By the time the lonely wild boar wandered into the clearing under the high tech deer feeder, I had neglected my lookout post and was talking in sort of hushed tones to my lifelong hunting buddies about range management or high school girlfriends. I can’t recall now, but it was important, I promise you.
Despite not paying much attention, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye at 174 yards (according to one of Brandon’s high tech gadgets). Hunting hogs in the daylight was proving much easier than spotting them through thermal scopes as we had the night before.
When I first looked through the illuminated thermal scope the last evening, I was stunned at the amazing definition in the pitch black darkness. I stared at a jackrabbit hopping around for a few minutes but spotted zero hogs, so I looked up from the scope and found that I had become Stevie Wonder in my right eye, and making the same face he does when playing “Isn’t She Lovely”. Upper teeth bared, nose wrinkled, kind of weaving my head back and forth hoping for some resemblance of vision. Amazing as the technology is, looking through the lens is like staring at a green light bulb for too long. Once you look up, all you can see is white and all you can do is wait it out. Stevie is still waiting.
That night, a big grumpy wild boar did wander into sight and we were both ready. Well, so I thought. When Brandon got to the count of 3, I squeezed the trigger with crosshairs dead mass on the bright greet critter that resembled a black bear more than a swine, only to feel no suppressed explosion and flash of light. Brandon’s rifle cracked in my right ear in the darkness and the blob bolted away into the cover of the chaparral unscathed. Brandon reached over and pushed my safety up ’til it went “click”, as The Jesus would say.
I cursed. Cory chuckled somewhere in the darkness behind me. Being dedicated hunters, we waited for the feeder to go off at midnight, waited another fifteen minutes, packed up and stumbled over the invisible rocks and cactus back to the ATV, headlamps glowing. I felt a little embarrassed and inexperienced, but oddly, after spending the majority of my life hunting with these guys, I fully expect to look like an idiot at some point around them when it comes to firearms. I don’t shoot very much anymore but when I did, it was with a simple weapon with maybe four moving parts. The rifles we were sporting this weekend in the Texas Hill Country had fifteen buttons and dials and gauges and even some tricks they probably didn’t even tell me about that would have been way over my head. All I knew was that I had made the oldest mistake in the books. Safety first, but safety OFF!
They showered me with the appropriate amount of grief as best friends should and I let it roll off easily. The long weekend consisted of filling deer feeders, spreading wild hog bait, cutting and burning firewood, and listening to the acorns drop on the roof and roll off with a clatter. The ranch is near San Saba, Texas which is a good ways through rolling hills from just about any large town. Llano has all you really need but even that is about forty minutes away so we had to be well stocked with meat, cheese, and Lone Star beer before leaving civilization. If you’ve ever been in a deer camp, the word civilized is rarely a descriptor.
This quaint deer camp is special and not special at the same time. Four camper trailers in various levels of deterioration are scattered in a clearing among oak trees in a more or less thoughtful manner. Most are actually in decent shape (by aging deer hunter standards) yet one or two are looking at several tubes of caulking in their near future.
In the middle of these rolling apartments sits a low slung one-room cookhouse. This structure has been nailed and screwed together over many years from gathered materials possibly off the side of the highway. The patchwork box is quilted together with mismatched metal panels, tar paper, plywood, insulation, and termites holding hands. The high testosterone vernacular is unintentional but seems to fit the patrons to a T.
Inside the structure, each window naturally has a different patterned curtain. One has deer running through a forest, probably being shot at, and another has ducks flying, definitely being shot at. The others vary along those same 1970s hunting patterns which make a designer like myself die a little inside. Adding to the ambiance of the cookhouse is a toilet in what is barely a closet in which you must open the door to wipe your ass for lack of space. Jammed in the corner next to the “toilet room” is a unlit shower that uses pond water from outside. So after a shower, you still smell like a swamp creature. Maybe it’s part of the scent game. Much more sanitary than wiping doe piss all over yourself, I guess.
We overlapped a couple of other gentlemen one day who hunt the lease as well. Let me clarify. One hunts and the other works for him. Ed, the bleach white-mustached pot belly white guy is the deer hunter and Clarence is the muscular black guy with hardly any teeth and duct taped coke bottle glasses. They made a odd pair, but as in Texas, common places or people are six degrees away, and sometimes less. I found out that Clarence and I used to eat at the same restaurant in Pampa, Texas over thirty years ago at probably the same time. It was a hot dog restaurant called Coney Island. I promise you, very few of the patrons there had a clue that the namesake is actually a real location on the East Coast.
