Oahu is paradise even when the surf goes weird. Pick up a bow and live the dream.
The only thing that sounds good at 3:30 in the morning is suicide. And I am up at 3:30, contemplating suicide, smoking a cigarette, drinking a cup of watery hotel coffee while standing on my small balcony. Waikīkī is dark and quiet below. The air is cool enough for a light layer, and so I put on a thin tweed hunting jacket with leather elbow patches and wander out into the dark quietness. It is time for pig hunting.
I find my rental car and drive north on the Pali Highway before turning east into the town of Kāne‘ohe. I have spent much time in Honolulu, on the North Shore, even searching for ice in ‘Ewa Beach, but I have never been to the east side. If the sun was up, I could see its beauty. Its striking geography. I park in front of a house at the end of a small, middle-class road, turn the lights off, and light another cigarette. Theoretically, this is Mike’s house. Mike will be taking me pig hunting. It is 4:15 in the morning. Still a suicidal hour.
Five minutes pass, and the house lights turn on. I can see a large double-decker dog kennel partially illuminated. The dogs begin to bark, and then I see Mike. He is a boulder of a man. Tall, pure muscle, shaved head, tattooed from neck to fist. He growls at the dogs to be quiet. He wears camouflaged pants and a black T-shirt with the words “Defend Hawaii” wrapped around an M-16. I approach and we shake hands. His grip crushes. His eyes are piercing blue and his voice, as he introduces himself, sounds like gravel. He wears a large knife in a leather case.
We chat about the dogs, which are not barking anymore, and I learn that they are special. Turns out, pig-hunting dogs are not normal, everyday dogs. They are bred from hound, pitbull, birddog and Rhodesian ridgeback stock. They are bred to be tireless, to find the pigs, chase them down, and be fearless in the face of attack. Mike gets his dogs from JC, a pig-hunting legend, who will be joining us today.
We chat about fighting. Mike’s garage is a shrine to the masculine. There are mats rolled up in a corner, punching bags, rusted weights, fingerless MMA boxing gloves, stacks of camouflage gear, and his truck. His truck, which is classically Hawaiian, raised, and caked with just the right amount of red mud. We climb in and drive to a nearby gas station, waiting for JC. It is so damned early. A hunting hour. I have never thought much of hunting one way or the other. I grew up on the Oregon coast, in a small redneck town, and everyone I knew hunted. They duck hunted and elk hunted. I went along for the ride once or twice, and I didn’t feel sorry for the animals, even the deer with eyes full of love, but also wasn’t thrilled. A lot of walking in the woods. Little action. Like fishing on land.
I go into the gas station and get a Spam musubi and it tastes like paradise. So salty and satisfying. Then JC arrives. He is older, solidly built, Hawaiian, and says he has been hunting pigs for 40 years. His voice is deep and warm, like a television news broadcaster. Mike has been hunting with him for the last three years. Their rapport is easy and friendly. They talk about hunting, the hopes and possibilities of the day, and a few wild parties that they have experienced together in the past. The bed of his truck is caged and full of his dogs. They seem eager. We make small talk before climbing back into our respective trucks and driving to the coast.
The sun is still not yet up, but I can see silhouettes of stark beauty. Towering rocks breaking the ocean’s surface close to shore, green cliffs off to the left. We pull to the side of the road, near a cliff, and there is a third hunter waiting by a gate. His name is Brian and he is the Hollywood Hunter because he has the permits to hunt the land where we are right now. Kualoa Ranch. He is younger than Mike and JC but also more avid. He hunts every single day and often alone, which is rare. Pigs are dangerous. He has his own dogs and sports rubber boots with spiked soles, camouflage pants, and a backwards Defend Hawaii baseball hat. On the drive Mike tells me that Brian has a Hawaiian ID that says, “Do not detain this individual.” I ask Brian if I can see it and he shows me. It says he is a resident of the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi and that he is not to be detained, per the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples pursuant to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961. Amazing. And then we all drive onto the ranch.
Brian’s permit is gold, even more gold than his ID. He is the sole “eradicator” of the property and is the only one allowed to hunt legally. He runs across poachers from time to time and hustles them out of the area with an angry sneer. It is a 4,000-acre working cattle ranch, movie shoot location, and one of the most beautiful corners of O‘ahu. The sun has finally risen and I can see its beauty through honeyed air. The cliffs look like God’s personal handiwork. He did not commission this art. He made it himself. The grass is fresh and green. Cows graze, sleepily, as we park near a stream.
Brian lets his dogs out and JC does too. Mike did not bring his because they are not cattle-trained, meaning they might confuse a calf for a pig and hunt beef instead of pork. The dogs are each fitted with GPS collars, their names put into a handheld locator, and they are turned loose. These dogs are expensive and the art of the hunt. Losing one is critical. Beyond monitoring them with GPS, each hunter carries needle and thread in case the dogs are gored and need a quick on-field repair. The dogs run around, excitedly. They are not suicidal but rather homicidal, and they run up a dirt road toward the ridgeline. We follow.
