723 HUNTING THE BOAR
HUNTING THE BOAR
Next to the rhinoceros, the wild boar is generally acknowledged to be the most dangerous prey in the world for the hunter. Extraordinarily strong, amazingly fast, apparently fearless, with a keen sense of smell, very sharp hearing and a low centre of gravity propelled by 300lbs, any dog facing one has to be rather special. With a power-packed muzzle, tailor-made for rooting in the hardest ground and formidable tusks, designed to slash and tear, the wild boar makes a terrifying adversary.
The ancient Greeks considered the boar hunt to be the highest manifestation of the chase for the hunter and his hounds. Many of the hounds were killed on each hunt. Xenophon recommended Laconian hounds for the pursuit and ‘Indian’ hounds at the kill; the boar being despatched with a spear not by the dogs, although at times they would be holding on to the boar when the kill was made. The Laconian or Spartan hound was harrier-size and a superb tracker; the Indian hound (from the east not from what is now modern India) was bigger, heavier - well described as a hunting mastiff. In the medieval boar hunt many more hounds were killed than boar; in Germany there was an old expression which translated as ‘if you want boar’s heads, you have to sacrifice dogs’ heads.’
No hunter wants to lose his best scenthounds to the tusks of a wild boar and because of the high risk of canine death, two practices were introduced. One was to protect the hounds with protective clothing like chain-mail. The other was to introduce less valuable, more expendable, huge, crossbred dogs for the killing stage. Later on, when firearms were invented the hounds were used to bay the boar which was then despatched by a special knife-like sword or by shooting, rather like modern stag-hunting. Gaston, Count of Foix (1331-91) known as Gaston Phoebus, considered the killing of a charging boar with a sword on horseback as being the finest feat any hunter could achieve.
The great forests of central Europe provided endless opportunities for hunting. In the 19th century the pursuit of wild animals with hounds was conducted on a vast scale. In France there were over 350 packs of hounds. In 1890 the Czar of Russia organised a grand fourteen day hunt in which his party killed 42 European bison, 36 elk and 138 wild boar.
The ancient Greeks, Gaston Phoebus in the 14th century, the Bavarians in the 17th century and the Czars in the 19th century used hunting dogs of different types in unison according to function. Greyhounds, scenthounds and hunting mastiffs were used together and not hunted separately, unlike today’s more specialist packs. Boarhounds could therefore be the loose term to describe all hounds on a boar hunt, whatever their function in the chase and kill. Casual researchers can therefore look at a painting of a boar hunt or read accounts of one and jump to all sorts of false conclusions about what boarhounds could look like in past times.
The illustrations in Gaston Phoebus's well-known "The Hunting Book" depict scenthounds, sighthounds and hunting mastiffs being used complementarily in the hunting field. In Turbervile's "Booke of Hunting" of 1576, he describes bloudhoundes, greyhoundes, mastiffes and a variety of scenthounds being used in support of each other. But as firearms developed, both in range and power, the role of the killing dog became obsolete. Hounds of the chase and the hunter with the gun could get by without the "holding and killing" dogs.
There are still over 100 packs of hounds in France with the status of 'la grande venerie' i.e. hunting stag, roebuck and boar. The hounds for this are such breeds as the Poitevin, the Gascon-Saintongeois and the cross-bred Anglo-Francais. These breeds have great voice, pace and nose if lacking the drive and stamina of our foxhounds. There are still 14 packs concentrating on the boar hunt. Two of these packs are composed of the quaintly-named Billy breed, fast hounds, full of cry and strongly made, if lacking the power of the Poitevin. The Griffon-Nivernais, a long-backed rangy wire-haired breed and the Grand Griffon-Vendeen are also used as boarhounds.
In 1850, an English sportsman spent two seasons hunting wolves and boar with the bigger Brittany hound, describing these hounds as 24" high and "big powerful animals, wire-haired, deep-tongued, with grand heads, and supported by plenty of bone; ...I don't think I ever saw a harder driving lot in chase in my life". It is from such Brittany hounds that the modern Vendeen gets his rough coat. The rough-coated Welsh Hound has been linked with such French hounds. The Greeks and Romans admired the rough- coated hunting dogs of the Celts.
In England, in the reign of Henry the Second, the wild boar was hunted with hounds and spears in many wooded areas, from the Forest of Dean to Warwickshire and beyond. King James hunted the boar at Windsor, this being described as "a more dangerous amusement than it was likely he could find any pleasure in". Turbervile writing in the late 16th century, recorded that hounds accustomed to running the boar were spoiled for game of scent less strong. They were alleged to be less inclined to stoop to the scent of deer or hare and disinclined to pursue a swifter quarry which did not turn to bay when out of breath. The East India Company introduced hunting dogs from England into India in 1615; on one occasion a mastiff from England shaming "the Persian dogs" at a boar kill.
In India, a breed called the Poligar, 26" at the shoulder, stiff-coated and light brown in colour, was used to hunt the pig, accompanied by hunters on foot with spears. But of more interest is the Rajapalayam, 30" high and 120lbs; black, silver-grey, red and harlequin but more often ivory-white and, with the slightly smaller Alangu, famed in the wild boar hunt. A huge brindle breed, the Shenkottah, was once used in the big game hunting grounds of the Trivandrum District. The better known Rampur hounds were used to hunt the boar, as a sighthound. Robert Leighton describes the breed in his "New Book of the Dog" of 1907. The Sindh hound, rather like a Great Dane in appearance, had a long history as a boar hound. Sindh is in the Indus delta and Rampur further north towards the Himalayas, where the headwaters of the great rivers Indus and Ganges originate.
In central Europe there were once huge dogs used in the boar hunts of the great forests of what is now Germany, western Poland and the Czech Republic. They were known as 'hatzruden' (literally big hunting dogs), huge rough-haired crossbred dogs, supplied to the various courts by peasants. They were the "expendable" dogs of the boar hunt, used at the kill. The nobility however bred the smooth-coated 'sauruden' (packhounds for use on boar and 'saupacker' (literally, member of a pack used for hunting wild boar), also referring to the 'saufanger' (boar seizer) or coarsely-bred catch-dog.
The 'sauruden' were the equivalent, in the late 18th century, of the hunting alaunts of the 15th century, with today’s bull-lurcher being the modern equivalent of the "alaunts of the butcheries". The specialist 'leibhund', literally 'body-dog', was the catch-dog used to close with the boar and seize it. I believe it is perfectly reasonable to regard the modern breed called the Great Dane (in English-speaking countries) or Deutsche Dogge (German mastiff) as the inheritor of the saurude or boar hound mantle. This breed should be named (and judged) as a hound if its historic role is to be honoured. Our Kennel Club persistently refuses to recognise the Great Dane as a hound.
The true boar hound, a hound of the chase or chien courant, as opposed to a huge crossbred dog once used at the killing of the boar, deserves our admiration. Such a hound was required to pursue and run down one of the most dangerous quarries in the hunting field. It needed to be a canine athlete, have a good nose, great determination and yet not be too hot-blooded. Both the Fila Brasileiro and the Dogo Argentino have been used in the boar hunt in South America. American Pit Bull Terriers are still used as catch-dogs on feral pig in the USA. In our modern so-called more tolerant society, such brave dogs are stigmatized and even banned in some places. Man bred them to ‘persist’ in the face of considerable danger, a term now used by some authorities to justify their destruction. But when in the hunting field are hounds not needed to persist? Soon we may need boar hounds here once again, as feral pig expand their numbers – and their pursuers will certainly need to persist!