The first deer hunt is a milestone in most every young hunter's life, but not in the way Desloge City Administrator Dan Bryan's 13-year-old son Ethan intended. His will always be remembered for being ruined by a sounder of feral hogs.
“I couldn’t wait to take Ethan hunting,” explained the elder Bryan. “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. 28-29. They hunted Saturday but had trouble with the rifle's scope, so they went out again on Sunday, this time with Ethan’s great-grandfather’s gun. When Ethan spotted a spike buck and shot it both 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,” Bryan 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.”
Bryan, who became Desloge's new city administrator in July, 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. They'll will eat nearly anything available, including many species of other wildlife.
The wild hogs also compete directly with other wildlife for food by eating acorns, a major fall food source for deer and turkey. But their rooting and wallowing also destroys topsoil and pollutes water sources.
As the two hunters stepped over some downed trees and saw the rooted up ground, they heard a large animal grunting.
“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,” Bryan said.
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,” Bryan said. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.”
The two made it out safely, but not with their deer.
“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,” Bryan 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 to report such 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 - an obviously lofty goal indeed. In some counties, such as Reynolds, this is 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,” Bryan 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.