Hog Heaven

Hog Heaven

Dwight and Max, the other half of our party, have invited my teenaged son, Carson, and me to join them for dinner. Following a day of hunting, they’ve changed out of camo gear in favor of trendy casual wear and could be mistaken for men’s clothing models on vacay in The Hamptons. But East Texas is a long way from Fashion Week, and Hog Heaven Ranch is no Cooper’s Beach. Like us, these guys—private equity boys out of Dallas—are here for the experience.

Max, who as it turns out is also a former Navy Seal, compliments Carson on how well he handled himself today. “Ya’ll must be old hands,” he observes.

But nothing could be farther from the truth. We drove here from Charlotte, stopping in Memphis to visit Graceland. I describe our annual road trips. Last year, we did Disney World and Epcot. The year before that we explored every museum in D.C. But, no, we’ve never done anything close to this.


Carson doesn’t look up; he’s busy shoveling it in. We’re talking real-deal barbecue: ribs, cheeks, and shoulder, smoked low and slow, with all the fixings. Hog Heaven’s deluxe package includes meals, lodging, and two days of hunting from a helicopter. Our prey: feral hogs that thrive in such numbers as to rule this neck of the woods. A Michelin-star chef runs the kitchen.

Dwight inquires as to our arsenal back home in response to which I confess we’re not “gun people.” I add that Carson plays first-person shooter video games and participates in Junior ROTC, but neither of us have so much as held real guns. Until today.

Dwight is skeptical. “Never been hunting?”

Somewhat defensively, I explain that Carson enjoys shooting squirrels with his Airsoft rifle, plastic bullets only. Hunting, as in stalking, is hardly involved due to squirrels owning our backyard hickory and scampering about easily within range of my son’s bedroom window. I keep to myself my concern that he may enjoy knocking the little critters off their perches a little too much.

Max grins from across the table. “Well, I’ve seen my share, and in my opinion, your boy’s a natural. He’s the real deal.”

At sixteen, he’s already taller and beefier than me and has recently announced plans to join the military directly out of high school instead of attending college like my wife and I hoped and expected he would. Equipped with our genes but conceived in a test tube, Carson has been diagnosed on the “spectrum.” Not autistic, not even Asperger’s, but ADHD to the max. He’s fine so long as he medicates and is surrounded by a structured environment. But since learning special forces like Rangers, Seals, and Green Beret reject volunteers under treatment, he’s refused his meds, a decision that has not helped his grades.

Max shrugs when I inquire about the hogs left lying in the field earlier today. “Natural predation,” he says. “Coyotes eat the flesh, and vultures pick the bones. Nothing goes to waste.”

“Plus, hogs cannibalize their own,” Dwight adds. “They’re disgusting animals.”

Earlier today, we fired semi-automatic rifles while traveling at freeway speed just above the tree line. No doubt, many of the hogs we shot were merely wounded and survived long enough to face horrible deaths. I point out that the butchery we brought to bear is not the most humane way to manage an invasive species.

“You can’t poison them without ultimately poisoning the environment,” Max informs me. “And who knows what happens if you introduce a virus into the population. That could backfire big time.”

Dwight sips his bourbon and assures me there won’t be many “merely wounded” tomorrow.

For Day Two, we’ve upgraded our weaponry to full auto, which means we’ll be firing fully automated machine guns including a fearsome minigun accurately dubbed “The Beast.”

Carson ceases snarfing long enough to speak. “Besides,” he says, “who gives a shit about wounded hogs?”

Max nudges me. “What’d I say? Not an ounce of empathy.”

Apparently, lack of empathy is the one psychological trait shared by all elite warriors, all special forces guys, Max included. It’s that singular trait that allows them to kill without hesitation or remorse. Or, in the case of Max’s current job, the trait that allows him to acquire struggling companies with the sole goal of leveraging their value before gutting them and selling assets piecemeal.

“I don’t think so,” I reply, denying Max’s assertion. “He’s going through a stage.”

“Nope,” Max says. “Mark my words. Your boy’s the real fuckin’ deal.”


We’re awake before dawn, the air rife with the scent of death and cordite. Following a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and buttermilk biscuits the size of softballs, we mount up. Carson and I wield a belt fed M60, while Dwight mans a classic fifty caliber machine gun. Max takes first turn with the minigun, which we’ve agreed to share. It’s a handheld Gatling, as seen in Arnold Schwarzenegger films. The Beast fires fifteen hundred rounds per minute. Fortunately, our package includes unlimited ammo.

