Monday, July 4, 2011

Wrapping things up

About a month ago, I got a call from Bob to say that my gun had sold, and I could come down for the money he owed me. He paid me in one hundred dollar bills. It felt funny to have that much cash in my wallet, because of the bigness of it, but also knowing it represented the end of something. I stuck it in the bank right away.

Bob told me that the new owner was a game warden, that the gun had "found a good home."

Meanwhile, the pig is still with us. I'm making pulled pork sandwiches tomorrow, and I still have enough shoulder meat for another meal of carnitas. I have sausages and liver left too. In case you're wondering, yes, we do have a freezer.

Another part of the pig has been in the freezer all this time: his pelt. When I came back home from the hunt, I had all the butchering and sausage-making to do, so I just salted and froze the pelt, with the plan that I would figure out what to do about a tanner later.

Later has arrived. Tomorrow, I am driving to a tannery in San Leandro with the frozen pelt. Most wild boar are solid black, but as you see, mine was dappled, so I want to get it tanned with the fur on.

When I wrote earlier that the pig is still with us, and then proceeded to list the meat that I still have, I was only accounting for one aspect of the pig's impact on me. I need also to mention the following:
  • Before my hunt, I was eating only fish, and I had problems with borderline anemia. My iron level has returned to normal thanks to eating the meat that the pig gave me, so the pig has changed my physical self as I have taken him in.
  • I feel connected to the pig every time I begin preparing a meal that includes some of the pig in it. I remember holding and handling the pig, and the meal becomes an extension of the promise I made to the pig to take care of and responsibility for him. So the pig has changed my spiritual and emotional self as I have taken him in.
The pig changed and is changing me. I will never be the same. I think that, once we have eaten all the meat that the pig gave us, the tanned pelt will be a wonderful reminder of this most generous creature.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Gun for Sale

Today I contacted Bob over at the Old West Gun Room and asked about how to sell my gun. It means the end to my hunting adventure.

I've been thinking about it for a while. At first, I thought I might try to find someone else who shared my perspective on responsible meat-eating and who might also want to go hunting with me. But, meanwhile, I couldn't help thinking about the fractured arguments that my Hunter Education instructors had used to justify hunting. The role of hunting in wildlife conservation, they said, is the "harvest of surplus animals" (my emphasis). In other words, any animal population that is under management can be allowed to increase in order to create a role for hunting.

It made me wonder if the ranchers who rent out their land for pig hunts are encouraging the pigs so that the pig hunters will be attracted to their ranches. They claim to hate the pigs, but have they created a "hunting surplus?" If so, maybe that's the kind of hunt I went on.

People who have heard about my pig hunting ask me whether or when I'm going to go hunting again. As the months have gone by since that November day when I brought down the pig, it's become clearer to me that I don't want to spend any more time with guns or with hunters.

I had a very deep experience with that pig, and actually, it continues to unfold every time we sit down to a meal made with some of the pig's flesh. I don't regret what I did. I know I was mindful and respectful, but I think when this pig is gone, the most respectful thing for me to do is to find an ethical pork farmer and buy a farm-raised pig from her or him.

So, if you know anyone who wants to buy a nice, well-kept rifle, tell them to see Bob.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More thanks to go around

Thanksgiving marks the one year anniversary of my blog. Last year I started things off by giving the menu for our 100-mile meal. That was an ambitious feast, rather too ambitious. (The crab stew really sent things over the top.) By the end of Thanksgiving day, I was exhausted from two solid days of cooking, and I hadn't had time to socialize with the people with whom I shared the meal. I knew that I couldn't do something like that again.

Happily, an alternative appeared: a friend of ours who had been joining us for Thanksgiving for years said she would be interested in co-hosting. And even though I've been putting on Thanksgiving dinners single-handedly for something like 25 years, I agreed to this idea. That's how tired I'd gotten! She and I have been working out the details over this past year. Roughly speaking, we're each making half of the meal, with our guests bringing some extras.

