“He’s gonna make good eatin’,” Garcia says of the dead animal, which weighs about 40 pounds.
The 3,000-acre ranch, in McMullen County, has been in the family of Lloyd Stewart’s wife, Susan, since the mid-1900s. Stewart and his hunting and wildlife manager, Craig Oakes, began noticing wild hogs on the land in the 1980s, and the animals have become more of a problem every year. In 2002, Stewart began selling hog-hunting leases, charging $150 to $200 for a daylong hunt and $300 for weekends. But wild hogs have become so common around the state that it’s getting hard to attract hunters. “Deer hunters tell us they have a lot of hogs at home,” Oakes says, “so they don’t want to pay to come shoot them here.” The exception is trophy boars, defined as any wild pig with tusks longer than three inches. These bring around $700 for a weekend hunt.
“Most of the hogs that are killed here are killed by hunters, people who will eat them,” Stewart says. He’ll fly over the ranch to try to count the hogs, but unlike some landowners who are overrun, he has yet to shoot them from the air. “We’re not that mad at ‘em yet,” Oakes chuckles. “I hate to kill something and not use it.”
Many hunters prefer working with dogs. Two types of dogs are used in the hunt. Bay dogs—usually curs such as the Rhodesian Ridgeback, black-mouth cur or Catahoula or scent hounds such as the foxhound or Plott Hound—sniff out and pursue the animals. A hog will attempt to flee, but if cornered or wounded will likely attack, battering the bay dogs with its snout or goring them with its tusks. (Some hunters outfit their dogs in Kevlar vests.) But if the dog gets right up in the hog’s face while barking sharply, it can hold the hog “at bay.” Once the bay dogs spring into action, catch dogs—typically bulldogs or pit bulls—are released. Catch dogs grab the bayed pig, usually at the base of the ear, and wrestle it to the ground, holding it until the hunter arrives to finish it off.
Dogs show off their wild-hog skills at bayings, also known as bay trials, which are held most weekends in rural towns across Texas. A wild hog is released in a large pen and one or two dogs attempt to bay it, while spectators cheer. Trophies are awarded in numerous categories; gambling takes the form of paying to “sponsor” a particular dog and then splitting the pot with cosponsors if it wins. Occasionally bayings serve as fund-raisers for community members in need.
Ervin Callaway holds a baying on the third weekend of every month. His pen is down a rutted dirt road off U.S. Route 59 between the east Texas towns of Lufkin and Nacogdoches, and he’s been doing this for 12 years. His son Mike is one of the judges.
“Here’s how it works,” Mike says as a redheaded preteenager preps a red dog. “The dog has two minutes in the pen with a hog and starts with a perfect score of 10. We count off any distractions, a tenth of a point for each. If a dog controls the hog completely with his herding instincts, and stares him down, it’s a perfect bay. If a dog catches a pig, it’s disqualified—we don’t want any of our dogs or hogs tore up.”
“Hog out,” someone shouts, and a black and white hog (its tusks removed) emerges from a chute as two barking dogs are released to charge it. When it tries to move away, a young man uses a plywood shield to funnel it toward the dogs. They stop less than a foot away from the hog and make eye contact, barking until the animal shoots between them toward the other side of the pen. As the dogs close back in, the hog swerves hard into a fence, then bounces off. The smaller dog grabs its tail but is spun around until it lets go. The pig runs into a wallow and sits there. The yellow dog bays and barks, but from maybe three feet away, too far to be effective, and then it loses concentration and backs off. The pig exits through the chute. Neither dog scores well.