Not that long ago, wild boar hunting was all the rage in Southern West Virginia. Now it's little more than an afterthought.
This year's firearm season for boars opened Saturday. It would surprise me if more than a few dozen hunters went gunning for the wary, reclusive animals, even though state wildlife officials believe there are plenty to hunt.
"We had a record-breaking mast crop last year, and that led to [the boars having] big litters last spring," said Kem Shaw, assistant wildlife biologist for the state's southwestern counties.
"Our wildlife manager in the area, Steve Houchins, said he's been seeing lots of hog sign. The boars are there. It's just a matter of the hunters finding them."
That's been the rub, at least in recent seasons. The portion of West Virginia where boars are most abundant encompasses some of the state's most difficult terrain. In the 1980s and 1990s, when boars were more plentiful, hunters could justify the effort it took to hunt there. But that was then.
Division of Natural Resources officials first stocked wild boars into the Spruce Laurel of Logan and Boone counties in 1971.
"At that time, deer and bears were extremely scarce in that part of the state, and turkeys were nonexistent," said Paul Johansen, the DNR's assistant wildlife chief. "We stocked the boars to create a big-game hunting opportunity in the area."
The boars multiplied quickly. Their home range eventually spread more widely into Boone and Logan counties, and even into nearby Raleigh and Wyoming counties.
Hunting began in 1979. DNR officials issued only 200 permits, and the first year's harvest totaled just three boars.