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MITI he pressure was on Danielle Rucker and Chelsea Barragan. The Sabinal Lions Club Wild Hog Festival queen and princess, respectively, were hometown favorites in the women’s division of their festival’s main event, the 18th annual Wild Hog Catching World Championships. They needed to beat the 11.46-second time already clocked by two no-nonsense gals out of San Marcos and Concan to secure first-place belt buckles. They had to jointly catch a 40-pound wild boar, wrestle it into a burlap sack, then drag the sack across a line drawn from the center to the outer edge of a makeshift ring roughly 40 feet in diameter. The only don’ts: no punching or kicking the hog. illustration by Rez “Has anyone not been here before?” joke-a-minute emcee Eugene Verstuyft had already asked the throng of roughand-tumble good ol’ boys, curiosityseeking college kids, and blue-haired road warriors swarming the Sabinal Yellowjackets’ football field and bleachers under a brutal late March sun. “Y’all got one helluva surprise coming:’ Rucker and Barragan were their division’s 13th and final contestants. Rucker had changed out of the blouse, sash and tiara she’d worn to have her picture taken with previous winners in the lightweight and middleweight divisions, and put on a pink camouflage “Wild Hog Festival” T-shirt. She and Barragan were ready. “You gotta sneak up on ’em,” Verstuyft advised earlier contestants, “or they’ll run you to death:’ Hog master Charlie Black gave the starting signal. Rucker took Verstuyft’s words to heart, immediately catching her oblivious hog off guard and hoisting it in the air by its back legs, setting off a spasm in the hog that made Rucker look like she was working a jackhammer. So far so good. Then the hog got piggish about the burlap sack. By the time Rucker and Barragan got it across the line, Black’s stopwatch read 15.52. It was good enough for second place. Fun and games are but one element of Sabinal’s love-hate relationship with wild hogs. We’re talking about once-domesticated hogs, imported by European settlers, that have gone feral after floods or other natural disasters set them free, whereupon they reverted to their primal ways. They wreak havoc on this South Texas town in more ways than one. They destroy farmers’ crops with their rooting and trampling. They disrupt deer feeders on game ranches. Being carnivores, they occasionally dine on the livestockgoats and sheep, mostlyon which Sabinal’s economy depends. Then there’s the property damage. “They’ll literally go through a fence and tear it all to pieces,” Lions Club member Ross Burris says. They do it over and over again thanks to a speedy reproduction cycle that yields, on average, two litters per sow per year, or about two dozen hogs. Instead of crying about it, Sabinal residents have turned their porcine problem into a marketing opportunity, branding their town the Wild Boar Capital of Texas and creating the Wild Hog Festival, which annually attracts upwards of 10,000 international attendees. Proceeds from the weekend-long festivitiesthere’s also a marketplace in adjacent Sabinal City Park offering food and drink, a petting zoo, pony and mechanical-bull rides, carnival games, and T-shirts reading “A Sleepy Little Drinkin’ Town with a Hog Problem!” go straight back into the community as college scholarships, improvements to the little league fields and donations to the local EMS budget. They deprive us of so much,” says DATELINE I SABINAL Hogs Gone Wild BY MICHAEL HOINSKI 29 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 17, 2009