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Sketches of Early Colonisation in New Zealand and its Phases of Contact with the Maori Race

An Exciting Pig-Hunt

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An Exciting Pig-Hunt.

It was at that season of the year when nature looks so fresh and lively, after Spring has put forth her full verdure, with the fruit-trees and flowers in leaf and bloom, and with the sweet fragrance of a semi-tropical vegetation, which makes the northern portion of New Zealand one of the most healthy and lovely of the Colonies to live in.

New Zealand was, during those early days, very different from what she now is, blue serge shirts, and moleskin trousers, with hobnail boots, were the order of day, instead of the present-day broad-cloth suits, with bell-topper hats, and gloves, which meet the eye everywhere.

But I can say, without fear of contradiction, that there were more and warmer friendships then than now, that, when friends met, the grasp of each others' hands denoted more of the pure and unselfish spirit of true friendship than the sickly touch of finger and incipient smile that passes for the genuine article, the greed of gain and rush for riches that predominates in these latter times having blunted our better feelings to such an extent that one, recollecting those early days, almost wishes for the good old times once more.

I was close upon seven years of age when the incidents that I am about to relate took place.

Of robust health, being tall, large of limb, and very muscular, for one of my age, anyone looking at me casually, would, most certainly, have taken me for at least three years older.

I had but recently arrived in the Colony with my parents, and my father, being anxious to see a little of the country of our adoption, had accepted a warm and pressing invitation from some friends of ours, who had page 21two years before gone to settle upon a new farm, situated in the back-blocks, and distant about thirty miles from town.

We arrived there early in the afternoon, our friends having sent saddle-horses for our use, as some of the roads, at that early date of the Provinces' history, were not good enough for light-wheeled traffic, therefore bullock drays only were used upon them.

Upon arrival there we received a most warm and hearty welcome, my father and our host being old and very intimate friends in the old country, but who had not seen each other for many years.

This was a most happy incident, indeed, the meeting of these two old friends, after the lapse of so many years.

These two friends had so many tales to tell—the one of old-time faces, places, and scenes interesting to both; the other of hardships and dangers incidental to life during the early days of New Zealand settlement.

Amongst many things suggested for our amusement, it was proposed that we should have a pig-hunt the next morning, more particularly as there was an old fencer on the farm who possessed several good pig-dogs, and, what was of equal moment, a first-rate bushman.

So it was arranged that we should start after breakfast, next morning, for this, to me at least, a most exciting pig-hunt.

It must be born in mind that the wild pig of New Zealand, is not indigenous to the country.

He is the offspring of those few pigs, distributed by Captain Cook amongst the coastal tribes of the island, in the first place, and afterwards supplemented by others presented to them by the whaling captains fishing upon the coast.

Little, indeed, could Cook have been aware of the blessings he was conferring on future generations, or how, in years to come white settlers would bless and revere his name for that one of his many generous and thoughtful acts.

From these sources have sprung the vast numbers of wild pigs to be found roaming throughout the length and breadth of the land.

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They form the principal fresh meat supply of the hardy pioneer of the bush, and were it not for the fact of this useful animal being so numerous, he would often be compelled to forego many a savoury dish.

This farm was beautifully situated upon high table-land, commanding a magnificent view of the country for many miles around, and in extent about two thousand acres, two thirds of it being splendid open fern or ti-tree scrub land, the rest virgin forest.

Our host had been burning and clearing off a portion of this open scrub land to fit it for the bullock plough, and it was upon this cleared space, which was contiguous to the bush, that our old bushman anticipated some sport, from the fact that the ground there, at that time, being soft and clear, the wild pigs could get at the roots more easily,—the fern root especially, of which they are inordinately fond, and which, with the wild berries of the forest, forms its principal food.

The old bushman was quite correct in his surmises, for we had not long left the house the following morning, and were proceeding towards this locality, when one of the dogs (numbering six in all), began to "smell the wind," or "search the wind," a sure indication that there was game about.

We had to cross some post-and-rail fences before we were able to view the long stretch of burnt land with the forest about a quarter of a mile distant.

It was whilst crossing the last fence, and in full view of the burnt land, that we saw and counted seven wild pigs start from about the centre of this cleared space, and make straight for the bush, the dogs sighting them almost as quickly as ourselves.

This was indeed a spendid spectacle of a pig-hunt, and one seldom witnessed, from the fact that wild pig-hunting is invariably conducted within heavy timber or scrub, for there the wild pig is generally to be found.

Both contestants in the race put forth their utmost speed; the pigs to secure the friendly shelter of the forest, where everything would be in their favour; whilst the sagacity of the dogs taught them to be as determined to catch and hold their opponents in the open, for there the fight would be on much more equal terms.

