“That’s why they call it hunting, and not just killing stuff”, said one of the Green Berets right before our last excursion into the field at the first Silent Warrior Scholarship Fund Hog Hunt. By that point it was obvious that not everyone would be successful in accomplishing the goal of taking a hog. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how experienced you are, how good your gear is, or what the odds are; there’s nothing you can do to make your quarry appear. The old adage, “It’s better to be lucky than good”, applied here as it does in much of life. And while we weren’t all successful in the hunt, our group could be described as both.
Hunters trickled into the ranch throughout Thursday afternoon after arriving in San Antonio. Most of the participants knew one or two people in attendance, but very few were familiar with any more than that. I was one of the last to arrive, having stayed in San Antonio to make sure that no one was inadvertently left behind. Shooting was already underway at the range, with a Texas Game Warden manning a spotting scope to help shooters zero their weapons. Two of the Green Berets from 5th Special Forces Group were conducting informal classes with our novice hunters and shooters, explaining how to operate the various long gun platforms that we would have available to use throughout the weekend.
Most of the guys who weren’t shooting were standing around the range, sizing up everyone else’s gear, as well as the shooters on the bench. As is often the stereotypical case of men standing around, not much was said. Then again, not much had to be.
Our novice shooters were quick to get comfortable with their guns. Anthony, who has embraced the vegan lifestyle for a number of years, came to the hunt open minded and ready for a new experience. It didn’t take long for him to become deadly serious.
Once everyone had a chance to practice, it was time for the “toys” to come out. In this case it was my 45-70 Government revolver. The 45-70 Government cartridge was developed almost 150 years ago and has traditionally been used in rifles to hunt big game such as bear and buffalo. Squeezing the trigger results in what can best be described as high-fiving a mule kick. It’s utterly ridiculous for a pistol, but sometimes that’s what life calls for. And it was my goal to drop a hog with it, if I had the chance to get close enough.
Eventually, the sun began to set and the shooting slowed and then stopped. More introductions were made, questions asked and opinions given about the gear present on the range. The group retired to the lodge for dinner, and we officially welcomed our guests to the hunt. Gratitude quickly became the theme of the weekend. Gratitude to those who donated to the cause with financial resources, gratitude to those who donated to the cause with time and knowledge, gratitude to the men of our armed services for their service to our country, and gratitude to everyone in attendance because it took the entire group to make the event a possibility.
Once dinner was finished, the tables were cleared and the beer taps opened even further. What amazed me was how quickly the group came together and opened up to each other. There was none of the awkward tension that often accompanies the beginning of an event where most of the participants have never met. If you had walked in on us that first night you’d have thought the hunt was a reunion. At four or five beers after dinner, the war stories were flowing just as easily as the beverages. Something gets said that reminds someone of that “one time in Iraq” or “this guy I knew in Afghanistan” and next thing you know you’re watching someone laugh, pause in deep reflection, or both as a story unfolds. I felt incredibly grateful to be a fly on the beer can for many of those stories.
It was evident from that first evening that each of us in the group felt lucky to be there for one reason or another. The gentlemen at the hunt representing the Special Operations Forces community who were kind enough to join us felt lucky to have been given the opportunity to attend the event. The other participants, myself included, felt lucky to be able to attend the event and to spend time with (and personally say thank you to) some of our country’s finest warriors. Lucky and good, that was us.
The next morning came early. I was surprised that everyone made the 5 am wake-up call. The guides, pictured on the right, were awake and chatty. The rest of us, as James and Mike clearly show, were tired, quiet, and ready to get the show on the road.
The first morning’s hunt was fairly unsuccessful, with only one kill. Wildlife was abundant, with most hunters spotting a bunch of deer, but with few hogs to be found.
Some of us settled back into the lodge for an afternoon nap, while the rest headed to the range to shoot some clays and pass the mid-day lull.
Joe has been in the Navy almost 20 years and is an accomplished Super Hornet pilot. Somehow he’d never fired a shotgun. Warden Spitzer stepped right in to school him on how best to mount the gun, as well as on trajectory and target acquisition. I’m pretty sure the latter is something Joe knows quite a bit about.
Soon the mid-day heat started to ease and we headed back into the field for the afternoon hunt. And when Mike pulled me aside and told me to grab the Wilson (Wilson Combat Assault Rifle), handed me a night vision scope and told me to expect to stay out a bit after dark, the only thing I could do was once again express my gratitude. Some of the SOF guys had told me that the event was a once in a lifetime opportunity for them. Well, let me tell you that I’ve
not often never attached military night vision gear to a rifle and headed out into the field. The experiences were unique for all of us in different ways, but we were all just happy to be on the team.
Unfortunately, as the sun set on Southwest Texas, the lack of game in my area would not change. Apparently the hogs don’t care if you’ve got an opportunity like I had.
Other hunters were more successful than I was. Ross The Butcher shot this hog, the biggest taken all weekend. And he did it with a kid’s rifle. Funny how that works. Ross was kind enough to give us a presentation on how to break down a hog, giving us a glimpse at what happens to turn animals into tasty food. It’s an almost-lost art that thankfully seems to be making a comeback. A year from now Ross might have his own shop. Five years from now you’ll probably be reading about him in a national publication. He’s a down to earth guy who has a passion for what he does and truly believes that he can help make a better America by teaching people about where their food comes from. He’s right.
What had so recently been a hairy feral hog was now some very pretty pork chops.
I wasn’t quite sure if David was going to wait for us to cook the pork chops or just dig into them right then and there.
Once the butchering was done, Rob and Dan took us onto the range to teach us a few things about how to shoot. In one of those amazing “you don’t know how much you don’t know” moments, half of our group learned that they hadn’t even been pulling the trigger correctly.
By nightfall the last of the hunting was complete. Some of us had taken a hog, and some of us hadn’t. For most of the group it just came down to luck. And although I don’t think anyone was in much need of an excuse to come back next year, going home with a goose egg was easy reason enough. I’m not sure how George Strait ended up joining our party, but I’m pretty certain that he wasn’t abducted from Circle V Outfitters in Carrizo Springs.
There are moments and events in life which create experiences and emotions which are difficult to express in words. I can tell you that for me this was a collection of those experiences. I could write a book describing the speech that Rob gave, telling us about the fallen Marines who were the inspiration for the Silent Warrior Scholarship Fund, and how when he told that story everything went quiet in respectful deference, including all of us, the wildlife around the lodge and even the drilling rigs that had been heard off in the distance. But if you weren’t there, you weren’t there. If you’ve experienced something like that before, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I sure hope you have the chance to. I know it was the same for many in our group, because more than a few told me almost exactly what I just told you.
More than one of the SOF guys in our group told me that this event was an experience of a lifetime. I can only hope to prove them wrong by doing whatever I can to make sure they’re with us at this event for years to come. I also can’t thank say thank you enough to everyone who attended and who helped with organizing this event, because without each of them the hunt would not have been possible. Before the end of the weekend, a thank you was presented to me in the form of a flag flown in Afghanistan on July 4th and a Battalion coin from the 5th SFG. For me, those are gifts of a lifetime in the truest sense. Both will be proudly displayed and cherished for as long as I live. Words will never be able to do justice to the gratitude I continue to feel at being honored in this way.
At the end of the weekend we’d raised over $20,000 for the Silent Warrior Scholarship Fund, and were on our way to raising thousands more for the Special Forces Scholarship Fund. We all had a chance to spend time with great people, enjoying the outdoors and raising a lot of money for honorable and charitable causes. Next year’s event will be bigger and better and I can’t wait to see everyone again. I hope you can join us.