Canada is known for its great diversity of wildlife and excellent hunting opportunities. Moose, elk, sheep, bear, and deer are but a few of the species that can be pursued. Not everybody may be aware of the fact that probably, a new game species is establishing itself: the wild boar.
In Western Canada, some farmers, suffering from the aftermath of having had a BSE-infected cow in their herd, have started breeding Russian wild boar. But as some farmers have found out the hard way, the fence that will hold a pig has yet to be invented; as a result, small groups of wild pigs can be found roaming the countryside, usually close to where they escaped, but venturing further and further away, doing the things pigs do best: eat and do damage to land and crops as they root and forage. A pig isn’t too particular about what it eats, and a band of pigs isn’t too easily dissuaded from getting their dinner, whether it's vegetable, or animal, dead or alive. Experience from Europe shows that damage to crops can be substantial, and in large monoculture crops such as corn, it's almost impossible to get pigs out of a field once they've taken up residence. But things don't stop at just crop damage. Pigs can be a real threat to livestock.
One evening, a local farmer found a mob of pigs amid his penned-up steer calves, with boar chasing the frightened animals around, biting for their hocks. When one boar got tired, another one took over. The farmer managed to get a gun and hit a boar twice with his .300WM, killing it. When he found the carcass the next morning...there was nothing left but some skin and bones, tracks clearly showing the act of cannibalism.
Before this incident, a heifer that had just calved was attacked and had its hindquarters partly eaten before help arrived. The heifer had to be put down, and obviously the calf was dead too. The mere presence of man doesn’t seem to scare feral pigs, presumably because not too long ago, man provided food. Another farmer had to seek refuge in his tractor when a band came out of the trees, and surrounded him. “They are built like a bear and act like a pack of wolves”, he remarked, “I hope to never see them again!”
A non-native animal, and moreover, one generally disliked by the rural population: that spells "hunting opportunities"! We had killed a boar for its delicious meat at a farm in BC a few years before, and at the time there were several pigs running around unchecked in the unfenced yard. Surely, by now there would be more of them running around free? A quick call confirmed the situation, and when I had to travel north for business anyway, my bow case was in the trunk.
I had just installed a new Zeiss Z-Point sight on my Fred Bear TXR-32 bow. This so-called reflex sight features a red dot produced by a diode fixed inside an aluminum-polymer housing. The dot (powered by a combination of lithium battery and a small solar cell on top of the unit) floats inside a non-magnifying viewing field. A light sensor automatically adapts the intensity of the red dot to ambient light conditions: on a sunny afternoon it's brighter than in the twilight on a rainy day. The light sensor is on the front of the unit, but manual adjustment is also possible. The Zeiss sight mounts on a Weaver or Piccatinny rail using a clamp, and a set of brackets connects the rail to the bow. The sight picture through the Z-point is shown below: the black edge to the field disappears when you shoot with two eyes open, almost like it would with a peep sight.
I have to admit that I took off the old multi-pin peep sight I had been using with some apprehension. Frankly, despite diligent practicing I was still getting flyers, so I worried about how I'd do with just one aim point, which would have to do for all distances. I needn’t have: after a session or two to get used to the new set-up I found that my shooting improved! Somehow, the “freedom” of having just one thing to focus on made me more secure in my release. Even though the red dot seemed to wobble a bit due to body and hand movements, the arrows struck consistently closer to target than with the old set-up. It may not work this way for everybody, but it did the trick for me.
That left the issue of using of a single dot to cover all ranges from “in-your-face” to as far as I dare to shoot. My bow is set at 60 lbs, and shoots 220 grains arrows tipped with 100 grains Montec fixed blade broadheads. Sighted in at 25 yards (per Zeiss' recommendation) the mid-point of the arrow's trajectory is about 5” above the line of sight. Beyond 25 yards, the drop becomes significant. I wouldn’t care to use the sight much further than 30 yards, because judging hold-over becomes too much of a gamble for me. With heavier and faster bows this ought to be less of a problem, and obviously practice makes perfect.
I found that shooting with both eyes open was more instinctive with this sight than it was with the peep-and-pin sight. I had a better view of the arrow's flight and location of impact, and important matter in the field (was it a pass-through or a miss?) Torquing the bow becomes a thing of the past, as the slightest twist takes the dot off-center, or even out of the field of view.
Were there any downsides? Of course: nothing is perfect for all circumstances. I had a bit of a problem fitting the sight to the bow, for which I take at least part of the blame. If I'd looked harder at all the screws and nuts, and how they need to be tightened when on the bow, I could have saved myself some time. But I’m just more of a trial and error person.
Secondly, thanks to a combination of the bow's construction and my physique, I needed to get that sight mounted really low in order to get a well-centered position of the red dot in the field. Unfortunately, the bow's guide rod got in the way and it took some fiddling to get the thing mounted properly. I could have moved the bracket that holds the rail one setting lower, but the lower screw couldn’t be tightened flush against the metal before the bend in the metal stopped it. This would probably not have been an issue if the sight had belonged to me, but it was a loaner and I didn’t want to scar the bracket by over-tightening the screw. So, against Zeiss’ recommendation to use the windage and elevation adjustments only for fine tuning, I used them to bridge the last bit of drop that I couldn’t or didn’t want to cover with the brackets. Though the dot now seemed to be off-center, it didn’t influence accuracy or point of impact.