It's been an exercise in letting go. Also, in grabbing back and then letting go all over again. At times, this has felt painful, as though I were losing something precious. At other times, I've been able to relax and see that I am gaining time and space, and maybe other things too.

All this "working well with others" includes the pig. He will definitely be a presence at the table. My co-host and one of the guests have told me that they've talked about the wild boar meal they will be eating for Thanksgiving, and they are getting a positive, even envious, response from their friends. I am really looking forward to sharing the pig.

We're having wild boar pâté along with a seasonal vegetable and fruit plate as appetizers. The main dishes will be wild boar ribs (my contribution) and a roast chicken with stuffing (my co-host's). We are both gardeners, and so from our gardens we'll have chard, cauliflower, and potatoes (mashed). We'll also have sweet potatoes,  a pomegranate relish, and a green salad. For dessert, we'll be having an apple crisp and a pumpkin pie. This year I grew Long Island Cheese Squash for their reputed excellence. (Back in August, I was worried that I wouldn't have enough squash for Thanksgiving pie, but the pollination intervention did the trick!) So, the extra-long table (thanks to Iris's ingenuity!) will groan with bounty, as you can see.

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for so many things, a list that is too long to go into here. But let me simply say that one thing I am deeply thankful for is that I won't be sitting down to the Thanksgiving table all tuckered out.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Giving thanks

When I looked down at the 220 pound boar I had just shot and killed, I was filled with awe and gratitude to this animal that had just given itself over to me. I had brought the pig down with my first shot, one shot directly to his lungs, killing him almost instantly. This is what I had been taught to do and, somehow, although the scene had been chaotic, I managed to do it. I knew it was true, and yet it was hard to believe.

I found instantly that, having killed the boar, I was not afraid of him, or repulsed by him. Instead, I felt somehow close to him. I immediately felt easy about touching his body, which was a good thing, because very soon, I had to help move his body, and then I performed a procedure called "field dressing." This means the removal of the internal organs. It is done in order to cool the body temperature so as to preserve the meat. I had prepared for this, and I had our guide showing me the way.

Even so, cutting through the layers of membranes and then slowly revealing the miraculous beauty of this creature's inner makeup was astonishing. At a certain point, my task was to reach into the chest cavity in order to cut the diaphragm free. I needed to do this with both my arms. It was that kind of experience, and it went on from there.

After the field dressing, the guide and I dragged the body to the 4-wheel drive vehicle, and we drove to the skinning shed. There he and I skinned what I really now started to think of as a carcass. The guide then quartered it. This made it into pieces small enough to get into my cooler.

I came back home that night and the next day started butchering those big pieces into pork chops, tenderloin roasts, ribs, packages of pork shoulder, and so forth. Tomorrow, I'm going to make sausages with the leg meat, because I don't have a smoker to make ham, and wild pigs don't have enough fat to produce the right meat for bacon.

Knowing where this meat came from, where the pig lived and what he ate, informs how I feel about all the meat I have in the freezer now. The pig has changed me.

Thank you pig.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The hunt approaches

I am in the final days before my first hunt. There is certainly the possibility that this will also be my last hunt, because I am open to the possibility that the whole experience of killing a large animal and then gutting and preparing its carcass to be eaten will be more than I want to repeat. This is something I will be discovering.

These last few days are feeling increasingly intense, as I do more physically and mentally demanding practice. The whole thing feels a bit spiritual to me, actually.
  • I have a teacher with new and exotic (to me) beliefs.
  • Along the way, I have encountered adherents of these beliefs, as well as various splinter groups.
  • I will have a special guide for the hunt who is different from my teacher. That is, I am being passed on to a superior expert for the culminating event.
  • I have had to pass arduous tests: physical, mental and moral.
  • I have made journeys: to pass tests, to engage in learning, and to experience the culminating event.
  • If I am successful, I will be working very closely with blood (and guts).
  • I will be taking in the flesh of the vanquished.
  • I will be wearing special garments that I have prepared with special washing.
  • I will wash myself with special care and special materials before the event.
  • Knowledge of my own limits will be revealed to me as a result of the event.
From 100 yards away
Not to put too fine a point on it, I expect this is going to affect me in a big way.