It is very quiet and surreal. We walk past Journey to the Center of the Earth’s set, which is still standing. It is a high stone arch that looks Persian or maybe Babylonian. We pass signs that show where Jurassic Park was filmed and where 50 First Dates was filmed. 50 First Dates. What a total bust. We walk for a mile before stopping in the elbow of a ridge and watching the dogs flit around on the GPS screen. They have already reached the top of the cliff and are moving, quickly, this way and that. They are trying to pick up the scent and flush out a pig. JC knows that the pigs like to sleep higher on the ridge and that they might still be sleeping. He knows the corners they like to choose. He is a pig behaviorist. Brian has moved off, down another path, to listen for the telltale signs of a chase. We are all quiet. The pigs are smart and listen for humans. I am no longer tired but on edge, trying my hardest to hear a dog’s bark or a pig’s grunt.
The dogs circle the ridge for 30 minutes and maybe chase one or two pigs but can’t keep the trail. JC believes the pigs are hunting food on another ridge to the left and so we all walk ten minutes to the left. The sun is higher now, and the land gets more beautiful, more vivid with each passing minute. The dogs shoot off into the brush again and Brian follows them.
Suddenly, we hear the brush move and a low grunt, but all I can see is Brian. Then the dogs go crazy and fly up the cliff. They have something. I run after Brian and we climb and climb and climb. The earth is wet and the soil is loose. Some of it is turned over. This is where pigs have been rooting for food. I grab for vines and bushes as we climb. I am not wearing camouflage pants but rather black skinny jeans. I am not wearing spiked-sole rubber boots but, rather, red Vans. Aside from my tweed jacket this is not an appropriate hunting kit. I almost slide down the cliff too many times to count.
The higher we climb, the hotter it gets and the more mosquitoes gather and bite like the nasty devils they are. Brian can see that the dogs have stopped moving, which means they either have the pig trapped or they have it killed. A victory, either way. And we finally arrive at their location. They sit with happy faces around a young, dead boar. Brian says the dogs gave it a flat tire, which is what they are trained to do. A “flat tire” means they have chewed the tendons under his front two legs, so that he could not run anymore. And then he died of a heart attack. If he had not died, Brian would have stabbed him with a large hunting knife under one of his arms. These men hunt with knives. They don’t use guns or bows or arrows.
Brian squeezes the urine from the boar first, explaining that boars use their urine to throw the dogs off. Crafty as they are, pigs will urinate in a circle causing the dogs to follow the urine circle instead of the pig. He then draws his knife and cuts the boar’s balls off and hangs them from a branch. The mosquitoes are thick, but I am captivated. The pigs are always gutted before being hauled down the hill. The guts create quick rot and are also needlessly heavy. Brian moves his blade up to the boar’s throat, then slides the blade along the boar’s torso using quick, gentle strokes. The guts spill forth without prompting, like they wanted to escape. They are a deep, dark red and look exactly like guts. They make a vacuum sound when they are pulled out, and they too are hung on a branch. If left on the ground a dog may roll in them later and fill the earth with a horrid stench. Finally, the front right leg is tied to the back right leg, the front left leg tied to the back left leg, and the boar becomes a sort of backpack. Brian picks him up but I insist on carrying him down the hill. “The first boar I killed hooked me,” Brian says, “and now you are hooked.” His eyes are proud.
I hoist the load and feel his warm blood mixing with my warm sweat. My companion does not smell bad. He smells like Hawaiian bush and a stuffed animal. It is a nice smell. And I slip and slide all the way down the ridge feeling like a champion. Mike and JC wait at the bottom and Mike says, “Ho, look at this. Skinny jeans, Vans and a V-neck, and he is carrying the pig.” I feel like a stylish champion.
We walk back to the trucks talking about different pig hunting strategies and the one that got away. Apparently when we heard the brush move and the low grunt it had been a very large boar. But he was smart and tricked the dogs into following the tracks of the smaller one that we captured. JC looks at it and says, “Some days you get nothing at all, some days you get too many. I guess that is why it is called hunting and not catching.”
We drive to another valley, hoping for bigger boars, ones with tusks. The one we caught was too young to start developing them, but the tusks are the trophies. Each hunter keeps the meat. Nothing goes to waste and the meat is smoked, given to friends, barbequed, turned into dog food. But the tusks are the glory. We hike, listen, watch the dogs on GPS, find nothing but signs of rooting pigs, and after three hours part ways. And, Brian was right, I am hooked. I am no longer suicidal. Like the dogs, I am homicidal. Pig hunting is the new sport of kings, or at least stylish champions.