REYNOLDS COUNTY, Mo. – Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) employees love to hear deer hunting stories, especially when it’s a young person’s first hunt. The first deer hunt is a milestone and every family has their own traditions; grandfather’s gun might be used, a special breakfast eaten, or a lucky hat worn.
Every detail of these stories is treasured, along with the joy of venison in the freezer. But thirteen-year-old Ethan Bryan, of Terre Du Lac, had a first deer hunt that didn’t meet those expectations. His first hunt was ruined by a sounder of feral hogs.
“I couldn’t wait to take Ethan hunting,” explained Dan Bryan, Ethan’s dad. “This was the year he said he wanted to go, so we were excited and I’d really hoped for a good hunt. I couldn’t wait to teach him.”
The two planned to hunt on U.S. Forest Service land in Reynolds County on the early youth deer season weekend, Oct. 28 and 29. They hunted Saturday, but had trouble with a scope, so they went out again on Sunday, this time with Ethan’s great-grandfather’s gun.
When Ethan sighted in a spike buck and shot it, father and son were thrilled.
“You know, there’s that great feeling of accomplishment when you take your deer and I saw it on his face,” Dan said. “I was so excited for him, but then when we tracked the deer to retrieve it, I saw a pretty good sized bowled out area. I thought that might be a feral hog bedding area.”
Dan said he’d hunted in the area for years, and although he has friends who’d experienced feral hogs, this was his first encounter with them. Feral hogs are an invasive species and are highly destructive and prolific.
Feral hogs will eat nearly anything available, including many species of native wildlife. They also compete directly with native wildlife by eating acorns, a major fall food source for deer, turkey, and black bear.
Their rooting and wallowing behaviors destroy Missouri’s landscape and pollute waters.
As the two stepped over some downed trees and saw the rooted up ground, they heard a large animal growling.
“One large hog took off in the other direction with some piglets, one stood its ground and then we heard crashing coming through the brush and it was two large hogs charging at us,” Dan described.
The rifle was jammed, so he couldn’t shoot the hogs.
“I told Ethan to get behind me and I raised my arms, hollered and tried to make myself look bigger and intimidating, then I told Ethan to head straight up the ridge, look for the tree stand, and get up off the ground,” Dan said. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.”
The two made it out safely, but not with their deer harvest.
“Those hogs were aggressive, they were exactly where the deer was and we just couldn’t get the deer and get out of there safely,” he said.
Conservation Agent District Supervisor Billy Barton said the Bryans made a reasonable effort to retrieve their harvest, as specified in The Wildlife Code of Missouri, and that there’s no concern other than their safety.
“It’s regrettable that they weren’t able to retrieve their deer after such effort, and it’s unfortunate that Ethan’s first hunt went that way,” Barton said. “We’re glad he and his dad weren’t harmed.”
Barton added that anytime a wild animal threatens a person’s safety, that person has a right to defend themselves. He encourages hunters to contact their local conservation agent for help in similar circumstances.
“It’s also unfortunate that feral hogs, an invasive species that doesn’t belong here, ruined Ethan’s first deer hunt,” Barton said.
MDC and its partners are working to trap feral hogs near where the Bryans were hunting. The goal is complete elimination of feral hogs from Missouri. In some counties, such as Reynolds, this is definitely a daunting task that certainly isn’t going to happen overnight.
“Feral hogs reproduce so quickly that we must continue to work vigorously to keep Missouri’s wildlife and landscape from further and lasting damage,” Barton said.
“We hope all Missourians will recognize the dangers of feral hogs and the threats that they pose to our farms and native wildlife. We encourage you to talk to your neighbors about the problem so we can all be on the lookout for these pests. By doing your part, you will help keep Missouri as a great place to hunt.”
As for Ethan, his dad said he’s determined to hunt again, despite this first experience.
“We don’t mind sharing this story, especially if it helps people understand how dangerous feral hogs are,” Dan said. “I guess Ethan’s first hunt is memorable for that reason.”
Learn more about feral hog elimination efforts and how to report sightings at www.mdc.mo.gov/feralhog