On my first-ever “hunt,” I had nothing to fear but feral itself.
I’d been to a University of Texas football game (“Horn ’Em, Hookers!” January 2007). I’d learned how to play Hold ’Em (“Good-bye, Mrs. Chips,” March 2007). What other seminal Texas experience was left? I was wondering if a can of Skoal might be hovering in my future when I came across an article in the New Yorker about the debate over whether the Metropolitan Museum of Art should return some of its antiquities to their countries of origin. In the story, we discover that Carlos Picón, the curator of the Greek and Roman department at the Met, spent several years in San Antonio, where he “learned to shoot, in order to participate in weekend house parties dedicated to boar-hunting, a pastime that is to Texas billionaires what golf is to those in the Northeast.”
I don’t know what lowly millionaires hunt—nutria, probably—but I too wanted in with the boar- and antiquity-hunting Texas billionaires. The first step in my social climb would be to worm my way onto a happy hunting ground. After much angling, I cadged an invitation to the legendary Rancho Grigiot. But there were conditions: I had to educate myself about the menace that is the feral hog; I had to acquire necessary supplies; and because my hosts don’t want to be besieged by billionaires, I couldn’t reveal their true identities.
Turns out Texas has a Hogzilla of a problem. When the offspring of barnyard-pigs-gone-wild met the black, bristly Russian boar introduced to Texas in the thirties, the resulting Cold War détente with those commie porkers produced the one and a half million hogs currently rooting up farms and wetlands.
Education covered, we picked up supplies en route, at a magic land I never would have set foot in otherwise: Cabela’s. As with so many boy-intensive activities, from war to golf, most of the fun is in the gear. Who knew camo could be so complicated? The solicitous clerk wanted to know what I was “going for” and where. Would I be needing the arid tans of their Open Country pattern? Or might a lusher Mossy Oak be in order? I tried on a pair of Open Country pants and asked the clerk if they made my butt look big. “Butt? What butt? All I see is a torso floating in midair.” Sold!
Next on my list was boar attractant. I passed Bucker-Up, Stump Likker, and Buck Stop before finding Pig Out, Pig Lickkor, and Hog Heaven. (Apparently hunters are connoisseurs of the pun.) The handsome sales buckaroo in Wranglers cut open a bag of Hog Wild so I could sniff what the manufacturer promised was the “most unbelievable boar draw on the market! BOAR NONE!” Hog Wild had the chemically berry smell of low-end conditioner so popular in middle school locker rooms. I bought a bag of Hog Wild, a jug of Pig Lickkor, and a hog caller that mimics the sound of a “piglet in distress” but held off on the “Handy Spray Bottle” of Sow-N-Estrus Urine & Scent (“WARNING! Never put hog attractants on your body or clothing. You could be attacked”).
We drove west by southwest out of Austin until we dead-ended at Rancho Grigiot, a Brigadoon of a spread so close to the border that lonche for illegals passing through is standard fare. The ranch existed in an Old West warp of time and truth where real names don’t matter and you’re only as good as your last shot. An ascot-clad stiff of the first order appeared wearing a pith helmet (a sure sign that someone has gone troppo, wears Gore-Tex underwear, and/or has troubles in the bedroom). He introduced himself as “Eric von Chesley, of the von Chesley almond fortune. Perhaps you’ve heard of our line? Uncle Harry’s Nuts?” Another punster!
Inside the compound the rest of the hunt club waited. Amidst a clutter of camp followers and baby mamas was Carl J. Dunne, who insisted upon the final e in his made-up name. Carl J., with his pleasant, boyish mien, Harry Potter glasses, sweet tooth, and AC/DC schoolboy shorts, was the Baby Face Nelson of the gang; they called him Dead Eye.
The alpha male of this pack of curs was J. Boy, a dark and volatile sort with a story for every one of his many tattoos, most involving Afghan warlords, Thai pirates, and drug-running gym teachers. He told a particularly chilling tale of being abandoned by his Maori guide while under attack from a giant New Zealand boar. “I had to finish him off with my cuticle scissors—he was good eating,” J. Boy concluded, leaving listeners uncertain as to whether he was referring to the hog or the cowardly guide.
Von Chesley, who’d left to “spend a penny,” reappeared, lured irresistibly to the sweet-smelling hog baits. As J. Boy examined the jug of Pig Lickkor, he grunted, “Well, we know the stuff works. Already drew the biggest bore I’ve ever seen.” He tossed von Chesley the hog call and told him he wanted to hear him “squeal like a pig.”
“Remember what happened to Harry Whittington,” von Chesley warned, adding darkly, “I’m a lot better shot than our esteemed vice president.” With his W. C. Fields of a drinker’s nose, von C. sniffed the Pig Lickkor and wondered aloud, “Vodka or gin? Hmmm?” The burst capillaries of his great tuber of a proboscis twitched as he sniffed again. “Or, possibly, tequila? Something in the margarita range?”
A brief discussion ensued as to whether one of the concoction’s main ingredients, propylene glycol, was or was not antifreeze. Undeterred by such niceties, von C. had a taste, which he immediately spit out. “Why, you can’t make a decent cocktail out of that!” he said in a tone of outraged betrayal, as if the manufacturer had specifically marketed Pig Lickkor as a sophisticated mixer rather than a boar attractant.
Carl J. was certain that Hog Wild granular mix was the key. With a jaunty “It’s five o’clock somewhere!” von C. poured a generous helping of Hog Wild and enough vodka to wet it down into his martini shaker.
“A name!” J. Boy exploded, already envisioning legions of boar hunters out in the field quaffing portable juice boxes of his signature beverages. “We need a name!” That the cocktail tasted like Sterno mixed with Berry Blue Kool-Aid did not slow his mad marketeering. “You’ve heard of the mai tai?” he asked, holding aloft a glass of the fluorescent pink mixture. “This shall be the hog tai.”
As Carl J. and von Chesley argued over whether it should be the hog tai or the hogtini, I breathed a sigh of relief. All my requirements for the perfect Texas hunting trip were being met: Gear had been purchased. Jokes had been made about both Deliverance and Dick Cheney. Too much alcohol would be consumed. Lies would be told. And my hands would never touch a gun.