It’s an unseasonably warm Alabama night in Choctaw County and the air is heavy with humidity as we get on the golf cart and set out into the dense woods. Strapped in front of me a rifle, in back a flashlight cast ahead to light the uneven way. As we forge deeper into the forrest, the pines look even blacker against the blackness of the starless sky, every now and then luminescent deer eyes peak between the trees. We’re deep into hog country now, our guide says with a smile; it’s hogs we’re on the hunt for.
A light rain starts as we enter the clearing. Before the light gets snapped off I catch the sight of a hog carcass, its sharp yellow teeth are enormous and jut over its lips. I shiver a little despite the warmth of the night. That’s when he starts to call for them. It sounds like “shhhhwooooo shhhhwoooo”. We wait, listening intently for rustling leaves or snapping twigs; the silence is unnerving.
When no hogs come charging (a realization met with both disappointment and relief) we set back to camp. It’s near midnight when we get on the boat and take to the water. Although it’s a lake it feels a lot more like a bayou with dead Spanish moss draping down the trees and swamp grass spiking from the shallow ends. As the flashlight skims the water we find ourselves looking directly into the glowing red eyes of alligators.
One of them is arms distance away, a baby of about four feet, he is basking at the top of the water on this warm night, still and watchful. As we move into the center of the lake we catch a glimpse of a set of eyes set much further apart, and the shadow of a stealthy body glides through the water leaving a small wake. That is no baby. How big do they get, I ask. They grow to about 15 feet, is all the answer I need. Once we get back to camp sleep, surprisingly, comes easy.
I’m jolted out of dreams at 5am by a rifle boom.
Was it hogs? I ask. Yes, apparently they came to find us, our guide replies. I stare hard into the black woods, imagining what could be lurking. After a few moments he lets us know it’s time to get ready; the ducks fly at first light.
As we make our way back on the boat the humidity is flipped off like a switch, and the rain that comes down is bitter and cold. The drops hit my skin feel like ice pellets as the boat picks up speed, and I can’t help but think with unease of the red eyes hiding in the gray depths of the water. As we reach the hole the storm breaks but the clouds linger even as early dawn starts to lighten the sky. We anchor down and wait.
I can hear them before I see them, a sound resembling a whine, and moments later there’s a quick whoosh as they come into sight, black silhouettes dotting the soot colored sky. Their flight is fast as they pour in, seamlessly swooping through trees. I’m unprepared and shoot blindly. They continue to roll in and speed by for the next 20 minutes, I am dazzled by their quickness and mysterious flight. There is a long pause, then off in the distance we hear the caw of the crow, the hunter’s sign that the hunt is over.
It’s time to go home.