Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why I hunt...sort of.

When I say I hunt I use that term loosely.   I have just started trying to hunt.  I am not a hunter.  I don't long for it the way my husband does.  I don't look forward to sitting in a stand and waiting for an animal to cross my path. This is an evolution for me. I like animals.  I love them.  I am not aching to kill something, that isn't what it is about.  

My grandfather raised pigs.  I have been around them since I could walk.   Wild hogs are different.  They destroy the land and they are not cute, friendly, or lovable.  They smell incredibly bad, in fact. 

These are some shots from our game cameras.  As you can see, on our land in East Texas, we have  heards of wild hogs.  

The first time I ever went to the land with my husband I marveled at how beautiful it is.   I am a city girl but at heart I have country roots.    All of my adult life, all I could wish secretly is to live a simpler life.  I am not there yet but hope to be someday.   This land provides a secret answer to my prayers.  It is an escape and if we had running water and plumbing, I probably would spend a lot more time out there! 

And then I saw the destruction that came with the feral hog problem.   They root.  They eat everything in sight.  The land ends up looking like a war zone when they are done, and I got mad.  

The truth is, while I don't know that I could ever shoot something cute and cuddly like a deer, I have no problem with the idea of clearing some of these hogs off the land.  There are several reason.

First, there are clearly too many.  
As I said, they destroy what they see.  The feral hog population is out of control.  There is a reason why the State of Texas, which has hunting regulations on just about everything, does not care how many hogs you shoot.  The reason?  If every hunter killed as many hogs as they could each year, these creatures would still be procreating at a rate faster than the hunters can kill them.   It's true.   They are out of control and they are invading cities.  Don't believe me?  Go to a city park and walk in the wooded area.  You won't have to look too long before you find a hog rub right there in the city.  They are there.  You don't see them but they are there.  Look at the trees and if you see mud on the trees that is hog height, that's them.  They are nocturnal so you won't see them unless you are looking in the woods at night.  All you need is a water source and food source.  Creeks and trees.  That's about all it takes.  

Next, they are tasty.  
I don't, as a rule, like pork.   I am not a pork chop kind of girl.  Growing up, the worst nights for dinner were when my mom made a pork roast or pork loin.  I just don't like it.   Bacon and sausage don't count.   Feral hogs taste different.   They are lean and don't have the domestic raised animal fat meaning you don't get bacon from them.   In fact, they have to add fat to get sausage but the sausage is so much better.   I wasn't really a pulled pork fan either until I had wild hog.   It is tender when cooked slow and it makes a darn good sandwich.   

So I went out last weekend on my first hunt.  My husband was bow hunting and he went off to sit in a tree stand.  I went off to sit in a blind and see what I could see.  Here is what I discovered about hunting.  

It forces you to slow down.   
Work is insane and our lives are utterly out of control Monday-Friday.  We rush to get things done. Go places for obligations.  We work to keep things clean, orderly, and in good repair.   We have a few moments of peace, most resulting from watching our chickens each night.  I love them and get a certain sense of peace watching them.   I look forward to collecting the eggs daily.  It makes me happy.   Hunting on the other hand, makes you stop.  I am not good at stopping unless there is something good on TV to focus on.   You have to sit and be quiet.  Another thing I am not good at.  Hunting forces you to find some peace inside that you probably only get from things like yoga and prayer.  

Hunting brings you closer to nature.   
I swear it is true.  When you stop something miraculous happens.  You start noticing the things going on around you.   Sitting in the blind on Saturday all by myself, without cell service to listen to the baseball game, I found the most amazing thing.  Birds chase one another.   How had I lived 45 years and never noticed this before.  I was in awe.  I sat there for several minutes watching birds of different breed chase each other in the sky.  They would dive down at one another, fly off, and start the play all over again.  It was beautiful with the setting Texas sun as their backdrop.   

Hunting makes you respect nature in a way you never have before! 
Then it got dark.  Off in the distance the coyotes began wailing.  I told myself I was safe and secure in the blind.   I listened to their song for several minutes and then something struck me.  I had to walk back to camp and those coyotes were out there.  Yes, I had a gun with 4 bullets but did I really think that would hold off a angry pack?  I had no cell so I couldn't just text my husband to come get me.   I started to get worried and panic.  Finally, I decided to make the short 1/2 mile walk back to camp.   When you are alone, walking in the woods, suddenly every sound becomes magnified.  This is something I learned years ago when I would mountain bike at night.   Back then, I knew I could probably ride fast enough to escape anything coming at me.   This time I was carrying a loaded gun and my fanny pack and wearing boots that were too big.  (I forgot my plastic boots at home so had to wear my step daughter's who, at 12, has bigger feet than I do!)   

