Like most hunters in San Diego, Marc has not yet seen a feral pig in the county. He’s seen pictures of them and read the chatter on internet forums, where hunters talk with one another while revealing no precise location of pig sightings. “What they know about game, they learned in the field, so they guard it jealously,” he says. Descanso hunter John Ogle bagged a 241-pound wild pig last October east of Ramona near the San Diego River. He told the Union-Tribune, “I’ve hunted San Diego County for 38 years and I’ve never seen a wild pig here before.” After butchering, Ogle had the oinker’s head stuffed and mounted. When I contacted him about my tagging along on a hunt, he curtly replied, no thanks. I took it to mean that lugging a reporter (decidedly, a nonhunter) into the field would identify tactics and spots Ogle has earned through long, hard slogs — and for what, tipping his hand to some writer?

A purple haze bands the eastern sky. We’re a good mile into a steep ravine, trying not to crash through the brush. Marc slows and says softly that “a pig is more intelligent than a dog. If we startle one, he’s going to go for the guy with no gun” — his glance at me is merciless — “so stay behind.” If there’s a choice of hogs, Marc continues, he’ll try to bring down a hundred-pounder. It would be onerous to drag a 300-pound boar, despite its being field dressed and boned, out of this gulch.

Soon we find rutted ground, telltale pig presence. The churning is spread under a grove of coast live oaks, their trunks scorched from the 2003 Cedar Fire but their crowns grown back. Full-grown pigs use their upper and lower canines like a garden tiller to unearth buried acorns and plant roots. Maybe a week ago, they came through, Marc estimates. “They bedded here, stayed a couple of days, and moved on.”

Wandering a bit drunkenly downhill, slipping on rocks that look firmly in place but suddenly tip up, dodging dry swirls of cow dung, putting my arms up and creeping through poison oak brambles, I feel my wilderness schooling in the Boy Scouts settle me down. Step softly like the moccasin-footed Indian. Keep your voice at a whisper. Anything worth saying can wait. Linger, scan for movement. There, what’s that? Is that a boar or a boar-shaped rock?

For the next three hours, morning comes on, quiet and tranquil. Marc and I find overlooks above creek washes, and there we sit. We don’t talk. We watch with and without binoculars. We take in the terrain. Far off, the delicate lavender of Ceanothus sprigs. Close by, the ritual upper-body bobbing of a male lizard courting Ms. Right on a sun-dappled rock. During a one-hour bivouac, Marc, hands tucked under his armpits, gun across his lap, dozes. Only the rustle of the creek and the infrequent squawk of a Steller’s jay break the silence. We wait for the pigs to come into view. I learn that hunting is waiting, requiring more patience than fishing, where, reeling in and casting out, you have, at least, some dialogue with the fish, imagined or not.

Waiting, we seem to melt into the landscape, inconspicuous. Hunting is about noticing everything else while you wait.

Later, over lunch, Marc tells me about himself. A solitary hunter, he learned to hunt with rifle and bow just recently, following a self-defense class. That class was brought on by the bruising year of 2003, when he lost his home in Harrison Park. Harrison Park, he maintains, was “sacrificed” to save Julian during the Cedar Fire. He’s still dry-mouth bitter about the fire’s and the government’s unfairness, during and after the siege. A computer programmer who is rebuilding his home with solar panels on the roof, Marc is “hooked on hunting.” Out in the grand quietude of the Cleveland National Forest, waiting for boars, he likes to contemplate his fate.

Moreover, Marc has been driven to hunt as a move toward self-sufficiency. For one, he says, “Human psychology has a hunter-gatherer streak”; for another, he believes we must face an impending loss of resources, especially electricity, and scale back our communities to the basics, living as our ancestors did in the 19th Century. He’s not a survivalist, he says, though he will survive. He’s not political. He’s pragmatic. Learn to garden, hunt, use less. Only a hunter, he says, knows where game animals are in the Cleveland National Forest: incredibly, animals worth shooting for food occupy, he notes, about 1 percent of the forest’s 460,000 acres. The thing he’s learned is that animals “are extremely intelligent, far more than we can imagine.” They don’t just give in and wait to be shot.

Such is our lot: eight hours spent in the placidity of perfect pig habitat yields no pigs. They’ve been and gone, at least, in the ravine we’d been told they were. Or perhaps they were asleep in a thicket, dreaming of cattails, unstirred by our morning arrival.

They Use Their Tusks to Scar and Bleed

A rainy evening last December, Susan Wells heard a commotion outside her home, coming from her corral. She owns Morning Star Ranch, “Where,” as her website says, “horses are boarded with T.L.C.” The horses were spooked by something. Wells’s ranch is in Poway, near the top of the Sycamore Canyon Preserve and numerous riding trails. Running outside, she discovered a boar and a sow, about a year old, rooting in the corrals for food. They had squirmed in under the fences to where horse feed and droppings lay. She tells me that “an older horse got scared, slipped, and fell down. He couldn’t get back up.” The pigs were not attacking the horses, but their presence was “traumatizing” them nonetheless.

Wells says she espied the culprits right off; they had stumbled onto a bounty of eats: fallen fruit, leaves, hay, grain, horse manure. “They thought they’d found the best place on Earth here,” she recalls. Wells phoned “a million different people.” She contacted neighbors to see if they had lost a pair of pigs. Then she called the Humane Society, Animal Control, Project Wildlife, Fish and Game. None of those agencies returned her call that evening. “The only people to respond were the Emergency Animal Rescue,” a volunteer group. “They came out and helped me catch them.” It wasn’t hard, either. They laid down a trail of cookies, a line of tasty deception the pigs fell for. Wells and Animal Rescue guided the pair into a pen.

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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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