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Station Amusements

Chapter III. Pig Stalking

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Chapter III. Pig Stalking.

It was much too hot in summer to go after wild pigs. That was our winter’s amusement, and very good sport it afforded us, besides the pleasure of knowing that we were really doing good service to the pastoral interest, by ridding the hills around us of almost the only enemies which the sheep have. If the squatter goes to look after his mob of ewes and lambs in the sheltered slopes at the back of his run, he is pretty nearly certain to find them attended by an old sow with a dozen babies at her heels. She will follow the sheep patiently from one camping ground to another, watching for a new-born and weakly lamb to linger behind the rest, and then she will seize and devour it. Besides this danger, the presence of pigs on the run keeps the sheep in an excited state. They have an uneasy consciousness that their foes are looking page 47 after them, and they move restlessly up and down the hills, not stopping to feed sufficiently to get fat. If a sheep-farmer thinks his sheep are not in good condition, one of the first questions he asks his shepherd is, “Are there any pigs about?” Our run had a good many of these troublesome visitors on it, especially in the winter, when they would travel down from the back country to grub up acres on acres of splendid sheep pasture in search of roots. The only good they do is to dig up the Spaniards for the sake of their delicious white fibres, and the fact of their being able to do this will give a better idea of the toughness of a wild pig’s snout than anything else I can say.

It may be strange to English ears to hear a woman of tolerably peaceful disposition, and as the advertisements in the Times so often state, “thoroughly domesticated,” aver that she found great pleasure in going after wild pigs; but the circumstances of the ease must be taken into consideration before I am condemned. First of all, it seemed terribly lonely at home if F—— was out with his rifle all day. Next, there was the temptation to spend those delicious hours of a New Zealand winter’s day, between ten and. four, out of doors, wandering over hills and exploring new gullies. And lastly, I had a firm idea page 48 that I was taking care of F——. And so I was in a certain sense, for if his rifle had burst, or any accident had happened to him, and he had been unable to reach the homestead, we should never have known where to find him, and days would probably have passed before every nook and corner of a run extending over many thousand acres could have been thoroughly searched.

I had heard terrible stories of shepherds slipping down and injuring themselves so that they could not move, and of their dead bodies being only found after weeks of careful seeking. F—— himself delighted to terrify me by descriptions of narrow escapes; and, as the pigs had to be killed, I resolved to follow in the hunter’s train. The sport is conducted exactly like deer stalking, only it is much harder work, and a huge boar is not so picturesque an object as a stag of many tines, when you do catch sight of him. There is just the same accurate knowledge needed of the animal’s habits and customs, and the same untiring patience. It is quite as necessary to be a good shot, for a grey pig standing under the lee of a boulder of exactly his own colour is a much more difficult object to hit from the opposite side of a ravine than a stag; and a wild boar is every whit as keen of scent and sharp of eye and ear as any antlered “Monarch of the Glen.”

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Imagine then a beautiful winter’s morning without wind or rain. There has been perhaps a sharp frost over-night, but after a couple of hours of sunshine the air is as warm and bright as midsummer. We used to be glad enough of a wood fire at breakfast; but after that meal had been eaten we went into the verandah, open to the north-east (our warm quarter), which made a delicious winter parlour, and basked in the blazing sunshine. I used often to bring out a chair and a table, and work and read there all the morning, without either hat or jacket. But it sometimes happened that once or twice a week, on just such a lovely morning, F—— would proclaim his intention of going out to look for pigs, and, sooner than be left behind, I nearly always begged to be allowed to come too. There was no fear of my getting tired or lagging behind; and as I was willing to make myself generally useful, by carrying the telescope, a revolver for close quarters, and eke a few sandwiches, the offer of my company used to be graciously accepted. We could seldom procure the loan of a good pig-dog, and after one excursion with a certain dog of the name of “Pincher,” I preferred going out by ourselves.

