On occasion, you might hear old-timers speak of a time when herds of wild hogs were hunted in the West Virginia hills.
Chances are, they never witnessed such a hunt themselves, as the practice was a tradition so long ago that they likely heard of it from their own grandparents. These hunts would have been undertaken in the 18th and 19th centuries when the store food could grow scarce in winter.
The hogs were, apparently, non-native and had been brought to the region by early settlers, who allowed them to run wild in the woods. There, the swine feasted and fattened until they could provide enough pork for remote settlements without requiring much effort on the part of the pioneers.
The hogs were customarily hunted in late autumn, as settlers had discovered that the meat tasted better when the animals had been eating chestnuts and white-oak acorns. Later, when only red-oak acorns were available, it tasted overly strong.
Older hogs were so vicious that few hunters dared venture near their feeding grounds to take them. Instead, mass hunts were organized. When temperatures began to fall, the hogs would nest in brush that surrounded an open space, sleeping on beds of leaves and holing-up during severe winter weather. They would defend their nests to the extent that some say even a bear was in danger if it attempted to kill a hog near its nest.
The hunts were conducted after scouts had observed the hogs to be denned. The hunters would open a trail through the forest that lead away from the entrance to the den area and circled around so that their quarry would be led past the hunters a second time if enough animals were not killed on a first volley.
Riflemen the took up positions along the route, standing on protected logs and boulders where they might be safe from an attack by the herd. One hunter would then ride into the den on a horse, driving the pigs out, sending them in the direction of the hunters, who would kill as many as were required.
After the desired number were slaughtered, the hunters would wait until the remainder returned to their shelter and would then lash a thong about each pig’s tusks and tie it to a horse’s tail. The animals were then pulled over the snow to an area nearby that had been set up for butchering.
The practice flourished during pioneer days when acquiring food for winter was a dire necessity. Few if any wild hogs now roam the hills—at least not in herds—though Eurasian wild boar now roam isolated parts of Boone, Logan, Raleigh, and Wyoming counties where they were imported by wildlife officials in 1971.