By Josh Wann
June 8, 2020
I guess my daddy took me hunting, because he felt bad that he never did when I was a kid. Even though I’m the oldest, I’m also the only girl in our family, besides mom. Oldest of four, but a girl. All brothers and each one he took camping, shooting, hunting, and all that “man-stuff.”
He must’ve woken up one day and realized that he never took me and maybe felt some kind of guilt. He called me and asked me on the hunt, to see if I’d, “be his camera lady.” A documentarian role not a partner or hunting buddy with a gun, he was still just testing the waters with this whole inclusion of women thing. I guess he thought having me there would be progressive enough, taking it one step at a time, which was just as well because I really didn’t want to shoot nothing.
I was excited that daddy wanted me there, in the great outdoors, his special place, his church,that I just upped and agreed without asking what kind of hunt. So the next thing I know we’re in the parking lot of some gas station in the middle of nowhere. When I say we were in the middle of nowhere, I mean it. One of those places in Oklahoma that reminds you a place called “The Wild West” actually existed at some point in time. A place God had forgotten he made and therefore was left to its own devices. In other words, a place where this story would even be possible.
My dad told me we were supposed to meet up with this guy and his sons and they would take us around for the hunt.
“Do they have a property with a pond or running stream or something?” I asked.
“A pond?” My dad knitted his eyebrows.
“Yeah, something the deer come down to drink from at dusk.” I knew enough from growing up with my dad that duck hunting was done in the morning and deer hunting sometimes happened right before sundown. The golden hour was just about finishing up and I thought we’d be cutting it close enough with sunlight for deer, but I wanted to show him I had been paying attention.
“We’re not hunting deer, sweet-ums.”
“Oh.” I racked my brain for other possible critters that we’d be after in this part of the state at this time of day. My dad wouldn’t need help finding coyotes, crow, or opossum. Raccoons? My dad didn’t have dogs and I knew dogs were sometimes involved with raccoons. Dammit, I hope it’s not racoons. They look like cute little bears with bandit outfits and those little human-like hands. It’d feel like murdering a furry toddler with a mask. Plus, we read Where the Red Fern Grows in fifth grade and it destroyed me when the dogs died. Did both of them die? I can’t remember, but I remember sobbing at my desk. Worse than when I got my first period like a week after the sex-ed talk and that stringy haired bitch, Andrea Hughes put an open tampon on my desk to announce to everyone, including super-cute Brad Smittle who sat next to me, that my womanhood had arrived. God, fifth-grade sucked a hard one. If I saw a dog get killed on my first ever hunt with my daddy, that would jack me up.
“We’re getting hogs,” my dad said as he looked out through the car window with a discernible blood-lust in his eyes.
I thought it was weird he used the word “getting,” when he meant hunting, killing. Like we were “getting” a pet cat or “getting” a gallon of milk. As if it was, “I’ll be home soon, honey.
I’m just running up to the store and getting a hog.” But I let the prospect sink in.
It finally occurred to me, that I wasn’t completely sure so I asked, “What makes it a hog and not just a pig?”
“Well, pigs are what’s on a farm and hogs run wild. They’re more like pests,” my dad explained.
“Like the hairy ones with the giant tusks? Warthogs?” I immediately tried to rid my brain of the image of my daddy executing Pumba from The Lion King.
“No, that’s a different animal. This is more like a boar.”
“Like boar, but not a boar, but also not like Babe or Charlotte’s Web?” I was mentally crossing my fingers. I know it’s shallow and immature of me, but killing animals possibly construed as cute or even magically capable of language or maintaining healthy relationships with literate spiders was off the table for me, even if I was just the camera lady. I know what you’re thinking and yes I eat hamburgers and yes sometimes I pay $2.50 more to add bacon to them and I’m sure if I knew the names and personalities of the creatures that lay slain in my past, simply to give me a delicious lunch or dinner, I’d be devastated, but I don’t and I guess I do some moral juggling with all that, but right now I was just concerned with spending time with my daddy.
“A long time ago, boars were brought to the continent and they got loose in the wild. They mated with the domesticated pigs and then you have hogs. Or, domesticated pigs get loose and over generations they kind of turn into hogs.”
My daddy, a staunch and life-long member of the Church of Christ recoiled from the word. “Uh, not really. Just changes that help them navigate their new habitat.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s evolution. Like horizontal evolution.”
As soon as the word escaped my lips I just knew my daddy was gonna go on another tear about how they should’ve never let me go to, “that damn Liberal college,” at the University of Tulsa, but instead he just said, “Well, horizontal, vertical, whatever, they’re just hogs now. Not Babe or a Disney character. They got fur and long teeth called cutters and they tear up a lot of the crops around here. They’re pests.”
About that time what can only be described as a Mad Max style caravan rolled into the desolate lot. It was a band of men and dogs and boys in pickup trucks. We all got out and greeted one another. Once you got past the camo and guns it was really quite a jolly energy. They were smiling and giving each other shit in a playful way and it felt bizarrely comforting to be in the glow of this unabashed example of male camaraderie. I fought hard the urge to make speculations about what their politics probably were. I felt ashamed that it was a struggle for me to push those things away. To try to just focus on positives and the reason being there was to enjoy my daddy’s company.
The dogs seemed as excited as the men. I didn’t recognize the breed of most of them and they just looked like any old mutt you might imagine loose on a farm or in the country but one of the younger boys informed me they were curs and Blue Heelers. There were two other dogs that I immediately knew were Pit Bulls. Not only did they distinctly look different than the others, square and muscular, their whole dog-vibe was different. The others seemed playful and rambunctious. The two pit bulls seemed restless, ready to get to work. They had grey vests on and reminded me of a cartoon where they would be the policemen dogs.
