Well, this was better than a trip to the grocery store. This beauty took two days to bag, but it's fed me, my friends and Wiley for a little over a month. Parts of it even made the manliest Christmas gifts ever and even impressed the TSA.
Getting into hunting has been on my To Do list since I move out of The Sprawl and into the adult playground that is Los Angeles two years ago. But, with motorcycles to ride, businesses to launch, a house to fix up and puppies to raise, it'd taken a backseat to more practical demands. A Honda ATV launch was the kick in the pants I needed to arrange the license and get out there.
Honda had arranged for us to visit Camp 5 Outfitters north of Paso Robles. There, they hold the hunting rights to over 25,000 acres of private ranch land. My guide for the two days was a salty old farmer named Mitch who owns and operate most of that land, raising Black Angus cattle that he sells to fancy restaurants down south.
With rolling hills covered in wild grasses like Barley (major pig food) and oaks (they also love acorns), this is heaven for pigs. I'm no biologist, but my understanding is that pigs bred for human consumption, with all their modified genes and injected growth hormones have spent decades escaping American farms and breeding with their wild cousins. The result is a hybrid animal that breeds twice a year, has no natural predators, destroys wildlife and crops alike and grows up to 800lbs. If you're looking for a natural adversary, this is it.
Walking into the hills on the first night of the hunt, Mitch asked me what I thought of the pig tracks. Standing in the middle of a wide dirt road, I had no idea what he was talking about, scanning around for tracks or scat or some other sign of wild game. It took him a while to convince me that the "road" was in fact the pig track; they pass through the same routes twice nightly in their dozens, hundreds and, in the summer, even thousands, their hoofs tearing up the soft soil as effectively as any tire.
With the sun setting super early, we'd been in a bit of a rush to head out hunting. I fired three rounds into a target at 100 yards using a loaner Weatherby Mark V, chambered in .257, nailed the center ring each time and was judged worthy. I was handed a box of hundred-grain bullets and packed into the back of a beater pickup to go shoot some pigs.
Apparently the pigs bed down by day in the impenetrable chaparral of the higher hills in the area, before crossing Camp 5 property at sundown to reach the barley and acorns at lower elevations. Then, at sunrise, they repeat the process in reverse. They can run for hours at speeds of up to 30mph so, while you can predict their routes and track them easily, they're anything but an easy target.
After checking a few of their usual haunts in the dense trees located in tight valleys, we were coming up dry, with no pigs spotted as the sun went down. Then, Mitch spotted a big male just off the dirt track, headed into some trees. Another hunter hopped out of the front seat so I could open the rear door and I fumbled the box of bullets in an attempt to load my gun. By the time I'd managed it and walked around the truck, the pig was gone. We tried for an hour longer, but in the complete dark, all the sightings were too far off to make practicable targets.
Returning to camp that night, we found that Susie, Honda's PR fixer, had been the first to shoot any pig, the one that would be the largest taken that trip. She sent us all wild boar recipes once we were back in town.
The next morning, Mitch was determined that I would get my game. So, there we were freezing our asses off on a hilltop on his farm when we spotted a herd of 30 crossing another hill a mile away. A frantic chase began as we tried to get in front of the pigs without driving them off the nearby property border. At one point, we thought we'd failed and returned to our hilltop lookout when the pigs suddenly changed direction and came careening down the valley we were driving through.
In an excellent example of total vehicle abuse, Mitch pushed his ancient Silverado across a plowed field at max speed to put us in front of the herd. I hopped out, lined up the biggest boar in the herd as he ran at me from 20 feet away only to get a "click" when I pulled the trigger. All that bouncing over furrows at high speed in an old truck, combined with my cack-handed loading, had jammed a bullet diagonally between magazine and chamber. We hid behind the vehicle as the herd ran past, then Mitch gave chase at even higher speeds.
Finally, we got in front of them again and I was able to take my pick as the herd ran across me, against the base of a steep hill, at about 50 yards. I sighted on the biggest sow in the pack — supposedly the tastiest meat — and shot her square in the heart. It was like she'd run into a brick wall, she just flipped forward onto her back and was dead by the time she hit the ground.
Pretty decent for the only shot I took all trip. That used to be a heart.
We sliced out the anus, slit open the belly and left the guts in the field for coyotes and birds. It's putting food back into the ecosystem. I'd blown up my pig's heart with the shot, but I kept her liver and hoped to "borrow" a more squeamish hunters heart. It turned out that was no problem, so I picked out a big one and threw the organs in my motorcycle's tank bag after the pigs were dropped off at Paso's excellent J&R Meats for butchering.
Heart (left) and liver (right). The mustard worked better than the hot sauce.
That night, I fed Wiley and Lara deep fried liver and heart for dinner and turned the remainder into pate for Christmas gifts. Lara's dad was so impressed by his that he sent me a ceremonial dagger he'd been given for his services as a heart surgeon in Afghanistan as a thank you.
When the meat arrived a couple weeks later, I threw a barbecue to coincide with my birthday. Ed, Motor Trend's EIC and a notorious foodie, stopped by a few nights prior to grab some back strap he would turn into the best pulled pork sandwiches I've ever tried. We also threw tenderloins, ribs and sausages on the grill. I had a lot of the pig turned into sausage because it's more palatable to people who aren't comfortable with the idea of wild game and makes for easy gifts. I've given some to my neighbors, colleagues and even the cooks at the lunch spot around the corner from my house.
Flying to Miami to spend New Year's with Lara's mom, I packed a few pounds of choice cuts in my carry on. It turns out frozen pork looks like plastique on the X-Ray machines, but the inevitable search had me and the TSA agents looking at these pictures on the phone and talking about hunting. A much better result than yet another pat down. I'm pretty sure a few oversize liquid bottles snuck their way through as I regaled the agents with my tales of daring do.
A health nut, Lara's mom was impressed with the quality of the meat — game is even healthier than the grass-fed, pastured alternative — and told me I have lovely light eyes.
How to win friends at TSA checkpoints.
As I write this, there's about 20lbs of the original 75 left in my freezer. A ham, some hocks, a few back straps and a dwindling supply of ground pork I've been using for pasta dishes. Any suggestions on what I should do with it all? Aside from feeding it to Wiley, that is.