Where have the Pigs Gone?

typical pigs grazing cropped

About twenty-five years ago, I shot my first pig. It was a surprise pig as I ran into it while hunting turkeys. The sow weighed about 200 pounds and I spined it with an arrow from about 30 yards. At the time, pigs were present in Alameda County, but not prevalent.

Ten years later we were in the middle of a pig population explosion. Pigs became very available on the best huntng ranches, including ours. I took up part-time guiding for pigs as a way to get outdoors and take advantage of the situation. I set up a lease arrangement with a nearby rancher and paid him $100 for each pig my customers took, along with an access fee to cover the cost of my impact to his operation.

Over a few year period, we killed quite a few pigs on his ranch. We generally found the pigs at first light as the left their nighttime feeding areas or around ponds during the heat of the day.

pigs like ponds cropped

This isn’t a great photo, but there are 13 different pigs in the picture. I believe I took this photo on a foggy June morning in about 1995.

The photo below was taken later in the summer. Once again there are about a dozen pigs in the photos and they are displaying typical pig behavior.more pigs at pond cropped

On a  hunt on our ranch, I followed my friend Joe DiDonato as he tried to catch up with one of the pigs pictured in the pond photo above.joe stalks pig cropped

Joe's pig cropped

I don’t believe Joe ever caught up with the above pig, but he did bag the one in this photo on a different trip.

On a guided hunt with Gus and Casey Kerry. Casey followed this pig into a large thistle patch and we walked through the thistles until Casey was able to get a shot. It was a little exciting walking around in a thistle patch with a bunch of pigs.Kerry bros Gus and Casey with pig

Casey and his dad, Jeff came back again the next summer and Casey shot this good-sized sow.Casey and Jeff Kerry with big sowHere’s a really big boar taken on a different hunt. This big boar was one of the largest taken and was also very impressive looking.big boar hanging cropped

As is often the case, the pig hunting was too good to last. Although sport hunting could control pig populations on hunted land, the large unhunted public tracts created a significant problem. Pig management became necessary in the form of paid professional pig hunters who used every legal means to reduce pig numbers.

pig trap cropped

Trapping was the most effective method of rapid pig population control.  A trap like the one shown could trap an entire herd of pigs – sometimes as many as 25 at a time. The pigs are attracted to the trap using grain as bait. After a few nights of baiting, the pigs return to the trap regularly. A trap door is placed at the entrance to the trap and when it is triggered, the pigs cannot escape. On some occcasions pigs  return more than once in a single night.

The pigs are shot in the trap and removed. Sometimes the meat is utilized, but that is often not a requirement. I have personally witnessed 25 squealing pigs being shot in one of these traps. It’s not something I’d like to view again – what a racket.

pig dogs cropped and resized

 Hounds are another effective method of removing pigs in large numbers. These catahula hounds have very sensitive noses and live to hunt pigs. They are mellow and friendly to people, but watch out pigs. Between traps and hounds, pig numbers have been greatly reduced over the last ten years.

However, there are probably other factors contributing to the current absence of pigs. A few years ago the DFG changed the regulations regarding pig depredation and landowners are allowed to shoot pigs on sight, leaving their carcases to rot. In addition, a hunter used to be limited to one pig per day. Now a hunter can take as many pigs as he has tags for. Since pigs often travel in small family groups or larger herds at times, one can take more than one when they are located.

Disease and loss of habitat are other contributing factors, but in the case of this game animal, the decline has been mostly orchestrated (by DFG and large public landholder who treat pigs as a nusance). Pigs are a feral animal with few supporters. These non-native animals are blamed for many things, such as a reduction in amphibian, reptile and ground-nesting bird species.

Combine that with the fact that ranchers often consider pigs a pest that competes with cattle for food, while others fear pig-borne diseases can be transfered to people via public water supplies, it appears to me that pig hunters are looking at a losing battle if they want to try to turn things around.