© James J. Doyle 2012
“Let’s have a pig round-up.” Uncle Joe leaned against the side of the shop and watched his nephews Adam and Aaron. The young men gathered the tools after changing tires on the work pickups.
“Sure,” Adam said. “What’s the deal?” Adam was the younger of the two brothers.
“Texas Animal Health Commission wants to trap a few sounders,” Uncle Joe answered. The nephews knew a “sounder” is a family group of feral hogs, usually running 5 to 20 individuals, a couple mama hogs and their little ones. The males are loners and seldom travel with the other animals. “The State people have big cage traps made out of heavy wire and steel pipe. I’ve seen the traps. They’ll hold the pigs. They want to transport those young hogs out to West Texas to see how they’ll interact with the local stock. Not sure why they want to do that, but I thought we might lend a hand.”
“I’m in,” Aaron agreed. “What would we do?”
“Find ‘em and nudge ‘em along,” Uncle Joe answered, smiling at his nephews. They were good kids. Men, he thought, mentally correcting himself. They were fine young men who helped others, cared for their families and were quick to say “Yes” to an uncle who asked for any kind of help. “State folks will be waiting to spring the trap. I figure we can take the dogs you two trained to track and corral hogs. I told the Commission fellas I’d call about now, if we could make it.”
“Let’s go,” Aaron said.
“Do we need guns?” Adam asked. Adam was a hunter, and he’d tracked large boars. Most wild hogs in Texas are crosses between domesticated pigs escaped from settlers as far back as the 1680’s and Russian wild boars released for hunting in the 1930’s. The feral hybrids are generally smaller and leaner but still close in appearance to the farm animals. It is unusual to find a boar with Russian characteristics of a larger head, longer legs, greater body weight and thicker bristles. Every once in a while, one is sighted, usually at a distance, and even then not for certain.
“We shouldn’t need the guns,” Uncle Joe answered. It was a good question and he didn’t dismiss the concern. “I’ve scouted the place we’re going. It’s not that far. The tracks I’ve seen are those of the mamas and their young ones. I saw a sounder rooting along the creek bank last week. They were all small animals. We’ll spook some of those and use the dogs to chase them into the trap. I think we’re okay.” Uncle Joe stood and stretched. “You two get the dogs. I’ll pull my pickup around.”
* * *
It was late afternoon when Uncle Joe and his nephews reached the location Joe had coordinated with the State people. Feral pigs are usually active only at night, but with the recent mild temperatures, the animals were moving and feeding by early dusk. The three men would follow the tracks, find the pigs, release the dogs and use whistle calls to direct the dogs to move the sounder to the waiting trap.
“Aaron, make sure those leashes are tight. Follow back a little and hold the dogs close so you can release them quickly when I give the signal. Adam and I will take the lead.”
Uncle Joe and Adam started along the creek bed. Around them, the quiet of early evening had settled. The air was still, not even a bird song. Their boots made the only sounds as they scraped the worn rock of the wash.
Beside a patch of mud, Uncle Joe knelt. With a finger, he traced the outline of a hoof print. A deer track is pointed. This track was rounded and blunt, the fresh track of a feral hog.
“They’re close,” Uncle Joe said in a low voice to Adam.
Adam pointed to the right. “In there,” he whispered. “See the bushes shake. I’ll move clo. . . .”
Before Adam could finish, a single piglet jumped out from the undergrowth. “Squeal, squeal, squeal,” the small pig squeaked as it ran between Adam’s legs.
Startled, Adam jumped and turned. “I can catch this one.” He sprinted after the youngster.
The dogs howled a loud chorus of “Yelp, yelp, yelp” and strained at their leashes.
“Don’t let those dogs go, Aaron,” Joe hollered. “Not yet. Don’t let ‘em go.”
Adam dove through the air, landed and slid across the wet earth just in time to catch the back legs of the little piggie. “I got it,” he called, spitting dirt.
Uncle Joe turned and caught a flash of brownish-black rushing out of the brush.
“Run!” Uncle Joe yelled at Adam. “Drop the pig and run for the trees. Fast!”
“Why, J. . . .” Adam’s mouth fell open. He let go of the piglet, jumped up and ran as fast as he could for the nearest tree.
“Ittttt’s a Giant Tusker,” Adam cried. He reached the tree and grabbed a branch, his feet scrambling up the trunk.
The wild boar skidded to a stop. Along its neck and down the long back, a crest of thick tough bristles spiked up in anger. Protruding from the sides of its mouth, four sharp canine teeth each over five inches long glistened ivory white, the tusks grinding and sharpening against each other. More than 500 pounds, the Russian boar stood close to three feet tall at the shoulder. The massive head swayed back and forth as the blood-shot eyes of the enraged hog evaluated the situation and its adversaries. Turning back up the creek, the big tusker scraped a cloven-hoof three times, snorted a challenge and charged at Aaron.
