Saturday, April 14, 2012

Passed Pets

By Rob Watson

This is a postscript to the stories of my pet cats, Sandy and Dusty. You may choose to read those before this.

On top of my chest-of-drawers is a shrine, of sorts, to my pets. I have a picture of each, the cremated ashes of each, a favorite toy of each, and a picture of them together. As I spent a moment there today, I began to consider their spirits.

After Sandy died, it was a long while before I could feel his spirit near me. He had died at a vet's office while Wife and I were away. I was always afraid his spirit had clung to that place. His death was an especially sad affair because I was too cheap to find him a competent vet after we moved here. Near the time of Dusty's death I began to feel Sandy's spirit around.

Dusty died in my arms. He had signaled his willingness to go when he stopped eating and drinking. Because of his fear of his regular vet, I got a stranger to come to the house to put him down. The drugs put him to sleep and he died a short while later. During this time I would pat my chest and tell him I wanted his spirit to stay with me. Whenever I think about it, I feel his spirit around me.

The legend of the Rainbow Bridge says our pets wait there for us until we pass on. They come running when they see us approaching the bridge to Heaven. If so, I expect a crowd: Prince, Tippy, Lady, Tramp, Boots, Socks, Bernard, (all my dogs) then perhaps Jasmine (put to sleep because her owners thought she bothered us) and Sandy and Dusty. Then we all cross the bridge together... if I make it to that particular bridge.

Some people think all animals have spirits. The ones who have been loved go to Rainbow Bridge. The others to their own special place. Others say animals, humans included, have neither spirit nor soul. If the former is correct, that special place must be crowded with cows, pigs, chickens, deer, etc. I don't wish to sound insensitive, but if mosquitoes have souls and spirits, I hope they all go there, not the rainbow bridge.

I speak to the spirits of my cats. Dusty liked to sit on my lap in front of the TV. He would watch programs that had action and especially liked football. Otherwise, he would nap. Today I will pat the blanket in my lap and invite his spirit to nap in his spot. Sandy's spot was the bed. He never needed an invitation. Wife or I getting into bed was all the invitation he required. When I stand before my chest-of-drawers I tell my boys I love them and miss them.

You, the reader, may have decided that I am loony... something not outside the set of possibilities. For myself, I can see me and Wife sitting on our cloud, with Sandy and Dusty in our laps, watching the world below go past. I take comfort in that vision.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hunting Hogs In Texas, Illustrated

By Rob Watson

If you are upset or bothered by the death of animals, and pictures of them, you will not want to read this Blog.

I have hunted many animals, killed most of those that were easy to find, and just hunted the ones that were hard to find. Until now, I have not gone on a professionally organized hunt. This is the story of that hunt.

About September, I was seriously considering what hunting I should do in the Fall. In searching the internet I found a website that offered feral hog hunts for a modest sum. The offer ended that day. After a short discussion with Wife, we decided it would be an enjoyable outing, and affordable. So, I signed up. (Next day when I went back to the site, the offer ended that day instead.)

I made several phone calls to the place for various bits of information. None of which prepared me for the reception we got. Arrival time was set for 3 pm. "We will meet you at the gate." I was told. We arrived at 2:30 and were met by a 16 foot fence and a locked gate. Some other hunters drove up shortly after us, saw the locked gate, and said they were here for the second year and were going to town until the gate was opened. Wife and I decided to follow.

We drove a few miles into a beautiful little South Texas town, looked
 around a bit then headed out on the wrong road. Fortunately we had gone only a short way before I noticed the error. After some more wandering around we got back on the right road. When we got back to the ranch, it was about 3:20 and we were met by a 16 foot fence and a locked gate. After a bit I called the phone number and got a person who offered to come let me in. I was somewhat unsettled by my perception of the level of service to be received. Things got better organized after we got in.

A meeting of hunters was held when all the new hunters had arrived. we were told where to go, when to be there, and given the chance to ask questions.  We unloaded our stuff in our room, fixed our beds, and headed to supper.

The "Ranch" was one mile (1600 meters) square; the hunting lodge was in the very center. The entire ranch was fenced with the 16 ft (5m) fence. For the right price you could hunt any of the animals
there. The buffalo is the lone survivor of 8. He seemed to take an interest in the goings on, as we ate our supper in the lodge. As did the horses.

The hunting lodge was outfitted with two TVs, with cable, large comfortable recliners for the 20 hunters, a pool table and a large card table. A little rearranging could have made spacious accommodations for 50 or 60. It was decorated in a western hunting motif with huge windows on three sides.

