Northern Territory hunter Catherine Baker feels right at home running through the bush with her dogs Rose and Spider and catching a wild pig.
And she is emerging as a leader in the Territory’s hunting community.
Ms Baker is keen to better educate people about ethical hunting.
“There’s a small minority of people that may not be doing the right thing, but that kind of affects it for the majority of the genuine hunters doing the right thing,” she says.
“That can be very frustrating and [it’s] something we want to address.”
Recreational pig hunting is a widespread control method for the roughly 24 million feral pigs who call Australia home.
Feral pigs were introduced to Australia on the First Fleet and are found in every state and territory.
Ms Baker pulls up at a property about 100km out of Darwin, driving a Land Cruiser with her dogs caged in the back.
Private farming property has provided good habitat for feral pigs, who love sniffing out underground edibles and turning up the soil.
They are known to eat native wildlife, like turtle eggs.
Property owner Darryl greets Ms Baker warmly, like an old friend.
She hops out of the car and attaches protective chest plates and tracking devices to each of her dogs, and stresses the importance of keeping her dogs safe while hunting.
They have been trained for six years, and can run up to 40 kilometres in single a hunting trip.
“There’s probably a few people out there who think that pig dogs are aggressive natured, that’s definitely far from the truth,” she said.
“The dogs are a member of our family. I’ve got a 20-month-old son and I’ve got no issue with them [being around him] and even other children.”
Ms Baker and her hunting partner Olivia check that their first aid kits (for dogs and humans) are in working order, should there be an emergency.
“If we get big hooks [tusks] on a pig we certainly use that as a trophy, as a bit of a keepsake and memory,” Ms Davis said.
The boar will be skinned, checked for disease and used in Ms Baker’s rissoles, salami or as Rose and Spider’s food.
Darryl is thankful for their visit, as these “biological bulldozers” cause significant damage to his land.
But animal rights groups have a different view.
The RSPCA is still receiving evidence of pig hunters mistreating boars and of prolonged terror on pigs.
It includes videos of people setting dogs against each other and cutting pigs’ ears to create a blood-fest for dogs, according to CEO of the NT RSPCA, Jessica Jones-Moore.
Ms Jones-Moore says the RSPCA is not opposed to scientific and humane pig hunting to control feral populations, but is against practices that prolong the terror that pigs experience before their death.
A popular period for women’s hunting in NT
Ms Baker is becoming the figurehead for women’s hunting in the Northern Territory.
She created a Facebook group for women only, which is a meeting point for information-sharing about hunting done right.
She said she got the idea after she was sick of feeling like she was in a male-orientated sport.
“I was having a bit of a chat to one of my other pig hunting mates and I said to him, ‘It would be nice to have some women to go out with and not have to tag along with the men all the time’ and he said, ‘Why don’t you start a page? There might be a few women out there, you know’.
“So that’s what I did, I put the interest out there and it’s grown to over 1,000 members in a month which is really positive.”
Ms Baker says she wanted to offer other women a place to come together.
“It would be good to do something for the ladies, there’s plenty of ladies fishing comps already but to do something more hunting-related, it would be great.”
She says she wants to work closely with sponsors, and people in other industries to promote ethical hunting.
Pig hunter’s code of conduct
Feral pigs are considered a pest species and hunting them is allowed, but hunters must have appropriate approvals to hunt where pigs are located.
Horror stories have emerged on the internet, of inhumane practices and of pigs and dogs being seriously injured.
The Northern Territory Branch of the Australian Pig Dogger’s and Hunter’s Association admits there are a few who give pig hunting a bad reputation.
“A lot of the misconceptions around pig dogging are based on the one or two people who do do the wrong thing, which is no different to any sort of hobby,” says spokesperson Jamie Lewis.
“We encourage pig hunters to sign up to our organisation, which means they will be bound by our code of conduct.
“We are a tight-knit community and we do like to see other hunters doing the right thing, and we will pull them up and try and educate them into doing things the right way.”
Mr Lewis says the association encourages women who are interested in hunting.
“That’s been a big thing in Darwin lately, we’re all for that, we totally support it,” he said.
“One of our goals is to see hunting recognised as a valid family activity that everyone regardless of age, gender and race can take part in.”
Ms Baker is the first to admit that pig hunting is not for everyone, but says with the proper introduction, anyone could do it.
“I think in the right setting if they were introduced in the right way … that might be the trouble with some people, is that they may not go out with someone that is experienced,” she said.
“So anyone who may have a bit of experience that can show someone the right way, anyone can do it.”