“Let the dogs go,” Uncle Joe called out from the tree branch he was straddling, his hands cupped to his mouth. “Now!”
Shock on his face, Aaron nodded and freed the dogs.
They raced to intercept the pig.
Well trained, the dogs did not go directly at the boar. Staying clear of the big head and flashing tusks, they circled, rushed in, snapped and rushed back. Barking, moving, biting, they slowed the larger animal.
The boar stopped.
Scanning the circling canines, the large head jerked back and eyeballed Aaron. Suddenly, dismissing the tactics of the dogs, the beast charged again. The tusker focused on the single subject of its attention, Aaron.
“Run, Aaron! Runnnnnn,” Uncle Joe shouted with all his voice.
Aaron ran like he’d never run before. Lifting his arms, he jumped, grasped a branch and swung his legs up.
In what looked to Uncle Joe like slow motion, the tusker leaped, its mouth open, flashing the deadly tusks back and forth.
Shredded pieces of blue jeans flew into the air.
Aaron yelled and climbed.
Panting, one arm gripping the trunk, the other holding his backside, Aaron watched the dogs harass the wild boar below.
“Signal the dogs to ‘Retreat,’” Joe shouted the instruction. “Retreat” was the signal for the dogs to back away, to lead the quarry off, so the trackers could regroup and decide on the next action.
Aaron was shaking, but he put his fingers to his lips and blew the “Retreat” whistle.
Circling the big pig, the dogs stopped moving. They barked and yowled their challenge, backed away slowly, turned, ran a distance away, turned back, growled a taunt to follow, spun away and ran off between the trees.
The big tusker snorted, lowered its head and lumbered after the dogs.
“Now,” Joe instructed the brothers. “Down. Run for the truck.”
The three hit the ground running.
About half way there, Adam, who was in the rear, bellowed “He’s coming back.”
“Faster,” Joe encouraged, between breaths.
They could feel the ground shake with the renewed charge of the giant hog.
Aaron and Adam flew into the bed of the pickup.
Uncle Joe jumped into the cab.
The monster head of the wild boar slammed into the side of the truck. The tusker pushed, lifted the vehicle onto two wheels, rushed back and let the pickup slam down. The hog shook its head and readied for another charge.
“He’s going to tip us,” Adam shouted.
Uncle Joe turned the keys in the ignition, heard the engine roar and slammed the gears home. The back wheels spun and the truck surged forward in a cloud of grit and sand.
“Joe, he’s chasing us!” Aaron yelled.
Hitting the edge of the main road, the pickup went airborne above the blacktop. Uncle Joe twisted the wheel as the truck landed, straightened and sped down the highway.
* * *
About five miles down the road, Uncle Joe finally stopped. They were at the General Store. Joe got out, walked around and leaned on the side of the pickup.
Aaron stood in the bed, one hand over his eyes, squinting back. “I don’t see him, Joe, or the dogs.”
“The dogs will be at the house. They did their job. I doubt we’ll ever see that big pig again. He’s a smart one who avoids attention. Unless, of course,” and here Uncle Joe fixed his gaze on Adam, “someone tries to wrestle one of his grandkids.”
Adam looked sheepish, and Aaron turned to pat his brother on the back.
“Aaron,” Joe said, “I like the ‘heart’ boxers.”
Aaron reached to check his trousers. The seat was gone from his pants.
“You’re lucky,” Uncle Joe said. “That tusker could have taken part of you. I guess those fancy boxers saved your bacon.”
“They were a gift from my daughters, for Valentine’s Day. They bought them here at the General Store.”
“You got a pair of lucky boxers there, Bro,” Adam observed.
“That you need to cover,” Uncle Joe added. “I’ll go in and buy you a new pair of jeans. Before you catch a cold.”
“And, Joe,” Adam called. “Can you buy me a pair of those lucky shorts?”
Uncle Joe laughed back at the boys. “I will. And I might get a pair for myself, just in case.”
* * *
They never saw that big tusker again.
No one did.
After a while, folks wondered aloud that maybe Joe and the boys made it up.
Then, Uncle Joe, Adam and Aaron put a thumb and forefinger behind the waist band of their jeans and pulled up just enough fabric to show the red and pink hearts on their lucky boxer shorts.
It was all quite proper.
Still, the ladies gasped at such a sight.
The men nodded their heads and exchanged glances.
They all knew that three grown men might wear them but would never show off their fancy boxer shorts unless the story of “Adam & Aaron and the Giant Tusker” was true.