The following account is based on actual events that occurred in Voca, Texas in 1994. To protect the innocent, the names of the pigs have been changed.
The red dust of the Texas hill country billowed up behind the van as it slowly bounced down the country road towards the old farm house where members of the lease stayed. It was well after noon, but still a few hours until dinner time on a clear, but not-too-cold November day.
“You gonna try to get in a hunt before dinner?” the Old Man asked his son. “Yeah, I think I’ll sit in the Rockpile stand until sunset – I’ll walk the rest of the way in just before dinner.”
The Old Man nodded It would be an easy walk for the young man; the stand was just outside the barbed-wire fence surrounding the hay fields all around the farmhouse and was only a few hundred yards from the cattle gate at the driveway.
“Alright. Ron and the boys should be along sometime after dark. I’ll have dinner ready by the time you get back.”
They had stopped off at Cooper’s in Llano to pick up enough brisket, sausage and baked beans to feed the group of fathers, uncles, and sons that would be hunting the lease that weekend. They had made good time driving in from Houston, having left early that morning, and the young man would still have time to get settled in to the stand and let any prey in the area calm down from their passage for him to have a chance of seeing something.
Mama Sow’s floppy ears pricked up when she heard the sound of a vehicle rumbling down the road a few dozen yards from their bedding area. She wasn’t worried. The carnivorous apes that sometimes came to their land were certainly dangerous, but they apparently had lousy senses of smell and were generally stupid. They would never know the pigs were nearby, hidden carefully as they were.
The boars of the group had already left for the evening and were probably on their way to the mud wallow up the ridge by now. The only remaining pigs in the group were still lazily dozing under the fragrant junipers in the thicket, snoring and scratching ticks.
Night would be falling soon, which meant the pigs would soon have the woods to themselves with no apes around to punch holes in them with their noisy sticks. The piglets stirred and squeaked at Mama Sow to get her fat butt up and lead them to some dinner. Grunting heavily, she stood up and shook the crust of dried mud and feces off of herself.
“Fine,” she muttered to the piglets, “let’s go see if the Free Food Thing has left us some delicious blessings at the clearing!”
As the van rolled up and down a few hills and around a bend or two in the rutted dirt road, the cattle gate came into view through the mesquite and oaks. The Old Man let the van coast to a stop beside an open area to the right.
Perched on top of a small rise at one end of the clearing was a small stand of oaks and junipers – concealed in the middle of them sat a lonely elevated box blind overlooking a game feeder set on a tripod twenty-five or so yards away. Beyond the stand was it’s namesake: a century-old pile of stones and boulders plowed up from the fields and hauled there by the generations of property owners.
Some were used to build the chimney of the old farmhouse itself, others were occasionally used as landfill material to level out shallow spots where something needed to be built, but the majority were simply left there, a monument to the perseverance and will of the land’s owners to eek out a living from the dry earth in the middle of the state.
The young man stepped out into the sunlight and opened the rear door of the van and pulled out his rifle case, a jacket and a fringed suede possibles-bag holding his rifle’s accoutrements.
“You sure you don’t want to use my .30-06? Or the shotgun?” the Old Man asked hopefully. He had never placed much faith in his son’s muzzleloader. He was a practical man and had no sense of nostalgia when it came to hunting. If a more effective tool was available to put meat in the freezer, then that was what he would use.
His son, on the other hand, took delight in learning to do things the hard way, sometimes to the point of pig-headedness. The young man simply smiled and shook his head. This was his rifle. His first rifle, in fact, and he was determined to make a kill with it.
He snapped a cap or two on the nipple to clear the oil out of the chamber and poured the measured charge of Pyrodex down the barrel. After ramming the bullet firmly down onto the charge, he slung the possibles bag over his shoulder and set off for the stand.
“Good luck! See you in a few hours!” the Old Man and his son exchanged waves and the van continued on to the cattle gate.
A few minutes later, the young man was seated in the blind, perched on an old swiveling office chair and trying to move carefully to keep the squeaking to a minimum. Reaching into his possibles bag, he pulled out a pouch of tobacco and shoved a large pinch into his cheek. His head panned back and forth slowly, scanning all sides constantly, watching for any movement and listening for any sound.
His rifle rested across his lap, a side-hammer Frontier model from Connecticut Valley Arms, .50 caliber. He absently stroked the polished walnut stock that he had spent hours sanding and staining before applying the high-gloss varnish.
Certainly, this was not his first hunt, but those earlier hunts had always been done with his father’s firearms, never his own. And he was eager to prove that the rifle he had built himself from a kit could cleanly kill as well as the Old Man’s.
His mind drifted to other thoughts – work, his fiancé back home, the Christmas season coming soon. The last hours of the day ticked away as he occasionally spat juice into an empty plastic water bottle and the sun began to set. Lost in his thoughts as he was, it startled him when the feeder’s motor spun to life in the silence and sprayed feed corn in a wide circle around the base of the tripod, the steel legs ringing loudly as the dry kernels ricocheted off of them. He readied his rifle in his hands. Surely, he thought, everything within hundreds of yards had heard that.