The Bell 212 chopper lifts off and heads for a creek bed where hogs are known to congregate following nightly raids on nearby rice fields. According to Hog Heaven’s brochure, we’re providing such a valuable service to local farmers that by Texas law there’s no limit on kills, and no license to hunt is required.

The wind and rotor noise make it difficult to converse, but Max and Carson lean together, my son captivated as the ex-Seal shouts into his ear. I suspect Max of sharing war stories, as if my kid needs encouragement.

Back home, Carson’s mother, a financial advisor with a large bank, helps folks achieve their retirement goals. She had a bad feeling about this adventure and cautioned against it. I’m a history professor at a liberal arts’ college and an advocate for progressive causes including animal rights, environmental responsibility, and world peace. I take full responsibility; this trip was my idea. It’s one thing to shoot backyard squirrels and play video games and another thing altogether to kill up close and in-person. As I explained to my wife, I want our son to experience, firsthand, what he’s signing up for.


We cruise the tree line, rousting the hogs. They’re intelligent creatures, and the sound of our approach sets them in motion, a hundred or more on the hoof. The pilot drives them from cover under a grove of pecan trees into an adjacent field they’ve already leveled. Leaning out the ’copter’s doors, restrained only by our harnesses, we unleash hell fire. Then we bank, circle, and fire again. As much as I resist, I feel a primordial thrill.

Following a third pass, the survivors evade us, slipping under the shelter of bayou cypresses blanketed with Spanish moss. This is when I signal the pilot.

We’ve been told it’s the rare customer who asks to witness the carnage they’ve wrought. But that’s exactly what I want. Dwight and Max voice no objection when I pay the pilot a significant tip to take us in. After we alight and the rotor chugs to a halt, we dismount to the sound of moans and sobs that are disturbingly human.

They lie scattered over a quarter mile, the dead literally shredded. Although reduced to steaming, quivering masses, many remain alive, despite Dwight’s prediction. The stench from the disemboweled washes over us like a tsunami. The thrill I couldn’t resist earlier dissipates into guilt, sadness, and disgust.

But I fight through all that to lead us forward, intent on completing my mission. Flanked right and left by Dwight and Max, Carson walks a few steps behind, breathing heavily, from exhilaration or revulsion I can’t say. We come to an abrupt halt when not twenty feet away a great boar manages to rise to his feet. Part of his lower jaw is missing, and blood squirts from an ugly hole in his hindquarter. The boar grunts, lowers his head, and plows forward.

The pilot, despite remaining safely in the Bell 212, calls out, his voice laced with urgency, “Someone best take him.”

I expect Dwight or Max to do the honors, but it’s Carson who steps up. He holds the minigun, the last in our rotation, and in an Arnie moment, cuts loose. There’s a flash and a whine like a jet turbine as the boar disintegrates into pink splatter.

I bend over and retch before sinking to one knee.

But giddy with delight, Carson hollers, “That’s so bad ass. Did you see that, dude?”

Dwight gives him a high five. “Ooh rah!” It’s Army speak that means just about anything the speaker intends it to mean.

“Ooh rah,” Carson roars back in a guttural celebration of the kill from time immemorial.

Max steadies me with a hand on my shoulder. “You good, partner?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m good. “

But actually, I’m far from good and require Max’s help to stand. When I face Carson, he’s beaming, radiating self-confidence and pride in a job well done. There’s no sign of remorse or regret, and I have no idea how I’ll explain this to his mother. It’s not a stage or the spectrum, honey. Our boy, that weird, funny kid who used to bring you dandelion bouquets and build dinosaur dioramas with me, turns out he’s the real deal. That little boy who couldn’t sit still and never looked before he leaped, that little boy with the smiling blue eyes and the beautiful soulful laughter, honey, it turns out he’s a natural born killer.


About the Author

Gary V. Powell, a revised lawyer, lives with his beautiful wife near the shores of lovely Lake Norman, North Carolina. A nominee for Pushcart and O’Henry prizes, a 2023 deGroot Foundation Writer of Note, winner of the 2022 Press 53/Prime Number Fiction Prize, and a finalist or honorable mention for numerous other fiction awards, his work appears or is forthcoming in Carvezine, The Thomas Wolfe Review, The North Carolina Literary Review, Ocotillo Review, Prime Number, Atticus Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Best New Writing 2015, and Sleep is a Beautiful Color: the 2017 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology. His novel, Lucky Bastard, was published by Main Street Rag Publishing (2012).


Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash