A WHOLE WORLD OF WILD HOGS
It was the middle of a dark, snowy night. We were hunting predators, not pigs, but it was late and we hadn’t seen much when a sounder burst out of a clump of brush. My host quickly said, “You should take one if you can.”
A very big Eurasian wild boar, taken in Turkey. This is the real deal, found across much of Europe and Asia, size pretty much depending upon growing conditions. This pig is the ancestor of both domestic pigs and worldwide populations of feral pigs.
They were balled up together as they moved across a small opening, impossible to pick one, but as they moved up a snowy bank the last one stood clear and I fired. Then they were all gone, but we quickly found blood on the snow and in a few dozen yards came upon a good-sized hog. I suppose we could have been lots of places, but we were in the Eastern European country of Croatia. So these hogs were the “real deal,” genuine Eurasian wild boars. They really aren’t much different from our feral hogs—maybe a bit hairier—but certainly not much different in habit or attitude.
Hunting wild hogs is all the rage in the U.S. today, with feral hogs rapidly increasing both their range and their numbers, and thus creating marvelous hunting opportunities. This isn’t new to me. Wild hogs have been bona fide game animals in California for decades, and many years ago passed deer as California’s most popular and most important big game animal. So I’ve been a pig hunter for a long time, and I’ve never been ashamed of it. Come to think of it, it occurs to me that I’ve now hunted pigs on all six of the huntable continents!
I often joke about the “ham slam” or “swine sweep” or “porcine parade,” but actually taking one each of all the world’s wild swine ranges from difficult to impossible. In Africa one finds the warthog, bushpig, giant forest hog, and one other I’ll get to in a moment. Warthogs are common; the others are very difficult. There are several varieties of wild hogs in Asia, some of which are little known and not currently huntable, like the babirusa and warty pig. Most common and most widespread is the Eurasian wild boar, the ancestor of both domestic swine and feral hogs the world over. Some domestic influence is almost unavoidable, especially in long-settled areas like Western Europe. However, the true wild strain is very dominant, so across Europe and much of Asia pigs vary somewhat in size and color, but are essentially the same animal with the same general appearance. In Europe, I’ve hunted wild hogs in Germany, Spain, Austria, Czech Republic, and now Croatia; in Asia, I’ve hunted them in Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Mongolia—not always successfully, but always eagerly. I like to hunt pigs.
The white-lipped peccary is one of three races of peccary in South America (including our own familiar javelina or collared peccary). Although the peccaries look like pigs, they actually have significant biological differences.
In South America there are at least three varieties of peccary—our javelina or collared peccary is one of them—but although swine-like in appearance, the peccary is of an altogether different genus, with significant differences from true pigs. The wild hog in South America is essentially the same as ours, a feral hog. They are extremely widespread in Argentina, and for local hunters is probably the most important game animal.
The situation is much the same in the South Pacific, with wild pigs found in many areas. In many cases they were introduced to offer a source of meat to passing ships, so in some areas the pigs are pure feral (if there is such a thing), while in other areas (like northern Australia) some pure wild Eurasian pigs were introduced. With idea habitat and an absence of predators, feral hogs are widespread in Australia and, as in so many places, are the most available and thus most popular game for many local hunters. Elsewhere it varies from island to island, but feral hogs are important for both meat and sport hunting throughout the Pacific region, including U.S. territories. (Hawaii and Guam).
Drivers and hunters head back to the road after a boar drive in Tunisia. Hunting wild boar by organized drives is extremely popular in Europe, and is pretty much the only way the Barbary wild boar is hunted in North Africa.
I have heard that a couple of operators in South Africa have established populations of either feral hogs or Eurasian wild boars. This is probably a shame, as they could compete directly with local species (warthog and bushpig), but once pigs get going it has proven almost impossible to stop them. In North Africa there is another native wild swine, the Barbary wild boar. This animal looks very similar to the European wild boar, but has been separated since the existence of the Mediterranean Sea. The Barbary wild boar is currently hunted in Morocco and Tunisia…I hunted them in Tunisia in early 2012, an inexpensive and exciting driven hunt that dozens of Europeans participate in, but Americans have heard of.
Here in North America there have been several introductions of pure European wild boar, but none of our wild populations are pure, and all have at least some feral influence. This doesn’t matter much. Body size is much more a function of food than lineage, tusk size much the same. Quality of meat, well, that also depends mostly on diet. No matter where you are older boars with good tusks are pretty rank (we call them “sausage hogs” because that’s about all you can do with them), while younger boars and sows yield darned good pork. As our feral hog populations continue expand more and more American hunters will be happy to call themselves “pig hunters”—but I figured all this out a long time ago. I have a little place in southern Kansas where I hunt whitetails, so for the last few years I’ve been watching as the feral hogs spread northward across neighboring Oklahoma. Right now they’re within ten miles, so I figure I’ll have some on my place in a year or two. My neighbors are horrified, but I can’t wait!