In South Carolina, wild boars are so despised by the locals that even fish and wildlife authorities virtually ignore them.
In South Carolina, wild boars are so despised by the locals that even fish and wildlife authorities virtually ignore them.
Credit: Photograph by Peter Frank Edwards
The only way to reach the Santee Rod Gun & Guitar Club (the name has been changed) is on a boat – a small boat. The camp here has no running water and no electricity. A propane tank fuels the stove and a wall-mounted lantern. The screen porch is piled high with gear of every description. Every cinder block, every piece of lumber, all the shingles on the roof had to be hauled over on a barge.

The most important person on a boar hunt is the guide, who is also the dog wrangler. Out here, that's Boyd, an athletic, square-jawed spring of a man with the bearing of a junior-varsity football coach. On the hunt the dogs have two main jobs. A pack of chase dogs leads the hunters into the swamp, tracks the boar, and battles the prey long enough for the hunters to arrive. There are as many opinions about what breed makes the best chase dog as there are boar hunters; Boyd runs a string of mixed-breed stock dogs called Catahoulas – midsize hounds with mismatched pale eyes and, often enough, blue brindle markings.

The second job belongs to the catch dogs, vicious fighters held close on strong leashes and not put into play unless the chase dogs are outmatched or the hunter is in peril. Often a pit bull (occasionally a specialized breed, the black mouth cur), the catch dog does not stop working until it or the pig is dead.

Boyd is proud of his pack, values them for their noiseless pursuit of pigs. "A barking dog teaches the boar that trouble's on the way," says Boyd. "Pigs are smarter than dogs; they'll put the dog and the bark together the first time, then run away every time after that. When a good silent boar dog gets up on his hog, chances are that barking is the last thing that hog'll hear." Only when a dog sees a boar does the barking begin.

A chase dog won't attack a boar alone, but the instant the dog is joined by another member of the pack, they pounce on the pig. At this moment the barking becomes a haunting bay. It's a troubling sound but nothing compared to the sight. "When you hear the bay, the first thing you need to do is find a tree that you can get up in quick," Bubsy warns Farmerie and me on the way out to the island. "It can get pretty wild fast out there."

A boar uses its tusk as an edged weapon, slashing with terrible effect at dog and man in a fight. Boyd carries a suture kit with him on every hunt in order to bind up wounded hounds. When asked about the perils of a boar hunt, one local warns, "A big boar just touches your leg with his tusk, that be the leg you had."

Feral boars can be found in many parts of the country, but the biggest, baddest beasts seem to end up at hell-and-gone corners like this. Three miles long and almost two miles wide, the island where the club is located was first cultivated as a rice plantation. Now reclaimed by nature, what is left of an expanse of intricately engineered dikes, dams, and drainage gullies makes up a patchwork of inhospitable, occasionally impassable swamp. Its only inhabitants are possums, raccoons, squirrels, alligators, snakes, deer, bald eagles, and, of course, boars. In the middle of the island, where the swamp is densest, the water deepest, and the silty mud most viscous, the hogs are most at home. Somehow they move through these swamps like Olympians through water, on top of the ooze, not through it.