The only sign of life in Julian at 5:00 a.m. this April morning are men in white paper toques rolling out pie dough at the bright-lighted Julian Bakery. It’s a deep black morning when I meet Marc, a hunter who’s agreed to lead me by starlight to a semisecret spot, down several ravines in the Cleveland National Forest. There we’ll track and surprise and he’ll shoot, if he’s lucky, San Diego’s newest and most elusive game animal, the Russian boar.

Five miles southwest of town, driving into the headlighted darkness, we stop at an access point, a chain barring our entrance. Marc leaves his Dodge Durango running, and we talk in the red glow of his taillights. Of the few admonitions he offers up — the 40-year-old French-Canadian and 9-year Julian resident prefers I not use his last name — is this: “If you don’t mind, don’t say where we are. If we get a pig today, tomorrow there’ll be 50 people from PETA and 200 hunters converging on this spot.” Though I can’t see the playful tease in his eyes, I get the seriousness in his voice — some things are worth keeping secret. Especially to hard-core hunters.

Out of my view, Marc puts on his hunter’s clothing, head-to-toe camouflage — boots, pants, and shirt, and “nothing on underneath,” he says. He bundles his unruly, wiry long hair under a face mask and ball cap. It’s a striking look — a sort of woodsy terrorist. He notes that the face mask, as well as the entire outfit, suppresses human body odor, which pigs, whose eyesight is lousy but whose nose is first-rate, can detect hundreds of yards away. They will smell us — that is, me — before they see us.

Before we step over the chain, Marc unlocks from its fiberglass case a Smith & Wesson i-Bolt .30-06 hunting rifle with scope and shoulder strap. He says he can hit a game animal 500 yards away — “precisely.” (Later, he loads the magazine with three copper bullets.) The last piece of gear he totes is a small folding seat, with a carrier slot underneath for a self-filtering water bottle that he fills from the creek. “I drink of streams,” he says proudly.

A few days back, Marc phoned the California Department of Fish and Game and requested a good spot on public land where we might encounter pig. He was told that groups of 20 to 30 feral pigs had been spotted in the backcountry of the Cleveland National Forest, south of Julian and east of Ramona, in the backcountry canyons of the San Diego River.

Since when have wild boars been in San Diego County?

In 2006, a tribal person (most everyone I spoke with for this story knew the person’s name but wouldn’t repeat it) let loose a small herd of Russian boars on the Capitan Grande Indian Reservation. The plan (a generous descriptor) was to start a pig-hunting program on Indian land. For many reasons, the release was not authorized by Fish and Game officials.

First, the state lacks jurisdiction over tribes. Second, hogs reproduce rapidly once they find a habitat that suits them. This is a problem because the animals don’t observe borders between public and tribal areas, which in the county’s backcountry are vast and complicated. A map of the area shows all sorts of zigzagging boundaries between Indian, private, and public land. Pigs rarely stay in one place, wandering and rooting where they please — most often in protected or less-populated areas, a long, safe distance from hunters.

In four years, that herd, estimated at 20 to 30, has grown to between 200 and 400 today. Do the math: four doublings in four years. The pigs have been spotted throughout the backcountry: in Alpine, Cuyamaca, Ramona, east of Poway, and near the headwaters of the San Luis Rey River in the western foothills of Palomar Mountain. Recently, boars have been seen crossing the road near Dudley’s Bakery in Santa Ysabel and along the Sunrise Highway in the Laguna Mountains. The pigs’ range extends more than 30 miles from their release point on the north side of El Capitan Reservoir all the way to Pala Indian Reservation.

Feral hogs are destructive to ranchland and native plants, they compete for resources with deer and other game, and as noted, they proliferate like rabbits. Their unchecked propagation has stirred the U.S. Forest Service and California Fish and Game to direct hunters to access points where pigs can be “harvested” (the kindly term) on public land. Our miserly rainfall will do some of the weeding. But pigs are supremely adaptive. What’s more, they are “naturally reclusive,” says Marc. Pigs in the right habitat can grow to the tens of thousands: during the 1990s, more than 30,000 pigs were shot in California alone. Accurate state and national estimates are hard to come by. Some boar watchers say there are three million pigs in Texas and one million in Florida. Others put the U.S. total between two and six million.

Marc has hunted pigs at Fort Hunter Liggett Army base, near King City, in southern Monterey County. In two years, he’s hunted at Liggett some 20 times and had a chance at a pig only once. “I had five seconds,” he recalls as we cross a field and head toward a ravine. The pig came out of and ran back into the brush. Marc shot and missed. People who object to hunts think that the animals are flushed out toward certain deaths. On the contrary, Marc says. His lone chance is proof of how hard it is to bag a pig.

Pigs Are Extremely Intelligent, Far More Than We Imagine

Such odds make our seeing, let alone shooting, a pig highly improbable. Pigs, Marc says, are “100 percent nocturnal.” That’s why we’re here in the dark. As we approach, they are bedding down in the thickest thickets they can find, typically near a stream. The best we can hope for is to catch a sow and her young emerging for a predawn drink in the creek or a solitary boar, sleepless and on the roam.

