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Original Issue

But You Never Were a Boar

The ferocious wild pigs of Izmir didn't stand a chance in the face of American firepower and Turkish know-how

In 1952 I was a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy, serving as the gunnery officer aboard a destroyer. Our ship was attached for half the year to the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, and for the other half we operated as a lone vessel away from the task force in the eastern Mediterranean. This soon got to be boring duty, particularly around Christmas. While the rest of the fleet was living it up in lush ports like Monaco, Barcelona and Venice, we were tied up to a decrepit pier in Izmir, an impoverished Turkish seaport with no decent nightclubs or restaurants. The weather was cold, damp and windy.

One morning a few days before Christmas I was standing watch on the quarterdeck when a civilian, about 35 and obviously a Turk, climbed up our gangway. In this part of the world anyone who boarded a U.S. Navy vessel to sell something—repairs, dry cleaning, local jewelry—always behaved as this man did. He saluted the flag flying at the stern of the ship and the Officer of the Deck, threw in a little extra bow and, for good measure, also saluted the petty officer of the watch and the seaman messenger.

It developed that he spoke no English—only Turkish and French. I'd had a couple of years of French in college so we took a whirl at that. His name was Aftal and he said he was a professional hunter and guide. He was selling boar hunts. For a ridiculously small sum—about $2 per person, as I recall—he would take a party of officers on a full day's hunt for wild boar. He said that he would provide beaters, dogs and "un deluxe autobus" that would get us to the happy hunting ground some place behind Izmir. I told him that I'd ask around and see if anyone was interested and he could come back after lunch. After farewell salutes to everyone and everything in the vicinity of the quarterdeck, he went ashore.

At lunch in the wardroom I mentioned Aftal's proposition and was surprised when about 10 officers, including our fat, nearsighted and distinctly un-athletic supply officer, said they were in. When Aftal came back that afternoon we closed the deal, and he said he'd pick us up in his autobus at 0600 on the only day we could all afford to be ashore, December 25th.

By Christmas Eve it was clear that nobody in the wardroom knew much about hunting, let alone boar hunting. Whatever qualifications the Navy set up for its officer-recruitment program, fieldcraft is obviously not among them. Not one of us had ever actually been hunting, and all we knew about wild boar was that they were domestic pigs that had escaped into the forests and gone wild. They were supposed to be incredibly dangerous and would, on the slightest provocation, gore a hunter to death with their razor-sharp tusks. Wild boar were fiendishly clever, immensely durable and implacably ferocious.

We mulled this over and decided one had to be heavily armed for a boar hunt. Since I was the gunnery officer, everyone looked to me for advice. I decided that the best thing to do was let each hunter choose his own weapon, so I got the keys to the ship's landing-force locker and led the way to the compartment where we stored our small arms.

The equipment list for a destroyer's landing force must have been put together about the time the Navy was running the Yangtze River patrol. There were enough small arms and equipment for a landing force of nearly 50 men, plus a lot of miscellaneous weapons to outfit sentries, put down mutinies and make up automatic rifle fire teams. There it all was—clean, greased and lined up in neat racks. We began to feel like kids in a candy store.

The communications officer took an M1 Rifle and a bandolier with 50 rounds. A couple of ensigns took M1s with bayonets. Another ensign took a riot gun and when somebody told him that its shotgun charge wouldn't stop a wounded boar, he added a .45 caliber pistol for the close-in work. Our engineering officer selected a submachine gun with four 50-round magazines. (The general view was that this really wasn't sporting, but the engineering officer insisted.) I took a carbine and a pistol.

At this point our fat supply officer announced that several of his enlisted men had told him that steel-jacketed military ammunition was completely unsuited for hunting. To kill a boar with our kind of bullets, you'd have to hit him repeatedly. So he selected a Browning Automatic Rifle with tripod. A BAR, when set for full automatic fire, was like a small machine gun, capable of firing 350 rounds per minute. It was the most awesome weapon in our hunting arsenal.

Christmas dawn broke under a cold drizzle at 0600 when Aftal showed up with his deluxe autobus, an old German diesel-engine job with a body that was a mass of welds. Obviously, it had been in a bad wreck—or, more likely, a series of bad wrecks—and the frame was bent all out of line. It might have been deluxe by Turkish standards, but not even a marginally conscientious state highway patrolman in the United States would have allowed it on the road. Inside the bus there were about five Turks, each with a dog. They were introduced as the beaters (rabatteurs) for the hunt and they were positively the toughest-looking gang of old men I think I'd ever seen. Their dogs were mangy, dirty, and clearly underfed. Each of the men carried an old shotgun. Aftal shouted something to the driver and we started on our way.

The best you could say about our trip to the area of the hunt was that it was short. We lurched across a couple of small, decaying bridges and then lumbered down a potholed dirt road for about 20 minutes. During the trip one of the beaters' dogs came down the aisle of the bus, sniffed around and relieved himself on the wooden stock of my carbine. At the rear of the bus I noticed the beaters were filling shotgun cartridges with coarse-grained gunpowder that they were dipping out of a can—all to the accompaniment of much laughter and much cigarette smoking. I moved to the very front of the bus.

Eventually we stopped beside a field near a small village, where Aftal explained that we were going to the top of a nearby mountain, where there would be hunters' blinds. Once we were in place, the beaters and their dogs would drive the boar up to us. Under no circumstances were we to shoot any of the beaters' dogs, which were expensive and difficult to come by.

