Following the fresh hoof prints in the muddy ground of the banana plantation on the slope of Mount Carmel, Eli Aaron of Kibbutz Ma'abarot and his companion knew that the boars were nearby. The animals were probably headed for a feast of half-ripened bananas still sheathed in the blue plastic bags that local farmers use to try to prevent them from wrecking entire groves on their nightly foraging. These pigs were smart and extremely wary, especially of hunters like the two kibbutzniks. Aaron and his friend could only turn on the halogen-type spotlights attached to their 12-gauge semi-automatic shotguns for an instant to get a shot at one of the elusive varmints. They were the intruders into the wild boars' domain, treading on the pigs' home turf. The hunters stopped often to try to hear their adversaries, who seemed to be 80 to 100 meters ahead. Suddenly, the men heard a number of grunts and noises that sounded like sheets of plastic being ripped to shreds and froze. The pigs had found ways to remove the bananas' plastic wrappings. Aaron and his friend slowly made their way forward, trying hard not to make any unnecessary noise that might startle the animals. Pigs have terrific senses of hearing and smell. The boar were definitely in a feeding frenzy, and must have become less cautious since the men were able to get within easy firing range. Aaron had the advantage of a laser "red dot" sighting device, which enabled him to sight his prey quickly and fire off a shot or two at a hog's shoulder or head. Sensing they were well within range, he and his friend switched on their "projectors," as locals call these spotlights, and found themselves facing an entire family of wild boars, including at least two males, three mature females and five or six youngsters a few months old. The hogs gave out startled squeals as Aaron and his friend fired at will, striking at least two of them. The wounded boar began running with the others in all directions. The men looked around for signs of fresh blood to determine which way the wounded ones might have gone. The men followed a trail of tracks and blood drops, keeping their guns ready in case one of the pigs, wounded or not, decided to become a bit unfriendly. About 60 meters on, they found the first pig, a medium-sized boar, which Aaron had hit in the left shoulder. The pig was still alive and thrashing in the mud under a stand of banana trees. One more shot to the head, and it was all over. They found the next wounded pig, a mature female, lying on its side about 20 meters ahead. It had been hit in the chest cavity, and adrenalin alone must have enabled it to run as far as it did before dropping from blood loss. Another quick shot and that was the end. Not a bad night, with two animals dressing out at 60 to 80 kg. each. Following a visit to a government veterinarian to make sure the pigs were disease-free, the men were on their way home. This hog hunt was one of many that occur regularly in Israel. With pork being largely taboo for most people living here, one might wonder why boar hunting exists, especially among Muslims and Jews. But it does, and is gaining in popularity. Although an avid hunter, Aaron doesn't eat pork and parcels out the boar carcasses among kibbutz members who do. "I consider hunting an exciting and challenging sport, like mountain climbing or sky diving," he says. "I have plenty of people interested in eating the game I shoot, including wild ducks. The pigs do a lot of damage to agriculture, and farmers are more than happy to let me hunt them to be rid of animals they consider to be pests." Wild boars still thrive in many of the country's rural areas. In fact, they are becoming so prolific that they are causing substantial damage to both crops and private gardens. The omnivorous hogs will eat just abut anything, including carrion. Besides vegetable matter, wild boar are especially fond of grapes, resulting in serious damage to vineyards during the summer. Agriculture Ministry agronomists, who study the damage caused to crops by wild animals, agree that the damage caused by wild pigs is more than that caused by all other species combined, including rats and mice. Dr. Simon Nemtzov, who specializes in wildlife ecology for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, studies the habits of these mostly nocturnal mammals and the damage they cause. Originally from Canada, he is also involved in overseeing the permits issued to local hunters, whom he says number about 2,800. About half are Jewish. According to Nemtzov, the species of boar prevalent here is the European wild boar, known by its Latin name of Sus scrofa. He estimates that there are "tens of thousands" of wild boar in Israel, and the primary reason hunting is allowed is to control the population to reduce the