Foraging for Wild Pig

This is a guest blog post by Valerie Imus, who accompanied her boyfriend, Kevin Cook, on a recent hunt for wild boar. Kevin was one of the panelists at our talk about foraging, on July 10, 2011.

On the way to the field, bumping down the two-track in the predawn quiet, our hunting guide says, “When you get out, don’t slam the truck door. You’ll scare the pigs.” My boyfriend, Kevin, has been hunting for the past few years, a sport I never thought I’d endorse, let alone accompany him on a trip. Yet, there I was, following a burly guide with an indistinguishable rural accent at 4:30am, trying to step as quietly as possible. The guide stopped occasionally to peer through binoculars and whisper into a walkie-talkie, receiving updates on the pigs’ whereabouts. Pigs had been seen in a nearby barley field gleaning the remains of the recent harvest. Kevin kept picking up fingerfuls of sandy dirt and letting them fall slowly, to test the wind. It’s important to know which way the wind is blowing. Though pigs can’t see very well, they have a keen sense of smell. Somehow I hadn’t imagined that hunting would entail tiptoeing around and worrying about my own pungency. 

Wild pigs are not a species native to California. California’s wild pigs are a hybrid of feral domestic pigs, brought by Spanish settlers in the eighteenth century, and European wild pigs, introduced in the 1920s. For years, California wild pigs were a populous nuisance, decimating crops and rooting in fields, but their numbers have thinned as drought and erratic frosts have depleted the acorns that are their winter staple. Most hunters are drawn to hunting by their desire to participate in the natural world. But killing a feral pig in a farmed field makes me wonder about the line between wild and domestic. 

The sound of the gun, a .30-06 rifle, was the loudest thing I’ve heard since I stopped going to punk rock shows. When I recovered, I saw a pig on the ground with legs kicking in the air and four others running off across the field. By the time we walked to her side—a hundred yards or so—she was lying still, with her mouth open and a stream of blood flowing from her head.

It’s ideal to aim for the heart and lung. If you aim for the brain but hit the jaw, the pig might run away and slowly bleed or starve to death. Luckily, Kevin had hit her in the brain. She died very quickly, which was a huge relief to me. This is embarrassing to admit, but I had had a vague idea that amidst the hunting party, I could be a witness to the pig’s death, an empathetic anchor to her suffering. In that moment, however, the gulf between my world and hers was clear. Watching her die was unnerving and sad, yet also calm and mundane. I bent down and put my hand on her black, bristly side, and then stepped back to take the traditional photo of Kevin holding his gun, kneeling behind the pig. I’ve always found these images distasteful, but I recognize that hunting is difficult and requires skill. With the guide, Kevin grabbed her by two legs, and heaved her into the truck. 

We drove to a barn outfitted with what looked like a metal swing set with two hooked prongs in place of swings. Our guide quickly broke the pig’s back legs and threaded hooks through the exposed Achilles tendons. He made a long incision from the center of her belly to her back, and delicately shaved the skin away from the carcass. Then he sawed off her head, and sliced open her belly, letting the internal organs spill out. A coppery smell drifted over. I had imagined that watching this would make me nauseous, but the process seemed oddly moving, rather than grotesque. This was practiced work. I was torn about whether or not I should take photographs. In about five minutes, everything was over. The carcass was quartered by saw and stored in coolers. 

I found myself continuing to refer to the meat in the coolers as “she.” Inexplicably, I felt a deepening affection for the butchered animal, as if her dismemberment allowed me to have a relationship with the animal in my imagination, a relationship more comfortable than the one I had with the actual beast. We took the coolers and left a pile of innards to be devoured by buzzards.