Wild Boar Hunting

The following information on wild boar hunting comes from Practical Rifle Shooting by Walter Winans. Practical Rifle Shooting is also available to purchase in print.

The rifle suitable for shooting deer is of little use against wild boar, or, I suppose, any sort of game which is found and shot in thick covert. I have shot all my wild boar in the Ardennes. The cover there is so thick, and the rides so narrow, that one seldom fires a shot at longer ranges than 60 yards, while the distance is often 20 yards, or even less. The animal is usually going as fast as he can, and one fires on a glimpse, rather than a full sight of, the entire beast.

Under such circumstances an express rifle requires the utmost skill in handling, and, however carefully and accurately such a weapon may be used there is always great danger that the bullet will be deflected from a branch or twig, and so find its way to a beater or one of the other guns. Most men, consequently, use a cylinder-bored 12-bore shot-gun, and fire a charge of ballets—nine round bullets, arranged in layers of three. The idea of such a “duffer” weapon is, however, unattractive, and the best compromise to my mind is a “shot-and-ball gun,” a weapon which shoots shot, or a conical bullet with hollow point, as the preference may be. With a small powder charge and a big hollow bullet of this kind there need be no great danger if one is careful and pays proper attention to the direction, and distance from which the beaters are advancing, and the relative position of the other guns. And when the boar is dead, one has the satisfaction of feeling that he fell to a bullet.

The best shot at wild boar of my acquaintance is a Belgian. He will kill pig right and left with a double-barrelled express just as if they were rabbits. He always fires snap-shots, and takes no more deliberate aim with his express than he would do with his shot-gun. He tells me that he has never fired at a stationary target in his life.

This Belgian’s skill would soon be spoiled if he took to stationary target-shooting on the ranges, and I have had him in my mind during the preceding chapters as the kind of shot which I should like to see my pupils become. A rifleman should be no less ashamed of taking a pot-shot with his weapon than a man who has “potted” a sitting partridge with his shot-gun.

Whether a rifle or gun is the weapon selected for shooting wild boar, it should be as short as possible, so as to avoid the risk of catching a twig or bough. It should be furnished with a sling for carrying, and with large, easily visible sights. My preference is a big shot-gun fore-sight, and a large, especially open, “V” hind-sight.

Some men take the precaution to have a small bayonet fixed on their weapon, but my idea is that the man who fails to stop a charging wild boar with two barrels deserves any scratches which he may receive in consequence. The best spot at which to aim is behind the ear; but if the wild boar is charging this is impossible, and you must fire between his eyes. In this case be careful about the angle of fire, or the bullet will glance off his sloping skull, and the only result be to infuriate the hurt animal.

A particular, though vital, reason against the use of buck shot or ballets for boar is, to my mind, the awkwardness, not to say impossibility, of using them on a boar when he is fighting with the dogs. The Belgians use for this an especially light double-barrelled .45 rifle, with small charge of cordite powder, as a secondary arm to the double-barrelled 12-bore shot-gun shooting “ballets.”

The wild boar are driven from one clump to another by beaters and dogs. The dogs used are mongrels and of small size. Large dogs are more apt to get injured, as they cannot dodge a boar so quickly, and also tend to get hung up by brambles more readily than small dogs which can squeeze through a hole. The Dogs’ Home at Battersea is a good place at which to look for dogs for this purpose. There one may often pick up a “good” dog—in the sense that he is a good fighter—which has been condemned because savage, or given to fighting with his neighbours. A dog condemned on these grounds is “good” for wild boar. It was from the Home that I got a couple of fighting Irish terriers which are the pick of our pack. One of them refused to be taken out of the railway van when he first arrived at Brussels, going for every one who attempted to dislodge him. He is wonderful at boar. The first boar that ever crossed his view he tackled and caught by the ear with such purpose that he refused to leave hold when the animal had been killed, and had, consequently, to be driven home in the game cart with the carcase.

The “guns” are posted round the cover. Each “gun” usually has a gun-rest in front of him, and on this he supports his 12-bore shot-gun and his rifle, ready to hand, whichever he may choose to use first. Some men add a lighter gun loaded with No. 6 shot, in case a pheasant or hare should come their way. I do not approve of this shooting at small game when after-boar, and personally I let even roe deer pass then. A shot is liable to turn back any wild boar which may be nearly breaking cover. But if your neighbours choose to be less careful, there is no need to complain of their acting in a way which will probably send you boar that would otherwise have broken near them.

Another little matter which smokers seem incapable of appreciating is that smoking at a stand is prejudicial to getting a shot at deer or boar. Smokers, indeed, seem to suffer from a pretty general delusion in regard to their habit. Foresters, for instance, will often omit no precaution to assure themselves that the “wind is right,” i.e., blowing from the game towards themselves; and they will be equally careful to run no risk of being seen by the deer. But while they fear that a deer may scent themselves, they quite ignore the thick cloud which is ascending from their pipes, and the tobacco foresters and gillies smoke is pretty strong in perfume! Thus, at some wild boar-drives, while you can neither see nor hear your neighbours, who are standing as still as mice, the position of one of them is frequently apparent by the regular puffs of smoke rising above the cover. Smokers who are perfectly reasonable on all other matters will not understand that this is so, but non-smokers who are shooting with them really need not cry out. As in the case of a neighbouring gun who cannot resist taking a shot at small game, their loss is your gain, and you will undoubtedly have cause to thank a pipe for many shots at boar which have skirted away from the smoker’s stand to your’s.