On that occasion F—— did not take his rifle, as there was no chance of getting a long shot at our game; for the dog would surely bring the pig to bay, page 50 and then the hunter must trust to a revolver or the colonial boar-spear, half a pair of shears (I suppose it should be called a shear) bound firmly on a flax stick by green flax-leaves. We had heard of pigs having been seen by our out-station shepherd at the back of the run, and as we were not encumbered by the heavy rifle, we mounted our horses and rode as far as we could towards the range where the pigs had been grubbing up the hill sides in unmolested security for some time past. Five miles from home the ground became so rough that our horses could go no further; we therefore jumped off, tied them to a flax-bush, taking off the saddles in case they broke loose, and proceeded on foot over the jungly, over-grown saddle. On the other side we came upon a beautiful gully, with a creek running through it, whose banks were so densely fringed with scrub that we could not get through to the stream, which we heard rippling amid the tangled shrubs. If we could only have reached the water our best plan would have been to get into it and follow its windings up the ravine; but even Pincher could hardly squeeze and burrow through the impenetrable fence of matapo and goi, which were woven together by fibres of a thorny creeper called “a lawyer” by the shepherds.

It was very tantalising, for in less than five minutes page 51 we heard trusty Pincher “speaking” to a boar, and knew that he had baled it up against a tree, and was calling to us to come and help him. F—— ran about like a lunatic, calling out; “Coming Pincher: round him up, good dog!” and so forth; but they were all vain promises, for he could not get in. I did my best in searching for an opening, and gave many false hopes of having found one. At last I said, “If I run up the mountain side, and look down on that mass of scrub, perhaps I may see some way into it from above.” “No: do you stay here, and see, if the pig breaks cover, which way he goes.” Up the steep hill, therefore, F—— rushed, as swiftly and lightly as one of his own mountain sheep; and in a minute or two I saw him standing, revolver in hand, on an overhanging rock, peering anxiously down on the leafy mass below.

Pincher and the creek made such a noise between them that I could not hear what F—— said, and only guessed from his despairing gestures that there was no trap door visible in the green roof. I signalled as well as I could that he was to come down directly, for his-standing-place looked most insecure. Insecure indeed it proved. As I spoke the great fragment of rock loosely embedded in earth on the mountain side gave way with a crash, and came tumbling majestically down on the top of the scrub. As for F——, he page 52 described a series of somersaults in the air, which however agreeable in themselves, were very trying to the nerves of the spectatrix below. My first dread was least the rock should crush him, but to my great joy I saw at once that it was rolling slowly down the hill, whilst F——’s vigorous bound off it as it gave way, had carried him well into the middle of the leafy cushion beneath him, where he presently landed flat on his back!

I expected every moment to hear the revolver go off, but mercifully it did not do so; and as his thorny bed was hardly to be endured, F—— soon kicked himself off it, and before I could realize that he was unhurt, had scrambled to his feet, and was rushing off, crying in school-boy glee, “That will fetch him out.” That (the rock) certainly did fetch him (the pig) out in a moment, and Pincher availed himself of the general confusion to seize hold of his enemy’s hind leg, which he never afterwards let go. The boar kept snapping and champing his great tusks; but Pincher, even with the leg in his mouth, was too active to be caught: so as the boar found that it was both futile and undignified to try to run away with a dog hanging on his hind-quarters, he tried another plan. Making for a clump of Ti-ti palms he went to bay, and contrived to take up a very good defensive page 53 position. Pincher would have never given up his mouthful of leg if F—— had not called him off, for it seemed impossible to fire the revolver whilst the dog held on. This change of tactics was much against Pincher’s judgment, and he kept rushing furiously in between F—— and the boar. As for me, I prudently retired behind a big boulder, on which I could climb if the worst came to the worst, and called out from time to time, to both dog and man, “Oh, don’t!”

