The first shot sounded before the first light of day, and instantly five sets of ears, chilled in the unseasonable cool of the early Texas morning, perked up.
Thwap, thwap, thwap. A second gunshot; a third; a fourth. Finally, silence.
“Think one of the guys got one?” I whispered to my guide, averting my gaze from the light of his headlamp, which cast a sharp glare inside our little bunker.
He sucked hard on the tobacco tucked into his bottom lip. “If it was one, maybe two shots, I’d say yes. But four . . . .” he said, his North Carolina drawl stretching the number into two parts, “eh-eh.”
He shook his head, and I nodded in understanding. Four shots sounded desperate, not clean. They likely meant a miss, not a kill. But no problem — we had all day, and plenty of wild hogs hiding in the thicket.
Yes, out in the middle of nowhere in Southwest Texas, under the dark cover of a new moon, a group of us was out hunting wild hogs. Rifles in hand, we sit in wait for the feral boars and sows to make their gnarly appearance.
The strangers hunting alongside me for the next three days have come from all walks of life, and range from military Special Forces to fitness professionals. For the more experienced shooters among them, hogs are just one more animal available for hunting. For others, it is the ultimate Paleo vacation, completely tracking your meal to the source and staring your food in the eyes.
Others yet come for the camaraderie. This group, aside from myself, is composed exclusively of men. Many arrived not knowing each other, but the jovial spirit and near-instantaneous bonding is reminiscent of summer camp.
And then there’s me, a non-hunter from New Jersey who had never before held, let alone shot, any sort of firearm. Not an obvious fit for a hunting trip, but as a journalist, I’ve long been fascinated by the intersection of food and ecology. Given the proliferation of wild hogs and ensuing popularity of hog hunting, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore both.
I was told I’d recognize the hogs easily: They look like normal pigs, but with coarse, shaggy hair, muscular shoulders, and grizzly tusks that would easily tear through my pants, my skin, and the flesh of my thighs — which would be about eye level for most grown hogs. Noisy grunts and a musky, pork-y odor often foreshadow their arrival, giving anything in their path a brief chance to run for cover or higher ground, and I was grateful to be settled in a protective shed about 10 feet off the ground.
The hogs would come, my guide assured me. We just had to be patient.
The hogs are a non-indigenous species running amuck not just in Texas but throughout the southern United States. They are regarded as vermin — delicious, pastured vermin, but vermin nonetheless — and hunters from across the country are taking advantage of the opportunity to aid in the pest-control effort. In Texas, $50 buys non-residents a five-day hog hunting permit and the chance to quite literally bring home the bacon.
As a result, recent years have seen a rise in the popularity of hog hunting in the state, and numerous outfits have cropped up to help facilitate the outings, some of which are purely for recreation and some of which benefit a charitable cause.
This week, I’ve joined one of these hunts, which is how I found myself sitting in an elevated blind with a bolt rifle at my side. About 24 hours in, I’d already learned a few things:
Lesson #1: Never ride in a car with a loaded weapon. “That is when accidents happen,” we were warned. Duly noted.
Lesson #2: Four shots do not necessarily mean a miss. One of those aforementioned shots took down a 145-pound sow.
Lesson #3: You can wait all you like, but being patient does not mean the pigs will come. By the end of day one, my shooting attempts totaled zero. (I’m feeling OK with that.)
Over the next few days I’ll continue to write about my experience and post photos here on the Unedited blog. If you have any questions that I can answer now or in the final article, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Also feel free to follow along on Instagram @maggiefazeli.