One important feature of the system is that it's not a magnifying piece of optics: so there are no lenses to develop parallax and other issues that might occur looking through it at an angle. I lost a bit of field of view on one side, but since you shoot this sight with both eyes open anyway, that hardly mattered, and in fact was hardly noticeable.
On Friday afternoon we ventured East to visit the pig farmer John, and his herds of penned and free-ranging boar. The farmer’s intention was to sell us a castrated boar with impressive tusks for a handsome fee, but the hunting gods had interfered for the better. A week ago a tree had fallen across the fence, and eleven pigs, included the castrated one, had escaped. John had fabricated a trap from inch-thick board, complete with falling door and locking mechanism, and had managed to catch a number of sows using bread as bait, but the big tusker was too elusive. John had seen him a number of times late at night, but he didn’t want to be caught.
Venturing out behind the farm, we had no problem find a sounder of some twenty pigs, two sows with piglets, and two young boars. No sign of the big one, though. If the sounder had noticed our approach, they weren’t too concerned, and continued going about their business of digging up some grub. The sows were off-limits, so we concentrated on the two males. With the little ones still suckling, none of those sows would be in heat, so with a bit of luck the boar meat should be free of the stench and flavor of a rutting pig.
I nocked an arrow, turned on the sight, and slowly approached them just inside the trees. The two boars were on the move constantly, either darting off to a promising feeding spot, or rudely being pushed out of the way by either of the sows. Add to this activity the movements of at least a dozen piglets jumping around like cats on a hot tin roof, and it presented a little bit of a challenge. There was no time for conscious, deliberate aiming, with lots of attention for shooting form, though I certainly tried. Unfortunately, by the time I had gone through the shooting-range drill, my intended target had moved off beyond reach, or was obscured by shrubs or other pigs. Obviously if I were going to kill one of the boars, I'd have to take a snap shot, grabbing the opportunity the second it was given. This is where the Zeiss sight proved invaluable: when finally the less scrawny of the two boars stepped free of the rest of the mob, I quickly drew, let the red dot float towards the vitals, and released.
I followed the arrow’s flight as it hit just a hand width too far back. The pig ran off with a spurt, sending the rest of the bunch darting in all directions, but he couldn’t go far. Fifty yards ahead he stopped, and stood breathing heavily. We quickly stalked around some trees, trying to get close enough for a finisher, when the whole mob of pigs reappeared, and at a dead run swooped up the wounded one, and ran off. But he was too far gone to follow far. Not much later a second arrow hit the boar low in the chest, just behind the shoulder, and he fell over dead.
At this point I got a little stupid, which might have resulted in serious injury. I should have known better, because I've seen some pretty gruesome pictures of naïve photographers who'd been worked over by angry sow. During our first visit to the farm, we'd barely been able to dissuade one of the free-ranging mature males to take a piece out of my friend who'd been spotted as he stalked back and forth around a little shed to get a good picture. The pig decided he'd had enough, and we ended up with an impressive picture of a boar ending his charge about 30 feet away.
My first arrow had fallen out, so I decided to spend a little time looking for it. As I was concentrating on the ground, suddenly I heard a rush behind me, spun around, and one of the sows was coming right at me! I yelled and waved, went for my knife, and started to run all at once! Trust me, even though shoulder height on a pig is only a couple of feet off the ground, when a pig is in full rush with grinding teeth and frothing at the mouth, it's very impressive, especially to a foolishly unarmed hunter. Just as I was starting to think about how much this was going to hurt, the sow broke off the charge, and turned away, taking the rest of the herd with her into cover. I decided that $6 worth of arrow and $15 worth of broadhead were a small price to pay; a lot cheaper than emergency transport and stitches.
After some picture taking John showed up on his quad, saving us a lot of trouble dragging the pig out. Skinning was a dream compared to last time, when it was minus 20 Fahrenheit! With a trunk full of meat far superior in taste to commercial pork, we went on our way.
It wasn’t much of a "hunt," I have to admit that. But as these animals become less and less accustomed to humans, they’ll undoubtedly become more of a challenge. A biologist from the University of Alberta in Edmonton with whom I spoke is of the opinion that western Canadian winters may be too harsh for ferals to become really established, which would be a good thing: we don’t really need wild pigs in our woods. Since they're a potential threat to the ecosystem of this region, killing a few when you have the chance contributes to keeping their numbers and proliferation in check. On top of that, you end up with the best ribs you’ve ever tasted, a good supply of other cuts, and prime meat to grind into your otherwise lean game sausage. Though it may not always provide an adventurous hunt, it can sure be an exciting way of grocery shopping!