The night eater

Feature: Pig hunting

Crack! The snap of bone breaking in the almost complete blackness made us jump. We froze and listened. Crunch!

“He’s there,” Anne whispered, quieter than the drizzle settling on our winter jackets.

Snap! It had to be him. No grunts, no hoof-beats, no murmur except the three distinct sounds of bone disintegrating in the powerful jaws of a boar. No mistake; it couldn’t be anything else.

Anne had been onto this fella for weeks. I remembered the caginess in her words on the phone that day, when I was away and she’d set up the game camera on a pile of goats we’d culled. It wasn’t what she said, it was what she didn’t. She skirted around my questions about the camera and changed the subject before I could get too suspicious.

She’d gotten a rush from the pictures that she let me ‘discover’ on the computer when I got home. There he was, feeding on the rotting carcasses early in the evening – the large boar that’d been eluding everyone around here for months. Purely nocturnal, he was wily, strong and big for this area, where the porcine population is thin and old ones are rare. And now we knew his routine.

The camera had snapped him over several nights, and he typically came for dinner early in the evening, sometimes close to midnight and occasionally at around one or two. Never later; the pre-dawn hours belonged to the foxes, who we saw in pictures lingering until the boar had had his fill and ambled away.

Anne itched to get him. I could see the excitement in her. She’d earned her firearms licence almost five years ago just to shoot pigs but hadn’t even managed to take a bead on one yet. This was her chance and she wasn’t letting it go.

But one thing led to another and we never followed up.  A few weeks went by before we went back to the pile of goats to find only a few left, stinking and strewn about. We set up the camera again.

Three days later we had all the evidence we needed. He was still there, still following a routine and still begging to be shot. None of our neighbours had managed it. Anne determined she would.

The weather was bad, raining like it hadn’t in months. Anne hates the cold, especially when it’s wet, and after we’d finished dinner and shooed the kids to bed, I asked, “what do you reckon?”

“Aww, I don’t know,” she said, frustrated. “Will he be out on a night like this?”

“He wasn’t there last night in the rain, if the camera is right,” I said. She looked dejected. I looked outside and at the weather radar. “It’s only light rain and it should pass over soon enough.”

She was in two minds. Warm bed or finally, finally nail a pig. I didn’t know which way she’d go and, like all sensible blokes, didn’t push. “I’m happy to go if you want to,” I offered.

“Alright,” she said. “Oh, I hate the cold.”

We rugged up in our most water-resistant gear and left, Anne cradling the Tikka .223 and Bog Pod. The stainless, synthetic Tikka wouldn’t mind the weather, and the little .223 would be enough if Anne aimed well from the 40m range she’d shoot from. We’d clamped the Wolf Eyes torch to the barrel.

I led the walk to the pig’s dining room with my head torch glowing red in the nearly black night, and we stalked the last 50 metres slowly and quietly. The drizzle wasn’t uncomfortable and masked our footsteps, and the merest hint of breeze was in our faces. The dead goats’ sickly pong was somehow encouraging, a sign that the boar’s dinner was served and we were at the right end of the table.

Hearing nothing after we’d reached our predetermined sniping position, Anne flicked on the Wolf Eyes to confirm her bearings. There were the remaining goat carcasses; no sign of the pig. The light went off. We waited.

Crunch! It was like a gunshot in the still night. Hardly a minute had passed since we’d doused the light. He must have been there all along. We heard his mouth destroy those other two bones and prepared ourselves.

Anne had already set the rifle on the shooting sticks. She reached forward and turned on the torch. The beam of white light lit up the goats’ cemetery but we couldn’t see the pig.

“Pan right,” I urged on a voice that barely rose above the sound of the misty drizzle. I strained my eyes but saw nothing. I whispered as much to Anne.

“I can see eyes,” she hissed back as she peered through the Leupold, “but I can’t tell if it’s a pig.”

And suddenly there he was. My heart raced when the ghostly shapes of his black snout and wide ears reflected dimly in the light after he raised his head and looked into the light. The view was unclear but what I could see might as well have been lit up in neon. Pig. Not any pig, but a good boar. Unmistakable.

“Shoot,” I urged. But he dropped his head and continued eating, almost out of sight. Anne had the better view, thanks to the scope wound down to 3x, but even I could see his backline now with my naked eyes. He walked behind the tree and then appeared broadside as he moved to another over-ripe goat. I coveredmy ears.

Anne didn’t hesitate. The shot boomed and I saw the pig stumble as the torch beam jumped with the recoil. The black shape turned and disappeared over the slope into dead ground, so we leapt to our feet and headed closer. Halfway there, the beast met us head-on, staggering from a solid hit and with a swathe of blood down its side. The moment the torch blinded it again, it stopped and a quick follow-up shot finished it.

And like that, it was over.

“It was too easy,” Anne said later. “I expected to be out there in the freezing rain for hours, and even then I thought it wouldn’t come.” Pessimism borne of almost five years of frustration and unfulfilled expectations.

It was too easy, in a way, but we’d made it easy. The scouting, the bait, the game camera, the rabbits shot to keep her eye in – all sorts of little and large things had led Anne to her first pig and she’d been rewarded with a boar of rare size for our region. A cagey boar that no one else had come close to getting.

Its tusks wouldn’t turn on a Territorian but they’d make a neat memento of a memorable night.

“You can let your licence lapse now,” I quipped. “You’ve done what you set out to do. You’ve got yourself a pig.”

“But what if there’s more?!” she asked with a grin. She knew there would be.




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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.