Now here is a story I didn't tell my husband, although my step daughter knows and laughed at me.  As I started the trek back to camp, I started to become incredibly aware of every sound coming from the woods around me.   At one point a leaf fell.  Do you have any idea how LOUD a leaf falling in the woods can be?  No??   Well let me tell you, it is loud.  I literally didn't know what it was and did a little dance in the woods turning 360 degrees around searching the dark for the offending predator.  The leaf.   How silly I felt with the still loaded gun slung over my shoulder freaking out about a falling leaf.   At least I didn't scream.  

Real hunters respect the gun. 

Sighting in my 30-O6

Before I ever stepped in to the blind by myself my husband taught me to shoot.   Now let me say this, when I met this man I had shot one gun in my life.  One time. I hated guns.  I hated everything about them.   Since that time he has tried calmly to teach me to shoot. He has learned me on the ways of being a responsible gun owner.  I have shot his .270, my 30-O6, his muzzle loader, a variety of handguns, and both a compound and crossbow.   (That is an entirely different type of fun!)  I have listened to my husband lecture me endlessly about hunting safety.   I appreciate him although I don't tell him enough.  I appreciate the fact he has opened my eyes to things I never saw before.  I appreciate that I now understand it isn't the gun that is the problem, it is the crazy, irresponsible, humans that are the real problem. 

 Above you can see my target practice for sighting in my gun.   You are looking for a pattern.  The last 2 shots are the ones in the center.  Hubs says I am a pretty decent shot.   It does not come naturally to me.   Not even close.   I get tired easily.  I start to over-think things.  I worry about missing.  I worry about what happens when it is real and the animal moves.   I try very hard to calm my breathing and pull on the trigger the way he taught me, so it is a surprise when it actually pops.  I always know how many bullets are in my gun and in the chamber.  For example, while I had 4 bullets loaded in the gun Saturday night, the safety was on and there were no bullets in the chamber.   Not the entire time I hunted because I didn't see anything to shoot.  When I got back to camp, the first thing I did was unload my weapon, put it back in it's case, and put the bullets back in the box.  Why? Because I don't want there to be any mistakes.   In fact, when my husband and his friends return to camp, they have a ritual.  They always show the empty weapon to each other to check themselves.  

Hunters love animals
It may seem counter productive that they shoot what they love but it is true.   There are valid reasons to control the wild animal population through hunting.  For example:  
They provide food.   
There are too many of them and it becomes dangerous to drive a country road at night.  Have you ever known anyone who hit a deer?  I have and it is the saddest thing in the world.  
They will starve if they over populate.
But above and beyond the reasons that controlling the animal population is necessary,  (Keep in mind again that states require tags for most animals and limit the number and size of animals you can actually shoot.) is the fact that hunters feed the animals.    I can't tell you how much money is spent every year on corn, grass, and salt licks to provide sustenance for the wild animals on our land.   Without what we provide, the game would likely starve.   We don't do it to shoot the animals, that is a bi-product of the perfect animal coming along at the right time.   We do it because we care about the animals and we want them to have food.   I remember one of the first conversations my husband to be had with me about hunting went something like this:

Him:  Why don't you want to hunt?
Me:  Because deer are cute and I love them.
Him:  You love them?  So you feed them right?
Me:  What?
Him:  Well you say you love them.  That means you do something to take care of them.  Make sure they have food available.   You put food out for them, obviously.  
Me:  Huh?
Him:  People always say they love the animals and that is why they don't hunt. The grocery stores are full. They don't have to hunt to eat.  They don't have to do the dirty work.   Well let me tell you something, I love them too.  I feed them.  I respect them.  I thank God that he gave us the ability to hunt and provided these animals for us to live off of.   I feed them.  I spend a lot of time working on this place to make it friendly for the deer.  Not because I want to shoot them all.  I pass up way more than I ever shoot even the ones I can shoot.  I love them too.  They are beautiful.  I feed them. 
Me:  Silence.  

The next time I came to his land, I came with 10 bags of deer corn.   I loved them enough to feed them.  It was a wake up call for me.  

Now, all that being said, I didn't see anything Saturday night.  I haven't shot anything yet.   I am as prepared physically as I can be to hunt.  I am as prepared mentally as possible to pull the trigger.   When God is ready, he will send the perfect pig.   Did I forget to mention that I am only hunting hogs?  Well, I still don't know that I can get past Bambi.   I am not there.  I don't know if I will ever be there.  The hogs however, I believe, after a year of wanting to hunt them, I am ready for and willing.  I even named my gun.  Every hunter, says my husband, has a name for their gun.  Mine is Boomstick.  Those of you who are baseball fans will get that.   I am also prepared to shoot my pig version of Joey Bats.   You can't take the baseball fan out of the girl just because you put her in camo. My twitter friend sent me a message after I announced that I intended to call my first kill Joey Bats.  His advice?  Just don't do a Joey Bautista type gun toss after you shoot.  Bad things happen when you throw a gun.   

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