Even though efforts to authorize use of the controversial warfarin-based hog poison commercially known as Kaput met with stiff resistance and ultimately failed, that has not stopped scientists from looking for other tools to use for hog control in Texas. For instance, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently experimenting with a sodium nitrite hog poison known as Hog-Gone, produced by Animal Control Technologies of Australia.

Researchers first started experimenting with sodium nitrite as a hog control tool in Australia back in 2005. Texas Parks & Wildlife has studied the poison at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area northwest of San Antonio for nearly a decade as well. In an effort to build on the research conducted at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area, the USDA is currently conducting further testing of Hog-Gone at Camp Bullis, an Army installation near San Antonio.

Sodium nitrite has many uses, but it is best known for its use as a meat preservative for ham and bacon. Hogs are particularly sensitive to sodium nitrite and will go to sleep and die from a lack of oxygen to the brain within a few hours of consuming a lethal dose.

The biggest problem researchers have identified with using sodium nitrite as a hog poison is that it doesn't taste good. To get around that problem, Hog-Gone contains a lethal dose of sodium nitrite encased in a protective coating similar to a gel capsule. This coating prevents the hog from smelling or tasting the poison when it is eating, but then dissolves in the hog's stomach.

If the poison continues to perform well in future field trials and gets approved for general use in Texas, landowners and animal control teams will eventually start putting out bait in specially designed feeders that hogs can open, but are difficult for animals like deer and raccoons to access. Once hogs get conditioned to eating from these feeders, then the users will add the actual poison to the bait to start killing hogs.

Just like with any other poison, there are a number of potential problems and unintended consequences that could come with using sodium nitrite as a hog poison. For instance, even when using the special feeders, nontarget species like deer will still likely consume some poison from the bait station. Scavengers like vultures and coyotes will also eat dead hogs after they consume a lethal dose, thus getting exposed to the poison as well.

There is the possibility that sodium nitrite will get into the water supply from hog carcasses. Additionally, there is still a risk that a hunter will kill and eat a hog that consumed sodium nitrite.

The fact that sodium nitrite kills hogs much faster and more humanely than warfarin (hours instead of days) mitigates, but does not entirely eliminate most of these risks. Fortunately, independent researchers in Australia and the United States have been studying sodium nitrite as a hog poison for many years now, so the risks of using it for hog control are much better understood than they were with warfarin.

So far, it appears that Hog-Gone does not pose nearly as big of a set of environmental problems as Kaput did. However, until researchers are certain that this is indeed the case, we should be skeptical of using Hog-Gone for hog control. It also looks like they are not in a big hurry to approve it for general use and plan on conducting several more field tests in the near future to make sure using sodium nitrite for hog control is indeed a good idea in the long term.

At first glance anyway, sodium nitrite seems like a much more promising hog control solution than warfarin. However, even if it works well as a hog control tool with minimal environmental impacts, we're still years away from it getting full approval. If the ongoing trials at Camp Bullis go well, then researchers will start larger-scale field testing during the spring of 2018, and Hog-Gone could receive EPA approval as early as 2020.

Only after that happens can it be used as a new weapon in the War on Feral Hogs. Until then, traditional methods of hog control like trapping and hunting are the only real options for landowners.