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.

Page 6 of 6

With the night's chill still clinging to the darkened valley floor, we barreled down a road between two pieces of property — a vineyard to our left and a barley field to our right. All of a sudden the vehicle stopped. The next few moments were a blur, but here's what I remember: our guide pointing to the open field to our right; a big dark object about a hundred yards away; Latham jumping out of the truck; our guide freaking out, loudly whispering to him, "What are you doing?!? Stay in the truck!"; and then Latham's high-powered rifle blasting into the cold morning air, sounding like a bomb going off.

In the darkness, I couldn't really tell what had happened. But we quickly sped off down the road. Did he hit it? Did it die? Were we chasing it? As we kept driving on, I realized that it was all over. Latham had killed a wild boar, and we were simply moving on to find more. I felt strangely detached from the whole incident.

We didn't return to retrieve the wild beast until more than an hour later, after the sun had risen. Our guide sent the three boys with some rope to haul it back, but it was quickly apparent that the animal was too heavy for their little bodies. So with our guide's help, the four of them dragged it through the blond fields of barley. As they got closer, Latham's excitement increased: It was the largest boar — it looked to be about three hundred pounds, with three-inch tusks — he had ever killed, and he had done so while it was running, hitting it right in the lungs (if he had shot it in the gut, the animal could have kept running for miles). They hauled it into the truck, right behind where we were sitting. There was surprisingly little blood, and it seemed unreal — maybe because its hair was bristly, or because I hadn't really seen it alive, and hadn't heard it squeal or make any sounds. After some photos were snapped, we continued on our way.

A few hours later, while we were parked on a hill, waiting silently to find more boar (hunting involves a lot of silent waiting), our guide decided it would be a good time to gut the pig. If you've never watched an animal be gutted before — and I hadn't — there are a few things you need to be prepared for. As gross as the sight of an animal being cut open is, the most overpowering element is the smell. As soon as he opened up the animal's cavity, an incredibly sickly, pungent scent wafted over the truck. That, combined with the sound of removing entrails — imagine sticking your hands in a bowl of very wet macaroni and cheese — made my stomach turn. I hopped out of the truck and walked away, thankful that I had only eaten an energy bar that morning.

Again, I was reminded about how you're comfortable with what you grew up with. The three boys were all engrossed in the process, poking and prodding the entrails with curiosity. The youngest one, who was nine, had no trouble digging into the pig's empty cavity to retrieve its heart so I could take a photo of it.

After a few more hours of hunting — the guides, with the help of their dogs, shot another three pigs — we headed back to the hunting lodge where there was a "skinning shed" and walk-in refrigerator. The guides had already skinned Latham's pig by the time I got there, and its remains (head still attached and intact, so Latham could later mount it) lay on the cement floor like a deflated shell of its former self. They hung the meat on hooks and cut it into chunks, which Latham put inside huge plastic coolers. Then they skinned the other pigs, and threw their bloody remnants into a huge plastic bucket. My stomach decided it had seen enough guts for the day.

As we headed out of town back to Oakland, however, we needed to eat a proper meal, so we stopped at a taqueria. There was no way I could fathom eating meat at that point. Even with our jeeps and our radios and the dogs and the high-powered weapons, hunting was an exhausting and nauseating experience. And I had been foolish to think I could've shot anything with my limited gun skills. (It turns out that animals are always running, in order to get away from the humans who are trying to kill them — go figure.)

And yet, I also could see why certain aspects of hunting are appealing, particularly the part about spending hours and hours outdoors. Besides witnessing the killing part, I enjoyed being dirty, tired, and sunburned at the end of the trip. So I sort of understood why Latham said he felt his "most comfortable" when he was hunting.

Even though I had many moral dilemmas throughout the reporting of this story, what was important was that I had the moral dilemmas at all. I had to seriously consider my decision to eat meat and my feelings about guns on a very immediate level. And even though I didn't pull the trigger, I had watched the killing and gutting of the wild boar, and a few days later, had eaten the meat. It turns out that hunting was much more difficult, on so many levels, than I had expected. And that was a good thing.

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