Wet Sows And Sport Hunting Vs. Depredation

I’m always tickled when one of my friends tells me about a successful hunting trip, even if it  makes me a little jealous right now because I haven’t had time to do any hunting on my own.  So when I saw that my friend, Hank (blogger at The HunterAnglerGardenerCook… and author of Hunt Gather Cook, Finding The Forgotten Feast) had made the trip down near Paso Robles and brought home the bacon, I had to beat back the green-eyed monster and be happy for his success.  Of course, for Hank that success was way overdue… it’s been something like three years since he last shot a hog.  I’d be a basket case if I went that long without a good hog hunt!

Hank’s hunt sounds like a good one, as he was out on about 12,000 acres with RJ Waldron of Northwind Outfitters, a little north of Paso Robles, CA.  Success has reportedly been good there, and they did spot multiple hogs before Hank took the one he dubbed, “Matilda.”  You can read his story yourself, but in short, Matilda was a perfect meat pig…  a sow about 100 lbs and probably unbred (a gilt… which also makes her an ideal candidate for culling if you’re trying to manage the populations).

But in the hunt leading up to the kill, he was faced with an interesting and fairly common quandary.  Fairly early in the day, he had his crosshairs dead-on a big sow as she fed completely oblivious to the impending doom.  His guide held him up a second, and sure enough, the sow was “wet” (still nursing piglets).  Killing a wet sow isn’t the end of the world, but it usually means the death of the dependent piglets as well.  That’s a pretty hard thing to do on purpose, especially when the reason for the hunt is to fill the table, not to eradicate a pest animal.  I’ve witnessed it more than once, and there’s simply no way to maintain a detachment from the resulting, heart-rending scene.  We’re all human, despite what some folks would have you believe.

It reminds me of the significant divide between sport hunting and eradication/extermination.  I’ve often maintained the argument that sport hunters will never be effective at serious population reduction or elimination because they’re generally not willing to take the harsh measures it requires.  Most of them won’t (and some can’t) shoot the little, striped piglets.  Most of them won’t orphan a littler of piglets by shooting the wet sow… especially if they actually see the babies suckling.  Many of them won’t even kill more than they can process and eat.

But when it comes to an invasive, non-native species like the wild pig, those extreme measures are sometimes very necessary.  Hence, it justifies things like aerial shooting and corral traps… even when the meat is sometimes buried, left to rot, or sent to the tallow factory.  It’s hard to think of something as large, warm-blooded, and intelligent as a pig in the same way you’d think of ants or cockroaches, but to the depredation hunter that’s what they are.  It requires pragmatism and a somewhat, hardened heart.

This isn’t to imply a shortcoming on the part of the sport hunter, or vice versa.  Some of us are both, so the dichotomy isn’t even exclusive.  When I’m hunting for myself, I won’t shoot a wet sow.  It tears me up to think of the implications.   I’ve heard those little ones calling, and watched them climb over the carcass of a recently deceased mother, and even now I can feel the pangs of sorrow and regret… even though I’m not the one who killed her.  To inflict that for the sake of recreation and a freezer full of meat is simply beyond me.

But there’s another side.  When I’ve been asked to help with depredation, I’ve had to put those misgivings aside.  There are bigger considerations… the health of the habitat, or the success of a crop.  The idea is to eradicate, and in this light the animals are simply destructive vermin.  The reason for being there is different, so the justifications are different as well.  It isn’t always easy, or at least not for me (and I don’t think for anyone with a conscience).  You do it because it has to be done.

Anyway… just something I’ve been thinking about.

“Do I contradict myself?

Very well, then I contradict myself.

I am large.

I contain multitudes.”

Walt Whitman