After supper we had a two hour break before going out hunting for the first time.  This "hunt" consisted of having the guides sprinkle corn ("Deer" corn supplied by me) around an elevated hunting stand.  We drove part way then walked to the stand, climbed in, then sat there waiting for something to happen.('we' is Wife and I)

It was 7:30 pm when we sat down. Sunset was about 8:30. We were to stay until 10pm. As we sat, we discussed what we should do after
dark. (I had read about hunting feral hogs on the internet and most hog hunting was done at night.) I had brought several flash lights and we discussed keeping a light continuously on the corn (as suggested by one web site) or just lighting the area when we heard something. Eventually it was decided to just light the area when we heard something. We sat quietly waiting. It got dark, really dark! No moon dark. Then we heard the unmistakeable sound of a hog munching dried corn. It was loud and it was close.
To the surprise of us both the prearranged plan worked flawlessly. I pointed the rifle at the sound. Wife pointed the flashlight at the sky and turned it on. She brought it down slowly until it lighted the animal. Fortunately, he did not know that lights ment people and people ment danger. (Other animals were better informed, as we were to discover the next night. ) I placed the sights on the neck (so as not to ruin meat) and fired. Our victim fell over and lay still. I shot him twice more, in the head, with my pistol, to be sure.

 One of the things given us was the cell phone numbers of the guides. We called, they answered, they came and picked up our prize. The 132 pound pig was taken to the lodge area and our soon to be new best friend, Sal, skinned, dressed, butchered, and wrapped it. And, me with not a drop of, well, anything, on me. (Anyone who has cleaned anything dead, knows how that feels.)

One of the things, not given us, was how to indicate our location. The guide asked where I was... "Hell, I don't know"... "is it the blue
 blind"... "well maybe"... "We'll be right there."  Look --> does that look blue to you? (Turns out the fence, 20 feet behind me has numbers on the posts, which they told us next morning, before the stalk hunt.) I was, in fact 1/2 mile due south of the lodge and have no idea how I was found, but, We suffered no undue delays.

Actually it is sort of a mystery. I checked in with Eli, who is the only person who had a way to associate my face with my name. Cody, 
who spread the corn and placed us in the blind was never given my name. (I thought Eli was Brad and only learned correctly two days later. I called "Brad" and identified myself by name, to come get us and the pig... Go figure. It was the only shots fired, maybe somebody was listening.

Next morning before light, we were taken back to the same blind. Pictures of the pond, pastures, and sunrise (all the pictures, were taken by Wife) were taken then. Lots of corn still lay on the ground.
Perhaps the other animals lost their appetite after all the shooting.

We sat in the blind until breakfast. After breakfast was a rest period then the "walk and stalk" hunt until lunch and again after lunch until supper. For the walk and stalk, the 20 hunters were divided into two groups. (Here you need to picture a square clock face set at 6:00.) Our group was the small hand lined in a line toward the 6 o'clock position. We were spaced out about 30 yards (meters) apart. Our task was to sweep around, like the hand of the clock, toward the 12
o'clock position, looking for pigs to shoot. the other group was to start at the 12 o'clock position and sweep around to the 6 o'clock position. The whole arrangement was to keep the two groups from shooting each other.

Our group moved slowly and kept our alignment pretty well. We saw nothing. When we got to the 12 o'clock position, there was an hour left before lunch so we decided to continue on around, presuming the other group was now about the 6 o'clock position. When we got to
the 3 o'clock position we walked up on the other group, apparently, scattered all over the woods and blazing away at... shadows? We came to a road back to the lodge and took it.

The plan for the afternoon was like that of the morning, except, the initial position of each group was swapped. Rumor had it that there was a herd of 20 or so hogs in the area we searched in the morning. Neither I nor any of that group believed it, so we took our afternoon assignment in good heart. There were a couple of sitting positions
near where a recent flood had "compromised" the fence. I secured those for Wife and myself.

Our agreement stated we could kill a total of two pigs. We already had one. Our instructions for guarding the hole in the fence were: "Kill everything that tries to get out, even if it is 30 animals.") Not to worry. I had 4 shells for my single shot rifle, six for my pistol, and Wife had 7 for her rifle. I expected any more than a half dozen, trying to get out, would surely find their freedom.

We sat quietly for our time guarding the hole in the fence. Every once in a while we would hear a shot or shooting. Then we would see someone sneaking through the trees. Near the end of our time, a small pig came through at half speed. As I raised my rifle, Wife says, "No, don't shoot it." and I let it pass unmolested. A couple of minutes later three hunters came through, hot on the trail. After they went past, Wife says, "Well I should have let you shoot it"... well, next time. The pig drew some fire but made good it's escape.

