This article was featured in the fall edition of Game Trails. As you will soon find out, it is a story very near and dear to the DSC staff’s hearts.
By Jay Ann Cox
The day had dawned perfectly clear and still cool for early April in North Texas. Overlooking a pasture with a few cows scattered over several acres of green grass, five hunters nestled in a blind were steadily scanning the fence line for the telltale shape of feral hogs. It was expected that the hogs’ dark, mottled bodies would appear suddenly − maybe in a trickle, or in a mad rush like the Keystone Cops. Maybe there would be one with more white or patches of red.. They would be moving fast when they came, so everyone in the blind was on alert, especially Matthew. This was his time. This is what he had only dreamed about. He was hunting hogs in Texas!
Twelve-year-old Matthew Watts was in Bells, Texas with his father, Jim and brother Jacob, hunting varmints and hogs as the guests of Bill and Stefanie Wray, DSC Life Members. Along to assist was Dave Price, also a Life Member. Facing some ongoing health challenges, Matthew was taking a break from Boy Scouts, school and medical appointments for some serious guy time in the field.
When I first met Matthew, he looked like a guy who had been coming to hunt camp for 40 years. Camo-ed from head to toe, he quietly strode into the kitchen of the Wray’s ranch home, extended his hand and said, “I’m Matthew.” Polite, yes. But at midday, when I arrived to visit with the family, maybe get to hunt for a bit, I could sense the tautness of his body. I know that look – full on hunt mode. Matthew’s mind was still out there, scanning the fence line, discerning shapes out of the pre-dawn gray, waiting… waiting. This young man is a born hunter.
Jacob, his 16-year-old brother, is also a hunter but was hanging back on this one so his brother could fulfill his dreams. Matthew, Jacob and Jim were enjoying the down time, having travelled from Brackenridge, Pennsylvania to Dallas on a Monday, after a few months of planning. The other members of the family stayed behind – sisters Abby and Rachel, brother Brian, and Matthew’s mom, Diana. Family friend and neighbor Pamela Rea had initiated this hunt, contacting Dallas Safari Club with the news that a special young man wanted to hunt in Texas − maybe with the brand-new crossbow he had received for Christmas. Word got to Bill Wray, and he and Stefanie jumped at the chance to host the family. Emails flew back and forth, plane tickets were booked, and days until the hunt were ticked off the calendar.
There is a special quality to a Texas ranch hunt. While you might sleep in a bed, eat hot, delicious food, even watch a little TV, the animals are still out there. You become attuned to their movements, and the light, the wind, the heat, the possibility of rain. Hanging around for lunch, Matthew was slipping back and forth between living room and back porch with its broad sweeping view of the pastures and woods below, checking on his bow, and just breathing in the Texas air. When finally the group assembled for a hike, he was on point, ready, maybe a little impatient but never impudent.
Dave Price later told me, “I was truly humbled to meet Matt. He has a hunter’s heart and a ‘never quit’ attitude. The experience with Matt, his family and Bill and Stefanie Wray’s hospitality far exceeded any preconceptions of a Texas hog hunt I may have had. Sharing the Texas outdoors with Matt, his family and the Wrays was life-changing!”
The plan was to make a huge loop around the perimeter of the available hunting area − Bill’s ranch plus a lot of acreage adjacent by the permission of his neighbors. Bill told Matthew, “We will take Dave’s Weatherby .243 just in case we see something.” No one had to tell Matthew that when you take a firearm on a hike, that makes it a hunt. Matthew knew. The morning and evening blind sits had yielded no sightings of his prey, but he knew that Texas hogs can be sneaky. If they came out in broad daylight, he would be ready.
The hiking group consisted of Dave Price, Bill, Jim, Jacob, Matthew − and myself, there as a reporter/photographer. Discovering that we were both total nature nerds, Matthew and I paused often to look at hog wallows, ladybugs, shells of dead cicadas, the tiniest of wildflowers, tree fungi, an animal track or two (raccoon, probably − maybe possum). The big, rolling hills and pastures of Grayson County were a big change from Pennsylvania’s forest and sharp rocky outcroppings.
Our hike would end as a hike, with some down time next to a pond watching ducks, herons and songbirds. But they did scout a downed tree that made a good place to hide and wait for hogs, or whatever would come in. Matthew got a chance to dry fire the .243. We returned to the house, and before dinner, we sat around, telling hunting stories as you do.
After an early dinner, I reluctantly took my leave while the hunters prepared for an evening sit. I wished them good luck and held my breath a little for the next two days, waiting to hear some good news.
Success! On the last evening, Dave and Matthew were sitting behind the dead fallen tree. They saw a few deer and a bobcat – no hogs. However, just before it would be too dark to shoot, three coyotes came slinking into the open, and Matthew was ready with the .243. He shot, straight and true. Unfortunately, as it happens, his coyote had just enough fight left in him to disappear. The trail was difficult to follow, and searching that evening and into the night did not reveal Mr. Coyote’s last hiding place on Earth.
Elated that he had shot the animal, Matthew was equally disappointed that he couldn’t touch his trophy. He told me straight out, “My favorite part of the hunting is the meat. I like to use all of the animal.”
In the days since that hunt in April, Matthew has attended summer Boy Scout camp and entered eighth grade. He spoke about becoming a wildlife biologist, and judging from his keen interest in hunting and the natural world, he will make a very good one.
But this story is not over just yet. Bill and Dave did another search after the Watts were on the way home. Bingo ! The coyote will need some serious rehab, but DSC Life Member Bill Gallaher of Wild Bill’s Taxidermy in Maypearl, Texas, has donated his time and talent to the job. Matthew will have his trophy coyote. And he’s also learned that in Texas, you might go out on a hog hunt and come home with a coyote.
Special thanks to Lea Potter Marsh for her assistance with Matthew’s hunt. Game Trails Magazine is our quarterly publication for DSC members. For more information, please visit the Game Trails Web Page.