Hunting wild boar in Europe is part of cultural heritage that goes beyond the outdoors. The Greeks listed capture of the Erymanthian Boar among the twelve labors of Heracles, positioning pig hunting among the activities suitable for a demigod. Medieval minstrels sang songs about their masters’ boar hunting pursuits. A wild boar, roasted whole, was the main dish on any princely feast, and the tusks were the token of the hunter’s courage and skill.
Introducing the European Wild Boar
Mature males are big and powerful beasts. The Indian shikari (local professional hunters) used to have a saying “when a boar comes to drink, tigers make way”. There is a bit of truth in it. The biggest boars on the Earth inhabit the Primorye area of Russia, where they are the staple food of the Siberian tiger – but a big boar, armed with formidable tusks and with chest area protected by a second layer of skin that can stop a ball from a primitive muzzleloader can hold his own even against the big cat.
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Sows, piglets and young animals live in herds, lead by a matriarch. Old males tend to prefer a solitary lifestyle, except during the mating season, when they join the herds of sows. The biggest and strongest pick a herd and drive away any male pig capable of mating. When two big tuskers compete for the same herd, epic fight ensues that often leaves terrible scars on the participants. The mating season happens in the critical time of the year, end of winter, and the presence of the boar adds extra security from predators.
Killing a trophy male boar does not damage the population as there is usually a surplus of them. But killing an old sow in many parts of Europe is considered a disgrace. Without the matriarch’s wisdom, the herd’s chances to survive winter decrease dramatically. Killing a sow that has piglets is not just ethically unacceptable, but a violation of the hunting laws in some countries. Immature pigs don’t have many chances to survive winter anyway, and the wildlife management in Europe maintains that up to 90% of them can be harvested in autumn without any damage to long-term population growth.
Where to Hunt Wild Boar in Europe
Wild pigs inhabit practically every country of the continent with the exception of the northmost parts of the Scandinavian Peninsula and Russia. Agriculture, and artificial feeding practiced in commercial preserves, allowed it to spread its range to the north, where there may be lower densities, but more wilderness. Whether you should go to the Balkan countries like Macedonia, Montenegro, and Romania, or one of the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), westward to Germany or eastward to Bulgaria, Belarus, Poland and the Czech Republic, or southwards to Italy, Spain and Portugal – anywhere you’ll find a healthy population of wild pigs and unique hunting methods and traditions.
Wild boars are very intelligent and flexible animals. They can feed on a variety of sources, and be active at daytime or at night, depending what strategy is more gainful at given conditions. When actively pursued by humans, pigs switch to nocturnal way of life, spending the daytime in dense woods or other areas where they can smell and hear the human well before the human sees them. This presents a great challenge for the hunter – how can one get the boar where one can shoot it?
Traditional Hunting Methods
Traditionally aristocrats pursued wild boar on horseback with packs of hounds. The hounds engaged a mature male, and held him at bay until the hunter arrived. Then the hunter would descend from the horse and handle the boar with a spear or a special hunting sword. Today very few remnants of this traditional hunt survive in various corners of Europe. In Russia, for example, in some areas hunters use laika dogs to hold boar, moose and bear at bay, and hunters stalk the animals on foot, navigating by the dogs’ bark. Usually they use shotguns and rifles to kill the boar.
High Seats over Fields
Wild pigs can do immeasurable damage to agriculture and forestry, especially when they are numerous. Non-lethal ways of crop protection don’t work really well, as pigs are intelligent and quick to understand what is a threat for them and what isn’t. Hunting is a bit more effective. It is usually done from blinds or high seats, stationary or improvised as the case might be. The biggest challenge for a hunter here is that pigs mostly come out at dusk, when making a clean shot may not be easy.
