|Hunting wild pigs is an important part of modern Hawaiian culture. Pigs were first introduced to Hawaii by Polynesian voyagers during the second wave of migration to ancient Hawaii; the first was from the Marquesas Islands estimated at around 400 AD. The second wave, from Tahiti, occured in the 9th or 10 century. The Polynesian hogs, which were in their early stages of domestication, are said to have been black, heavily haired, and averaged somewhat smaller that the pigs living in Hawaii today.
Early Polynesians also brought with them their own breed of domestic dog that was medium-small in size and yellow in color. But due to a small gene pool, influx of new breeds after outside contact and the fact that they were also a food source, the breed went extinct in Hawaii prior to western contact. The Polynesian breed of dog might have also been used in pig hunting but I find this unlikely and am not aware of any records to indicate it.. Hunting instincts were likely bred out of the dog long ago to make the breed more docile, particularly if the dog was considered livestock and it would have been undesireable to have them chasing the domestic pigs.
According to Diong, in his 1982 dissertation on pigs in Kipahulu Valley, Maui, early explorers reported that pigs were present in some forests and not others. Pigs would also have stuck around man due to the availability of prefered food sources, such as sweet potatoes. The native forest at the time would not have had much food sources, especially before the introduction of the prefered earthworm. Therefore although pigs in ancient Hawaii were allowed to roam to feed in the forests to forage, they would stay close to man for food reasons. It is very possible that the forests were protein deficient.
Genetics of Modern Hawaiian Pigs
With the arrival of Europeans in the late 1700s and early 1800s, new animals were introduced to Hawaii, including the European pig. The improved breeds (likely english) would have been distributed and bred into the present polynesian pig. Both breeds were possibly lost and what resulted could have been a variable hybrid larger in size than the polynesian but retaining the genetics of both. I find it likely that the polynesian bloodline would have been predominant.
Over the years, domestic breeds have split off from free range farms, been deliberately or accidentally introduced to certain areas. In other cases, wild Eurasian Boars have likely been introduced to improve hunting opportunities. Today, there is a huge variation in feral pig characteristics across the state but the predominant characteristics are a black, heavily haired pig averaging about 150 pounds.
Some areas on Kauai and the Big Island still hold alleged populations of pigs of pure Polynesian blood. In my opinion, few if any pure blooded Polynesian boar exist in the state. Far too much time has been given for newly arrived breeds to integrate into the present population. Any pig caught that does resemble the alleged description of the Polynesian boar is likely a throwback; the genetics of Hawaii's pigs are so diverse that in a single little, there can be piglets of characteristics ranging from black small Polynesians to large black and white domestics. But in theory, if one wants to find a pig resembling the Polynesian pig, the best chance of it would be high on the slopes of Mauna Kea where the Polynesian blood is less diluted. Another theory to explain Polynesian characteristics is one of natural selection: In areas that are protein deficient, such as high on the slopes of Mauna Kea, smaller size would be an evolutionary advantage. Therefore, pigs reverted back to their early characteristics of smaller size, heavily haired, black, long snouts, long legs, thick shielded skin, and a high shoulder; typical characteristics of a Hawaiian razorback. In other areas, such as Hapu'u tree fern forests (and rainforests in general) rich in earthworms as a protein source, the larger size would be an advantage and the traits of European breeds would predominate.
With the introduction of the prefered earthworm and other improved forage sources, such as guava, pigs were able to break off from their human ties and become truly feral.
Presently, pigs are found on all major Hawaiian Islands except Lanai, where they were reportedly eradicated many years ago. Moist rain forests provide the best habitat for them, but pigs are generally ubiquitous and can be found in desert woodlands, pastures, farmlands, and even as high as 10,000 feet up on Mauna Kea. On Kauai, the pigs are widespread and found everywhere and anywhere on the island except for isolated portions of the Na'Pali Coast and steep cliff faces. The Big Island has some of the best populations of wild pigs in the state due to an abundance of tree ferns and relatively low hunting pressure.
A History Lesson
The first western explorers to venture into Hawaii’s inlands did not record pigs as living in the wild. And other explorers have stated that pigs were present "in some forests." Some people have viewed this to mean that wild pigs were not widespread at that time or that the Polynesian Boar was not invasive and stayed near settlements. This argument has been used to argue that pig hunting was not a part of native Hawaiian culture. In my opinion, if such reports do exist, it is far more likely that those first explorers ventured into the leeward portions of the Big Island, where rough lava, low amounts of food, and lack of water would restrict the wild pig populations.
