Back on the road, it wasn’t long before there was a notable shift in the pavement. Smooth asphalt transitioned to a numbly rough blacktop that caused the tires go from treble to a loud gravely baritone.
It’s two-lane travel here with alternating passing lanes every few miles. It feels like I am driving into a movie. A modern-day Western. Side roads carry names like Republican Road. The buildings and weather-worn wood sheds are covered with corrugated galvanized aluminum rusted by the elements and twisted by the wind. Prickly pear cactus starts to dominate the landscape.
Once you pass Wichita Falls you really feel like you are in ranch country. Sparse buildings, lots of mesquite scrub, more prickly pear. I can imagine cowboys riding through the sage and mesquite with a Winchester lever gun resting in cracked and worn leather slings fastened to their saddles.
We pull in to Spike Box Ranch in the afternoon and are welcomed by the hunting manager, and my personal guide for the trip, Anthony Ainsworth. He drives one of the ranch’s dual-wheeled three-quarter-ton pickups to greet us, opening a cattle gate to let us into the property. He seems less cowboy and more Southern gentleman, with a starched crisp press to his shirt, a Spike Box ball cap, and what looks like a dip-packed lip. He is pleasant, smiles easy, refers to me as “Ma’am,” and to my brother as “Sir.”
The hunting camp sits in the middle of a Black Angus bull pasture. Historically cattle have driven the economy and activities of the ranch. Hunting here was a way to manage predators and varmints that threatened calves, crops, and the agricultural operations that make this the fourth largest ranch in the state of Texas. Now, target-rich hunting opportunities and land leases are contributing handsomely to the bottom line. But first and foremost, this is a very large working cattle ranch. Bulls quietly wander through camp at their leisure, sometimes finding their way to your bedroom window.
Anthony shows us our accommodations: comfortable, clean, and homey. We offload our gear and then head to the gun range to sight in my gun. I learn the nuances of 150- vs. 170-grain bullets. I shoot at metal targets of wild pigs and imagine they are real to get my mind focused. The rifle fire echoes and puffs of dry soil explode and rise behind the targets as I fine-tune my sights.
It’s all very real now. I’m here to hunt a wild pig. My hiking boots kick up dust and the bull bellows, and I hear the sound of gravel crunching under my feet with each step. In a matter of 12 hours my first hunt in 40 years will be underway in a vast, foreign landscape. My worries and stresses locked up in my bungalow in Saint Paul. I have left them behind for now and feel very present in this adventure with my daughter and brother. I’m imagining a boar in its environment, wondering where they seek shelter, where they feed, and how I’ll go about hunting one. And what the moment will feel like if I get one in my sights.
To read the next installment in this series, click here.