Story and photos by Javier Sintes Pelaz
Wild boar are intelligent animals and they have adapted very quickly to the urban environment around humans. They find ideal conditions on the outskirts of settlements, where there is an abundance of food and cover. And no hunting with firearms due to the danger to humans. In the outskirts of Madrid, this phenomenon had been growing for years. In December 2011, consequently Madrid’s Environment Agency (MEA) decided to train and deploy its own troop of city hunters, equipped with bow and arrows, to solve this problem. Incidentally, the trigger was a nocturnal “happening” of the wildboars on a popular golf course. I was chosen to frame and guide this project.
It was a typical summer day, the heat was sweltering and the air was still. I was on “night shift” with my hunting buddies from the SCAES-FMC (acronym for Madrid Hunting Federation’s Wild Species Bow-Culling Service). We met as usual at around 7:00 p.m. in our “headquarter”, a small café close by. There we discussed strategic allocation to the lightly baited tree stands. None of us has ever hunted alone. If not actually hunting we are always in civilian clothes, any annoyance of the public by hunters in camouflage clothing should be avoided in such areas. Baiting places are checked upon from a distance with binoculars. These are no more than 15 meters from the tree stands. The height of the stands in the trees is six meters plus, so that an arrow shot at a pig hits the ground at a fairly steep angle after it has passed through, thereby avoiding dangerous ricochets. Every hunter has a spot that was already quite well visited by pigs and where the wind was favorable that evening. After a short briefing, we slipped into our hunting clothes, grabbed the hunting bows and the rest of the equipment and got to work. As inconspicuously as possible, I climbed up “my” tree, as I had done many times before, to set myself up for the night hunt. Then I allowed complete calm to return. Just a quick WhatsApp that I was well received found its way from my phone over the airwaves to my buddy, who was also ready.
With our demanding training with theoretical exam, a shooting proficiency test, and subsequent six-month training period under the supervision of an experienced SCAES-FMC mentor, we were very well prepared for this type of hunt. 52 other volunteer city hunters and I had successfully completed this rigorous preparation process. Each of us was a seasoned bow hunter before, but here we came to a higher, more professional level. Rarely did wild boar come to the baiting sites during the day, the vast majority are killed in the dark and that is far more challenging than shooting in daylight. So we had practiced shooting at night from high places intensively and over and over again.
Every movement is revealing, so I used a mirror attached to a string around my neck to scan the area behind me for any approaching pigs. Night was slowly falling. Now it was time to get my thermal imaging scope out for observation. It is absolutely essential that the quarry being shot is broadside and that no other animal is in front or behind it and in the arrow’s path. Only thermal technique allows such observations in dark nights. These nights can be quite long and my thoughts were just far away when a barely audible panting, shortly after midnight, immediately electrified me. I was frozen, eyes closed, all my focus on listening. A pack of wild boar secured itself from the adjacent undergrowth, no more than 30 meters away. They were catching the wind and waited a good quarter of an hour in the direction of the feeding place. I could smell them, which meant a good wind for me. My heart rate slowed down again and I began to plan the next steps with.
In training we had learned never to shoot a wild sow with piglets. The piglets and renegades in the group have learned to be familiar with feeding spots in the urban area and would cause even more damage here after the removal of the sow. But if one of the younger animals is shot, that is a lesson for the leading sow, which may then consider avoiding this area for a certain time. I could see the massive head of a large pig sticking out of the bush in my thermal imaging device and already some piglets trolled out of the undergrowth towards the feeding place. Cautiously the rest approached. I gave them another 10 minutes, until they all relaxed and were contently ingesting the food. The hanging rump, previously stiffly erect, also showed that the adult animals were now more relaxed.
That was my signal for the second act. Very slowly I raised my compound bow and drew it back in slow motion, if possible without any lateral movements. I had already switched on the illumination on my aiming pin of the sight, and with my green-colored lamp mounted on the bow, I slowly lowered the bow from above onto the renegade, which I had carefully selected beforehand. The minimum draw weight for the bow on such cull hunts is 60 pounds. But most of my buddies, like me, use a 70-pound bow. In combination with the heavy arrow and the fixed-blade broadhead, the desired full penetration through the vital zone of the animal in front of me did not pose any problems.
Once the wild boar stood separated and fully in the light cone of my lamp and continued to eat calmly, I released the shot with a continuous pressure on the trigger of my release aid. The nock on my arrow drew a straight line directly to the point between the lower and middle third of the broadside pig where the lungs and the coronary arteries are located. The red trace of my flare nock was briefly interrupted as it flew through the body and marked the impact of my arrow on the ground on the opposite side. With a short squeal, the pig went off and took the whole gang with it in a quick flight. Pigs shot at during the day often hide in the undergrowth in the immediate vicinity of where they were hit, but at night normally try to flee further. This is especially true for young pieces that stay with the leading sow and the pack as long as possible.
I knew that I had made a perfect shot and yet it was necessary to stay in my seat completely silent and motionless for at least 30 minutes. If there was still game around, they shouldn’t be able to associate the shot with a hunter in a tree. Noticing the headlights of my buddy’s car, whom I called immediately after the shot, I calmly packed my things and climbed down. Examination of the arrow shaft gave me further certainty. It was covered in bubbly blood. Concentrated and slowly we followed the few spatters of blood into the undergrowth, where the trail became more and more obvious and after 46 meters led to the expired pig.
My buddy congratulated and I was very pleased. As a city hunter, there is a lot of pressure on your shoulders, especially the worry of what happens if a piece is not struck optimally.
We still had a lot to do that night. The game had to be recovered and taken directly to the game inspection point, where it was examined further. So far, 526 urban wild boars have been taken from the area under my responsibility as head of the SCAES-FMC and the project has been so well received that we even received special permits to carry out our task during the pandemic curfew.