The feral hog, so plentiful in much of the US, cannot be considered dangerous game. That’s not to say the animal can’t be dangerous. Plenty of incidences have been reported when a grizzly old boar or an overprotective sow with young has charged a hunter and quickly filleted some tender body parts before departing. In the days when spear-hunting pigs off horseback was popular, many a good mount was disemboweled by a big tusker. A growing sport in Argentina today is hunting pigs at night with a knife. Sounds pretty dangerous if you ask me.
Perhaps the wild pig’s most important role in the scheme of dangerous-game hunting is as an aid in the stateside preparation of a hunter for Africa. Hogs are tough and determined enough to justify bringing out your heavy rifle for some exercise. Careful stalking will bring you up close and personal with an unpredictable beast who finds your personality less than charming. And then, as in Africa, things will be over very quickly or the action will get fast and furious all of a sudden. Considering the price of pork chops these days, shooting your own on the hoof is also one of the few bargain hunts left. Even in California.
I’ve always considered California’s central coast the best part of that state. It’s hundreds of miles away from both Los Angeles and San Francisco, has a nice climate, pretty country and an established population of wild pigs dating back to the mid-19th century. Free-ranging hogs lose their domesticated barnyard look after a few generations in the wild, reverting back to their savage ancestral profile right down to a long snout and an unkinked tail. Add a few injections of pure European or “Russian” wild boar blood since the 1920s, leave them to fatten themselves on an abundance of organic California cuisine, and what you end up with is the ugliest swine you’re likely to find between Malibu and Berkeley.
An overpopulation of prolific and aggressive wild pigs is a plague on farmers and ranchers and not too easy on native flora and fauna either. The animals are considered pests of a serious order, can be hunted all year long and there are no bag limits. None of this prevents California’s bureaucracy from demanding that you buy a hunting license ($113 for a nonresident) plus wild pig tags (at $50 each) before they allow you to step out of your vehicle onto private land and do them the favor of attempting to cull a few of their most destructive varmints. They expect you to fill out a “Report Card” after each kill as well, so the clerk they keep in the back room will have something to pick his teeth with. I understand a hunting license, tags and report cards will soon be required for killing (“harvesting” in government bureaucratese) California rats and cockroaches as well.
It pained me to write a check to help pay for the Terminator’s cigar-smoking tent when I could have spent that money buying Cubans for myself, but all negative thoughts dissolved as soon as I forded the rocky little trickle of a stream and drove into Camp 5 in Monterey County north of Paso Robles near the tiny town of Bradley. In the seat beside me was a recently completed and as yet unblooded CZ 550 in .375 Holland & Holland Magnum which had been extensively customized by gunsmiths Russell and Chick Menard and stockmaker Bob Szweda. Larry Barnett at Superior Ammunition had loaded up some 300-grain Barnes Triple-Shock X bullets I chronographed out of the CZ’s shortened 22-inch barrel at almost 2500 fps. This is really a load for thick-skinned dangerous game like Cape buffalo and might seem a lot of bullet for a little pig, but I wanted to assure myself that it performed as well in flesh and blood as it did on paper and in Corbin ballistic gelatin. Besides, “overkill” is a relative quantity applied to an absolute condition and therefore makes no more sense than would its opposite, “underkill.”
The other hunters in our party were similarly armed with heavy Africa-bound guns, right up to a custom Granite Mountain Arms .500 Jeffery and a Marcel Thys .470 Nitro Express, because these California pigs had kindly volunteered to lead us all in a weekend exercise of big-bore trigger time before some of us headed off to countries where they grow animals with such voracious appetites for extra-large servings of vitamin-enriched bullets they think “overkill” is the name of a new breakfast cereal.
We came to Camp 5 at the invitation of Mark Buchanan, globe-trotting sportsman (it’s not a cliché when it’s really true), owner of Big-Bore Productions and producer of the popular series of big-game hunting videotapes and DVDs including Death By Double Rifle where Mark does up various parts of Africa nicely with some of his dangerous-game doubles, and Boared To Death, which is a celebration of a big pig party similar to the one on which we were about to embark only expanded into a sort of cross-country tour. In fact, this hunt was conducted under the eagle eyes of two professional videographers as it was scheduled to become part of Boared To Death II.
You never know what kind or how many rifles Mark Buchanan may bring to the party, though he seems partial to blueblooded doubles and big-name customs on Mauser turnbolt actions by Granite Mountain Arms. This time around he pulled two masterpieces out of his truck -– a little Joe Smithson .275 Rigby (7x57mm to you) on a GMA action, and the big Marcel Thys .470 NE, a lavishly engraved sidelock double worth as much as the brand new Hummer H1 Alpha it rode up in. Longtime hunting partner and California Deputy Attorney General Dave Songco brought the aforementioned .500 Jeffery, built by Ryan Breeding on a GMA action and slicked up with a Teflon finish and synthetic stock for Dave’s upcoming trip to Alaska for brown bear. Joe Busalacchi, bullet tester for Hornady, gunwriter and past Legislative Director for the San Diego Chapter of Safari Club International, carried a long-barreled .500 Smith & Wesson revolver in a vertical shoulder holster.