We hiked up a rough path that ran along a ridge to the top of the mountain. To our right was a wide crease covered with underbrush, into which the guides and their dogs peeled off and began their beating. When we were only about a quarter of the way up the mountain, we began tiring badly. Our legs were shaking and the damp air felt raw in our lungs. The reason was obvious. We were all carrying too much weight. My combination of a carbine, .45 caliber pistol, binoculars and bandolier of ammunition must have weighed nearly 25 pounds. The fat supply officer with his BAR was really coming apart. The old guides and Aftal, on the other hand, just bounded from rock to rock.

After about an hour of climbing, we reached a point close to the top where the underbrush abruptly thinned out. Aftal motioned toward a series of shallow ditches cut into the rocky soil. These were to be the hunters' blinds. Holding his fingers across his lips to indicate that we should be quiet, Aftal assigned each of us to a blind, and when everyone was in place he scampered back to join the beaters.

The blind he had assigned to me was in the approximate center of the group. It was raining lightly, and the bottom of the ditch was mostly mud. As I looked downhill I could see at once how this hunt was going to work. We were at the apex of the deep natural crease. The beaters would drive the boars up out of the crease toward us. I got my binoculars out of their case and began to study the terrain below. Far downhill I began to see puffs of smoke and, eventually, I could hear the sound of the shots as the beaters and their dogs spread out and worked their way uphill. Since they were still far away, I took the opportunity to look around.

The most noteworthy thing I noticed about the hunters' blinds was that they weren't located on a straight line but ranged up or down hill from me. About 150 feet to my right and well uphill was the blind occupied by the nearsighted supply officer with the BAR. I watched him with growing apprehension as he unfolded his tripod and set it up on the ground just in front of him. He fumbled with an ammunition magazine and finally got it fitted in, and when he traversed his BAR back and forth I noticed that I was well within his field of fire. Satisfied with his situation, he removed his thick glasses and began to wipe them. There were a lot of stones lying about, so I began to stack them in a low ledge along the right rear of my blind, between me and the BAR. Between stacking rocks I waved my arms at him frantically, in the hope he'd pinpoint my blind. I couldn't shout, of course, because it would frighten off the boar. How's that for a rational order of priorities?

While I was building my rock wall, I heard a distinct rustling in the dense brush growth just below me, accompanied by a sort of snuffling sound, like a dog out of breath. Suddenly a big, lanky animal burst out of the undergrowth, dashed past me and disappeared up and over the mountain, traveling at tremendous speed. I could easily have reached out and touched him.

Most of the others in our hunting party had seen this apparition, too, but no one had fired, because this was obviously one of the beaters' dogs. It had long, coarse reddish hair and a narrow, pointed nose. It had long, lean legs and a short tail. It didn't look anything like a boar. Then I began to wonder: Just what did a boar look like? I realized I didn't really know. In my mind's eye I saw a big hog with sharp tusks, something like those roast suckling pigs they served at luaus in the officers' club at Pearl Harbor. About then I figured out that the animal that had raced past me must have been a boar. The same thought occurred to my comrades, who now erupted with rueful comments appropriate to the occasion. God help the next creature that crossed that ground.

The beaters were getting closer now. Even without binoculars you could clearly see them working their way up the slope toward us, firing their old shotguns in the air, their dogs running around them. Soon we began to hear more noise from the bushes in front of us. An animal was obviously running frantically back and forth in the underbrush. Everybody along the line of blinds heard it. Gradually the noise focused at a point just to the left of my blind, at almost the exact spot where the boar had come out. I was kneeling in the mud of my ditch now and sighting along my carbine. A brown shape popped out of the bushes and began to run wildly about in the open space before me. Suddenly the hillside exploded as everyone opened fire. The ensigns with their M1s way down on the right-hand side of the line began to fire laterally across toward our quarry. The chief engineer was screaming obscenities as he opened up with his sub-machine gun. The noise was deafening, but you could easily tell when the supply officer cut loose with his BAR.

Nobody could see the target now because of the bullets tearing up earth where the animal was last seen. But the supply officer kept walking his BAR fire to the left, and the impact of his bullets apparently looked enough like a running animal to keep everyone else shooting toward the eruptions.

That's when I realized that I was shortly going to be directly in his line of fire. I stopped peering over the edge of my blind, let go of my carbine and flopped flat into the mud at the bottom of the ditch. Sure enough, in a second or so .30 caliber bullets were slamming into my rock parapet and spraying me with stone chips.

Suddenly the shooting stopped. The supply officer had fired off his entire magazine, and without the running trail of dirt explosions there was nothing for everyone else to shoot at. I squinted through my parapet to make sure it was safe, and then I slowly got up.

Everyone was standing up in their blinds with smoke streaming from their weapons. In the sudden quiet I could hear empty brass cartridge cases tinkling as they rolled downhill. Altogether we must easily have fired 200 rounds. Down the mountain I could see Aftal, the guides and dogs running down the slope in terror. Later Aftal swore to me that a couple of frightened boar had run right past them in their flight.

Finding our quarry was difficult. The ground was all plowed up by our bullets. Pieces of bush—in fact, entire plants—had been cut loose and tossed into the air. I kept poking around in the debris and began to find pieces of hair and flesh. A couple of other officers came over and helped. Gradually we assembled the remnants of an animal that turned out to be a large brown rabbit.