Good Friday 2016 will be a day Southland high country station workers Ryan Carr and Dan Keys will never forget. On a pig hunting trip, the duo got two boars – 270 and 348lbs. The second wild boar was of a size that is hard to imagine. After gutting, the animal weighed in at 348lb i.e. 155kg.
That’s one very big boar.
I have chanced upon some very big wild pigs while deerstalking but haven’t had any urge to shoot such a big one. But I’m curious about them and amazed that they survive to get such a size. Even today!
One autumn day, accompanied by Jazz my lab, I was packing up a long ridge in Marlborough that led to the head of a forested gully where I wanted to camp overnight in the hope of getting a stag. Over the main ridge was an extensive slope of forest and scrub. It was hot work on a balmy afternoon, and I sat down for a rest. The binoculars and I scanned around.
I swung the glasses around to straight up the ridge just above the forested gully and across a dip in the ridge, and there were two monstrous black pigs. They were like the one I once spotted as an 18-year-old in the northern Tararuas, like a cattle beast in size. As I watched, they mooched about and then ambled over the skyline out of sight.
I shouldered my pack, told Jazz to keep at heel, and descended into the dip in the ridge and crept up to where the pigs had been. I didn’t want to shoot one. What the heck would I do with a pig that was probably somewhere between 250 and 300lb or who knows, even a shade bigger?
But I never saw them again. They had vanished down the side into cover.
This was the second time I had spotted a wild pig in the northern Tararuas. A few years prior, I remember spotting another one that was a monster. We had gone in off South Range Road off the Pahiatua Track and tramped to a bivouac. In the morning, we went hunting for deer.
The northern Tararuas’ forest is not tall. It’s more scrub-like partly from the incessant westerlies that blew across the Manawatu Plains and up and over the ranges, and I suspect once it was farmland. Perhaps about 1900?
I was sitting on a spur overlooking such a gully. Small tussocky clearings were across the other side and there was a shingly slide. It was just after daybreak and as I sat there, I saw an animal step onto the slide. The brindle coloured animal wandered across the shingle.
My first reaction was it wasn’t a deer and in a second or two my next reaction was puzzlement.
“What the heck is a cattle beast doing in here?”
Then I realised it was a massive pig. I didn’t try to shoot it. I guess I just gaped and then the pig had melted into the scrub.
Big pigs are big; certainly not as big as the 348lb Southland one in 2016 but nevertheless big.
I remember reading, some years ago, a newspaper report of a big wild boar shot at Port Waikato. The weight was 111kg or 249lbs. The report claimed it was the biggest pig shot. No doubt the claim caused some long-time pig hunters to mutter a few sceptical and derogatory expletives.
But big pigs do exist.
Over the years, in my later job as a newspaper journalist, I tended to gravitate to interviewing hunters especially the ‘gung-ho’ ones who’d been around. One was Bluey Hebberd of Picton.
He showed me a photo of a giant boar shot near Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park. In the photo were three people, one being Bluey; the other male his brother Snow and Snow’s then-wife Joyce.
I phoned Bluey to check out the weight.
“How big was that boar?” I asked.
“280 pounds,” he replied.
I dived for my calculator. That was 125kg!
That was in 1961. A farmer had been having considerable trouble with wild pigs eating new-born lambs so he rang Bluey who immediately headed up the Wairau Valley to Rotoiti. His dogs bailed the pig and Bluey lined up the shoulder with his .303 and squeezed the shot away. It made no difference. Bluey thought he had missed. The pig took off, careering around, pursued by the dogs, and bailed again. This time Bluey stuck the pig with a knife.
When the giant boar was skinned, there was the bullet hole. Bluey hadn’t missed after all.
There have been other similar-sized pigs that have fallen to Bluey. Another from the Awatere Valley in Marlborough went 276lbs or in metric measurement, 123kg.
But Bluey reckons he got a pig that was even bigger than his 125kg monster at Lake Rotoiti. However, it was never weighed. It too came from the Nelson Lakes area and Bluey reckons it was “at least 135kg (300lbs)”.
Another Marlborough pig hunting guru was the late Peter Way. He has seen photos of the boars Blue talks about and he agrees with Bluey’s estimate. Peter’s biggest pig was from Manuka Island, Wairau Valley, Marlborough and weighed 246lbs or 109kg.
But it’s not always the biggest pigs that are the fiercest, and some develop a cunning that enables them to rip dogs with their tusks and yet elude hunters and packs of dogs one after another.
The late Norm Tew, a noted Marlborough hunter, told me of a renegade boar up the Northbank on the Wairau River, Marlborough.
Norm hunted with Harry Reynolds who had a fine pig dog called Sam. Sam preferred to hunt alone rather than with other dogs.
One day, Norm, Harry, and the faithful Sam got on the trail of the boar.
“That boar ripped poor old Sam to death,” recounted Norm.
Harry was upset and swore revenge, putting a 50-pound bounty ($100) – good money in those days – on anyone who captured the elusive boar. Then Norm and Harry, knowing where the pig lived, hit on the idea of setting light to the gully to flush it out. Its hair scorched off its head, the boar eluded them in the bedlam and smoke.
The pig carried on his aggressive ways, ripping dogs and the bounty remained unclaimed.
“Chaps brought big boar heads in but it wasn’t the one. We knew we’d recognise him when we saw him, particularly by his lack of hair from the scorching,” Norm told me.
Then one day, a 14-year-old boy brought the boar in. He had shot him with a .243 rifle. Harry was delighted. Revenge was sweet!
Norm estimated the boar at around 200lbs (88kg), a small one compared to the Port Waikato 111kg or Bluey Hebberd’s 125kg one or the Southland 155 kg one.
Were there bigger pigs than Bluey’s? Undoubtedly!
In 1958, a report in the NZ Herald told of “The Piha Rogue, a large boar which was believed to have killed about 20 dogs, has been caught after eluding hunters for more than a year.”
It was claimed the boar weighed about 400lbs and had tusks five inches long.
The late Philip Holden in one of his books Wild Boar told of meeting Waitakere pig hunter Jack Gregory who was 81 and not in good health.
“As the conversation turned to wild pigs, his face lit up like a child’s at Christmas,” wrote Philip.
And among the tales of his pig hunting days, Jack told Philip of in the early 1960s, how on his sheep farm, he tracked down a lamb killing a pig. It was a big barren sow, that dressed out (gutted) weighed a staggering 302 pounds (134kg).