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Comments

Visduh Aug. 6, 2010 @ 8 p.m.

This is an excellent story. The first part, about the hunting, is right on the mark. Every fall I put myself through a ritual called "deer hunting." The descriptions of the area, the tedium of waiting, and the distant prospect of success are accurate. I'd only have hoped the author had found a local hunter who had, at least, seen a wild pig locally. While there is plenty of evidence that they are in the area, the number of sightings of them rivals the rarity of sightings of Sasquatch. For the past two or three years, my son has bought a pig tag along with his deer tag, but he's seen nothing porcine. The herd will have to grow much larger before sightings of wild porkers become commonplace.

As to his concluding comments, I can only caution that I've "seen" all sorts of wild game that turned out to be something else. There are many instances where I wished antlers onto does that I could see. Only waiting until I was "absolutely, positively" sure kept me from bagging a prohibited animal. Wishful thinking can produce wonderful memories of things that never were there and never happened.

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thestoryteller Aug. 9, 2010 @ 12:55 a.m.

I will boycott this magazine and it's site for a week, due to the killing of pigs.

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itchyrich Oct. 9, 2012 @ 8:09 a.m.

That goes to show what you know about the harvesting of wild animals for poulation control. Do some reading before you make your silly comments!!

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David Dodd Aug. 9, 2010 @ 2:38 a.m.

Why? Near as I can figure out, the magazine nor the site killed any pigs...

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Visduh Aug. 9, 2010 @ 5:16 p.m.

Refried, just keep in mind that the VERY IDEA of hunting or killing is a total turn-off to some folks. thestoryteller is likely one of those folks. Ya' gotta understand.

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David Dodd Aug. 9, 2010 @ 5:54 p.m.

Well, Visduh, ya gotta kill something or you're not gonna eat! I'm not much on hunting, although my father used to when I was young. I love venison to this day. And I can't see a problem with hunting what you're going to consume. Some people don't dig it, and that's understandable, but it isn't the Reader's fault that some people hunt.

Funny story about Tijuana, one morning I went downtown and noticed a new taco stand, Tacos Venados. I went about my business and then came back to that taco stand, "venado" is "deer". I asked for a venison taco and he looked at me like I was nuts, and then he laughed, "No, that's just the name of the taco stand."

I was highly disappointed.

I like to fish. The meat tastes great and what's not edible makes for great fertilizer.

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MsGrant Aug. 9, 2010 @ 6:20 p.m.

There are some who see animals as capable of experiencing something akin to emotion. Animals give birth, fiercely protect their young, and give unconditional love. This is a very nice poem that I happen to love, and that I think describes best how those that feel about this, feel strongly.

Saint Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell

"The bud stands for all things, even for those things that don't flower, or everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing; though sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness, to put a hand on its brow of the flower and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing; as Saint Francis put his hand on the creased forehead of the sow, and told her in words and in touch blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow began remembering all down her thick length, from the earthen snout all the way through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail, from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine down through the great broken heart to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them: the long, perfect loveliness of sow."

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Robert Hagen Aug. 10, 2010 @ 11:54 a.m.

Ms Grant,

Thats a beautiful poem.

Heres the new installment of 'Soccer Mom' at myspace.com/diegonomics:

http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.ListAll&bID=538090404

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Robert Johnston Aug. 12, 2010 @ 2:43 p.m.

Mindy1114-- This may sound crass, but in order for one being to survive, another must die.

Be it animal or plant--one must die to feed another. Even when we die, we feed so many other organisims (such as bacteria, worms, crabs, fish, plankton, bugs, plants), either from the grave, the sea, or in ash form.

I respect your choice of nourishment style (I'm trying to cut out red meat myself, adding more beans, rice, and fish), but that little crack about the kharmic (hoped-for) reincarnation of the "Mexican Caretaker" was uncalled for. I can see the sadism in his method of dispatching the animal-in-question, but leave the "afterlife destiny" speculation for this fellow to his chosen Deity, OK?

Oh, as for the wild pigs in our county? This is a prime example of what happens when a non-native species takes root in it's new environment. Just as with the "snakehead" fish in the Ohio River Valley, the Aisan Carp in the Great Lakes, and the feral Burmese Pythons in Southern Florida (plus the well-known example of rabbits-running-rampant in Austrailia)? They soon become pests that destroy their adopted habitat (and the fauna within).

And all to make a few bucks on hunting rights (or in the case of the pythons, unwanted pets being tossed into the Everglades).

That, in itself, is sadistic...for eventually, we all suffer.

--LPR

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Visduh Aug. 13, 2010 @ 3:45 p.m.