My shooting is good enough now to pull down a pig, and I can get into a kneeling, shooting position from walking around in just seconds. I'm as ready as I can be.

I just have a few things left to do, including baking some cookies for my coach and me. Doesn't that sound funny?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Preparations Checklist

Just to give you an idea of all the things involved in preparing for the hunt I am going to undertake on November 8-10, here are the things I've done since I last posted to this blog:
  • after the 10-day waiting period, I picked up the rifle that I told you I purchased
  • I studied for and then passed my hunter's education certificate examination, which enabled me to get...
  • my hunting license, along with a pig tag. You have to have a "tag" for every pig you expect to "take."
  • I've purchased a whole bunch of things, including:
    • a telescopic sight for my rifle
    • camouflage clothing (top, bottom, hat, and gloves) designed to make me look like shrubbery
    • special "combat" earplugs to protect me from the sounds of the same rifle referred to earlier
    • a shoulder pad, to protect me from the impact of that same rifle (noticing a pattern?)
    • various cleaning tools to clean, carry, or otherwise treat the rifle under different circumstances
    • special laundry soap and personal soap which I'll use to clean all the clothing I'll take on the trip in order to remove all scent. Apparently wild pigs can't see well, but they can smell you from a mile away. Or something like it. So we have to disguise our odors. (This raises the question: why are we trying to look like shrubbery? But, hey, I'm just the student in this enterprise.)
    • shooting sticks, which, together, make a bipod support I can use to stabilize myself for shooting from a sitting or kneeling position. This helps a lot, because the rifle weighs 7 pounds, and holding out in front ends up being tiring.
    • and, last but not least: ammunition. Bullets. Oh boy. Did you know you can buy bullets on the Internet?
  • And then there's all the practicing, and also a rather involved process of working in a new gun and sight.
Phew! So, this is what I've been doing with my spare time. I've been to my coach's Sunol ranch and I've also gone to a new range, the Richmond Rod & Gun Club, which is closer to me than the Chabot range I'd been to before.

It feels like a bit of a sprint, to be honest. I had imagined a slower-paced process. But the opportunity to have my first hunt be one I take with my coach has meant going along with her schedule, and so I accept it. An interesting by product is that my locavore Thanksgiving might feature some wild boar this year.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A big day

I'm appreciating this time out from the rigor of a weekly blogging routine, but I want to sit down and write a few notes about what I just did.

I bought a rifle! The Ruger Hawkeye International. I can't have it until October 5th at 2:00 something in the afternoon, after the 10-day waiting period, but it is mine.

Here's why I bought it: I am too small to borrow any of my coach's guns. It turns out that rifles are very size-specific. It matters how much distance there is between your shoulder and your hand, and also how much distance there is between your thumb and your index finger. My distances are that much smaller than the average man's that I am essentially off the chart for many rifles.

I had to look at a smaller rifle, like this one. My coach is the one who originally found this gun and thought it would suit me, but I had to try out a bunch of other guns first before I could tell what it was I was even looking at. Now I know the difference. With the bigger guns, I can't see out of the scope--the eye piece you look through to find the target. Also, I can't reach the trigger in the way required to press it properly.

Facing this size issue is amazing for me. I have rarely felt this small, and also, I have rarely had such a clear need to state the facts of my condition: "I can't see!" It doesn't do me any good to try to "please" my coach by trying to see (although I'm such an inveterate pleaser, I admit I have done some of that.)

So, this afternoon, I went down to the Old West Gun Room, where I'm becoming increasingly comfortable. Today, it was me and a couple of old guys. Nobody is ever in any kind of hurry down there, and they're all telling stories of their latest exploits. Today, I said it was my big day, buying my first gun, and one of the fellas was happy with me about it. He said there really weren't too many people who took up hunting out of the blue like I was doing. Most people learn it as kids. Anyway, I gotta say, I had a nice time buying my gun. Bob threw in a leather sling too. The gun is handsome, all decked out in leather, with a walnut stock.

So, now I'm a gun owner. Yee-haw!

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