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Wild Boar Management with Fraser Mackay

Wild Boar Management with Fraser Mackay

SACS friend Fraser Mackay, a highly experienced wildlife manager based on Scotland's West Coast, talks us through the intricacies of effective wild boar management in this fascinating new blog post. Thank you, Fraser, for contributing!

The Importance of Selective Culling within Wild Boar Management - Blog by Fraser Mackay

Wild boar or ‘feral pigs’ are an increasing problem in the UK, with populations in England, Scotland and Wales at present; they require careful management and selective culling is paramount in their control. Unfortunately, there are estates and land managers that are adopting a ‘shoot on sight’ policy. This will only help to disperse numbers and increase the population.

Wild boar are very social animals and there is a hierarchy in the sounder (family group of boar). The lead sow controls the group: she decides where the boar forage, is often the sow on guard and decides when to break cover and also when to flight. But more importantly she controls which sows get served in the group when the rut starts.

In the winter (between Christmas and early January) the lead sow comes into season first, followed by the rest of the sows. By this time the mature boars in the area have already located the family groups and are waiting in the wings. The lead sow gets served first and then the boar continues through the group covering any in-season sows. The lead sow follows him around stopping him serving sows she feels aren’t ready or are too young. If the lead sow is shot under a ‘shoot on sight’ policy then all the females of the sounder get served, increasing the overall population. The group is also unsettled without the lead sow and will often disappear from feeding sites, becoming very wary and hard to manage in the future until a new lead sow has been established.

Germany has a pyramid system in place. When controlling boar within a group they always pick the smallest animal to cull, working their way up to larger animals as they arrive. This ensures that the lead sow is left unharmed. Germany’s population problem stems from the end of WW2. After the war, the public were forbidden to hold firearms and the military did the boar culling, shooting anything they came across. The local knowledge was ignored and the boar population escalated to uncontrollable numbers.

I have experienced this first hand on one of the estates where I have been involved in the boar management. We had repeat guests that had been coming for many years and were experienced in our system and boar shooting on the estate. We had three teams of pairs going to different locations on the estate to sit out for boar. One rifle and one lamp holder in each team. Before we went out, I showed them footage from my trail cams for each boar hide, explaining what was coming in and what was to be shot, making it perfectly clear that the pyramid system was to be used and the smallest animal was to be taken first.

My guests each had a Spanish guest of theirs with them and I also had a guest with me. The evening was coming to an end when I got a call on the radio that one of the teams had got one, but they had lost sight of it and required my dog. I tell people that if they can’t see the animal dead, don’t go looking for it in the woods in the dark as an injured boar is dangerous. On arriving, the dog found the boar in under a minute lying in the river. It was a big sow! My English guest had fallen asleep, but once awakened put the lamp on and the Spanish guest got his shot off before the lamp man could stop him. Oh well, these things happen.

This mistake gave me a great opportunity to check out the German’s system of protecting the lead sow. The sounder that visited that feeder also visited two other feeders within their excursions every night, so I put up trail cams to see what their reaction was to losing their leader. Normally after a kill, the other feeders were visited the following night and sometimes even the feeder where the kill was made was emptied by the morning. The first change that came to light was that they didn’t appear at any feeder for just less than two weeks. When they did, they were very nervous and only stayed at a feeder for a few seconds before darting off.

Within the original sounder were three adults which all had three piglets at foot from the spring before. As they mother each other’s piglets there was no loss from the lead sow’s piglets. Out of those nine piglets, five were sows, four were boar. In the subsequent rut the young boars were ousted, as is normal. This is the time they break away from their mother’s family group, meeting up with other young males to form a bachelor group of their own. The following spring, the two remaining adult sows had three piglets again, four of the young females had two piglets each and one had one. So the population of that sounder produced fifteen piglets. If the original lead sow had been there, the population of the piglets would have been limited to three each for the mature adults.

The rest of the estate’s population of boar held firm and were what we expected. This sounder’s increase in piglet numbers was purely down to the lead sow being shot.

Our sounders here on the West coast of Scotland are relatively small as the pressure on food resource is high. But in the Forest of Dean or where there are crops being grown, then the sounder family members would be a lot higher so an increase in piglet numbers could be massive in a sounder with ten or fifteen sows in it.

So, study your groups of sounders, don’t rush a shot as you have plenty of time once the boar are in feeding, and selectively cull. One boar hanging in the larder and another chance tomorrow night is better than not seeing them again for a fortnight or increasing the population the following spring.

Fraser Mackay - find out more about Fraser and his work at

Posted by: / 11 December 2018 at 12:57 / Comment

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