animals' agricultural damage. "The boars have adapted very well to man's environment, even though they don't get along very well with man," he says, giving examples of how the pigs have managed to provide for themselves very well by foraging and raiding garbage dumps. It should be noted that pig hunting is permitted only in less-populated areas in the North. Wild boars are now protected around Haifa. The most popular sites are in the Carmel range and northern Galilee, home to many Druse hunters. Although hunters are allowed to go after boar at day or at night, the pigs are very wary and are rarely seen in the daytime, preferring to hole up in hilly, wooded or marshy areas, and then go out foraging at night. Due to security considerations, special permission has to be obtained to hunt boar on the Golan Heights. Nemtzov notes that boar hunting is allowed year-round, as opposed to the official hunting season of September 1 to January 31 for other species. Hunting has been allowed in Israel virtually since the beginning of the state, and the Wild Animals Hunting Law of 1949 is the basis for all hunting permits. Only shotguns are allowed to be used in hunting most game, which includes not only wild boar, but also ducks, quail, doves and pigeons, hares and - until recently - chukar partridge and porcupines. Air rifles are allowed for hunting birds and small game, but not rim-fire or center-fire rifles or pistols. To be issued a hunting license, as well as a license for the gun itself, a hunter must pass a written examination and have neither a police record nor physical or mental health problems. An annual hunting permit costs NIS 1,500 a year, and the gun license, which is good for three years, costs NIS 300. In addition, a hunter must have valid third-party liability insurance in the event he injures anyone or causes property damage. Israeli hunters can own only two hunting shotguns and are limited to an annual allotment of only 500 rounds per gun. Foreign diplomats and tourists, including those with temporary work visas, can receiving hunting permits providing they show proof they have hunted in their home countries. Like local hunters, they must pass a short examination (available in English) before being issued a permit. Under Israeli law, wild boar are the only hoofed mammals that may be hunted. Hunting some species of gazelle was previously allowed on the Golan Heights by special permit, but this practice has been discontinued. A few species of deer, especially fallow deer, are being introduced into some forested areas of the Carmel, and hunting them is strictly forbidden. This also holds true for a species of Nubian ibex, found in limited numbers in the Ein Gedi nature reserve near the Dead Sea. Aaron has two Italian Benelli shotguns; one a Model 90 Super Magnum, and other a Model 123. For hunting pigs at night, the Model 123 has a special spotlight attached to the barrel that is powered by a 12 volt rechargeable battery. He also has attached a "Quick Point" laser sighting device. Since much of the hunting is done at night, range becomes less important; and often a combination of both Brenneke slugs (a special rifled cartridge designed for hunting larger mammals like deer and boar) and buckshot are loaded in four- or five-shot magazines. Aaron's father, Yuval, who no longer hunts but was once avid, was born in Afula during the British Mandate. Yuval's father, also an avid hunter, fought with the Hagana during the War of Independence and was assigned to help defend Kibbutz Ma'abarot, where his family was living. He was one of the state's first hunters, often riding a bicycle to hunt ducks and partridges near the kibbutz. Aaron started accompanying his father at five and says he was "nearly scared to death" the first time he saw a wild boar. Aaron has a very effective technique for hunting pigs. "First, I go to the area to find definite signs that the pigs are there, such as trails, tracks, etc. Then I put food in places where the pigs can easily find it. Pig food includes overripe fruit and vegetables, stale bread and bread products, and even meat such as leftover beef or chicken. The food is put in piles about 30 cm. high, and I make sure to cover over my own tracks to not arouse suspicion among the wary animals. "When setting up a stand, it has to be off the ground to prevent the pigs from smelling the hunter, and downwind, of course. The food has to be put in the same places repeatedly in order to gain the confidence of the pigs so they'll be less wary. As the pigs begin foraging soon after dusk, the trick is to be in place before dark, at least three meters off the ground, and simply wait for them to come along. "The whole thing is a waiting game that can last as long as six hours, until the pigs show up - if they do at all.