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Wild pigs, as a rule, always keep to the forest or dense scrub, and seldom come upon the open or cleared lands of the settlers, or even within hearing of the barking of his dogs, gradually retiring deeper into the wilds the oftener they are hunted.

The New Zealand wild pig, when not impeded in its flight by any obstacle, can run nearly as fast as the dog.

The pursued and pursuing arrived at the edge of the forest almost about the same time, within which they instantly disappeared, being far ahead of ourselves in the race.

Fortunately for our dogs, there were no old boars amongst them, otherwise it would have fared badly with some of them before we could have arrived upon the spot.

Well trained dogs will keep a pig at bay until his master arrives upon the scene, and then at command, fastens on the pig by the ears.

But the huntsman must be ready, and come to his canine friend's assistance, by hamstringing or throwing the boar on his side, and then, with the fatal thrust of the knife, to put an, end to the battle.

There are several ways of disabling the wild boar, either by firing a charge of pigeon shot (which up to ten yards, penetrates in one solid mass, before scattering), or by bullet aimed at the butt of his ear, which has the effect of stunning him in the same manner as if he were pole-axed, and, whilst down, the huntsman must be quick to make use of his knife and bleed him.

Again, there is another way, and that, by striking him across the spine with a tomahawk, should you be so fortunate as to get that close to the quarry without running too much risk.

This latter mode of attack, if successful, leaves the animal altogether at the huntsman's mercy

But the usual and better way, where you have well-trained dogs that can be depended upon, is to order them to seize hold, whereupon you rush in immediately, and catching hold of the pig by the hind quarter throw him upon his side, and bleed him quickly.

This, of course, requires no inconsiderable amoumt of courage and dash, otherwise you fail.

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Dogs instinctively recognise those who are courageous, and will obey the command of such to seize hold instantly.

In forest regions the wild boar sometimes gets between the roots of the rata, or other large tree; but if such should happen, the hnntsman must be close at hand to save his dogs, for they stand no possible chance with the wild boar there, he only showing his head and shoulders from out the cover, and woe betide the unlucky dog that dares to attack him thus.

The gun is the only weapon then of any use, and upon the root of the ear only is it effective.

The shield, or remarkably thick cartilaginous hide upon the shoulders and ribs, will turn a rifle bullet fired at him, though it be only ten yards distant.

In newly settled districts, where the wild pig is plentiful, and hunting has seldom been carried on to any great extent, boars, as a rule, are numerous.

Of course, in such places, it becomes a very dangerous pastime for those engaged in the sport, for the first few months.

The oldest and fiercest boar amongst the herd always stands and shows fight to the dogs, which, thereby, lets the rest escape.

Should he be destroyed, the next in turn takes his place, and so on all through the herd.

This is the reason why so many are caught, and accounts for the havoc committed amongst the dogs in pursuit.

But, again, and it is a most remarkable fact, that, should there be no boar amongst the herd, the oldest and most ferocious sow amongst them takes his place, and a formidable antagonist, indeed, she becomes.

Experienced bushmen have often been heard to declare that they would rather meet the "lordly boar" any time than one of these "she-devils," for, should they catch a dog in their mouths, which they often do, they would actually flay him alive, before he could be extricated.

We were quickly upon the scene and found that the dogs had already fastened on to a young boar who had not, as yet, grown much of his tusks, so could not show the same fight as an older one.

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The old bushman with two or three others of the party, dashing forward to the assistance of the dogs, had the boar off his feet in quick time, and soon put an end to his resistance.

The dogs being now disengaged, were after the others immediately, and in a short space of time we had the satisfaction of hearing them give tongue again, which, on nearing, we could tell by their savage angry bark, that they had something very different from the last.

Upon arrival there we found that, the dogs had "bailed up" two boars.

One of them had taken up his position between the roots of a large tree, with three of the dogs in front of him, and one under his feet, frightfully ripped, and quite dead.

One of the dogs that stood in front was badly hurt, and the blood flowed freely from his wound, but he still snowed fight pluckily.

We knew that this animal would not move out of his cover until made to do so; we therefore turned our attention to the other one upon which two of the dogs had already fastened.

He was a large and very powerful animal, possessing a pair of splendid tusks, and gave the dogs that held him all they could do to manage.

They were the two best trained dogs in the pack, and up to all the tricks that a wild boar uses to get an enemy on to his white but cruel tusks.

His dashes forward and backward, with lunges right and left, were of no avail.

They kept close to his side, with their hind quarters as much as possible, under his ribs, whilst their fangs were fastened in his ears, and in this way was he held by them, so that he could in no way get them in front for the fatal rip.