Clarence was dating a waitress there and was excelling at the running back position in high school football, and I would have been in elementary going to the orthodontist down the street. According to Ed, who is a retired crime scene investigator, Clarence “to put it nicely”, works for him, and has “done some time”. I didn’t pursue the conversation with Ed any further as he isn’t a talkative guy and Brandon had his ear showing him his impressive high powered 6XC Tubb rifle anyway, but I did get a little of Clarence’s story that afternoon as we wondered about the pond where the shower water comes from, but we never got to the prison part of the story.
One afternoon we were in the cook house preparing dinner, and Clarence was taking a pond water shower which is next to the kitchen sink. You haven’t experienced a deer camp until you are sitting around in a kitchen table preparing food, while a complete stranger dries off his naked body at the other end of the table. I focused on my cutting of whatever it was I was cutting and tried to act like a mature adult male, which I am decidedly not. Nobody said anything about it, and I just assumed I was the immature one in the group, which I’m at peace with.
In this region of Texas, everything has spines and poison. Rattlesnakes, mesquite trees, prickly pear, and every other living thing has adapted this thorny adaptation. Even the hogs have grown tusks. The scorpion carcasses drying out on the floor by the toilet are particularly ominous, but come to find out, these poisonous little fuckers like to hide in every nook and cranny. I found them under downed tree limbs, rocks, and behind the broom. I damn sure shook out my sheets every night before crawling in bed to a restless sleep.
By nature a hunting camp should be mostly utilitarian and have a certain level of grime, but one can’t help romanticize about a quaint cabin in the woods with classic taxidermy and a Remington painting hanging above the mantel (and clean water). This place is zero of those things. The only decoration besides the curtains is a 10″ tube TV with an analog converter that plays a fuzzy local station. Stark at best. Deer corn is piled high in the corner next to a pallet of bottled water and various useless objects wives no doubt told the hunters they didn’t want in the house anymore, so they ended up here to gather dust and rat turds.
Brandon splurged on a couple Wagyu Tomahawk steaks for dinner one night because he can’t help himself when he walks into a meat market. Pete’s Fine Meats is his second home beside the gun store. These massive chunks of meat with a built in rib bone handle only added to the caveman ambience of the testosterone choked cookhouse. Seared over a mesquite fire with coyotes howling in the distance, they tasted like a little bit of heaven.
I was allowed to fish a couple times on the trip, once in the Colorado and once on a tiny pond next to one of the deer blinds. The Colorado is a big wide river and muddy as a melted chocolate Dairy Queen milkshake. I did see a couple catfish jump so I threw a wooly booger for a while until I came up tight to something that was very heavy and even more pissed off. At about the five second mark into the fight, a three and a half foot alligator gar rolled on the surface and threw the hook. Didn’t see that coming. And what was I doing standing in knee deep water barefoot with all those teeth lurking in the muddy darkness. I only fell twice in the slippery mud trying to get the hell out of the river.
The pond by the last tree stand we hunted only held tiny green sunfish so I caught about twenty of them before it was time to get serious about waiting on more pigs. We only saw a few deer that night under the feeder but it was happily relaxing to sit in a deer stand with no pressure to kill one. I sipped Lone Stars and glassed birds like the nerd I am.
Egrets, hummingbirds, and warblers were flying around everywhere in their fall migratory journeys. These could have been the same hummingbirds I had fed at camp in the Colorado Rockies this summer, and here they were, on their way to Mexico looking forward to sun tans, margaritas, and long walks on the beach with hummingbird senoritas. We talked about guns, gadgets, old times and winning the lotto as the evening turned to night. And we listened to the hogs squealing in the forest that never came into the feeder until the last day when I wasn’t paying much attention.
Luckily Brandon was ready with the 6XC on the roof of the four seater. I said, “he’s all yours” and watched from my perch and held my ears. The hairy boar never took another breath and fell in his tracks. Clean and painless as all hunting kills would like to be. We should all be so lucky to go like that. Unsuspecting, walking to the fridge at night, thinking about absolutely nothing important but our stomach. Then BOOM, you’re pushing up daisies.
With all the sitting around and cutting wood and eating and sitting in deer stands we did that weekend it seemed a little strange we’d only shot one feral hog. But then again, I’ve been on plenty of fishing trips where less than one fish has been netted, so as Robert Ruark once wrote, “The old man used to say that the best part of hunting and fishing was the thinking about going and the talking about it after you got back.” Such are trips like these, where the biggest fish wasn’t caught nor did we rid the Hill Country of feral hogs, but the best part is in the talking about it the next time we are together.