The guy, whose name was of course Chuck and seemed to be in charge said it was time to go. We hopped in the back of the bed of one of the pickup trucks and in a matter of minutes we were deep in the backwoods. We were going so fast that I thought we were maybe already hot on the heels of our prey and I tried to look around the cab of the truck to see if we were chasing a herd of hogs. I’m not sure if hogs travel in herds or if they’re more loner types, but for some reason I pictured hogs roaming the countryside in rough, squealy gangs. It appeared there was nothing in front of us and nothing was chasing us and I wondered why we were going so fast. Before I could ask my dad, both the trucks took a violent turn and we pulled into what appeared to be a destitute crop of some sort. I figured this would slow us down, but no such luck. We maintained the same break-neck pace only now it was on a bumpy, dirt field.
I looked over at my dad and he was holding on to his hat with one hand and onto the side of the truck with the other. He gave me a look like, “Sorry, this is hunting, but also isn’t it fun if we don’t die?” What he said was, “Hold on good sweet’ums.”
“10-4,” I hollered over the noise of the truck. I’ve never said 10-4 in my life, but it felt like now was as good a time as any, but I immediately felt embarrassed. My dad smiled back at me.
The trucks drove back onto main roads, well, they were one-lane gravel and dirt country roads, but compared to the fields we had been on, it was a lane of luxury. We hauled ass down several more roads, across several more fields, and through a good deal of brush and shrubs. At one point I was convinced they were pranking us because they thought it would be funny to disorient two city people and leave them stranded in the woods after they bucked us out of the back of their trucks. But eventually we stopped in a grassy field and one of the boys yelled, “This is it!”
We all jumped out. Just like that a flurry of fur and barking mess were released and all the dogs, minus the two pit bulls, seemed to be in hot pursuit of something.
“WE DON’T LET THE PITS GO YET, BECAUSE THEY’LL RUN ALL NIGHT IF WE LET’EM GO TOO EARLY,” one of the crew yelled this explanation to me over the madness of barking.
Then we ran forever. Us and the two pit bulls on leashes, hobbling over rough terrain, trying to keep up with the curs and Heelers, who were supposedly chasing down and corning a pesky hog.
The good thing about hog hunting, as your first hunt, is that it happens so fast that you don’t have time to think too much about all the ethical intricacies that you might feel or have concerning the whole ordeal. You should’ve done all that back at home, anyway, but you were too busy thinking about how you just wanted to spend time with your daddy before he got too much older or you got too busy. How many more times would you get a chance to drive off somewhere with your dad and hear him sing every third word to the same four country songs you grew up with in that pitiful but endearing way? How many more times would he have the energy and you the schedule to be hours away from home? To see him pull his stiffened body back into the car and hand you your favorite candy bar with that giant, toothy grin because he’s proud he still remembers it’s Mr. Goodbar and you eat it in five giant bites, even though you’re trying to swear off sugar and you’re on your third Whole 30 of the year? You’re guessing not that many, because mom told you that dad went in for yet another test and “Well, honey you know the
history of heart disease in your daddy’s family.” And you can’t seem to carve out any time for family these days, because your manager keeps asking you to take on more and you still feel like you have to prove yourself even though you’re one of the only ones with a Master’s degree and you’re certainly the only one in the office who knows how to help a client over a Zoom call because everyone else seems to be from the Victorian era. That’s how you end up working 60 hour weeks more and more and missing family events more and more. So if a couple of hogs or boars or whatever have to get wrecked so I can have quality time with my daddy then sorry, but like aren’t they pests? I mean they are destroying crops and multiplying like rabbits. But like rabbits that dig up your whole livelihood and weigh more than most of your cousins. I mean you support farmers, right?
The bad thing about hog hunting is that it’s bloody. It’s so bloody, like oh my god, why is it so bloody? It’s so fricking bloody. And loud. There’s men yelling at the dogs, and the dogs always barking which is a dog version of yelling. The smaller dogs yelling at the bigger pitbull dogs who are growling at the hog who is squealing which is a hog version of yelling and they are just yelling like “HOLY SHIT! WHERE DID ALL THESE DOGS COME FROM???!!!”
Because Chuck, the guy who hunts and traps the hogs for a living, uses dogs, you can’t use a hunting rifle. You can’t use a rifle to kill the hog on account of the likelihood that a nervous city person hunting a hog for the first time and who just stepped off the rollercoaster of a truck ride is probably too dizzy to aim right and runs a high risk of shooting one of your hard to train hog dogs. Instead, you have to use a long hunting knife or spear and picture yourself as one of those lost boys from The Lord of the Flies. So my daddy, acting like a stranded British boy, gouged a spear into the heart of this giant hog and after much sweating and barking and yelling and squealing, it was over.
I never once even pulled my phone out to film the whole thing. It was my one job, but I didn’t think about my phone. In the midst of it all, I didn’t think about my job, my student loan debt, my dad’s heart health, my dad’s medical history, evolution, politics, space, time, the Church of Christ, mean girls from my school days, ex boyfriends, dog breeds, nothing. There was just the event of death. It didn’t even seem attached to a good or bad thing, it just was.
My dad is mostly used to shooting things from afar so I think we were both a little stunned. He never asked to see the video of the hunt. We didn’t talk until we got back to our own car. Right before we merged on the highway, we pulled over to use a gas station bathroom before the long trip home. When I got back in the car I handed my daddy a Mr. Goodbar.
He said, “You remembered. My favorite.”
“To be fair, it’s mine, too,” I said.
“I know,” he broke it in half and handed me one side. “You learned it from me.”