Mama Sow began trotting faster. She heard it! The Free Food Thing had given its blessing to her and her children! There would be plenty for her and her piglets to eat when they arrived at the clearing. “Oink!” she called to the eight young ones following behind her single file as she led them down the road towards the clearing. “Yay!” squeaked the piglets, “blessed food for our fat, tasty bellies!”
A sound reached the young man’s ears. He looked left over his shoulder – pigs! A disgustingly huge and filthy sow leading her somewhat-less-filthy young straight to the feeder. He watched their pointed ears flapping as they trotted hard to keep up with the sow. Some looked to be roughly twenty to thirty pounds – old enough to be weaned, but still not yet independent of their mother. His blood began to pound in his veins. He would easily have his pick of which to shoot.
“Yum, yum!” the piglets gorged themselves on sweet corn. So engrossed were they in their feast, they never heard the metallic squeak of the office chair, or the soft click as the rifle’s hammer was thumbed back. But they heard what happened next – a loud piercing SNAP.
The young man’s heart froze. Sweat beaded up on his forehead as he held his sights on the piglet he had aimed at. The piglet had jumped when the cap had detonated, but the rifle did not fire. One one-thousand, two one-thousand… the young man counted to five – terrified that the possible delay-fire would happen just as he took the sights off his target.
The piglets wondered what that noise had been. “Did you hear that?” asked Piglet #3. “Busy right now.” replied Piglet #7, already rooting in the dust for more kernels. Looking around, they saw no danger. Even Mama Sow had paid little attention and was now taking a break from the corn to scratch her ample flanks against the legs of the feeder tripod. Snouts twitching, the pigs sniffed for a moment and went back to the Food Thing’s bounty – wonderful, delicious corn.
Nothing. No delayed explosion of smoke and fire. Hands shaking, the young man reached for his capping tool and slipped another cap onto the rifle’s nipple. The piglet he had aimed at had now moved behind an oak and he no longer had a clear shot. No matter, there were plenty more.
The pigs jumped again, even Mama Sow had lifted her head and looked around as the noise rang out in the clearing. The pigs scattered in all directions for a moment, beady eyes peering around for the source of the racket. “Okay, now I definitely heard something that time–“ squeaked Piglet #7, and then he noticed another tasty yellow kernel at his feet and forgot what he was concerned about. Mama Sow shifted from hoof to hoof, snout high in the air. She stopped eating and watched with concern as her piglets ate their fill. Something was wrong.
Something was wrong! thought the young man. His arms trembled as he struggled to hold the rifle steady on his target. Four one-thousand, five one-thousand. The spooked piglet moved behind another oak and the young man cursed silently.
Had he not cleared the chamber with a couple of caps before loading it? His mind raced back to the last time he had cleaned and oiled his rifle – just how much oil had he swabbed down the bore before he had put it away in the safe?
The fat sow was wary now. She had moved some distance away from the feeder and the piglets reluctantly followed while still rummaging for any errant morsels. The range was further now but still an easy shot. Easing back the hammer and picking the blasted cap off the nipple, the now thoroughly ticked-off young man slipped another cap into place.
Mama Sow grunted to her children. “Dinner time is over! Let’s go!” As the group trotted down the path, Mama Sow heard a loud and familiar sound from the clearing behind her – she had heard one of the carnivorous apes on the property make it once before while repairing a barbed wire fence the other year when he smashed his thumb with a hammer.
The young man watched the sounder of pigs accelerate away, their plump, succulent flanks swaying into the distance far out of range. Breathing hard through his flared nostrils, he continued to glare at them until the group had vanished into the trees in the fading dusk light.
Some minutes later he made his way through the cattle gate and plodded furiously towards the farmhouse, kicking any loose stones that dared lay in his path. The smell of smoked brisket on the barbecue pit in the yard hit his nostrils. His father stood in the yard feeding logs into the crackling fire in the stone-ringed firepit circled with garden chairs and stools while dinner reheated.
As he entered the yard, the young man’s father looked up. “So! Did you see an-“ he stopped speaking as he saw his son’s upraised palm and look of rage. Uttering not a single word, the young man continued through the yard and stopped at the ditch on the edge of the hay field. Snapping on one last percussion cap onto the rifle’s nipple, he aimed at a plowed up dirt berm on the far side of the ditch.
SNAP…(one one-thousand, tw…) BOOM!
The young man lowered the rifle from his shoulder and heaved a dejected sigh. Head hung low, he moped back to his favorite chair beside the firepit in the yard. Tomorrow the rifle’s chamber would be thoroughly dry. Tomorrow he would be in another stand or blind and have another chance to redeem his dignity. Tomorrow would have more pigs and maybe a nice buck or fat doe. Tomorrow they would all hunt; his brother-in-law, his nephews, even his father with his trusty Remington .30-06.
But for now, all he wanted was a Dr. Pepper and whiskey and to spend a few hours by the fire. For now, it was time for some barbecued brisket.