The East Texas sun had passed its zenith by the time Buck’s yap turned insistent. The scent dog had tracked his quarry for several miles that morning without a sound, and his clipped bark now meant only one thing: he had cornered a wild hog in the vine-strewn thicket just behind the subdivision. The other tracking dogs dashed toward him, but Mike Bolen had his doubts: we’d been plying this 2,000-acre swath of land just southwest of Houston for seven hours, and so far we’d seen no sign of wild pigs.
But Buck’s yelp didn’t falter, and soon Bolen readied his “catch dog,” Clifford, a brawny American bulldog mix trained to pin a wild hog by latching on to its ear. We were fast approaching the other dogs when Bolen, hearing the besieged pig, unleashed Clifford and hissed, “Get ’im!”
A lifelong hunter, Bolen discovered the earthy pleasures of “hog doggin’” about 10 years ago. He’s since turned his passion into a bit of profit by contracting with Harris County to exterminate feral pigs in and around Houston. And though Bolen’s tally of several hundred hogs may sound impressive, it’s a small victory in a losing battle.
The conquistador Hernando de Soto introduced hogs to North America in 1539; now more than 4 million run wild in at least 39 states, from California to New Jersey. The fiercely intelligent animals are prodigious breeders (a pig population can triple in a year) and will eat everything from acorns and blackberries to sea-turtle eggs and deer fawns. They also spread brucellosis and pseudorabies; destroy cropland, gardens, and golf courses; and foul rivers and streams with their muddy wallows. All told, Sus scrofa causes an estimated $800 million in property damage each year.