Weird Hunts: Bagging Feral Cows in Hawaii


Did you know that Hawaii is one of the few states where you can legally hunt feral cows? Furthermore, did you know that the feral cattle problem in Kailua was once so bad, the “Great Wall of Kuakini” was built to keep them out?

Cows are the last animals you’d expect to turn in an invasive species, but the feral cattle of Hawaii are proving a little bit too resilient for officials to handle. There are currently thousands of wild cows roaming around the countryside and forests of the Big Island. While they are still easily recognizable as the domestic cattle you would find on a farm, over the years the animals have changed to better adapt to their environment. Compared to the average farm cow, wild cattle are smaller, faster, have longer legs and are much more tuned to survival in the wilderness. They are also much more aggressive.

“What could be more dangerous than putting yourself on a train track and waiting for a locomotive to come close to hitting you? A 1,000 plus pound Hawaii Vancouver wild bull!” touted Ahiu Hawaii, a guide service offering cattle hunts on the Big Island. “Imagine those ferocious eyes staring you down while he watches every twitch on your body and the only thing between you and him is your weapon and a few yards. Your heart is beating, you start to shake, and you just remembered you need to get a nice clean shot or both you and your guide will be in a lot of danger.”

The cattle have often been compared to feral pigs. Both animals are destructive, capable of great agricultural and ecological damage, and are dangerous to boot. Ahiu Hawaii organizes about 40 cattle hunts every year and treats each one similar to a cape buffalo hunt in Africa. Hunters are required to work in teams and the smallest rifle cartridge the guide service will accept is .300 Winchester Magnum.

“If they spot you first, they’ll definitely come for you,” manager and hunting guide Orion Enocencio told Modern Farmer.

How did wild cows come to Hawaii? The animals were originally brought to the Big Island by an English naval officer, Captain George Vancouver. In 1793, Vancouver presented four bulls and eight cows to the Hawaiian king Kamehameha I as a gift. Intrigued by the strange beasts, the king decided to create a hunting population and decreed that no hunter would touch the cows until there were enough for sustainable hunting.

The Hawaiians were unused to handling the large animals and the cows quickly escaped their pens and into the forests. The hunting ban continued for another three decades, and by the time it was overturned, it was already too late. Tens of thousands of feral cattle dominated Hawaiian forests. Occasionally the unchecked herds would stampede across farms and even injure or kill residents. It is believed that renowned biologist David Douglas—discoverer of the Douglas fir—was trampled to death by wild cows.

Something needed to be done.

Finally, in 1832 King Kamehameha III recruited vaqueros from Mexico to come and round up the wild cattle, beginning the tradition of the Hawaiian cowboy. These days the wild cows of Hawaii are considered a strange game species for any hunter enterprising enough to chase them. Hunting cattle is a lot different than hunting any member of the deer family. This is perhaps most noticeable in the sheer amount of meat you get after downing a cow. If you think packing out whitetail venison is hard enough, imagine dragging hundreds of pounds in beef out of the woods.

Edit 11-18-2015: Article revised to fix typos. 

Is this something you would be interested in? Ahiu Hawaii gives a detailed rundown on bull hunting in the video below:

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