Outdoors

Time for Makin’ Bacon

Montana is one of the few states where wild pigs haven’t taken up permanent residence, yet

I’ve never hunted wild pigs, though I’m tempted. Killing an acorn-fed hog or two in the rolling, oak-covered hills of central California seems like a win-win-win.

I get to hunt, and if successful, fill my freezer with the wild version of my favorite protein. And to top it off, culling a few of the Golden State’s wild pigs is ecologically friendly. The critters are destructive to both natural and agricultural lands. They tear up earth with their rototiller foraging strategy, creating erosion and the destruction of crops.

The wild pigs roaming more than 30 states are a cross between domestic pigs that interbred with the European wild boar, which were introduced for sport hunting.

Montana is one of the few states where wild pigs haven’t taken up permanent residence, yet. But the porcine invasion seems only a matter of time. Wild pigs are well established across the Canadian prairie provinces, and there have been confirmed sightings in Saskatchewan just five miles from the Montana border.

The Treasure State’s pig invasion may have already begun, just undetected for now.

Once the inevitable migration south is confirmed, Montana ought to follow California’s lead and allow year-round depredation hunts. It won’t stop the invasion, but it may limit the damage.

The spread of wild pigs in much of the U.S. and Canada was inevitable. There are just too many domesticated pigs out there, animals that seem to slide back into a wild state far too easily once they escape the farm. Add to that the animal’s toughness and adaptability and you’ve got the perfect storm for a well-intentioned introduction run amok.

I want to think we now have a clue about the unintended consequences of moving animals around, but stupidity is a relentless force. In Texas, where native bobwhite quail have struggled in the last decade due to drought, parasitic eye worms and other threats researchers are still sorting out, a Texas A&M professor has taken a page out of the bucket biologist’s playbook and will introduce non-native California quail, also known as valley quail, in bobwhite range.

California quail are a fine bird; they are the quail of my youth. But they are also the kind of adaptable, aggressive species that thrives when introduced into new habitat. They are a bit of a weed species, the rainbow trout of the uplands.

What could go wrong? Well, Texas already has scaled quail, a bird that has a lot in common with the California birds. Both are prone to run and can be a challenge to hunt over pointing dogs.

Bobwhite are nothing like that. Once the most widespread of the American quail — so much so that for much of the country bobwhite are known simply as quail — these birds hold for pointing dogs. Hunting a covey of bobwhite often means you’ll get an initial covey flush — sometimes 15 or more birds erupting out of a patch of ground you could throw a Hula Hoop around, followed by some singles work, before you go find another covey.

Scalies and California quail run like banshees. It’s not unusual to get a covey strung out yards beyond gun range, with wild flushes coming in every direction.

It’s a different kind of quail hunting, fun in its own right. But this isn’t just about hunting fun. Bobwhite were once plentiful natives of Texas, and the degree to which they are no longer plentiful is a reflection of how we’ve altered their habitat beyond recognition. The decline of bobwhite quail is the story of the decline of Texas’ native landscapes.

We can’t know what wild pigs will do once they settle into Montana, but of this much we can be certain: There will be unintended consequences that we won’t be able to cure wild bacon fast enough to stop.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.