A hunt this past week with some great friends fortified my belief that the great outdoors is the perfect place for like-minded folks to bond friendships that last a lifetime. I first met Jeff Rice and his lovely wife Demi a couple years ago at, of all things, the Wild Hog Festival in Ben Wheeler Texas. I was there with my book, Kill to Grill, the Ultimate Guide to Hunting and Cooking Wild Hogs and serving as one of the judges of the wild hog cooking contest. Jeff and Demi stopped by my booth and an instant friendship was formed. Jeff later told me his wife commented, “You and Luke think so much alike, it’s a good bet you will be friends for life!” Demi is a very perceptive lady. During the ensuing couple of years after our meeting at the Festival, we’ve enjoyed lots of good times hunting and fishing together, both at Jeff and Demi’s Ranch as well as many other places. I have always said that there is no better place than the outdoors to create and keep lifelong friendships.
For the past several years, Jeff’s Dad, Richard and brother Rick have joined Jeff at his ranch for a few days of hunting hogs, cooking and generally enjoying camp life. Through social media and visiting with Jeff, I felt I already knew his family when I arrived at the ranch one afternoon last week. It was easy to see that these guys enjoyed a bond that was forged through years of spending time together hunting and fishing.
For many years, the three went up into the wilds of Canada on summer fishing tips where they spent a week or so at a remote cabin that was accessed via a long boat ride through some very wild country. I feel as though I was there with them, especially after Jeff loaned me the GPS unit that he had used for many years to traverse the serpentine water route to access the cabin. The “tracks” of his many trips are still on the hand held GPS and they tell the tale of the many journeys the threesome made. Jeff told me about using the GPS unit to run the route in total darkness one night in order to get his Dad’s bear back to and outfitter for processing.
Jeff’s Buck and Bass Ranch, situated on the upper end of Lake Fork, is certainly not the Canadian wilderness but it is remote and at the very end of a dead end road. When setting in a hunting blind when everything is still and quiet, one can occasionally hear a big outboard in the distance, some bass fisherman on the distant Lake Fork, running to his next hot spot, but otherwise the place provides undisturbed solitude.
When I arrived, Both Richard and Rick had the very fresh pork from a couple of harvested young “eater” hogs on ice and were relaxing around camp, doing what hunters always do, deciding where to head out to hunt in a few hours for the evening hunt. Jeff has a feeder tucked away in the woods a little over 100 yards from the cabin and a picnic table/shooting bench set up about 50 yards from the feeder. From this “stand” his Dad encountered over 30 wild hogs coming in to the corn, one of which had been transformed into fresh pork. Rick had used his bow to harvest a fine eater hog along the creek near the back of the property.
I could readily see this was going to be a relaxing couple of days for me! A few days earlier I killed a good eating hog close to my house. With plenty of fresh pork in the freezer, I quickly made plans for how I wanted “my” hunt to unfold. When Jeff asked me which stand I wanted to hunt, I explained that I would be happy to “assist” around camp and do a bit of cooking and “hang” with he and his Dad.
I dearly love camp cooking and after a bit of “mulling”, Jeff and I decided that it would be hard to beat some slow smoked fresh pork BBQ. I went to work with the fillet knife, slicing some one-inch thick slices of pork and seasoning them well with salt, pepper and garlic powder. While I was getting the pork ready, Jeff fired up his big smoker that has a firebox on one end and a vertical chamber on the other that is perfect for slow cooking meats. We soon had the seasoned, very tender pork exposed to hot hickory smoke. After about 1.5 hours, we pulled the meat and double wrapped it in heavy duty aluminum foil. With a generous amount of BBQ sauce applied and the meat wrapped tightly, we continued to keep the temperature at around 225 degrees until just before dinner. I cannot describe to you in words just how tasty that fresh pork BBQ was, made from choice cuts of backstrap and upper ham! It’s one of life’s treats that you just had to experience for yourself but I will say I’ve never had better BBQ at a Restaurant.
My short visit was finished all too soon and I headed back home, leaving the father- sons team to enjoy a couple more days together before it was time for Richard and Rick to catch the big bird back home. The next day, Jeff called and informed me Rick had used my Dragon Claw air bow to harvest yet another good eating porker. Chances are very good before the hunt is over, Richard will take another hog from his picnic table “camp stand”.
As I drove along the dirt road leading out of the ranch, I thought about the two new friends that I had just made. Then I thought back to the Wild Hog Festival where it all began. Yep, there is nothing like spending time in the outdoors for bonding friendships. I now have the other two of the “Rice Boys” for lifelong friends! May this outdoor lifestyle go on forever!