They did not even hear me, for the din of battle was loud. The pig dodged about so fast, that although F——’s bullets lodged in the palm tree at his back, not one struck a vulnerable part, and at last F——, casting his revolver behind him for me to pick up and reload, closed with his foe, armed only with the shear-spear. Pincher considered this too dangerous, and rushed in between them to distract the boar’s attention. Just as F—— aimed a thrust at his chest,—for it was of no use trying to penetrate his hide,—the boar lowered his head, caught poor faithful Pincher’s exposed flank, and tore it open with his razor-like tusk; but in the meantime the spear had gone well home into his brawny chest, exactly beneath the left shoulder, and his life-blood came gushing out. I was so infuriated at the sight of page 54 Pincher’s frightful wound that I felt none of my usual pity for the victim; and rushing up to F—— with the revolver, of which only a couple of chambers were loaded, thrust it into his hand with an entreaty to “kill him quickly.” This F—— was quite willing to do for his own sake, as a wounded boar is about the most dangerous beast on earth; and although the poor brute kept snapping at the broken flax-stick sticking in his heart, he fired a steady shot which brought the pig on his knees, only to roll over dead the next moment.

I cannot help pausing to say that I sewed up Pincher’s wound then and there, with some of the contents of my Cambusmore house-wife; which always accompanied me on my sporting expeditions, and we carried him between us down to where the horses were fastened. There I mounted; and F—— lifting the faithful creature on my lap, we rode slowly home, dipping our handkerchiefs in cold water at every creek we crossed, and laying them on his poor flank. He was as patient and brave as possible, and bore his sufferings and weakness for days afterwards in a way which was a lesson to one, so grateful and gentle was he. His brave and sensible behaviour met its due reward in a complete though slow recovery.

I have only left myself space for one little sketch page 55 more; but it comes so vividly before me that I cannot shut it out. After a long day’s walking, over the hills and vallies, so beautiful beneath our azure winter-sky, walking which was delightful as an expedition, but unsuccessful as to sport, we crossed the track of a large boar. We knew he was old by his being alone, and it was therefore very certain that he would show fight if we came up with him. Patiently we followed the track over a low saddle, through a clump of brushwood menuka, the broken twigs of which showed how large an animal had just passed by. Here and there a freshly grubbed-up Spaniard showed where he had paused for a snack; but at length we dropped down on the river bed, with its wide expanse of shingle, and there we lost all clue to our game.

After a little hesitation, F—— decided on climbing a high cliff on the right bank of the river, and trying to catch a glimpse of him. The opposite hill-side was gaunt and bare; a southern aspect shut out the sun in winter, and. for all its rich traces of copper ore, “Holkam’s Head” found no favour in the eyes of either shepherds or master. Grass would not grow there except in summer, and its gray, shingly sides were an eye-sore to its owner. We sat down on the cliff, and looked around carefully. Presently F—— said, in a breathless whisper of intense delight, “I page 56 see him.” In vain I looked and looked, but nothing could my stupid eyes discover. “Lie down,” said F—— to me, just as if I had been a dog. I crouched as low as possible, whilst F——settled himself comfortably flat on his stomach, and prepared to take a careful aim at the opposite side of the hill.

After what seemed a long time, he pulled his rifle’s trigger, and the flash and crack was followed apparently by one of the gray boulders opposite leaping up, and then rolling heavily down the hill. F—— jumped up in triumph crying, “Come along, and don’t forget the revolver.” When we had crossed the river, reckless of getting wet to our waists in icy-cold water, F—— took the revolver from me and went first; but, after an instant’s examination, he called out, “Dead as a door-nail! come and look at him.” So I came, with great caution, and a more repulsive and disgusting sight cannot be imagined than the huge carcass of our victim already stiffening in death. The shot had been a fortunate one, for only an inch away from the hole the bullet had made his shoulders were regularly plated with thick horny scales, off which a revolver bullet would have glanced harmlessly, and he bore marks of having fought many and many a battle with younger rivals. His huge tusks were notched and broken, and he had evidently been driven out from page 57 among his fellows as a quarrelsome member of their society. Already the keen-eyed hawks were hovering above the great monster, and we left him to his fate in the solitary river gorge, where all was bleak and cold and gloomy,—a fitting death-place for the fierce old warrior.