Māori were quick to take up pig hunting, and early European settlers hunted the pigs that destroyed crops and killed lambs. In the 1930s a government bounty of ‘two bob a snout’ was paid, and during the 1940s either a shilling or three rounds of .303 ammunition were paid for each pig’s tail. Pigs were also poisoned in large numbers during the 1940s and 1950s.
By 1988, one estimate put the number of feral pigs killed by hunters at around 100,000. In 2007 the New Zealand Pig Hunter magazine claimed a readership of 25,000.
Rifles and knives
The hunter usually jumps onto the pig, which is held by dogs, and kills it by sticking a knife into its neck. Some hunters use guns to dispatch their prey: wielding a knife and diving into the frenzy of biting dogs and pig’s tusks is a risky business.
For large pigs hunters must use a large-calibre rifle such as a .303, as .22 bullets are not powerful enough to kill large boars outright, and no hunter wants to be faced with a wounded boar.
Dogs are often used to bail up the quarry. They scent the pig and race after it, with the hunter or hunters following. Not only can dogs find pigs, but they can also chase them out from under tight scrub and places inaccessible to hunters.
The role of pig dogs
Pig dogs, of many different breeds, are expected to do three things: find, bail and hold. Some dogs can do all three, but more often hunters use four or five dogs, with different roles:
- The finding dog locates the pig.
- The bailing dog keeps the quarry in place by barking at it. This one is usually smaller, and must be agile enough to avoid any sweeping tusks.
- The holding dogs, which are larger, grab hold of the pig’s ears, tail and testicles – anything they can bite – until the hunter arrives.
Dogs are sometimes trained for particular roles.
Then there was one
In 1981 five hunting dogs bailed up a boar on the Coromandel Peninsula. By the time the two hunters reached the scene only one dog, Zeb, was uninjured and still hanging on to the animal’s ear, and one was dead. The boar was shot, but a second dog died within ten minutes. Despite a visit to the vet another expired that night, and the fourth lasted only a couple of days.
Dogs are often hurt by pigs’ tusks, and sometimes die of these injuries. There is also at least one story of a hunter being killed, and others have been badly injured by the tusks of angry boars.
Pig-hunting clubs around the country regularly hold competitions for the heaviest pig captured. The weigh-in is the highlight of the day, with the pigs hung up and compared. Categories include best boar, best sow and best tusks. The largest boars caught in New Zealand have weighed 190 kilograms gutted. The length and girth of the tusks, and the extent to which these have been ground on the upper teeth, can also be used to calculate a figure to determine how the tusks are ranked, using the Douglas Score system.
Enthusiasts read the specialist magazine New Zealand Pig Hunter, which has photographs, stories, and classified pages listing missing dogs, dogs for sale, and dog trainers.