This past week was a fun and eventful few days and I enjoyed every one of them to the hilt! Early in the week, I was fortunate to kill a fat feral hog that weighed about 80 pounds. The back straps are rubbed with sugar cure and are now spending about 10 days in the refrigerator. I’ll be smoking them in a few more days. Nothing like fresh sugar cured/smoked ham.
This past Saturday, I enjoyed my first Wild Hog Festival in Ben Wheeler, Texas. This was the 9th annual, I believe and the park was jam packed with folks. Five bands kept the atmosphere lively, providing nonstop live music throughout the day. I had the honor of being one of the judges for the cooking contests; one for pork, beans and chili. The main ingredient, of course was wild pork. I left the event eagerly awaiting my involvement in next year’s Wild Hog Festival. I’m very pleased to see a festival with a theme devoted to wild hogs.
I also traveled up to Paris in Lamar County for a homecoming of sorts. My hunting mentor, Billy Wayne Joplin recently turned 80 and the family reserved a banquet room and held a big celebration for him. Billy was my brother in law for many years and I still consider him a brother. He was the first person to expose me hunting back in the sixties. I was with Billy when I saw my first whitetail bucks hanging from a meat pole at Crooks Deer Camp up in northern Red River County in 1960. I remember seeing those buck and vowing to become a skilled deer hunter myself. I was with Billy when I saw my first deer harvested. We were hunting with one of Billy’s friends who was a giant of a man that appeared to have walked right out of a mountain man camp of the early 1800’s.
On this hunt, I was placed on a perch in a pine tree with low branches with my Mossberg .410 shotgun loaded with rifled slugs. No deer were seen during the hunt but on the way out, I remember Billy’s friend saying, “ Just on the other side of that next bend of the road, I’ve been seeing a buck and two doe. Let’s ease up closer and we might get a shot.”
Sure enough, three deer were standing in the exact prescribed spot. I remember he was toting an old mail order Japanese military rifle that seemed to be 8 feet long. I’m positive he was shooting metal jacketed bullets not known for their expansion and totally unsuited for hunting big game by today’s standards. After the shot, the deer bolted for cover. Rather than push the deer out of the county, he asked if we would like to go back to his cabin where his grandmother would prepared us a big breakfast. We could take his black and tan hound back and find the deer later I the morning.
I will never forget those big cat head biscuits the lady prepared on a wood fired old cook stove; nor the fresh ham, yard eggs and red eye gravy. It was absolutely the best breakfast I remember and in the ensuing 55 years, I’ve enjoyed some mighty fine camp breakfasts!
Around ten that morning, we took the old hound back and the last I remember hearing was his faint baying way, way back in the bottoms. The deer was definitely not a trophy buck but back in those days when deer numbers were just becoming established in many parts of east Texas, any deer was considered a trophy.
Billy also introduced me to shooting quail and back in those days, there were plenty of them in northeast Texas. He had a big raw boned pointer named Tolar and later one named Jack. Both were excellent, well bred “meat” dogs that made few mistakes. It seemed I walked over half of northeast Texas with Billy and Ole Tolar and in the process, developed a love for shooting upland birds that remains today. A young boy or man, for that matter, can learn a lot about life while walking behind a well mannered pointer, hunting “Gentleman Bob” as we call the Bobwhite Quail. Ole’ Tolar and Jack were gentlemen in their own rights. Both would honor or “back” another dog on point and never step in front to steal the glory.
When it came to hunting squirrels, Billy’s hunting stills were uncanny. I’ve hunted squirrel with many friends through the years and have to date found no one that comes remotely close to Billy when it comes collecting the makings of a big squirrel stew! He was a deadly shot with his iron sighted .22 but he broke out the ole Winchester Model 12 loaded with #4 shot for those lightening quick cat squirrels that were and still are so plentiful along the creek and river bottoms of east Texas.
At age eighty, Billy is still up and going strong. I’d hate to wager a bet with him as who would bag the most squirrels on a fall hunt along Pine Creek north of Clarksville where we used to hunt so many years ago!
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