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I was reading one of the many articles I’ve seen lately about the problems caused by “feral pigs” and I started trying to remember when that term came into general usage. It certainly wasn’t when I was a kid. Back then we hunted “wild hogs” and they fell in place right behind deer and turkeys on the Most Important Game Animals (MIGA) Scale that I just made up. Hogs enjoyed an honored status above squirrels, rabbits, ducks, dove and quail — so killing one was a big deal in my world. That’s why it seems disrespectful now to put them in the same category as runaway house cats.
As I thought about it further, I realized that there are several pig-related terms I use that might be confusing to folks who don’t hunt hogs or those who read Field and Stream and such. And since I’m probably not going to change my vernacular at this point, I’m offering up the following as a glossary of my hog-speak.
Boar/Boar Hog: Others use the term “boar” or “wild boar” to refer to any wild hog. Granted it sounds more menacing than feral pig, but I use it to mean a male hog of any age. I don’t usually shoot boars because their meat tends to be gamey and tough. But if you want a mean, nasty looking mount for your fight club, bar or pool hall, a boar hog will fill the bill nicely.
Sow: (Pronounced like south without the th). You may hear this term used to describe any female hog. When I say it, it refers only to a female who has or has had pigs. Most folks I hunt with don’t shoot them because they may have a litter or be pregnant. Boar hogs look menacing, but sows with pigs can actually be more aggressive.
Pigs/Piglets: To me, a hog is a full-grown pig. As in the example above, I use pig most often to mean piglet.
Gilt: If you’re hunting hogs to eat, this is the one you want. It’s a young adult female hog who hasn’t had pigs yet. Here’s a good way to tell: Look at her teats. If they are elongated, she’s probably a sow. If not, she’s a gilt.
Shoat: A shoat is an adolescent hog, older than a pig but not full-grown. When I write about shoats, I’m usually referring to a hog that isn’t big enough to shoot. (Meaning that the amount of meat isn’t worth the trouble to clean.)
Barrow: This is one you don’t see much of in the wild anymore. When I was younger, though, a lot of folks would trap hogs, castrate the young males and release them. Like oxen, this allowed them to grow large and fat rather than muscular and tough.
It bothers me that hogs have become such a problem lately, especially since banning hog hunting is one of the ideas I’ve seen for controlling their population. One dubious theory is that hog hunters are trapping and releasing feral pigs on private property as an excuse to hunt them. That may well have happened, but I doubt it accounts for the dramatic increase in the hog population.
A more likely explanation is that not enough people still appreciate the experience of hunting them. And maybe that’s because we started calling them feral pigs.