The broad scar hints to the animal’s size, and is akin to “Porky was here” graffiti. He explains, “When [the pigs] rub against the trees, they leave a distinct marking—it’s their signature.
“That’s the big one,” he says, tracing the tip of his machete around the curved scar. He explains that these marks belong to a particularly clever boar that continues to evade hunters.
On several occasions, the dogs dart out of sight, chasing a scent, eventually returning unsuccessfully. Each time, we pause in silence, anticipating our next move. Lopaka’s eyes are fixed on his GPS monitor, his posture so still that I can see his chest rise and fall with each breath.
Empty-handed, but not defeated, we return to Lopaka’s truck and drive a few valleys over, trading curtains of foliage and emerald-hued canopies for a landscape carpeted with spiky California grass that soars well overhead. Lopaka is among a handful of hunters legally allowed to hunt in this area, thanks to an agreement with the landowner who wants the pigs gone.
Lopaka points out the signs: tusk marks on the bark, hair follicles imprinted onto the sludge, and incongruously dainty hoof prints. He’s a pig psychologist on a mission, directing his dogs to a ridge where he suspects the pigs have been loitering.
Skilled hunters like Lopaka are a godsend for large landowners, many of whom have gone dizzy trying to keep up with the onslaught of wild pigs. His own relationship with these ungulates is a bit more complicated. “As a conservationist, I wanna get rid of all the pigs,” he says. “As a hunter, I also want some pigs around.”
Again, the dogs sprint out of sight to chase a scent. A few minutes pass before Lopaka turns to me, grinning; he motions to his trembling knee. After a lifetime of hunting, he still feels the thrill, down to his bones. I’m equally on edge, staring into the brush and listening for distant yelps. Another ten minutes pass before the dogs return, tongues fully extended and gasping for air. It’s early afternoon. The dogs are tired, and so are we.
We return to our meeting location, and as we say our goodbyes, I assure Lopaka that, even though we’re empty-handed, I am hooked. He offers to take me on another hunt. I promise that this won’t be my last wild pig pursuit. Turns out, I am right.