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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Shortly thereafter, Latham made his first kill — a jackrabbit — on his property up in Susanville. "The first time you put your hands in the guts ... it's really gross," he said. "You have that squeamish hesitation, but once you dive in, the more you do it the more you get used to it." He's even eaten roadkill. He recalled an incident in which his buddy hit a deer and then brought it to the clubhouse. And then the deer woke up. "I slit its throat. Then we cut it up and ate it," Latham said, laughing.

About that laughing. Latham often laughs when talking about hunting and eating animals. Although he only kills animals for food, he also seems to enjoy a certain satisfaction from the actual act of killing. And that's especially true with pigs.

"I get so excited about killing them that it's possibly unhealthy," he said. "Whereas [hunting] a deer, I'm excited about it, but I'm not like stay-up-all-night-run-through-the-woods-naked excited."

Why pigs?

"They're dangerous, they can hurt you, and, uh, they're really tasty," Latham explained. "Pigs are this environmental disaster — they tear up everything, they're an invasive species."

It took Latham a while to actually kill one, however. After scouring public lands (where boar are over-hunted), he finally found a guide who takes people out on private land in King City, in Monterey County, where wild boar are abundant. The guide guarantees hunters one fair shot — that is, he'll find the pig for you, but it's up to you whether or not you're able to shoot it. For the opportunity, he charges $500, whether or not you make a kill.

On that first hunting trip, back in 2004, Latham ending up shooting a wild boar that was sleeping four hundred yards away. "They freaked out that I made that shot and went crazy," he said. "We were jumping around, yelling."

Since then, Latham has gone boar hunting every time his freezer is empty. He estimated that he's killed about ten pigs, and his ultimate goal (which he said he's close to achieving) is to only eat meat he has hunted.

Meanwhile, he has been teaching others how to do the same. About four years ago, he began taking guests out to his Livermore property and showing them how to kill and gut rabbits. Taking a cue from the 1984 movie Red Dawn, he makes them eat the heart of their first kill. (After a Vice episode aired in 2012 showing this process, Latham's caged rabbits went missing — the culprits, he suspects, were animal activists.)

Latham pointed to the lack of "machismo" among the generation after his as one of his motives for making meat-eaters learn how to shoot and hunt. But there's also a part of him that wants people to get closer to the dangerous side of life. "It's pretty real and pretty dramatic," he said about hunting. "It shouldn't be taken lightly.

"It's weird that people can't accept what they're doing and take any responsibility," he continued. "People want to be as far away from that responsibility as possible."

Seeing as I had never shot a gun before in my life, Latham decided I should practice first before actually thinking about killing something, which seemed like a good idea. He invited me to the East Bay Rats' clubhouse, where he and other members shoot pellet guns in the backyard every Monday evening.

I arrived around 6 p.m. to find a bunch of guys sitting around a table playing a boisterous game of cards while a few more were out back drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and setting up paper targets.

Before I got to actually handle a gun, Latham told me three safety rules: "Keep your finger off the trigger, don't shoot at anything you're not willing to destroy, and make sure you have a proper backstop so that the bullet doesn't go on and kill anything." That last point is important: It turns out that rifles have a projectile range of several miles, which is why you should never shoot at something that's on a ridgetop.

We were only shooting pellet guns, but even so, it wasn't something I was taking lightly. First of all, it's still a gun. Second of all, pellets can do damage.

Another thing about guns: They're not light. Holding one while trying to precisely aim at something while thinking about the fact that you could take an eye out turns out to be an incredibly taxing situation. To make it easier, Latham had me sit in a chair and rest my elbows on a stool. One of the Rats loaded the gun and handed it to me.

Actually firing the gun was another matter. We've all seen movies of people shooting guns, so most of us know roughly how to hold one, but there are particulars about the stance. You have to press the butt of the gun firmly into your shoulder (the meaty part, not the bony part), and put your cheek against the stock. That requires convincing your brain that pressing your face up against something that's meant to kill things is actually the safe thing to do.

The gun was too big for my body, so holding it felt awkward and clumsy. But aiming it (especially with a scope) was easy. Once I had the target in my sight, I turned off the safety (a little button you press on the trigger guard) that allowed me to pull the trigger. Here's another thing about rifles: You actually don't "pull" the trigger, you "squeeze" it — and, yes, there's a difference. Pulling it may cause you to move too much and miss your target.

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