If you’re armed and happen to see several hundred pounds of ugly, aggressive wild pig–shoot to kill.

That’s the word from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and state hunters have taken them up on it, killing 244 feral swine since 2002–including nine in the last three years in Washtenaw County.

“Two were killed in 2010,” confirms DNR spokesperson Michelle Rosen, “one in February and one in October, a 150-pound sow with a firearm and the other with a crossbow. And new tracks were sighted in February 2011.”

Rosen won’t say where the tracks were seen. “We receive reports from concerned citizens with the trust that we will not give out detailed land or personal information. We respect this trust and use it to continue to keep people reporting feral swine.” However, Legacy Land Trust executive director Susan Lackey confirms that a wild boar was sighted last year in the group’s Sharon Short Hills Preserve, between Manchester and Chelsea.

The DNR estimates 3,000 to 5,000 feral swine are loose in the state. “They first came to our attention in 2002 when thirty-two Eurasian boars escaped from a game farm in Baraga County,” says Rosen. “Then there was an intentional release of an unknown number of domestic pigs in 2004 by vandals from a game farm in Gladwin County, and they’ve been on the increase ever since.”

A state law passed last year lets anyone with a hunting license or a concealed weapons permit shoot feral swine on public land. “On private land, you don’t even need a hunting license,” says Rosen, “and you can use any method as long as it’s humane.”

The state wants them dead, she explains, because “feral swine cause a lot of damage: ecological, environmental, and financial. They’ll go through a field of corn and dig it all up. Then they’ll wallow in the field and make divots like huge potholes that damage farm equipment. They can also damage trees and contaminate water sources, plus they compete with other species for food. They have a rapid population growth with no real predators, and they’ll eat anything, including animals as large as foals. You might find pigs eating Bambi.”

Though the number of sightings statewide has gone down since 2007, the DNR is convinced the swine are still out there. “They’re nomadic and wily,” Rosen says. “If they get scared off in one area, they’ll go somewhere else.”

If you do happen to kill a feral swine, there’s a bonus: Rosen says you can eat the carcass. “People should treat them as they would any wild game or pork from the store. Handle and cook the meat properly and thoroughly, dispose of the carcass like you would any game carcass–for example, a deer.”

But save the head. Because feral swine can infect domestic pigs, Rosen says, the agency encourages hunters “to report their kill to the DNR and to submit the head and/or carcass to a DNR office or the [Lansing Wildlife] Disease Lab for testing.”