Hogzilla Or Wilbur? Solving The Mystery Behind The Latest 'Giant Boar'

By Kirk Deeter. This much is clear: Bill Coursey killed a very large free-roaming hog (shown above) in his neighbor's yard in southern Fayette County, Georgia, on the afternoon of January 4, 2007. The hog measured 9 feet in length, and weighed in on a certified truck scale at 1,100 pounds. At that size, the animal dwarfs the vaunted "Hogzilla," recognized by Safari Club International as the North American free-range record hog.Courtesy of Bill Coursey
The original Hogzilla (pictured above) became somewhat of a folk legend after it was shot by hunting guide Chris Griffin on Ken Holyoak's farm and hunting preserve in Alapaha, Georgia, in June 2004. Initial claims of it being 12-feet long and weighing 1,000 pounds set locals and the hunting community abuzz with tales of monster hogs wandering the swamps and farmlands of rural Georgia. To get to the bottom of that story, a team of forensic scientists exhumed the buried corpse of Hogzilla; their efforts - which became the subject of a [National Geographic Channel documentary](http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/photogallery/explorer_hog zilla/) - ultimately estimated Hogzilla to be nearly 8 feet long and 800 pounds. It was, by any measure, a hog of mythical proportion ... until Coursey shot his animal.Field & Stream Online Editors
Coursey (above) describes himself as a "little old country guy who likes to hunt," but says he's not a boar or hog hunter, and he admits that his bout with this massive hog wasn't a classic wild chase episode. "My wife and son were driving home that afternoon, and they saw this hog eating water oak acorns in the neighbor's yard," explained Coursey. "We asked the owner if he'd like me to shoot it, and he said he did. So I went over there, and got in position with my crutches (a fireman, Coursey is recuperating from a broken femur). I was about 40 yards away when I shot it right behind the ear (with a Ruger 7mm/.08). It took one step back and fell over, and that was it." It didn't take long for an ensuing media circus to erupt.Courtesy of Bill Coursey
Coursey said he had no idea shooting the hog would trigger such fervor. "I thought I was doing a man a favor," he said. Within days, he was giving interviews to the likes of Georgia Outdoor News, various newspapers, CNN, even BBC Radio in London. "When the BBC called, I thought it was a joke," said Coursey. "I thought it was my buddies from the fire department trying to rag me about this thing, but (the BBC producer) called me at 9:30 at night and they put me on the radio the next morning." He also soon found himself in the woods with a crew from the Discovery Channel, recreating hunting scenes for a planned television special. Coursey has even signed autographs for admirers, including a crowd that gathered when he dropped the hog's hide and head off (above) at noted taxidermist Eddie Wilson's shop in Aiken County, South Carolina.Courtesy of Bill Coursey
Coursey had earlier been contacted by wildlife biologist Jack Mayer of the Savannah River Site. Mayer, who holds a PhD in feral hog morphology, and played the lead consulting role in the National Geographic forensic investigation of the original Hogzilla, hoped to collect data on this boar. "I am one of those people who finds wild pigs interesting from a purely scientific or natural history perspective," said Mayer. By analyzing this hog's snout (above), ears, and cape, and making precise measurements of its skull, Mayer was able to determine the likely genetic origin of the hog (DNA samples were also sent to a laboratory for analysis). Mayer sought to determine which of four known animal types - boar, feral hog, feral hog-boar hybrid, or domestic hog - this particular hog was. Soon after Field & Stream contacted Mayer, we learned that his investigation was yielding "interesting" findings. The story had taken a turn to the strange side ...Courtesy of Bill Coursey
From top to bottom, wild boar skull, feral hog skull, domestic hog skull Using 51 linear measurements of this hog's skull, and one angular measurement, and then running those measurements through a specialized computer program, Mayer determined with "100% probability" that this skull was that of a domestic hog, one that was born - and raised - in a pen. He used tooth-wear measurements on the hog's molars to determine an estimated age of 6-1/2 years. Its ear length was a massive 238 mm, compared to a maximum 165 mm measurement on the largest wild boars. Clearly, the numbers weren't adding up. Perhaps most interestingly, according to Mayer, the ears indicated no scratches or scarring, which would be typical of a wild hog that no doubt would have battled other hogs and animals in the wild. "They (the ears) were pristine, not a mark on them," said Mayer. "I'd never seen anything like that on a boar that age." Moreover, Mayer said that he looked for signs of ectoparasites, like ticks or lice, which would also be expected with a wild animal, on the hog's skin. He found no parasites. No egg sacks. No traces. Nothing. Genetics lab DNA results will confirm whether this animal had any wild boar in its ancestry or not, according to Mayer, but at this point, he said, "It just doesn't fit."Courtesy of Jack Mayer
This photo of a large domestic hog that had escaped its pen -- possibly the animal in question -- was taken by Fayette County Animal Control officials a number of months earlier in the vicinity where Coursey shot his hog. Following up on a tip, Field & Stream contacted Miguel Abi-hassan, director of the Animal Control Department in Fayette County, Georgia. And that's when we got "the rest of the story." According to Abi-hassan, animal control officers in Fayette County had documented previous experience in dealing with this animal - which he described as "no doubt" a domestic hog - extending back for a period of 2-1/2 years, to mid 2004. (Ironically, at the same time of the original hogzilla craze, this animal weighed approximately 800 pounds.)Courtesy of the Fayette County Animal Control Department
Roaming the neighborhood, this hog was certainly more approachable than the typical feral hog. Apparently this hog was one of four being raised in a pen by landowners in close proximity to Coursey's home. In at least one previous instance, one or more of the hogs had escaped from its pen, prompting Fayette County animal control to respond on the basis that the roaming hog(s) constituted a violation of a county ordinance. (In the past, animal control officers including Abi-hassan had been able to approach the hog within a few feet, as indicated in these photos.) And in at least one instance, the hog was captured and returned to its pen, where it was apparently fed copious amounts of produce. "There is no doubt in my mind that this was a domestic animal; you could have petted it," said Abi-hassan. Interestingly, Coursey noted in his interview that, after he had killed the hog, a neighbor had approached him to say that this was one of four hogs the neighbor had seen rooting up sod in the area, and that "nobody would have to worry about the other three."Courtesy of the Fayette County Animal Control Department
Still, in a wilderness setting where feral hogs exist, the animal could look like a trophy beast. Perhaps this explains the latest Hogzilla episode, but in truth it likely raises more questions about "wild" hog hunting, particularly in the context of the record books. In Coursey's defense, this animal certainly had the resemblance of a wild boar -- be that an abnormally large wild boar - especially at 40 yards. And who in their right mind is going to approach such an animal for a closer look? It's also worth noting that all feral hogs have some level of domestication in their lineage: even old Hogzilla himself proved to be mostly a Hampshire domestic. In fact, according to Mayer, Hogzilla probably wasn't as wild as he was cracked up to be. That hog's morphology, according to Mayer, indicated that it had been raised to physical maturity in a pen. Its worn-down hooves were indicative of a hog that had been raised on concrete, not a river swamp. Its tusks were abnormally long for a wild animal. By definition, "feral" means having escaped domestication and become wild. And according to Mayer (himself an avid pig hunter) swine go "feral" quicker than any domestic animal in North America. But you have to wonder, is the difference between "feral" and "domestic" as simple as which side of the fence a hog is standing on when it's shot?Courtesy of the Fayette County Animal Control Department