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Bush surfing: That's a New Zealand pig hunt

A bicycle built for two: The results of a day's work on a New Zealand pig hunt. 

BAY OF PLENTY, New Zealand — Pig hunting is a sport many Kiwis love to indulge in. Sundays are traditionally reserved by many for a good, old ramble in the bush with the dogs.

It's got it all, when it comes to hunting, and seems to be growing in popularity as more discover the thrills and sheer wonderment encountered during a classic Kiwi pig chase.

Now, to put the thrill of the "chase" into print is very difficult! The reason I say this is because it is such a varied activity.

In simplicity it is a casual hike — casual because the team of dogs are doing all the work — through some of the pristine scenery that New Zealand has so much of.

One just cruises along the track inhaling all the lush sights and sounds whilst keeping an ear out for that telltale bark that sends everyone into an adrenaline-crazed whirlwind of activity.

A leisurely stroll then explodes into a noisy tramp through the bush to where the action is. This is followed by a real challenge — deciding who is going to jump on the pig, flip it over and stick it with the knife.

Psychological mettle is tested at this stage. Once dealt with, you are faced with carrying out your prize, an often-hilarious exercise as you take it in turns to stay on your feet with a heavy load on your back in uneven country.

What goes around comes around, though, and when your mates burst out laughing at your expense as you stumble flat on your face, you can rest assured that they will have to endure the same quality of remarks in short order.

Teamwork, scenery, adrenaline, soothing tranquility, bravado, mockery, despair, elation, fear, courage, endurance and satisfaction are words that all help to describe the variety encountered throughout a classic pig hunt.

Once the dogs have found a pig, (called a hit) they start to bark and, hopefully, corner the target (called a bail-up).

This usually happens down in the gullies, and the idea is to get to the scene as quickly as possible ("getting a run") before the pig breaks bail and takes off with the dogs hot on its heels — seemingly always in a direction that takes the action further away from you.

Getting a run can be likened to surfing, but through the bush, with great fun with heaps of thrills and spills that seem to escape cautious attention due to the adrenaline levels coursing through your muscles.

If you are fast enough — or have the endurance to catch up after the pig has broken bail a few times — you are confronted with a manic scene of dogs dancing around a rather angry pig, clearly the most dangerous animal in the New Zealand bush.

Its tusks are razor sharp and it is either very brave or brazenly stupid — and the dogs are keen to this.

The canines will be heading and barking and doing their best to hold the pig at bail without getting sliced or "ripped."

Of course, sometimes the dogs do make mistakes, and some nasty wounds can be inflicted — though rarely fatal. Still, more than a few pig dogs have been carried out of the backcountry and run straight to the vet for re-sealing.

So, there he is, a big black razorback, surrounded by a canine whirlwind of wise teamwork. The last thing you could do is fire a shot into the middle of it all.

Nope, no guns in this game; the priest comes in the form of a knife so large that Paul Hogan would be dead jealous.

It's now that the adrenaline comes in handy. Surprisingly safety is rarely an issue, as the dogs work with you to relieve any attention those sharp tusks may have pointed in your direction.

The hunter can simply, and fairly safely, slip around behind the prize, grab it by the hind legs and flip it on its back exposing the area of the knife's affection.

Wild fun is a way that I like to describe the outing — they are about the only two words that simply say it all.

It's also a great way to check out some of New Zealand's outback wilderness, and there is definitely something about watching a team of dogs working for you.

There is no pig season as such and hunting is only affected by the conditions experienced on the day — hot in summer; colder and damper in winter.

Pigs up to four hundred pound can be encountered and this is definitely not a sport for anyone with a heart condition or replacement joints! Fitness is a prerequisite.

Equipment for chasing pigs is very simple: lightweight hiking apparel, small and inexpensive camera and maybe a small daypack. The lighter you travel the faster you can get to the bail-up.

Cost varies from outfit to outfit.

Some will release a trophy-size boar into a paddock for the hunter to walk up to and hit on the head. This is fairly expensive — approximately $500 to $800 American — and not considered real hunting here.

A true "wild" boar chase in the backcountry can cost anything from $200 to $350US per day, all-inclusive.

We often run into large red stags out there that get flushed by the dogs; these can be taken at no extra cost and your guide will be carrying a rifle in the event of this happening.

The hunting season is open all year on pigs; however, if you want to catch a trophy trout or stag, or shoot feral pheasants, ducks and Canada geese, then I suggest March through June.

Miles Rushmer is a hunting and fishing guide based out of Rotorua on New Zealand's North Island. To learn more about New Zealand pig hunting, contact him at milesrushmer@xtra.co.nz or visit this website.