It is a good plan to have your stick made with a thin saw blade, fitted into a recess in the stick, which can be used when required to cut small branches. When at your pass, if you can do so without being heard by the boar, it is advisable to cut a few well-leaved fir branches, and stick them in a natural position in front of you to prevent advancing game seeing your legs, which, as the wild boar come through the brushwood, are the most likely part of you to attract their attention; also it is as well to cut down any branches which obstruct your view, or are apt to be in the way of your gun or rifle should you need to take a quick shot. Do not leave your post under any circumstances without letting your neighbour know, as you may shoot each other if your positions are altered; also do not leave your post till the three blasts from the horn tell you that each drive is over. When leaving your pass make sure your neighbours are also leaving theirs, as otherwise a “gun” may be left behind and may lose himself. If you have to follow a wounded wild boar, first let the other guns know you are doing so, otherwise you will delay the next drive; but if you let them know they can go on without you.

Stuffers have a trick of drawing out a wild boar’s tusks from the gums, so that they may appear much longer than they really are—an illegitimate trick, against which I warn those who may not be aware of it. A boar has so much of his tusk buried in the gum that it only needs a careful extraction and subsequent reinsertion—the tusk being held in place by attachment to a plug which has been driven into the empty socket—in order to make a quite moderate boar appear, in the Belgian phrase, “rudement armé.” Further, if you have occasion to send a dead wild boar by rail, be careful to have him sewn up in a sealed sack, or he will arrive at his destination half bald, people having a trick of helping themselves to his bristles.

The greatest care is necessary when using the knife on a wounded boar. The safest plan is to approach from behind whilst he is occupied with the dogs, seize his further ear, and strike downwards behind the near ear. But make certain that the dogs have a firm hold, or he is more than likely to rip you.

If you should have the misfortune to fall when charged by a wild boar, do all you know to fall flat on the face, and prevent his turning you over. The great danger lies in getting the vitals ripped; a gash in the back is usually much less grave. A charging boar cannot turn rapidly. If you fail to drop a charging boar at close quarters, wait until he is all but on you and jump aside.

Never let a wounded wild boar go back among the beaters.

The right moment to take a boar is as he leaves the side of the covert which is being driven and crosses the drive on which you are stationed; but this is often impossible if the next gun is posted in line. If this is not possible, do not fire at a solitaire—the name for a big wild boar—unless you are sure of killing him. Always hold your fire rather than risk sending a solitaire back to the beaters with a wound in him. But if a wounded wild boar breaks back let the beaters know at once. They can get their dogs together, or at least be on the look-out, and so avoid part of the extreme danger consequent on an unexpected encounter with the infuriated brute.

Wounded wild boar are dangerous to the last. In a case within my knowledge a wounded boar turned back and lay under a tree. A beater, seeing him and believing him dead, poked him with a stick. The unfortunate beater got a big hole in his thigh which kept him in hospital for over a month; two other beaters were knocked down, and the boar was found dead a week later over the frontier. This wild boar had been hit by ballets at close range. His jaw was broken and his eyesight nearly destroyed, or he would have done even worse damage. The moral is, be sure that a pig is dead before you take the least liberty with him.

The hands must be kept warm somehow. If you wear woollen gloves they cannot be taken off instantly when you want to take a shot. Some shooters carry a muff, either on a strap passed round the neck, which is apt to catch in things, or strapped round the waist. This latter way, if a man is at all stout, does not add charm to his appearance. What I find best and most practical is to have two vertical slits made at the level of your hands in your jacket; into them you can put your hands whilst resting your rifle on your forearm, with the muzzle pointing to the ground, in a convenient position for instant use. These slits should be lined with fur·.

There are short socks, called American socks, which are a good thing to wear over the ordinary woollen stocking, as they absorb the moisture and keep the feet comparatively dry when wearing waterproof boots. If you turn down the top of the sock over the top of the rubber boot it keeps the wet from coming in over the tops of the boots. Nailed boots are rather dangerous on ice; ridges across the sole of the boots, made of leather or rubber put on diagonally, prevent slipping better.

As wild boar shooting takes place principally in winter, and the Ardennes are high and cold then, it is important to be dressed warmly enough. One stands still and walks hard alternately, when going from beat to beat. It is therefore best to have a short fur-lined jacket, with fur collar, which will turn up to protect the ears when necessary, taking care that this fur is not of a kind which will tickle the neck if your skin is sensitive. The jacket can then be left unbuttoned whilst climbing and buttoned when you reach your pass. Long indiarubber boots are generally worn, as the snow, which is often just on the melting point, penetrates most leather boots. Rubber, however, is very unpleasant to walk in, especially if your feet break through half-frozen snow at every step.

Click here to purchase Practical Rifle Shooting in paperback

Wild Boar Hunting - Practical Rifle Shooting - Walter Winans

Return to Practical Rifle Shooting Table of Contents