You can hardly open a sporting magazine these days without reading about wild boar. It’s an enormously successful mammal whose range stretches across Europe, North Africa and Asia from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The feral population found in the UK is largely the result of escapees or releases from wild boar farms by animal rights activists. Depending on where you stand, boar are either a resource to be managed and harvested or a thorough nuisance to be eliminated if possible.

DEFRA has recognised that a national management plan is
impracticable and has passed the initiative to landowners to do as they see fit. Those who believe boar should become a sporting resource often point across the Channel at the way they are managed in France. If it can be done successfully over there, why not here as well, runs the argument. However, are things as rosy in France as sporting interests and the close season lobby would like us to believe? I’ve been fortunate to witness both stalked and driven boar shooting in France. It’s a hugely exciting sport, but does it really work, and do we want it here? The boar population in France is expanding very quickly in spite of the hunting pressure. Between 2004 and 2006 the average annual bag was 415,000 animals, but by 2007/8 it had risen to 522,000. Many people, especially farmers, see boar as a growing problem.

The reasons cited for the increase in overall numbers are numerous. They include climate change (what a surprise),
an increase in the acreage of maize and an increase in fallow land and reforestation. Perhaps more surprisingly, a reduction in the number of people hunting boar is also mentioned. This reflects the reduction in the number of hunting permit holders and the increase in their ages. Another factor limiting the bag is the length of the season, which typically runs from June to February. There are also limits on the methods that can be used between various dates. Shooting while there’s snow on the ground is forbidden. On the other hand, administrative shoots (the equivalent of our shooting under licence) can be, and often are, organised in the close season when crop damage needs to be reduced.

While the hunters are keen to see a decent population,
the farmers get very angry at the crop damage. Recently, a group of activists in Lorraine vented their anger in the traditional way with a load of manure, some boar guts and a dozen carcases spread all over the front of the local hunting association’s building. They’d like to see the population stabilised at about three animals per 100 hectares, which is well below the present level. Feeding, typically with maize, is a practice the farmers dislike. In 2008, to check the rise in numbers, the Loir and Cher
department’s hunting federation introduced a controversial limit of 100kg of feed per 100 hectares and only allowed feeding one day a week. A recent study by the Association of Large Game Hunters identified major problems with damage to farming interests and collisions with motor vehicles. Thirty-eight per cent of animal-related collisions involve boar at an estimated cost of between €115million and €180million. There is an indemnity fund for collisions, as there is for reimbursing farmers for boar damage. The costs fall on the hunting federations. Nationally, damage to farm crops tends to be localised — 100 per cent of the damage is made to only 34.5 per cent of villages.

Boar are prolific breeders. A sow can become fertile at as young as eight months old if she has access to good feeding. Litter size varies between two and six depending on the weight of the animal. Most litters are born in late-winter and spring, but immature animals may drop their piglets as late as September.

In France, the health of boar that are entering the food chain can be a worry. A sample of the viscera has to be sent to the local veterinary laboratory before boar can be sold as meat. The principal concern is trichinella, a zoonotic parasite that is quite widespread and can be transmitted to humans if they eat undercooked or raw pig meat. Freezing the meat for three weeks and then cooking it until the juices run clear is an adequate preventive measure. Fortunately, trichinella is not found in the British feral boar population.

Boar shooting in France is mainly done by driving them to
standing Guns and the sport is spread right across the social spectrum. The widespread presence of boar makes small gameshooting as we know it here more difficult. Boar can cause extensive damage to release pens and compete for pheasant and partridge feed. They can be aggressive, and the last thing you need is one running amok in the beating line where both dogs and beaters run the risk of injury. If you’re thinking of keeping boar alongside pheasants, pause and imagine the effect of 100kg of pig in your gamecover. France has more than twice the surface area of Britain and less than half the population density. It follows that shooting with a rifle or solid slug from a shotgun is potentially easier to manage safely than it is here. Nevertheless several hunters are killed every year in France and the principal source of these accidents is boar shooting, especially where the Guns are not in a high seat.

I think we’d find driven boar shooting difficult to organise safely. Most rifle shooting here is at a stationary target, whereas driven boar requires the ability to shoot one that is moving fast. Also, given the reduced chance of placing the bullet in a vital area, it is sensible to use large calibre rifles. In France, 8mm and 9.3mm, often from double rifles, are commonly used. So, too, is a solid slug from a 12-bore, but the ricochet risk is much increased. Given that we seem to have difficulty keeping the deer population to an acceptable level, it is likely that we would never get to control a feral boar population were it to increase significantly.

It’s fun in France, but not as rosy as some would have us believe.
I’m not always in agreement with DEFRA, but I think it has come to a reasonable compromise. If you want boar on your land that’s fine and you can impose your own close season if you wish. Don’t feel offended if your neighbour takes a different view and has a different solution. If you don’t want boar, there’s nothing to stop you from shooting them hard.

Either way they make good sport and good eating.

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