Thermal and Night Vision Hunts
Hunting wild pigs with thermal and night vision scope-equipped rifles is widespread in the USA, because the boar – a.k.a. hog – is considered an invasive species, to which no rules or limits apply. In most European countries night vision equipment is restricted. Limited use (for hunting from high seats no less than 2 meters over ground, but not for stalking) is permitted in Russia, and night vision and thermal scopes are fully legal for hunting in Belarus. If you’re not content with killing just any pig, but focus on an old, wary trophy boar instead, hunting at night with a thermal or night vision scope suddenly becomes an exciting and totally sporting pursuit, especially if it’s a stalk.
European driven hunts are a world in themselves, and there are many variations from country to country, and even within the country. In German and East European countries hunters tend to unite in groups, taking turns driving and shooting. Guests are seldom, and paying clients never get asked to lend a hand in beating, though. Other traditions imply designated drivers, often assisted by dogs. The height of such hunts is probably the Spanish Monteria. Some hunting operations can organize a drive for just one hunter, but it is difficult and often not cost-efficient, so you will probably have to share the firing line with other hunters.
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The biggest challenge of the driven hunt is shooting. No rangefinders, no shooting sticks, you will almost invariably have to shoot off-hand at running targets. Proper game identification is essential, given what was said above about sows, and that there might be other animals in the drives, such as mouflon and red deer, that may not be legal to kill just now. Safety is a primary concern. And being quiet and standing still at your appointed stand (never moving aside – another safety thing) is paramount to safety and hunting success.
As for rifles, straight-pull actions are the thing today, offering faster follow-up shot than traditional bolt actions (in most countries semi-automatic rifles are either not allowed, or limited to two round capacity). Some traditionalists still prefer double rifles chambered for medium power calibers, claiming they are easier to swing and quicker to bring on target for running game.
Hunters who are after a culinary experience are advised to set their sights on a yearling or a 3-year-old pig of any sex. The flesh of a mature trophy boar, especially during the rut and if not field-dressed properly (the trick is to cut out the private parts first thing) may have a strong and unpleasant smell. The part of the boar that most hunters want to present as a memory of their hunt are the tusks. It’s their size that determines the trophy quality of the animal. It could be turned into a full or shoulder mount, but the traditional European way to preserve the trophy of the wild boar is to have all four tusks extracted from the jaw and fixed on a wooden plaque. This way these razor-sharp scimitars look even more impressive, as their size is not hidden by lips, and are easier for the evaluator to measure.
Whatever way you choose to preserve your trophy, it will memorialize your hunt for a lifetime and honor the magnificent animal taken.
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African Swine Fever
Over half a million wild boars is harvested annually by hunters in Germany alone, but hunting does not reduce their population by much. The biggest threat for the survival of the wild boar in Europe is African Swine Fever (ASF). Humans are immune to this virus, and African members of the swine family such as warthog and bush pig are highly resistant, but for European pigs it’s a horror show. There’s no cure, there’s no vaccine, and over 80% of wild or domestic pigs that get it will die in a couple of weeks. What’s worse, it can live outside the host for years, travel on feet and vehicles wheels, and even survive the cooking process of some traditional East European pork dishes.
ASF was first brought to Europe in 1950s, when it hit Portugal and Spain, and dealt a terrible blow to Italy and Belgium in mid-1980s. The present epidemic was first recorded in Caucasus in 2008, and swept rapidly across Russia and Eastern Europe, devastating wild boar populations in many areas. This year ASF was recorded in Romania and Belgium. While everybody hopes European authorities can handle the spread of disease, it’s still bad news for hunters. Measures are limited to quarantine of the infected area, depopulation of wild pigs around it, and a ban on regular hunting (it was found that animals pursued by hunters can spread the virus far outside their normal range). But as long as there are people who throw their unfinished sandwiches with undercooked homemade bacon out of their car windows, nothing can guarantee against another ASF outbreak.
That is to say, if you’ve always wanted to hunt wild boar in Europe, don’t waste any time, today might be the “good old days”. Book your European wild boar hunt now!