Many of you may have read an article lately detailing a buffalo hunt in which I was privileged to take part in last month. In that article, I spoke of a south Texas outfitter and hunting guide, Pete Ray. I referred to him as a “friend.” Many of you may have wondered how does a hunter from Harlan County become a good friend with a hunting guide who lives a stones throw from Mexico. The fact is, that buffalo hunt was only one of the most recent in a series of hunts in which I have enjoyed in South Texas with Pete Ray’s “Hog Hunting Texas” lodge.
Perhaps a story as interesting as those of the fine hunts I have enjoyed with Pete is the one which relates how I first came to know him.
Around October of 2006, I was serving a tour of duty as an infantryman in Iraq with the Fourth Infantry Division 1st and 12th out of Fort Hood, Texas. I had already been in Baghdad for almost a year and to say I was worn out (in every way imaginable) would be a gross understatement. To pass the seemingly never ending days and nights, I began to make a bucket list of things I wanted to do in the event I should ever make it back home to the good ole’ U.S. of A.
Some of the things on that list included, getting a T-shirt for riding the mechanical bull at Gilley’s, singing karaoke in a public place for the first time, and going hog hunting in Texas.
I remember vividly going over that list with a staff sergeant, who also happened to be a native Texan, one night while pulling guard duty outside of a community called Hifa. Right away some of my plans were crushed when to my great dismay he informed me that I was, in fact, twenty years too late to ride the bull at Gilley’s and that the club had been closed a long time.
Not to be discouraged, around that time, I found myself in what the American GI’s referred to as a “Hodgy shop”. That is a term used to describe any small business set up by the Iraqi nationals to sell goods to U.S. soldiers. Those shops were sometimes simply tables sitting out in the wide open with goods on them. Very often, the shops would be tiny metal buildings so crammed with goods that it would be hard to turn around in them while wearing a full battle pack.
The Hodgy Shop I was in this particular day was one of the more established ones. By comparison to most of the others, it was a “luxury” Hodgy shop. It was located in a dilapidated building that had been ravaged by bombings and gunfire over the last several previous years. In that shop, for a relatively exorbitant price, a soldier could get on the Internet (when it was working). That shop also featured several very small makeshift phone booths constructed of plywood which sported a rough door that could be closed (for the most part) for a little privacy if desired.
Inside those booths were old style telephones. The lines running from the telephones were black taped and sometimes down to the bare copper. It would often be necessary to hold perfectly still when you found the phone’s “sweet spot” to avoid, as much as possible, the static and crackle that would drown the conversation out if you were to move any at all.
From this Hodgy shop I found Pete Ray’s website on the Internet, and paid 25 cents per minute to make a call to his lodge half a world away in Pearsall, Texas. When I informed Pete I was calling from a phone booth in Iraq, he went on to tell me how he was himself a Vietnam Veteran and had served in the Army as well. Additionally, he explained his daughter was also in the military and how she was about to be deployed to Iraq within a few short months.
We went on to discuss the possibility of my going on a hog hunt with him when I returned to the states. For weeks after that conversation, the thoughts and wild imaginings of going on a Texas hog hunt served to help boost my morale.
As anyone who has ever been deployed to a place like Iraq knows, sometimes having something pleasant to dream about (even if it takes you away from the reality of where you really are only for a few minutes) really helps get you through the bad times. For me, that dream was hunting with Pete Ray.
I returned to the states in December of 2006, and shortly there after, was honorably discharged from the Army. And, although I did get to sing karaoke when I returned home, life got in the way of the hog hunting trip I had so long wanted. As a matter of fact, years would pass before I would finally get to meet Pete Ray and hunt Texas.
Shortly after getting out of the Army, I was accepted into Law School at Thomas M. Cooley Law School and was required to relocate to Grand Rapids, Mich. Three years later, and with no small help from the GI Bill, I graduated and returned to Harlan County where I eventually opened my own law practice.
Six years after I had initially contacted Pete Ray from that phone booth in Iraq, I picked up the telephone in my law office and once again made a call to Raye’s hunting lodge. Amazingly, he actually remembered speaking to me all those years before! Six long years after that first phone call, I finally found the time and opportunity to go on my first Texas hog hunt.
The hunt was everything I thought it would be and more! In a twist of irony the first evening of the hunt would fall on my 39th birthday. What a gift it was!
Just before dark, close to a dozen hogs came out in the Sendero I was overlooking. With a scoped, 1938 Russian Military Surplus Rifle, (a Mosin Nagant M91 chambered in 7.62 x 54 R), I connected with what would be my longest shot ever at that time. From a distance of 144 yards, I had harvested my first Texas wild hog.
On my birthday, of all days, just over six years after it had been hatched, my dream of hunting hogs in Texas with Pete Ray was finally realized.
That same trip also saw a dream of another veteran come true. Through another twist of irony, I was accompanied by my dear friend and fishing buddy, Al Former of grand Rapids, Mich., then 65, who is a Vietnam veteran. Al also connected on the very first evening of the hunt when he harvested a nice, mature, male javelina.
Since that first trip to Ray’s lodge, “Hog Hunting Texas” a little more than a year ago, I have returned three additional times. On those hunts I have harvested a number of different species of animal. Each time I have hunted with Ray, has been an absolute blast!
Although I sometimes pursue different species of animal while hunting with Ray, I always leave time for hunting hogs as well. I don’t think I could ever tire of hunting those fascinating creatures. So far, every time I see one emerge from the thorny underbrush, I get the exact same rush I got on that very first hunt.
On my next hunt with “Hog Hunting Texas” I plan on going after Red Sheep. And, of course, the Texas wild hog.