GATESVILLE — The sun was setting over Coryell County as the team made ready for the Friday night hog hunt.
Gus and Red, the wiry bay dogs, wore radio collars and were ready to run. Max and Django, the burly catch dogs, wore protective vests and were ready to fight.
Somewhere in the rugged darkness of an 800-acre fenced pasture on Jim and Lavillas Clawson’s Flat Ranch were the wild hogs the dogs were after.
“Here is how it is supposed to go,” said Paul Reynolds, co-founder of Veterans Xtreme Adventures, a nonprofit organization that provides guided adventures for wounded combat veterans, as he briefed the group.
Listening intently to Reynolds were the night’s special guests: three wounded combat veterans — a Navy SEAL, a RECON Marine and an Army paratrooper — all under treatment at the Carrick Brain Center in Irving.
These men had seen a lot of action, but hunting hogs with dogs was a new experience. They hung on Reynolds’ words.
The bay dogs would chase down the feral pigs, corner one of the animals and bark a signal to the hunters, who would close on the site in all-terrain vehicles with the catch dogs in tow, Reynolds said.
Within about 100 yards of the bayed hog, the team would release the catch dogs. One of the dogs would grab the hog by the ear and hold it for the hunters.
One of the hunters — the leg man — would grab and hold the hog’s hind legs while another hunter — the stick man — would dispatch the animal with a knife thrust in its heart.
“There will be no firearms,” Reynolds said. “Not in the vehicles, not on your person.” All nodded assent.
“Let’s hunt hogs,” Reynolds said. The ATVs rolled into the darkness.
The inaugural Hog Doggin’ Extravaganza at the Gatesville Civic Center on Saturday was “a very big success” netting about $11,000 for Veterans Xtreme Adventures, said Tasha Baker, regional director and event coordinator for the group.
Six four-man teams each paid $300 to compete in the hog-trapping competition. The Rockin’ H team from the Dallas area took first place with 17 pigs, including the largest boar weighing 262 pounds, Baker said.
A total of 22 live hogs were sold to a licensed buyer, Southern Wild Game of Devine, to be slaughtered for meat and sold overseas, Baker said. Another six live hogs were donated to Vessels for Christ Ministries of Cedar Park to be slaughtered and given to help feed needy families.
On Friday night, Baker also led a Veterans Xtreme Adventures hog hunt for wounded veterans. She and Reynolds waged a friendly rivalry over which team would take the most hogs. It was a tie.
“We didn’t get any,” Baker said. “Neither did Paul.”
Reynolds’ group, 19 in all, roamed Flat Ranch until 1 a.m., following Gus’s progress on handheld GPS devices that tracked the dog’s radio collar and showed his movements as a green line on a map of the pasture.
“Gus doesn’t bark unless he is looking a hog in the eyes,” said Matt Klentzman, co-founder and engineer for Veterans Xtreme Adventures.
Gus barked at least 10 times during the night. Klentzman’s GPS showed the dog running to the high fence around the ranch several times.
“The pigs know how to get through the fence, but Gus doesn’t,” he said. The catch dogs, the leg men and the stick men would get no work that night.
“Sometimes that happens,” Reynolds said with a shrug. “The veterans enjoyed it anyway.”
Aaron, Chris and Andy (the wounded warriors introduced themselves by first names only) spent the night talking to each other about the experiences only combat veterans can understand.
They grumbled about MREs and joked about the challenges of battlefield hygiene. They compared notes about parachutes and swapped stories about the rigors of training. They talked about the successes and failures of makeshift medical procedures, about the wounds that don’t heal.
The throb of Blackhawk helicopters from nearby Fort Hood evoked shared memories.
“That’s a drop off,” one said.
“A sad sound that means you are alone in a ditch,” said another.
“The night is just starting,” said a third.
No pig, no problem for these hunters who enjoyed talking in the dark with those who understand where they had been.
Max, the group’s prize catch dog, would not finish the Hog Doggin’ weekend without a pig.
On Saturday, a contestant at the bay-dog competition in the arena was slow closing a gate and one of the wild hogs got loose and sprinted toward the civic center. Reynolds radioed the news to Klentzman and told him to have Max ready.
When the hog ran into the building, its hooves slipped on the concrete floor and it skidded in front of the stage where The ’56 Chevy Band was playing country music.
Max, an American bulldog and Argentine Dogo cross, took after the animal with a purpose and the hog ran out and tried to hide under a truck. The dog grabbed the critter, pulled it out from under the vehicle and would not let go.
“Paul called it a ‘protective catch’ as opposed to a ‘hunting catch,’” Baker said. “Max didn’t want to turn loose.”