Dept. of Game & Inland Fisheries has worked for years with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to completely eradicate the species first brought to the country in the 1500s by early settlers as a source of food.
A tissue sample was taken for testing from the large Lignum pig, said Jeffrey Rumbaugh, staff wildlife biologist with the USDA office based in Moseley. The sample will be compared with a genetic archive to see if the creature is related to other feral swine from the area, he said.
“It’s unlikely that a feral hog in Culpeper would grow to be that large unless it had easy access to something other than acorns or whatever else it could find in the woods,” Rumbaugh said.
Still, he said there had been no reports so far of humongous missing domestic hogs in the Lignum area. Rumbaugh said some feral pigs can show aggression, but it’s the exception and that they typically don’t want to be seen and want to get away quickly when faced with human contact.
Feral swine, with their lack of natural predators, have been reported in at least 35 states, including Virginia, with a nationwide population estimated at more than 6 million, according to the USDA.
Efforts in Virginia and locally to eradicate the population through trapping and killing have been effective, Dye said. At one point, he estimated hundreds of feral hogs roaming Culpeper County, a figure he said is now likely below 100.
“It is a heavily hunted population with the majority of mortality occurring through hunters,” he said. “In the next two to three years, they could be eradicated.”
Rumbaugh said Culpeper was once considered a hot bed for feral pig activity in that online searches for where to hunt them would point hunters here.
Both Dye and Rumbaugh said if genetic results confirm the beast was a feral hog, it’s the largest one they’ve ever heard of.