We had been searching for wild boar all evening, climbing over rural Monterey County's dusty oak-studded hills in an old jeep with no roof, no seatbelts, and a driver who had just drank a small cooler's worth of beer. I was sitting in back, instructed by our guide to hold onto the metal bar in front of me, just in case the vehicle's jerky clutch caused me to fly forward and knock out all my teeth. As far as first hunting experiences go, this one was feeling kinda dicey.
Sitting up front next to our driver/guide was Trevor Latham, the 43-year-old president of the East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club, with a Remington 700 bolt-action rifle. For years, Latham had tried to convince me to go hunting with him, and I had never said yes — until now.
Why I finally agreed to do so is not entirely clear. To say I'm not the hunting type would be putting it mildly. Although I eat meat, I find the thought of killing — let alone harming — an animal abhorrent. I'm the kind of person who can't even kill a spider, and I hate spiders. I realize this is a hypocritical stance on my part, and also one that's not at all uncommon in American society, which is the main reason why Latham thinks I'm exactly the type of person who should go hunting. He thinks I need to come face to face with my decision to eat meat. I need to be able to kill something, gut it, and eat it. And I don't entirely disagree with him.
Whether I was actually going to do it or not, however, was still to be determined. For starters, we — me, Latham, our guide, plus (in another vehicle) another guide and JJ Jenkins, who owns Merchants Saloon in Oakland — had seen everything but wild boar: cow, deer, jackrabbits, quail, squirrels, and horses. It turns out that pigs — which are an invasive species in California and a scourge for many farmers — aren't that easy to find. They travel at dusk and in the early morning, and spend the hot days bedded down. Even though they're black and travel in a straight line (you can spot them by the trail of dust they kick up), they're surprisingly hard to see in a landscape dotted with dark bushes and tree stumps.
And that was just fine with me. While I had agreed to go on this hunting trip, and had obtained a hunting license and a pig tag (the legal document required to shoot a pig in California), I still felt ambivalent about the whole situation. I had decided that even if I did spot a wild boar, I wouldn't say anything to Latham or our guide. I wouldn't be responsible for a death — at least not tonight.
But after hours of scouring the landscape — a surprisingly tiring task — in decreasing daylight and dipping temperatures, I found myself eager to see something. As we traversed a hilltop, I suddenly saw something move out of the corner of my eye. Just as soon as I uttered the words, "There's something," I knew I'd regret it.
"Where?" our guide asked, excitedly.
I pointed to the hillside to our left, to a patch of clearing between oak trees. The animal's fur matched the color of the dry grass. It definitely wasn't a wild boar, but its trotting gait indicated it wasn't a deer, either. It turned out to be a coyote.
Our guide quickly stopped the vehicle and pulled a rifle out of the case that was strapped to the dashboard. Suddenly, my heart was pounding.
"You're gonna shoot it?" I said, with more than a twinge of PLEASE NO DON'T in my voice.
But it was too late. I covered my ears.
The animal fell over, kicking up a small patch of dust in the distance.
Instantly, pangs of guilt washed over me. Our guide, however, felt no such remorse. "They eat fawn. That's why I don't like them," he said, continuing to drive on as if nothing horrific had just happened. "They'll rip babies straight from the mother's asshole. They're mean little animals, meanest animal there is — well, except for me," he said, only somewhat jokingly.
His words didn't make me feel any better. As we continued driving through the hills, beer bottles clinking around on the jeep's floor, I suddenly remembered something.
"It's Friday the 13th."
"I thought about that — that's why I'm in first gear," our driver responded in his thick Southern accent. He paused, then added, laughing, "It was Friday the 13th for that coyote." As the evening wore on, we continued searching for our prey, crossing fields and endless cattle gates, stopping occasionally to examine tracks or just scrutinize the landscape. After the coyote incident, I wasn't sure which animals we were trying to kill and which we weren't, but it was clear there were distinctions. When we passed by a decomposing cow in a field, our guide remarked, "poor little fucker." And when he spotted a bobcat in his binoculars, and I asked him whether he was going to shoot that, too, he replied, "No, I like bobcats," much to my relief.
Wild boar was our main target, and so far we weren't having any luck. Both Latham and our guide feared that the full moon wasn't boding well for the hunt. "These pigs aren't moving till the break of daylight," said our guide, frustrated. As darkness descended, we decided to call it a day. But just as we pulled up to the nearby house where our cars were parked, a small dark animal came into view of the jeep's headlights.