Another likelyhood (and this is not my idea, I just read it recently), is that pigs were aloud to run free and forage in the forests but usually would not stray far from man, for near man was where all the best food sources were. It is also possible that many forests did not supply the adaquate nutrients to support populations of feral pigs. A quick modification to that idea would have been that people simply provided much more per unit of effort; forests would likely have had ground nesting birds, snails and insects which could have supplied adaquate amounts of protein. The introduction of the prefered species of worm is what really allowed pigs to thrive in the rainforests.
In the years following western contact, Hawaiian Lands fell more and more into the hands of sugar planters and pineapple farmers. Surely pigs would have been a major pest to the pineapple fields, unless they weren't even present. It was also determined that pigs, and all hoofed animals for that matter, were destructive to Hawaii’s watersheds that provided water to the fields. Expansion of sugar fields maxed out and the forest reserve system was created to ensure that there would always be a source of water. For many years, during the deforestation crisis of the late 19th and early 20th century, pigs were actively hunted down as pests.
After the Second World War, there was a change in policy. The population of Hawaii was growing and emphasis was placed on multiple-use of the forests and its resources. Hunting became a popular recreational past time and game laws were created to manage the resources. In a way, that is how we got to where we are today; however, in this day and age, there is growing concern for protecting the remaining native forest ecosystems which pigs and other ungulates have steadily been widdeling away at, even to the present date. Pigs not only threaten plant life directly by trampling and herbivory but also spread seeds of invasive plants (which birds do to a much greater extent) and more importantly modify habitat to the benefit of noxious alien weeds. Another problem is that the carved out hapu'u logs, wallows, and puddles are breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry avien malaria, which is a major factor in the decline of native forest birds. And if I seem like I'm badmouthing pigs in Hawaii, I also advocate improving hunting conditions in the weedy lowlands through planting of fruit, nut, and timber trees that would give diverse, year round food sources and possibly minimize the negative impacts of pigs on native forests and watershed function. That is what I see as the future of pigs in Hawaii.
There are some who want to eradicate pigs because of their damage to native wet forest ecosystems. Let me say first-off that pigs and other game animals will never be fully eradicated. Eradication will only happen in limited areas, as it is very expensive, extremely difficult to do in areas over 3000 acres, and you will always have ingress from outside areas. There will always be pig hunting in Hawaii, whether people like it or not. Although many pig-proof fences have been constructed in Hawaii, few have been successful in completely excluding pigs. Nearly all are successful in allowing population reductions to occur within them. It seems to be only on the Big Island and Maui that pig hunting is threatened by eradication, as that is where the majority of intensive culling has occured. On Kauai, the best native forests where eradication would occur are so remote that few people if any ever hunt them. To take more areas would not be economically and politically feasible at present day. Over most of the state, people do their pig hunting in invasive weed forests, whether they know it or not. These areas are of no value to people attempting to conserve native ecosystems. Endangered species are another story and I cannot warn the public enough about the dangers that Critical Habitat poses to hunting in Hawaii. Critical Habitat is more of a political tool than anything. On the Big Island, the best hunting is in native forests. They are fairly open, often lack annoying mosquitoes, are fairly accessible, and produce great amounts of wild pigs. It is on the Big Island where the most conflict exists between the hunting community and those who are pro eradication. And with good reason: much of the best hunting areas have been eliminated, not only for pigs, but even more so for sheep which are far easier to control simply through aerial and ground shooting. The US Fish and Wildlife Service gained control of what became the Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge and has eradicated pigs and cattle over much of the refuge, which is currently being replanted with Koa and other native plants in order to provide habitat to native wildlife, particularly forest birds. The Volcano National Park has also spent much money to eliminate or reduce feral animal populations on their lands; from what I have seen, it is an ongoing effort and pigs can easily jump the four foot high fences when running from dogs. Those represent the two largest tracts. When Hakalau NWR attempted to buy the Piha strip in order to connect two non-adjacent sections of the refuge, opposition from the pig hunting community successfully halted the purchase. Much of the West Maui Mountains have pig eradications taking place. These lands are privately owned and there really is little the public can do to oppose such actions. Kipahulu Valley on South East slope of Haleakala is another place where pigs have successfully been eradicated. However, pigs were not even present in the valley until some escaped from nearby farms in the early to mid 1900s. So in conclusion, with the exception of the Big Island and parts of Maui County, environmentalists do not pose a great threat to pig hunting, which occurs in weed forests where the native ecosystems are for the most part trashed. We will always have pig hunting in those exotic forests of the lowlands and we can also improve the hunting conditions in those places.
| Hunting Methods
Although pigs in Hawaii are also hunted with rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders, handguns, and bows & arrows using spot & stalk, tree stand, ground blind, baiting, and still hunting methods, this page focuses on hunting with the use of dogs.