The wild boar, invariably, when they see man approach, immediately recognise in him their greater enemy, so often pay little or no attention to the dogs, but make for him, if possible, and the huntsman knowing this, approaches with caution.

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It was so on this occasion, but the numbers that surrounded seemed to somewhat confuse him; however, that was only temporary, for with a tremendous effort he dashed through the bushes, knocking the dogs off right and left, they being unable to hold on to his ears, through coming in contact with the under-growth.

We all ran for shelter behind or up the trees, but I, whilst making for one, was overtaken by the boar, which, fortunately for me, did not see me, nevertheless, he ran right through my legs, giving me a complete somersault, from which I certainly was more frightened than hurt.

Our dogs soon had him again, and one of the party (the old bushman), making a plucky dash forward, struck him across the spine with a tomahawk, which so disabled the boar, that we were enabled to throw him upon his side, whereupon an end was quickly put to his misery.

We now turned our attention to the battle at the tree, where we found that the wounded dog had drawn off to lap some water at a pool close by.

He was very weak from loss of blood, but upon our old bushman examining him, and at once sewing up the wound, he expressed the opinion that the dog would be able to hunt again in about a month's time, whilst he further stated that the wound would be beneficial to the dog, for it would make him more careful in future.

As we had no gun with us, the difficulty now was, how to get the boar out of his cover.

From his position, and the manner in which the roots screened him, the tomahawk could not advantageously be used.

A small sapling was cut, and a knife tied upon the end, to be used as a spear, but upon the old bushman trying to give him a thrust, the animal caught it in his mouth, and, with a sudden jerk, broke it off, after, which, he backed further in, showing only his face.

In this position he was, of course, unassailable, and the only remedy we had was to smoke him out, otherwise we ran the risk of having some more of our dogs, killed, and as there were two already knocked hors de combat, that was not to be thought of for an instant.

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We set about this at once by gathering some dry setting the leaves, as there was considerable risk of setting the tree on fire and burning the bush also, we had this we lit our undertaking so to obviate a small fire to windward of the animal, afterwards heaping on green leaves, thereby making as dense and smarting a smoke as possible.

We now drew off the dogs, and then moved some yards away, out of sight of the pig, but still keeping him well within view all time.

After Waiting patiently for some few minutes, we had the satisfaction of seeing him move uneasily within his castle, a sure indication of his unpleasant position, and that he was about to bolt.

It was not long before this did happen, for he gradually moved from his lair as the smoke and heat increased, carefully reconnoitring as he emerged into the open, he suddenly broke away through the bush at a great pace.

We let the dogs loose again, but it was some minutes before they had him "bailed up" again, and in that short space of time they had gone nearly a quarter of a mile, their barking faint, but sufficiently distinct to be heard, so as to be a guide to where they were they were.

We followed as quickly as the impediments of the bush would permit, but not fast enough save at least one of the dogs, for this poor animal was quite dead when we arrived upon the scene, but his fangs, in death were firmly locked in the root of the boar's ear, who, endeavouring to get rid of his unpleasant burden, had entangled the carcase of the dog between a couple of young saplings and was there held fast and helpless, the rest of the pack of dogs holding on to the other ear and flanks.

From the peculiar position in which he was held, he little, dread, watched his futile attempts to escape.

As we cautiously moved around him he eyed us ferociously, at the same time chopping his tusks defiantly, the, frothy saliva, exhuding from his mouth in great streams, showing plainly the unsubdued ferocity of his nature.

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It would not have been well for some of us then had this savage king of the forest broken loose, for someone would undoubtedly hare paid the penalty of foolhardiness, before he could have gained the friendly shelter of a tree.

With circumspection he was now approached by the old bushman, who, watching his opportunity, dealt him a well directed blow from the towahawk across the spine, which so completely disabled him as to enable us with safety to throw him upon the ground, then quickly to put an end to his sufferings with the fatal thrust of the knife, after which his head was taken off, to carry home as a trophy, whilst, at the same time, it was the best and only way of securing his splendid set of tusks, which were, withont exception, the longest and finest I have ever seen.

Upon examining our dogs, we found that another of them had been ripped, though not seriously, but after having washed and sewn rap the wound, (nearly every pig-hunter carrying needle and thread for that purpose), and smearing it with lard taken from one of the pigs killed, the animal was able to follow us back to the place where we had lit the fire.

We set about extinguishing this, and made all secure from the possible danger of firing the bush.

Having made a bag out of one of our blouse shirts with which to carry the dog that was so badly wounded, we then moved homewards, arriving there, tired, though exceeding pleased with our rough but most exciting fore-noon's successful pig-hunting, at the cost of two dogs killed, and two wounded—the inevitable outcome of such sport in sparsely settled districts.