SI Vault
Just a Babe in the woods
Jack Curtis
August 26, 1974
A 14-year-old boy, armed with a puny .22 carbine, comes of age as he stands his ground on a California hill against a wounded, charging boar
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August 26, 1974

Just A Babe In The Woods

A 14-year-old boy, armed with a puny .22 carbine, comes of age as he stands his ground on a California hill against a wounded, charging boar

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Forty-nine years ago a California sportsman imported 12 wild boar from North Carolina to his ranch in the Carmel Valley. As the story goes, this man and his cronies intended to hunt the boar from horseback with pikes. However, a few snorts of California sunshine apparently worked wonders on the tuskers and, scattering horses and pikers helter-skelter, they dashed to freedom.

Now the boar have multiplied, interbred with feral swine, and rove the central coast. They have traveled over the mountains into the Salinas Valley to bedevil the farmers, and have been reported on Mount Hamilton east of San Jose, and 125 miles south at Paso Robles. All along the coastal Santa Lucias, particularly in the nearly impenetrable Ventana Wilderness Area, they thrive.

Besides being among the most intelligent and aggressive of wild animals, wild boar are armored with a flak suit of heavy bristles, cushioning a thick, tough hide over laminated layers of gristle and fat, all glued onto heavy bone. One must hit them in a vital spot with a heavy bullet; otherwise they flee or, if they have young with them, are apt to charge.

The mature boar often weighs close to 200 pounds and stands 2� feet tall at the shoulder. His lower tusks are sharp as butcher knives and are set in a loose jaw so as to stab or rip, whichever serves his need best. They can be a nuisance, which is about the only reason for killing them, unless you want a huge head on your wall; the flesh is usually tough. No one in my family ever bothered.

My two older sons are grown and gone now, leaving me alone to teach their kid brother Babe, who is a husky 14 but such an innocent, vagrant-eyed boy. He talks to the trees and sky. He started it off simply enough by asking me to take him hunting wild boar. I replied that first he should learn something about hunting rabbits or squirrels.

Agreeably he brought out my semi-automatic .22 carbine and we went over the safety rules. After we'd stripped the rifle down and put it back together again I let him take a shot at a huge plywood target. He hit the crayon cross smack dead center. I let him take another shot just to be sure it wasn't a fluke. This one made the first hole slightly larger. Better than his brothers or me, he was a natural.

The early spring morning was fresh, the hillside grass was velvet green, and the new growth in the redwoods was pale against the dark winter-washed boughs. Finches sang, the buff rooster crowed and in the distance cattle called across Sycamore Canyon. Wild animals would be out touring and testing the golden air.

Thank heavens we still have a few wild things left, including the mountain lion, for it is only the lion that can check the blitzkrieg of the wild boar. Man with his guns and dogs can thin them down and keep them moving, and coyotes occasionally sneak off with newborn piglets, but the lions are coming back partly in response to the rising boar population.

Depending on the forage, a wild sow may farrow four piglets a year, and they are born tough and rangy. Sometimes, in her careless haste, the sow will lose a few to the quirks of nature, but by and large she's a competent mother and will attack if her young are endangered.

I laced up my boots, put on my old hunting vest, and as we left the front yard I told Babe, "Here's where you start hunting. Figure your game will be where you least expect it."

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