There are four methods of pig hunting with the aid of dogs which are popular in Hawaii.
1) Dog & knife in which the pack of dogs is used to find, grab, and hold the pig until the hunter(s) can get there to dispatch the animal with a long knife. The most popular method with locals.
2) Block trail in which the hunter(s) runs ahead of the pack and sits on main pig trails hoping to get a shot at hogs fleeing from the dogs. Usually this method coincides with dog and knife hunts. At least one hunter stays with the pack guiding it towards his friend who is blocking a trail with a gun or bow.
3) Driving hogs with dogs is done using dogs that find, flush, bark at, and sometimes bay the pig allowing the hunter to get a shot at the flushed pig. These dogs usually have lots of hound in them.
4) Bay dogs can be used in areas where pigs prefer to stand and fight instead of run and is still popular on the Big Island where hunting pressure is relatively low.
|Dog & Knife
By far the most popular and well known method for pig hunting is with dogs and knives. The popularity may come from the fact that anyone can participate. You don't need a gun, or even your own dogs; all you need is a knife and you can go with either your own dogs or those of friends.
The dogs, known as grabbing dogs, have the job of finding the pigs, which are often in dense forest, catching and holding them by the skin, hair, ears and snout until the hunter(s) can get there to dispatch the pig. They must bark when chasing or fighting a pig which also helps to lead hunters and other dogs to the action. Most pig hunting dogs in Hawaii are made up of mixed breeds. Dogs have to bite and hold a hog, so bull dog is mixed into the animal to get the "bite and hold" or lock-jaw effect. American Pit Bull Terrier, Bull Terrier, and American Bull dogs are the most common breeds mixed in. The dogs must also have speed, stamina, and a keen nose, so Hound or bird dog is mixed in. The hound blood will result in dogs that range further and might blow barks on track. Bird dog will result in dogs that do not range as far and are more people-friendy and perhaps smarter. And some people like to mix furry dogs, like Airedale Terrier, into the mix to give them a thick protective coat against wetness, thorns, and thick bush. The combination produces a dog with the bite and power of a Bull dog, the nose and stamina of a hound, and the protective wire-hair coat of an Airedale. The perfect Hawaiian pig hunter!
A minimum pack of 6 dogs is needed for serious pig hunting but the more the better, to a degree. The more dogs, the less chance of injury by a big boar and the more chance they will stop a pig.
Generally, during a hunt, the dogs will stay in the vicinity of the hunter, who being the leader of the pack, guides the dogs to area with fresh pig sign. Some dogs might stay with the hunter while the good ones will range out away from the hunter looking for pigs. They are usually the ones who find the pigs and are the best. They are called "Aces" because they are the best and have the passion and drive for hunting. They range out but come back in every now and then as to not get lost. Once the dogs hit pig scent, they might criss-cross back and forth through trails looking for the hog or they might sniff their way right to it. In heavily hunted areas of Hawaii, most pigs run instead of staying to fight. They have great hearing so if they hear the pitter patter of dogs feet on leaves (which they are smart enough to determine from other pigs) or panting, they will take off running. That is how most pigs escape. Hiding is another pig survival tactic. They have scent glands near the feat that they spray their scent with and then hide or run while the dogs are preoccupied in looking where they smell the scent.
When a dog finds a pig it will bark to call the other dogs to the action. Meanwhile the hunters must listen to determine if dogs are chasing or fighting or grabbing the pig. When in chase, depending on the dog, you will hear yips or spread out barks. If the dogs have the pig held good, most pigs will squeal or roar! You will hear a steady bark from the dogs around the pig that aren't grabbing. If they are fighting, the dogs will bark excitedly and cry when hit. The hunters run directly towards the sound of the action. It can often be a long exhausting run through thick bush to get to the dogs. They will have the pig held in place or if it's big, they might be getting dragged or tossed around!
The first thing to do when the hunters get there is grab the pig by the back legs so it can't go anywhere. One needs to watch out too because the pig can easily shake all the dogs off and charge you or perhaps none of the dogs are even holding it if it is real scrappy. One trick, if you are by yourself, it so cut the tendon going to the back foot or the joint. This will make it so it can't go too far. If you have two or more hunters, one can hold the back legs while the other stabs the pig. There are two ways to kill the pig with a knife: cutting the throat and stabbing the vital organs via the armpit. Cutting deep into the throat will cut the jugular vein or carrotid artery. It's not a fast way to kill a pig. You have to wait a minute for it to bleed to death. And with all the dogs hanging on, it might be difficult to get to the throat. The best way to finish off a pig is by stabbing the heart and lung area. A cut to the heart or to both lungs will put down a pig in just seconds. Big boars have a shield built up around the side of the rib cage area to protect them while fighting. On a big boar, it might be nearly impossible to stick a knife through the pad. The only way to get to the vitals is through the armpit. By lifting the arm, you expose the vulnerable area where one can easily insert a knife to cut the heart and lungs.