After supper I requested the same blind we had before. By now I was certain there were few or no pigs left in the place. Corn was generously piled under the stand and across the little pond by our faithful guide Cody. Sal, the butcher, helped as none of the hunters had gotten any animals in the afternoon. Within a few minutes a herd of half a dozen elk cow looking animals came to help themselves. They noticed us in the stand and decided to eat elsewhere.
Just at 90% dark we heard the sound of hogs eating corn. It was coming from across the pond, just under the tallest tree in the picture above to the right. The phantom herd of 20 hogs had made their appearance. When I raised my rifle, half of these wisely decided to eat elsewhere as well. Through the scope I could make out a large spotted hog, but settled on a smaller one. My shot took the animal down immediately, but it was off a bit. I had ruined two perfectly good pork shoulders by hitting behind the neck.
After my phone call, Cody and Sal came to pick up the pig. It weighed 67 pounds. They gutted, skinned, quartered it, and put it in the freezer. As before, my hands were not soiled.

It should be noted that Wife is a pleasant companion. She is not, however, a killer. I was not surprised when she agreed to come on this hunt with me; but was surprised when she carried a rifle. (Sometime, a few years in the past, while we were chasing some elusive varmint through the mountains of Colorado or Wyoming, she
had declared she was done with "armed hikes".) Probably, she was recalling our last pig hunt, where she had to shoot one in self defense. (another story all together)

Wife is also a sturdy helper in the field. After the game is down she has always helped in any way necessary, usually carrying two packs and two or three guns, after lending a hand with skinning and field dressing a deer or pronghorn. This is to explain why she loved this hunt. Her hands were never soiled, and her heaviest load was her pint
bottle of water, besides the six pound rifle. She had two hikes of just over a hundred yards each and a 2 1/2 mile Stalk. No cooking, no washing dishes over campfire, a queen size bed to sleep in, no food to hide from the bears... just doing her thing: wandering around taking pictures and enjoying the scenery. Wife loved this hunt.

I can honestly say I was pleased as well. If I had more money, or were less attached to the little I do have, I would do this a lot.

The food was the weakest point. (New cook) There was plenty to eat, just not much selection. The guides were pleasant, knowledgeable, and accommodating. The butcher, and former cook, was skilled at his assigned task. All of them worked 16 hour days while we were there. When I asked, each declared he got time off and made good money, including tips. The buildings were way more than large. They were pleasingly decorated and furnished, and well designed. The only thing to keep it from being a five star hotel was, you had to handle your own bed linens and the outhouse was a separate building.

The fellow guests, as are most people, pleasant and easy going. A few were jerks. We had no problems with the groups with which we associated. The second night, a new group of hunters had come in. They spent the entire night talking loudly outside our room, instead of over in the lodge.

We had harvested our quota by the second morning and did not go to a blind. After Breakfast we socialized a bit, paid our bill, left a generous tip, picked up our packaged and frozen meat and hit the road for home. A grand time was had by all.

Two days ago we had our first rib roast, not highly seasoned, so as to determine the quality of the meat. It was great. Only 78 pounds left.

An Apology For Hunting Hogs.
Sis-in-Law, for reasons, beyond my imagination, people from all over the world read my blog. I fear some may not be entirely honest. I try to avoid identifying information on anyone. I also hope there are enough Rob, Robert, and Bob Watsons out there to make me difficult to identify, while remaining identifiable to my friends. If you re-read my Christmas story you will find yourself identified only as Sis-in-Law, your daughter as Niece, and your husband is Brother... all useful information to scammers.

As you may know, feral hogs are becoming a problem in much of the southern US. Some of them were imported for Game farms and some are regular domestic pigs that have escaped. They do a huge amount of damage to farms and crops by rooting. One place Wife and I hunted, some years ago, was covered with rooting holes three feet deep and ten to fifteen feet across… not the thing one would want in his corn field or cattle ranch.

At this "ranch" the management buys the animals from area farmers. The farmers have traps and bring the pigs to a holding pin by the main gate. All but one of the pigs we saw butchered were male. My guess is, the farmers are keeping the captured females to breed with good domestic stock, and selling the males, for which they have no use. If you look back at the picture of my pig, you will see it has almost no fat. And, unlike domestic pork which is mostly white meat, these feral pigs are mostly dark meat. (probably from having to be active to find food.)

Other farmers and ranchers with large land holdings are leasing their land out for hog hunters. It is becoming popular because it is mostly unregulated, the amount of meat a hunter gets is a lot more than one would get from a deer and, the pigs do not carry the wasting disease (Deer version of mad cow disease). Pigs are actually quite smart. When one learns about humans, it becomes very difficult to capture or kill. This "ranch" entertains about 3,000 hunters a year. Sal tells the story of one identifiable hog that survived for more than six months before someone was able to harvest it. It was black and white spotted like the one I saw on our last day hunting. (most of these animals are all black)