One warm night in the Hill Country of Texas, I looked out the window of my cottage and saw about half a dozen squat, black, wild pigs grazing in the moonlight about 20 yards from the door. In an instant I was on my feet and running full-tilt into the herd, my hand reaching for the knife that never left my belt.
The sensation of something soft and squishy, almost certainly a lump of pig dung under my foot, was followed by a clump of thorns in the other foot. Apparently I was running barefoot. When I was right on top of the shocked pigs, they started running. But I had the momentum. I singled out a smaller one toward the back of the pack (don’t mess with the big ones without a gun) and went for my knife.
Only it wasn’t there. In my haste I had forgotten not only my shoes but also my knife, which was still lying on the cutting board in the kitchen with the vegetables I’d been chopping for dinner. I ran a little longer after the pigs, figuring that turning around too early might show weakness. Just one of the bigger boars in this pack could easily kill me if it realized that I was bluffing.
About seven years ago I made a decision to stop eating factory-farmed pork. I think my first look at a modern farrowing crate was the final straw. Pigs are as intelligent as domestic dogs and are capable of seeking out human affection. I don’t know where the line is between refusing to eat a chimpanzee and being concerned that eating honey inconveniences bees, but pigs seemed like a pretty good place for me to draw one in the sand. I went about five years without touching pork. Considering that this period coincided with America’s bacon renaissance, I missed out on a lot.
During this time I started deliberately pursuing invasive species to eat. I ate nutria from the swamps of Louisiana, speared lionfish in the Bahamas, and sniped black spiny-tailed iguanas in front of the Bush family’s Florida vacation house (no trouble from the Secret Service, oddly enough). All of it is detailed in my book Eating Aliens. After about 16 months on the road, I noticed that the most effective work against invasive species was often a result of a few locals taking personal responsibility for the problem. Wild pigs are some of the most destructive invasives in the United States. I decided to hunt wild pigs, and if you care about the environment, you should, too.
Swine were first brought to North America by Spanish explorers in the 1500s and intentionally released. Countless other introductions have followed during the past five centuries. Feral populations expanded and crashed in different areas across the continent. Pigs were easy to get established in the wild during times of plenty, and when people needed them for food they’d go out and shoot them.
In recent decades, though, the number and range of wild pigs have been expanding rapidly. The gradual reduction of hunting in the United States may be to blame, or possibly changes in habitat. Whatever the cause, the effect has been dramatic. Pigs dig constantly in search of roots and other food. This badly erodes the earth and changes the distribution of many plant species. When a couple of pigs visit a garden or an inviting patch of woods, the result looks as though a bulldozer passed through. And after a while it’s not just a couple of pigs. In southern Georgia, I watched a herd of about 50 pigs move across a moonlit meadow in a single, relentless mass.
Pigs are omnivores, like most humans. Wild swine will eat the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds, reptiles, and amphibians that have essentially no hope of escape. Invasive pigs will almost certainly cause the extinction of native species if left alone. This is not just nature doing its thing—this is a problem that human beings created by introducing the pigs. To let nature run its course would be, ethically speaking, not very far from dumping industrial waste in a river and calling the result natural selection.
Invasive pigs are going to be removed only when people decide to take personal responsibility for the problem and go hunting. Even people like me—a former vegetarian who still wouldn’t eat so much as a slice of commercial bacon with my toast and coffee.
I hunted pigs on the coast of Virginia, in several areas around Georgia, and the Hill Country of Texas. A few times I used a shotgun, more often a rifle, and sometimes only a knife and a prayer. Usually someone else’s rules—a land owner or the local law—dictated the weapon of choice. It is open season on wild pigs year-round in most states, although the exact rules vary from place to place. Trapping also works well, and many states have park rangers and biologists trapping pigs in great numbers.
In much of the United States, our collective efforts against wild pigs have been not unlike my crazed midnight run in Texas. Lots of activity without enough results. The problem isn’t going to be solved without bringing some real weapons to bear. We need new hunters to step up to the plate and start hunting the invasive pigs in their own area. The existing hunting subculture probably can’t do this on its own. In fact, some areas have seen pigs deliberately introduced by rogue hunters who hope to eventually hunt them for sport.
Wild pigs are found widely along most of the West Coast and are thick along the entire Gulf Coast and well inland across much of the South. New invasions have been cropping up on the East Coast. Swine invaders are now overrunning the land within a short drive of Washington, D.C.
Are there wild pigs near you? Are you up for joining the fight? Vegetarians and bacon-abstainers are welcome aboard.