Blocking trail usually coincides with hunting with dog and knife. A hunter runs a head of the pack and sits on a main pig trail with the hope of getting a shot at a fleeing pig. The other hunter(s) using dog and knife, guide the pack of dogs in the direction of the blocker(s). This method work well because the pigs of Hawaii tend to run from the dogs before the dogs even know they were there. Many pigs are run-off to every one caught by the dogs, so hunters blocking trail have good chance of having a pig run by. ...if they do it right.
There is more to it than one might think. If you walked on the trail that you are blocking, a pig will smell you won't come your way. You have to also play the wind. One can also greatly increase their chances by using natural funnels to their advantage such as where two trails meet into one. And some trails are used as escape routes more than others. It requires experience to know what trails the pigs travel and which they don't. So when one is hunting, he or she should take notes on what trails the pigs used to get away and next time, should place a blocker on it.
Because the pigs are moving when you shoot, shotguns with buckshot and semi-auto guns are most popular and work best. Lever actions are also as popular as ever. Bolt actions are the least popular for this style of hunting.
Driving Hogs with Dogs
Hog drives are done using dogs that find, flush, bark at, and sometimes bay the pig allowing the hunter to get a shot at the flushed pig. The dogs used have a lot of hound in them, if not pure hound. They bark on the trail when chasing, guiding the hunters to the pig, and tell them what direction the animal is heading. Hunters line up along roads and trails and other shooting lanes waiting for the pig to run across. This is a popular method with older hunters because you do not need anyone running with the dogs and all you have to do is sit there and listen.
Once the dogs are let go, they range far from the hunter(s). The dogs search far for pig scent and if they run a fresh trail will bark and sniff up the trail to the pig which is usually smart enough to stay ahead of the barking dogs. The dogs usually don't have enough grit to actually grab and hold the pig down but will often nip at it to get it to stop and fight.
It's the hunters job to run, or drive, to a position ahead of the pack in the direction they are chasing. The pig usually will be some minutes ahead of the barks; smart pigs will be very far ahead. The pigs will be moving targets so the guns used are mostly Shotguns with buckshot or semi-automatic rifles but any gun will work; all with open sights because the fast moving targets are often in thick cover and sometimes with dogs close by. One also has to be careful not to shoot their dogs if they are close to the pig. Some mature boars may even be capable of reaching speeds of 25 miles per hour, so shooting them might be difficult.
This method doesn't work well in areas of thick cover where one cannot shoot or see the pig running by. The best places are fairly open area with many trails and roads allowing the hunters fast & easy access to catch up with and intercept their dogs.
I did not encouter this method until I came to the Big Island. It seems as though it works best in areas where pigs see little hunting pressure and prefer to fight rather than flee. In areas of higher hunting pressure, it doesn't seem to work at all, but perhaps I just haven't encountered really good dogs.
With bay dogs, the pig will stay and fight and when the hunter gets there, if it is a good boar, the dogs will have it surrounded and will be barking it in its face. Often, the pig will be backed up into a cave or embankment where it can better watch its harrassers. The dogs shouldn't have so much grit that they try to attack a dangerous boar, but I do see bay dogs grabbing sows and young boars. The hunter usually creeps up and shoots the pig, although there is no reason why one cannot bring a catch dog and dispatch it with a knife; such is a popular method on the mainland.
The dogs used seem to be mixed breed with cattle dogs, catahoulas, curs, and greyhound or whippet.
I have come to find out that this page has often been cited in school papers and scientific reports. It should be noted, that this is all off the top of my head (I don't even provide citations yet) and not the best source of information, even though my knowledge may be based on scientific research or on my own observations. From time to time, I read what I have written am am shocked by how wrong I was on certain topics. Keep in mind, I was only 16 or so when I first wrote this. Revisions have since occured that I believe improve the accuracy of this article and I will periodically revise the article after I have come across new information. The dates of revisions have been provided below.
I am a graduate from Hawaii Community College in Hilo with an Associates degree in Tropical Forest Ecosystem and Agroforestry Management, hold many years of hunting experience, and am currently employed by The Nature Conservancy to help control feral pigs, goats, and invasive weeds in Kauai's remote interior. -Nicolai Barca
Revised on March 25, 2008
The last revision before that occured on November 14th, 2007.
The last revision before that occured on October 30th, 2006.
With the Use of Dogs
By Nicolai Barca