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By STEVE MERLO, Contributing columnist
Both of my first two meetings with wild pigs scared the hell out of me. The first event occurred in 1968 and the second 12 years later, during a drought, not too dissimilar to the one we're facing now.
My friend Bob Gibson and I would get together whenever we could and hunt the nearby deserts and fields around my hometown of Buttonwillow for whatever was in season. What happened on one of our hunts actually set the stage for one of my lifetime outdoor passions: hunting wild pigs.
I forget what initially caused us to stop and get out of the truck; it may have been a bevy of quail or flock of doves, I forget. But we left the confines of the vehicle and started out through the thick sagebrush. I saw Bob stop and stare almost immediately at something in front of him and he nervously called over to me, "Steve, are there any wild pigs out here?" The tone of his voice suggested he had actually seen one, and when I followed his pointed finger, could not believe my eyes. A huge, mud-splattered, pure white boar hog stood eyeing both of us from only a few feet away in the brush.
Both of us had read scary stories about charging wild boars with six-inch tusks that could rip a man to pieces, and neither one of us knew exactly what to do. We'd never seen a real wild pig, especially one so big and pure white as the one now standing before us. When our eyes fell upon this behemoth creature standing there, our first thought was to leave the immediate area in a speedy manner, in other words, run like hell before this ungodly creature was upon us.
But our guns were still 50 yards away in the truck and knowing he would be faster than either of us, we held fast, unsure of what to do. The animal then squealed loudly, snorted, and, mouth agape, pig-trotted towards us like Captain Ahab's giant whale on the attack. I'm sure our lives flashed before our eyes and I was just starting a good Act of Contrition when, incredibly, the giant suddenly stopped 10 feet away and grinned at us. Honest! And then the animal wagged his long, curlycue tail and lay down right then and there.
It finally dawned on us that this creature was not a real wild boar, but a huge white domestic pig instead, one that had somehow managed to wander away from his home. Not having any idea where he came from, we wondered what we were supposed to do with it, but within minutes, a single truck pulled up on the dirt road and the driver called out to us if we had seen a big white pig in our travels. Escaping its pen 2 miles away, Porky was a family pet and the man was desperate.
Family pet? The creature weighed over 900 pounds and stood (when it finally did), higher than my waist.
My second meeting, this time with a real wild boar, took place north of Lost Hills, where, two years before, 10 or so hogs had escaped their pens on Corcoran Highway and entered the Kern Wildlife Refuge. One pregnant sow had thrown a litter in the wild, and, roaming freely, the animals eventually left the safe confines to where hunters managed to take a few at a time until only one remained.
Feeding heavily on tule tubers, the animal grew to epic proportions. With lots of tule and cattail cover and water to hide its existence, he thrived there until the drought came. Water eventually became scarce, and he finally had to leave the safety of the marsh to wallow in some leftover mud 50 yards from home.
And that's where he met his Waterloo. Hogs are fast, but not as fast as a rifle bullet, so when I let him have it, he went down. I'd never before shot a wild pig, and was very apprehensive when I approached him in heavy brush. I couldn't find hide or hair of him; with rifle at the ready I scoured the underbrush, scarred to death he was only wounded and would charge me.
The brush I tromped on finally tripped me, and, falling to my knees, I landed within 2 feet of the hog who, fortunately, gasped his last breath at me in a low moan that scared the Dickens out of me. The 550-pound monster spooked me so bad I've never gotten over the shot of pure adrenalin that hit me and I've always been extremely careful approaching "dead" wild pigs to this day.
Well, okay, not every single one, but the one that did charge and almost got me is another story for another time.