Dogs baying throughout the night in the dark East Texas woods meant that some poor critter was running for its life. When a small red fox zigged and zagged through the thicket at top speed, its heart pounding, its small chest about to explode, the onslaught seemed a tad unbalanced, a bit unfair. At least, Samuel thought so. Sam consoled himself with the fact that the fox’s cleverness and agility would serve it well.
Though its prospects were bleak, it at least had a slim chance of outsmarting Papa Jim’s pack of hunting dogs. Raccoons were rarely as lucky, but this night’s hunt was for neither foxes nor raccoons. It was for wolves.
Papa Jim trained his dogs well. He kept pelts of different critters. He’d let the dogs see or smell a pelt, and sent them bolting off on a hunt for that specific type of animal. They were truly remarkable, and the boys often wondered which he loved more, his dogs or his children.
Sam wasn’t really one of Papa Jim’s boys. Papa Jim’s boy, Ray, was Sam’s best friend above all others. Sam felt like he was tenuously part of the Jones family, and he treasured that honor highly.
Yet, hunting wolves with dog packs always secretly bothered Samuel. So, Sam tried to reason it away. It was more fair, certainly more just, Sam figured, since wolves were larger and more dangerous. They killed chickens and small livestock of all kinds. They were a pest that had to be thinned out. He learned all of that from people he loved and loved to be around. So, he tried hard to understand it and believe it.
Still, the wolf didn’t stand a chance. Outnumbered like the fox, the wolf lacked the fox’s ability to evade and outsmart Papa Jim’s dog pack. The wolf would eventually succumb to exhaustion, be cornered and held at bay by a snarling circle of hounds.
The hunters knew. The dogs’ anthem changed from the long baying of the running chase to the guttural growling and woofs that announced a capture. The predators and prey would remain in this intense standoff, possibly for an hour or two until the hunting party finally decided it was time to go see what the dogs had “tree’d.”
Sam could never let on that varmint executions pricked his heart just a little. That would surely bring down a shit storm of mocking upon him. He just knew he’d be called a wussy by the hunting party, and that only by those who would still even speak to him. He could be banned from ever going on any future all night hunts.
The late evening prior and earlier hours of the morning were spent in two ways. The elders had their traditions, and the boys had theirs. The older men would sit around a camp fire drinking beer, chewing tobacco, spitting, telling stories, and listening to the hollow bays of the distant hounds at work. The boys would head out on long adventures throughout the country side, but not in the direction of the hunt. No, sir. The boys would get in a ton of trouble for heading towards the hunt, because they might get themselves shot in the brush, or disrupt the chase. It wasn’t clear which was worse.
The killing normally occurred late into the hunt, around 3 or 4 in the morning, when the boys were out on their trek. This spared Sam from having to witness most of the actual executions. The older men would finally go find the dogs and dispatch whatever creature the hounds had cornered.
The hunting party leaders often tried to have their all night wolf hunts during a full moon. Once your eyes adjusted to it, you could see just about as well at midnight as at you could at high noon. Things seemed to glow more by moonlight, as if the light came from the things themselves, the soil, the grass, the brush, and the trees. Everything shimmered, yet remained visibly detailed.
Sam and Ray headed down the tire-rutted dirt road, away from the hunt and from the convocation of elders in the hunting party. Each boy had his shotgun draped over his right arm, barrels pointed down to the ground, bouncing slightly as they walked.
Sam and Ray walked for about a mile and a half, talking about anything and nothing. They did not need to have an intelligent conversation. All that mattered to Sam was getting be there with his best friend, Ray, going on one of their entirely improvised, grand, middle-of-the-night adventures.
The boys came upon a pasture with a large barn and several randomly spaced, motionless cows. This was raw material for a good time. Cows that did not move could be easily tipped over or simply mounted and ridden for short distances. Barns were a sure source of nocturnal rats that deserved to meet their end. The former did no lasting harm to the cow. The latter would be doing a favor for the rancher.
The only prerequisite was that it had to be far from any farm house. Even though the boys meant no harm, they didn’t want to have to persuade any owners at 2 in the morning of their semi-good intentions. Of course, it never occurred to the boys that breaking into a barn in East Texas in the early 1960’s could have gotten them shot. Fortunately, there were no armed young lovers spending the night in the barn to be awoken by two shadowy figures holding shotguns. The boys did, however, hit the sought-after jackpot of rats.
The boys had enough sense to not get too excited and start blasting away at the fastest ones. They didn’t want to blow a hole in the wall of the man’s barn. Whoever owned this barn would almost certainly know Ray’s dad, and any residual evidence of such mischief would come back to roost on their heads later as the grown ups put 2 and 2 together. No, the boys had plenty of brazen, arrogant old rats that were in no particular hurry. The boys blew two or three of those rats away quickly and easily without doing any appreciable damage to the barn proper. At worst, there might be a mysterious tale tell dip in the dirt, dug by the payload of bird shot.
After the loud explosions of their shotguns, the boys decided they’d best move on, and leave the cow riding (or tipping) to another night. Though no farmer’s sleep was disturbed, it added to the fun to skedaddle as though the whole Russian Army was in hot pursuit of them. Sam and Ray never wanted to really hurt anyone or their property, but running from such shenanigans made them feel as though they had been more mischievous than they had been. Just pretending to be bad always gave them an adrenaline rush, but left them with few regrets.
This post was submitted by Mike Strong.