Chris McClure, commercial film/videotape producer and worldwide hunter in his own right, was armed with his broadcast-quality Sony digital video camera. As was videographer Sean Hunter, big-game hunter and college student in his other lives.
No sooner had we pulled into camp and unloaded the cars than we were loading up the guns and heading out again -– hitting the network of truck trails crisscrossing Camp 5’s 60,000 acres in compact pickups converted to safari vehicles with spotting seats welded into the beds.
Camp 5 founder and chief guide, Doug Roth, who is also a licensed outfitter and California Game & Fish agent, runs a nice operation. He’s been at it for 25 years and has built an enviable clientele from around the country, including executives, employees and new-rifle purchasers from the nearby Rigby and Weatherby headquarters operations. The rolling tree-studded countryside here is storybook California, and supports seasonal deer, turkey and upland bird hunting as well as year-around wild boar hunting of the highest quality. Doug has a partner who farms part of the acreage, planting the open fields with barley, which just happens to be a universal favorite of pigs, about 300 of which are taken off the ranch each year. Doug was ably assisted on this hunt by Ted Delleganna, a full-time Camp 5 guide, and Chad Wiebe, a talented guide who is also a college student and accomplished taxidermist.
Mark Buchanan kicked things off the first evening with a running fusillade from the .275 Rigby which began at about 200 yards and ended 13 shots later when the racing pig hit the ground with a shot through the heart at 400 yards. Mark had Joe Smithson build the light rifle for an upcoming plains game hunt in Tanzania and this was the first time he had fired it, without benefit of a sighting-in session with the factory 7x57mm ammo he was using for the boar hunt. Well, that’s what he said.
Back at the lodge, we got our first taste of Doug Roth’s idea of luxury, which is a good idea indeed, from the cozy comforts of living, lounging and sleeping areas to a gourmet spread around the dinner table in the cheering presence of head and shoulder, full body and European mounts of trophies from North America and Africa taken by Doug Roth in his time. Our own trophies were out in the dark somewhere dining on barley salad, or maybe curled up against the night chill snoring away as we all would be soon.
Rolling out of bed at 4:30 a.m. is not one of my favorite things to do, especially after less than the government-recommended eight hours of sleep, but the spirit of the hunt goes a long way to alleviate such bleary unpleasantness. We were up in the hills a few miles inland from the Pacific Ocean a short time later, walking a trail on the edge of a barley field as shooting light began to glow through the coastal fog. The yellow knee-high grain offered all the contrast needed by imperfect eyes as a solitary black boar edged out of the gray mist 100 yards away. We all tried to do most of our shooting offhand for the good practice of it but, in my still less than wide-awake state, a nearby fence post proved irresistible. At the distinctive roar of the 22-inch .375 the boar turned slowly to his side, took a step and fell to the ground never to rise again. The big X-bullet entered high on the shoulder, traveled diagonally at a downward angle to exit below the rib cage on the opposite side, shredding every vital organ in the pig’s body. The silence and stillness returned.
About ten minutes later, the clouds were encouraged to leave the hills and return to the sky by the great bellows of both barrels of the .470, and I knew Mark had got his boar as well. The two hogs, maybe 600 pounds between them, were stacked up and strapped down in the truck before 6:00 a.m. Mine was a good trophy, showing his Russian blood and polished 3-inch tusks. Mark’s was bigger, with tusks measuring 4-1/8” above the gums for a new Camp 5 all-time record.
We found the sunshine a few miles away along with Dave Songco and Joe Busalacchi. Dave had killed a smaller pig that would fit perfectly on the roasting spit back at the lodge, and Joe was stalking a big one that had taken to the underbrush. The boar appeared out of nowhere running flat-out and well out of sight of Joe’s revolver, but Dave’s .500 Jeffery came up 150 yards across the canyon and knocked the big pig down in full flight. Down, but not quite for the count. The boar suddenly jumped up and started running again. The 535-grain bullet had spined it toward the rear, shutting down half its motive power, slowing it little but causing it to lose traction and spin out on a hillside curve and tumble down the canyon toward the hunters approaching from the other side. Before Dave delivered the coup de grâce the big boar got up on its front legs snapping its tusks at the gaping muzzle of the .500 Jeffery and tried to charge.
Lessons learned: (1) Wild boar aka feral hogs are tough to kill. (2) There is no such thing as too much gun. (3) My new custom rifle works, and so does Superior Ammo’s .375 H&H load with 300-grain Barnes TSX bullets. (4) Africa-bound equipment and accessories were flawless: Schmidt & Bender 1.25-4x20 scope on Warne QD mounts; custom Cape buffalo PH boots by Russell Moccasin Co.; Murray Leather Co. rifle sling and belt shell holder, Nikon Monarch 8x42 binoculars. (5) Camp 5 is hog-hunting heaven, and there may be a reason to get out your passport and cross over the border into California after all. (6) If you ever go hunting with Mark Buchanan, don’t expect to bring home the biggest trophy.