What seems like such a good idea at first can have catastrophic consequences. When humans arrived in what is now called New Zealand, the only mammal there was a tiny bat. The rest of the fauna was birds, including flightless birds that had no predators. A huge bird, now extinct, called the Moa was in some ways like the ostrich and the emu, only larger. The first human arrivals (now known as Maoris) brought, I recall, rats and dogs, the first by accident I suppose and the latter intentionally. But for a long time those species coexisted with the native animals, except for the moa, which the Maoris hunted to extinction. Then Europeans came along, and decided that they needed some things to hunt. First came big rabbits that proliferated to a point of crowding everything else off the islands, so some predators were introduced to hold down the rabbit population. Yeah, weasels and stoats added to the mix. They really like kiwis, and now that national symbol bird is hard to find, endangered, and kept in a few refuges that have no predators.

But the Brits couldn't leave it alone, and introduced domestic sheep, cattle and hogs. To make the hunting even better they added big red deer and some wapiti (elk) to the islands, forever altering the ecology. They had so many deer that they found in recent years that they could farm them along with elk. If you order "venison" in a restaurant here or in Europe chances are that it came from NZ. In a few hundred years those islands went from being a sort of shangri-la for birds to a huge meat and milk factory. And there's no going back to what the islands once were.

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David Dodd Aug. 13, 2010 @ 5:14 p.m.

@ #13: Even when humans do this sort of thing thinking that they're doing some good, it often ends up being bad in the long run.

Hawaii has quite a mongoose problem.

When the first ships began to arrive in the islands, they brought rats, and there were no natural predators for rats, so it wasn't long before Hawaii had a large rat problem. The studied and wise humans who brought the rats felt really bad about it and came up with a solution: They introduces snakes onto the island in order to combat the rat infestation! This worked a little too well. The snakes had no natural predators on the island, and so they not enly enjoyed the rats but also the eggs of many birds that didn't otherwise have any need to over-protect their nests.

In short order, Hawaii had a large snake problem. You can imagine how bad the humans that introduced the snakes to the islands felt, and they thought long and hard to reach a solution in order to combat the snake problem. They introduced the mongoose, that fierce snake-loving rascal (that also eats rats), and so the mongoose has been responsible for the destruction of several native birds and other critters on almost all of the Hawaiian island chain.

To date, Hawaii still has quite a mongoose problem.

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Visduh Aug. 14, 2010 @ 12:39 p.m.

Hawaii was probably as screwed up as New Zealand, maybe more so. Each fix was a worse choice than the thing it was intended to repair. Sad that those birds were exterminated unintentionally in Hawaii. There's also an effect on the flora of those islands. Animals and birds interact in many ways we can only begin to understand. New Zealand is covered with a shrub that has bright yellow blooms, called "Scotch broom." It is aptly named because it is an exotic, having been brought along from Scotland. They'd love to get rid of all of it, but it is so well-established now that is impossible.

So, if these wild pigs in southern California tear up the oak mast, that will result in failure of oaks to regenerate, and the forests will be forever altered here. There's enough going against oaks now, with the borers that are killing them right and left. With limited opportunities to grow seedlings, in a few years, oaks in the mountains may be a rarity instead of a mainstay. So, if anyone needs a reason to want these wild porkers kept under tight control or exterminated, there's one. There are more reasons for that.

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SDLaw Aug. 14, 2010 @ 5:58 p.m.

NICE REPORTING!!

Who knew? Reporters actually getting into the field and researching topics. Hopefully more will follow.

As for the comment about boycotting the site, I will make sure to tell other people about the good reporting and try to offset any negative effects of boycotts.

As for me...I LIKE pork. If we can get some fresh local pork that was naturally raised with no preservatives or hormones, or steroids, or anti-biotics and whoknows what else, I don't see a problem.

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Visduh Aug. 14, 2010 @ 9:48 p.m.

OK, SDLaw, does that mean you are volunteering to assist some hunter in bringing his pig carcass out of some canyon in exchange for some of the meat? Just let these guys know your cell phone number, and you can expect a call soon to assist. That's the essence of "living off the land." Have fun!

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SDLaw Aug. 20, 2010 @ 12:19 a.m.

Visduh - YEP! I would be happy to help haul it out (Old Alice pack frames are good for that - btw). Not crazy about tent camping form more than seven days or "living off the land", but if the population of these pigs is not controlled, things can get out of hand very quickly. I believe pigs can have piglets twice per year and about 10+ each time, with the new pigs able to breed in under two years. Their population has the potential to increase much faster than just doubling every year. Supposedly these pigs are Russian (big ones too) and were bred and released on Tribal land. I fear that once they become more visible it will mean their population has alrady exploded and they can no longer hide at night because they need to find food during the daylight. They shouldn't have been released into the ecosystem here. A large pig population can really throw things out of whack. I'm not sure what predators could control their population. If no predators, then their population grows until they starve and likely starve several other native species along with them. It is not a good situation, something similar happened on Santa Cruz Island. Although the pigs were limited to the small island, they managed to get to a balanced population of over 5,000 pigs. I believe it cost the government about $1,000 per pig to have them removed to restore the island. So, to answer your question, I WOULD help haul some pigs out now, BEFORE they create an ecological mess.

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