Hunting With a Rat 

What happens when the leader of one of Oakland’s most notorious motorcycle clubs tries to convince a squeamish reporter to shoot a wild boar.

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"Is that a raccoon?" our guide asked.

"It's a skunk," Latham replied.

Suddenly, our driver gunned the car, chasing the animal up a dirt road and into tall grass. He stopped, and with headlights shining, pulled out his rifle. BLAM! Was it dead? BLAM! It fell over, and a distinctly skunky smell began to permeate the night air. "It sprayed the dogs twice," our driver said, attempting to once again justify his deadly deed.

By then, I had had enough killing for the evening. If one thing was becoming clear, it was that out here, decisions about life and death get made in an instant. I wasn't sure yet whether what we were doing was right or wrong, but I knew we'd be making a similar decision before the weekend was over.

Just how comfortable you are with guns, hunting, and eating animals largely depends on how you were raised. And for many urban dwellers like myself, even those who eat meat, there's a gaping disconnect between the acts of killing an animal and putting food on the table. We buy our meat in packages, from cases, where almost all signs of their previous state as living, breathing creatures with hair, organs, and entrails are obscured. So while we may have no problem eating bacon, we probably couldn't actually kill a pig.

Latham wasn't introduced to guns or hunting until relatively late in life. A self-described "city boy," he grew up splitting his time between two parents and two coasts: East (Long Island, where his dad lived) and West (Berkeley, where his mom resided). He described his mother as an animal lover who enjoys the outdoors and is fiercely "anti-hunting," while his father, an aeronautical engineer, encouraged him to pursue computers. But Latham wasn't the type to sit in an office all day. He said he was drawn to trouble and "ran around the woods a lot as a kid." His father had actually grown up hunting, but had given it up when he got married. While Latham had never seen his dad hold a gun, something about the idea appealed to him. "He always told stories, so obviously I was drawn to that," he said.

Wherever the edge of safety was, Latham wasn't far away. For him, the concepts of danger and fun are very closely linked; in fact, they could be the same thing. Perhaps it wasn't surprising then that Latham was attracted to motorcycles (another one of his father's hobbies that he had given up to raise a family). After graduating from high school and permanently moving to the Bay Area, Latham decided to buy a bike, even though he had never ridden one before. "Suddenly, going from one place to another was a rollercoaster," he said. "It was the most fun."

Soon, he met other bikers, people like him who enjoyed "just being wild and not knowing what to do with themselves and wanting to be independent." They began putting on rides and throwing crazy parties and generally acting like a motorcycle club, so Latham decided to create his own. Founded in 1994, the East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club has become synonymous with a kind of urban outlaw. ("Rats" is a reference to rat bikes — ugly bikes that are painted matte black and constructed for maximum endurance.) The Rats are perhaps best known for hosting fight parties at their San Pablo Avenue clubhouse, in which regular people get into a boxing ring and beat the crap out of each other. They've been featured in numerous articles and reality TV episodes, and are also the subject of a forthcoming book.

For Latham, there's a life-affirming aspect to the danger of riding motorcycles. "You get a perspective on life by risking it," he said. "You almost get into an accident, which happens once a week. You realize what's important and what isn't." (In 2001, Latham did get in a serious accident, when he was hit by a drunk driver. He broke his hand and both legs and hit his head so hard that he had trouble thinking for a while.)

Naturally, guns fit right into this hazard-courting lifestyle. Not long after founding the East Bay Rats, Latham was invited to go shooting with a friend. "I absolutely loved it," he recalled. Like riding motorcycles, shooting guns keyed into something primal for him. "It's one of those few times when you're not thinking about what you're doing — you're just doing."

Almost immediately after shooting his first gun, Latham knew he wanted to hunt. But, as with riding motorcycles, Latham said, hunting was difficult to get into if you didn't already know someone doing it. Then one day, his friend "freaked out" and shot a deer that was sitting in his Oakland hills backyard.

"He calls me in a panic," Latham recalled. "I don't know what to do either, but I know a guy, and he showed up like Mr. Wolf in Reservoir Dogs .... [He] shows us step-by-step [how to gut it] .... And we ate that thing. We ate that whole deer."

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