Seasons Of Mellowness and Boar Hunting

The winter solstice is not far off and wild boar hunts are in full cry across France as Mike Alexander discovers when he joins a local group of chasseurs stalking an animal prized for the pot especially if cooked in cognac. 

The Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) is the wild ancestor of the domestic pig. As shown in his natural habitat. (Credit: Wikipedia)

When I first moved to France some twelve years ago I was amazed by how much hunting takes place in such an industrially advanced European country. There are over 1.3 million licensed hunters in this country and when the season starts as it did in October, they can be seen on virtually any trip outside of urban areas.

A wide variety of game and bird are also hunted but pride of place goes to the boar or Sanglier. The wild boar (Sus scrofa) is indigenous to Europe and is the most hunted mammal in France. Ancient cave paintings depict boar hunts taking place here thousands of years ago and the French don’t appear to be losing any of their enthusiasm for the challenges that hunting this animal can provide. Over 500 000 boar were shot in France last year alone.

An interesting point and one that demonstrates the cunning and adaptability of these animals is the fact that their numbers have increased dramatically, doubling between 1990 and 2000 alone. Despite the spread of urbanism France remains one of the most densely forested countries in Europe.

Read all Mike Alexander’s gardening advice here and here


There is still some debate as to why the boar has continued to breed as fast as it does but the dominant theory is that they have benefitted both from global warming and the increased production of crops for bio fuel. These changes have led to an increase in food availability as oak trees produce higher yields of rich acorns and maize and rape seed production provides another ready food source.

Sows come into the breeding cycle upon reaching a certain weight (approximately 30 kgs) and they are now doing this up to a year earlier than they did in the past.

This expansion of territorial requirements on the side of both man and animal has not been without its tensions as territory that was once the wild domain of boars is now encroached upon by surrounding towns and villages.

Boars have proved to be very versatile in their use of habitat. Only last month a local rugby club called in the hunters after their pitch was repeatedly dug up by boars in search of an easy snack. At the moment the pitch is being regularly spread with human hair collected from the neighbourhood’s hair dressers in the hope that human scent will discourage the pitch invasions. Personally I have my doubts. These animals have become too accustomed to the presence of human beings to be put off by a few human off-cuts.

Heubach wild boar (Credit: Wikipedia)

Meetings between boar and man have not always been so constrained. In 2007 two boars, each weighing in at over 50 kgs, were seen wandering down the highway outside of the southern town of Perpignan. The local police responded by closing the road and the boars were eventually chased into a square in the town where a showdown took place. Naturally the affair did not end well for the boars but not before the hunt caused considerable concern among the locals. Using 9mm side arms seven police officers fired off a total of twenty five rounds without bringing down the boars who were only finally finished-off when police turned to  pump action shotguns. In rural areas, and now even in the out lying suburbs of large cities, confrontation is a regular occurrence. Last year alone there were more the 70 000 collisions between motor vehicles and boar.

For hunters this rapid expansion of the boar stock has also not been without its down side. It is true that with larger numbers the chances of bagging a boar on a hunt are improved. Hunters pay an annual licence fee which should go toward development of the sport but in fact part of the fee  is used as an insurance which is paid to local farmers when their crops are shown to have been damaged by boar. In recent years that figure has sky rocketed with a record 38 000 000 euros paid out last year.

A hunter’s hut at Mons in the French département of the Var. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Problems aside, hunting sanglier is still a cherished past time. Before 1789 hunting was the exclusive domain of the nobility and the very rich. After a bloody revolution which saw very liberal use of the guillotine, the nobility lost their rights (along with their heads) and the republic of Libertéégalité, fraternité ensured the boar became a democratic target. Hunting is now very much an egalitarian sport in which anyone with a hunting license can take part. Many hunters regard it as a responsibility to hunt in commemoration of all that was done to win this right.

Film clip: La chasse, terre de rencontres

Most local hunting is carried out in the form of a drive known as a battue. This is organised by the village chasse or hunt. Hunters are placed by the president de chasse, or hunt leader, in a line while beaters with dogs try to drive the animals in their direction. Good hunting dogs can change hands for a much as 2000 euros each but even with a team of good dogs and many beaters the boar is still often cunning enough to get away. They can run at up to 50 kilometres an hour in short bursts —  not bad for an animal that can reach 200kgs in body weight.

Story: Mike Alexander

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