Why the Pigs Are on the South Side

Julio and I were honored to be invited by Albert and Dan McCabe to their four-day javelina hunt. The men of the hunt have known each other for many years, Dan and Sergio the longest at over a quarter century.

Photo courtesy of Albert McCabe

Nogales, Arizona, is a shared hunting ground. Border patrol collaborates with ICE, Homeland Security, and the National Guard. Together with their SUVs, heavy firepower, and technology they track immigrants who have crossed the border from Mexico. And in the same rugged, high desert land, hunters with their SUVs, heavy firepower, and technology hunt wild pigs called javelina. We are the among latter group of hunters.

Nogales is derived from “black walnuts” in Spanish. It was named for the walnut groves that used to grow between Nogales and Sonora, Mexico. Nogales sits along one of the heaviest corridors for immigration from Mexico. It’s alarming to be deep in harsh nature with extreme temperatures, both day and night, and to stumble upon a pile of abandoned clothes or maybe an empty beat-up one-gallon water jug. From our ridge we can see Sonora in the far distance.

It’s just past sunrise, 7:00am, and several javelina are spotted amid the trees of the ravine below. The wind is warm, slow, steady, and coming up toward us, buffering our scent. In hushed words, it is decided we will split up. Claudio and his teenage son, Alexandro, along with Julio go straight down, and Eddie and I go far right, down a finger, to hook around.

As we make our way, the sun moves fast. Long shadows are being compressed, and it’s getting warmer. Colors go from blue and orange to yellow. I concentrate on moving swiftly, quietly, but struggle with shortness of breath due to the altitude. As we close in, Eddie and I switch to hand signals. We step on large stones to reduce our sound. The one who spots the animals makes the call. This time it is Claudio. Binoculars in hand, I glass for Eddie, as he calls on the radio to Claudio for permission to take the shot.

I admire the honor and code of conduct of this tribe. There is no alpha male, only cooperation. Problem-solving is done as a group. Everyone contributes on projects. We collect firewood together. There is strong friendship and tradition. The group leaves things better than found: fixing fences, collecting litter. The experienced members are patient educators, explaining, for example, why the pigs are on the south side of the hills in the morning. (It’s in order to warm up.)

Boom! Eddie’s rifle shot is deafening, and through the binoculars, beyond the tree foliage, I can see a black javelina struggling — and its drops. A few seconds later, I am confused. The javelina appears to be back up and to struggle and to then drop again.

Boom! Claudio’s rifle echoes throughout the canyon. Eddie is tracking the other javelina escaping on the opposite hill just as one flies past us, and I open fire with my .357 pistol.

Boom! Alexandro echoes next as we move in. Eddie and I arrive and discover his single shot took down two javelina.

Alexandro’s pig is still alive. Code of conduct: if it’s your shot, it’s yours to finish. Alexandro, a young man under his father’s guidance, finishes off the javelina as it stares down Julio.

The team field dresses the pigs. They are for eating, just not for now. Code of conduct: you carry back your kill. Pigs are hauled up the hill and piled upon the roof of Dan’s truck. Julio notes the javalina meat is the same crimson as the wild board we used in Flora & Fauna.

Later that night, around the camp fire, I am moved again by the strong and positive male character. Fathers talk to sons, sharing some life lessons, some advice, something about their own fathers and how they didn’t tolerate bad behavior, sometimes with a smack or more. I think about the strong men in my life, almost all chefs: sensitive, civilized, caring. Gold wedding bands. They have a calibrated judgement to know when to call you over to watch and learn silently, how to break down wild rabbit while searching for shotgun shot, to learn by example. Or to tap your arm with a scorching sauté pan to get your attention back to where it should be.

Boom! Dan sets off fireworks that blow up before launching into the air. He cooks breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. Dan is the engine. When we return from six hours of tough, exhausting hiking, Dan has a plan and some remaining energy, Dan takes care of us. Eggs are cooked perfect. Burgers are huge hockey pucks, stuffed with pepper jack cheese. Rib-eyes are marked and rested to ideal. He consistently shows by example how it should be done.

Upon our return to civilization, as we pass though a border patrol check point, I take in our condition. Blood has dried to black on clothes. Scratches with red halos mark our arms. Our ears still ring. Our hands are dirty, scented with sulfur. Our clothes and hair are peppered with thorns and perfumed with firewood and cigars. At that moment, I decide if I ever have daughters, I definitely will ask them to come and be members of the tribe.

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales