Year of the Pig

Aug 15, 2012

“Year of the Pig”

Author: Mark J. Hainds

Publisher: University of Alabama Press

Pages: 272

Price: $16.95 (Cloth)

Mark Hainds, a research assistant with Auburn University stationed at the Solon Dixon Forestry Center in Andalusia, Alabama, set himself a challenge. Within the period of one year, 2007 (that is, the “Year of the Pig” on the Chinese calendar), he would hunt and kill wild, feral pigs in at least ten states.

This book is the result. He completed his task, including hunts in California and Hawaii, and has written up the many different hunts and also discussed at some length his other passion, the restoration of the southern long-leaf pine forests. As a growing number of people now know, once the South was covered in these majestic forests; now only 3 % remain.

There is a strong connection between these two interests.

Wild pigs rooting with their snouts and tusks cause more damage than the layman can easily imagine. They often root up the newly planted long-leaf pine seedlings. Wild pigs also root up rows of peanut crops, gardens, pastures and, in their search for food, dig up insects, grubs, fungi, worms etc., so ferociously they can cause soil erosion. Pigs will also eat reptiles, amphibians, worms, small mammals. They will follow after bush hogs and eat wounded rabbits, birds, even fawns, anything injured by the mower.

Steven Ditchkoff, in his Foreword, tells the reader that “in some parts of Texas [pigs] are the second greatest predator of livestock (the greatest being the coyote), usually consuming newborn animals. Most of these predations go unnoticed, because pigs consume the entire carcass.” They have even been known to break into houses looking for food.

Erskine Caldwell wrote of people being killed and eaten by pigs. Apparently this was not impossible.

Ditchkoff also tells us pigs sexually mature at 8 months and can have 2 litters per year of 4-5 piglets.

Pigs apparently breed like rabbits.

So it is difficult to control them, and where National Parks don’t allow civilian hunters, paid professionals are sent in to kill them, wholesale. Often the carcasses are just left to rot.

Mark Bailey, a conservationist, hates wild pigs. In his Foreword he says he would like to “pull the trigger on the last feral pig in the South.” The wild pig is “an invasive, ecological nightmare, a scourge on the landscape.…”

We learn that pigs were introduced in America by Spanish sailors, on islands usually, in the 16th century. Now 20 states have wild pigs. Some escape from farms. Some are released by farmers if the price of pork falls too low and some are let loose so hunters can stalk and kill them, although these tend to come to baited sites and are semi-tame.

One learns a lot of unusual information about wild pigs, but all the above is from the first few pages. Then there are the chapters on the actual hunts, way too similar to one another for anyone but a fellow pig-hunter. Hainds travels to the site, usually rising abominably early, suffers either heat, mosquitoes, and water moccasins, or rain and freezing weather, and kills a pig or several with little or a lot of difficulty. Unlike the professional exterminators, Hainds does butcher and eat them.

On a couple of occasions he hunts with bow and arrow, but even here he waits up a ladder stand or in a blind. Sometimes there are dogs which chase and corner the pig and then the guide seizes the pig by the hindquarters, after which, Hainds reports: “I plunged the knife into the pig’s side..…Hot blood splashed over my hand.…”

On the Hawaiian hunt the dogs themselves love the chase so much they will die of heat stroke if not stopped in time.

This book reminded me of those on football seasons, where each quarter of each game is summarized. Like those, the play-by-play narration of “Year of the Pig” is for fans only.