By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Determined to kill something before the sun sets, Merlin says he now wants to shoot a hog. So at dusk they roll out to a row of orange trees, where they spot a pack of wild boars. Merlin aims the rifle at a 60-pounder as his girlfriend covers her ears.
He pulls the trigger and — boom! — the explosion shakes the earth, a flash of light sparks, and the smell of firecrackers floats past. His bullet hits the pig directly in the right eyeball. It instantly drops to the ground, violently shaking and twitching.
Merlin grabs the hog by the top of the head, leans in close, and smiles proudly as Clemons snaps a shot with a digital camera. The pig's legs spasm and jerk suddenly, as if it's trying to run away.
"It must be my DNA," Merlin says. "I just love shootin' shit!"
When it comes time to take home the hog meat, though, the doctor demurs. "It would just be easier for us," he tells Clemons, "if you took care of it."
Schneider and Clemons are having trouble tracking the 100-pounder they wounded with the green-and-yellow arrow. The trail of blood the animal had trickled on the ground like bread crumbs has abruptly ceased — and the men are baffled. Schneider, the broad-shouldered real estate agent, shakes his head and sighs.
He and Clemons continue moving forward, ducking under silky webs where mouse-size banana spiders hover. Schneider ties turquoise tape to branches to mark the trail as the guide leads the way.
Ten minutes later, Clemons sees the arrow on the ground. It's slightly bent and covered in blood. "There's a good sign," Clemons says, holding it up. A few yards away, in the shade, lies the lifeless pig, its cavernous mouth agape.
After they approach, Clemons gives the inert hog a friendly pat on the belly. The two hunters each grab a hind leg and drag it — head bumping along the trail — back to the electric cart. They set it in the back, where a lake of blood pools and begins to run down the side of the cart.
Forty-five minutes later, at home, Clemons slides the carcass five feet across the cement to a stainless-steel industrial-size outdoor sink. As Schneider prepares a cooler, Clemons hangs the animal by the hooves and sprays it with a hose, sending a scarlet stream from its soft snout into a drain. Then Clemons slices the skin with a scalpel and peels it off, like an orange rind, over a trash can.
One by one, with his bare hands, he cracks off the hog's hooves. He slits the throat, lops off the penis, and then turns to Schneider, who is watching. "All you need is a little salt and lemon," he says. "Real tasty." He hacks off a leg, then a shoulder, and tosses the pink meat into a pile by the sink.
A few minutes later, Rita comes wandering over from the mobile home. She pulls a Kool cigarette from a pack, lights it, and offers sandwiches. Watching Clemons cut the hog, she points out that the animal probably had a good life — better than those "store-bought pigs."
Washing the blood from his hands, Clemons says, "Some guys are just in it for the kill. Me, I got too much respect for these hogs."
"Look at that beautiful meat!" Schneider exclaims more to himself than anyone else. He plans to slow-cook a shoulder roast.
When the skinning is over, the real estate agent packs the meat into a cooler, loads it into a white sedan, gives a nod, and drives down the bumpy dirt road toward a pork-filled Christmas.