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CHAPTER VIII.
    Wild Pig-hunting.

It is said that Captain Cook introduced pigs into New Zealand. They were at the time I write of, the only wild quadrupeds in the land, except rats (for which I believe the country is also indebted to Captain Cook), but together they made up for no end of absentees by their prodigious powers of breeding.

Most of the middle island was infested with pigs; they principally inhabited the low hills and river bed flats and swamps, and would come down on to the large plains in herds for feeding on the root of a plant called spear grass, to obtain which they would tear up the sward and injure large tracts of grazing land.

Their depredations became so extensive that the Provincial Government was obliged to take steps for their extermination by letting contracts for killing them off, at, I think, sixpence per head, or rather tail, and by this means I have known a single district cleared of 8,000 to 10,000 pigs in a season.

Pig-hunting on the hills is not the inspiriting amusement it is on the plains. In the former they must be hunted on foot, and shot down, riding being impracticable, while on the plain they were hunted on horseback with dogs bred for the purpose, and the huntsman\'s weapon is only a short heavy knife sharpened on both sides to a point like a dagger, and suspended in a sheath attached to the waist belt. Spears were sometimes used, but they were of a very rough and primitive description, and not effective. Pig-sticking on the modern scientific principles was not then practised in New Zealand.

For a day\'s pig-hunting on the plains a party of men on strong and fast horses, with a few kangaroo dogs and a bullock dray in attendance, formed the hunting party. The location of the herd is previously noted and kept quiet. The dogs are held in leash till well within sight, say, from half to one mile off. The animals are easily startled, and they know that their best chance of safety depends on their reaching the hills before their pursuers overtake them.[Pg 42]

With a fast horse, giving full-grown pigs a start of a mile, it will be all the huntsman can do to pick them up in a gallop of 3 to 5 miles, and the best chance in his favour is when there is a herd, and not only a single pig or small number of strong hardy fellows. Until pressed the herd will keep pretty much together, and if by good management the hunters contrive to get to leeward of them as well as to intercept them from making direct for the cover of the hills they are sure of good sport.

The kangaroo dog (so called) was a cross between a stag-hound and mastiff, very fast and powerful, and he ran only by sight. A well-trained dog on overhauling his pig will run up on the near side and seize the boar by the off lug, thereby protecting himself from being ripped by the animal\'s tusks. Then the hunter should be on the spot to jump off his horse and assist the dog by plunging his knife into the beast\'s heart from the off side.

With a good dog the danger to which the experienced hunter is exposed is slight. A properly trained, courageous dog will hold the largest boar for several minutes in the manner described and will not let him go till forced to from sheer exhaustion. But if he is obliged to disengage himself before assistance arrives, he will very probably be ripped or killed.

The trained bush horse will stand quietly where his rider leaves him, never attempting to move further from the spot than to nibble the grass will necessitate.

One day, having heard that a large mob of pigs had come down on the plains near the gorge of the Rakaia, some fifteen miles off, we at once organised a hunt, and two neighbours from another station promised to join us.

A rendezvous was fixed upon where we were to meet at daybreak, a bullock dray having been sent on the previous night. We were all well mounted and equipped with three fine dogs. After riding some ten miles we separated, taking up a long line over the plain, and using our field glasses to obtain an idea of the position of the herd as soon as possible, and thus give us time to arrange a plan of attack before coming to too close quarters, the animals being very quick to scent danger.

One of our friends, Legge, who was riding on the extreme left, was the first to discover the herd, and he galloped up to say that there were a considerable number of pigs about two miles further east, scattered amongst the cabbage[Pg 43] trees near a small river bed. On approaching carefully till within view we could count upwards of fifty, and many seemed to be large boars; no young pigs were visible. The latter, indeed, seldom came far out on the plains, their elders probably fearing that in the event of surprise they would not be able to run with the rest of the herd.

The whole mob of pigs lay directly between us and the hills, which were almost five miles distant, so it became necessary for us to divide and make wide detours, so as to obtain a position on their further side without being seen. This movement took about an hour, but we succeeded under cover of snow grass and cabbage trees in approaching within half a mile of the herd, with the hills behind us, before they took the alarm. Then all were speedily in motion, but as our position prevented them from taking a direct line to shelter, they ran wildly, and so gave us a considerable advantage.

The order for attack............
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