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.