Date posted: April 24, 2014
They are not here, which is good and bad.
Wild hogs — Sus scrofa: swine, pig, boar — are animals that run in herds called sounders, and when it is in a pack of boars it is a singular. They are creatures famed in Egyptian, Greek, Celtic, Norse, Hindu and other mythologies. Between native stock, transplants, animals gone feral, and crossbreeds of wild and domestic strains, they are the most widespread species of big game in the world, found on every continent on earth except Antarctica — I am planning a boar hunt for next year in Tunisia.
The boar’s origins on this continent are thought to date back to the second Florida expedition of the Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de León, on which he brought all manner of domestic animals “useful in the service of mankind,” in the hopes of founding a self-sustaining settlement — he had apparently given up his search for the Fountain of Youth by that time. The universally adaptable swine Ponce de León introduced went feral and never looked back.
Then in 1912, a private game preserve in North Carolina was stocked with pure European wild boar, purchased through a broker in Berlin who claimed they were from the Ural Mountains in Russia. Legend has it that William Randolph Hearst brought the first true Russian boar to California, but it was the original owner of the North Carolina herd who introduced them to another property of his in the Carmel Valley, in the process of capturing the dozen animals for transplant, his hunters loosing four hounds, and one assistant being badly wounded. From there, the boar on both sides of the country escaped into the wild to hybridize with feral stock.
The jape has it that a sow had a litter of 12 piglets and 13 survived; and the wild pig is the most prolific large mammal on earth. It’s estimated that 37 states, and counting, have breeding populations, with between five and six million high-destructive pigs found across the United States from Hawai’i to Maine, Wisconsin to Florida. In California, Florida and Texas, feral pigs have grown into the second-most popular big-game after deer. The closest wild hogs to us are in Nebraska, but are unlikely to make their way up the North Platte into the state. To hunt wild boar, then, we have to head out of state, which can be a very rewarding trip.
Wild boar is a prized meat in Europe, where it fetches greater prices than domestic pork. The master French chef Escoffier did warn about eating any boar over a year old (there’s something unappetizingly called “boar taint”), but otherwise found that wild pig was able to “supply a very passable relevé” or stew, and even older ones make good sausage. Many years ago back in California, I organized a wild-pig roast that involved a hundred-pound boar, six-foot barbecue, 10 pounds of garlic cloves, salt, several 40-pound bags of mesquite charcoal, and 10-hours of hand turning a carcass on a spit until the hip and shoulder bones broke through the glazed bronzed crackling skin, creating something more than passably fine fare. It was all that one needed to explain a passion for pig hunting.
The three states mentioned above, California, Texas and Florida, are the top picks for finding boar; but there is also Hawai’i for a great winter vacation, or any of the Southern states. The hunting options for wild boar are extensive. At the most extreme, a hunter can pursue them in Texas from helicopters or at night with night-vision optics and suppressors. In California, hogs are hunted in the coastal mountains, mostly, the same way deer are, either by still-hunting or glassing and spotting from the ridges. Hound hunting, often with eerily blue-eyed Catahoula hounds, is popular in many locales (in California, where there is a lack of red fox, hunters in their traditional jackets and breeches, give chase on horseback to wild pigs with their foxhounds).
In Mississippi, back when, I joined a hog hunt with Catahoulas that ended with us catching a young boar and turning him into a barrow for future reference. After the impromptu surgery, the hunter pinning the boar to the ground jumped off it and everyone, except frozen me, shimmied up slender trees, while the ex-boar weighed its options before running off.
The tusks of a boar are no joke (hunters once believed they were hot enough to singe hair); and if charged, a hunter needs to turn his hip toward the pig to shield his vulnerable femoral artery on the inside of his leg. For a rifle, any reasonable deer caliber is more than enough, and many hunters go after hogs with handguns, bows and muzzleloaders.
There is something of a mythology surrounding the layer of keratin that boars carry under the hide over their shoulders, creating a supposedly impenetrable shield (the rancher who brought pure boar to California reported the killing of one hog measuring nine-feet from nose to tail, with 11 old bullets imbedded in the three-inch-thick skin of its neck). It’s tough, but not too tough for modern loads and bullets.
Barring someone illegally releasing wild boar in the state under the cover of darkness, we will be heading across country for our boar hunting, which remains a trip worth making.
TOM MCINTYRE is a contributing editor to Sports Afield and Field & Stream magazine.