Big Game Hunting photo

Every once in a while a book comes out that is so far out of the mainstream, and so perfectly beautiful that it makes you just stop and marvel at how deeply the outdoors and the experience and tradition of hunting runs in our culture.

I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have found Melody Golding’s new book, The Panther Tract: Wild Boar Hunting in the Mississippi Delta. I got the book in the mail today, and have whiled away most of the afternoon lost in it, reading the dozens of hog hunting tales, studying recipes for wild pig and gawking at the 160 spectacular photos of men, women, horses, dogs and wild hogs, and above all, the haunted, mist and rain soaked swampscape of Yazoo County, Mississippi.

The Panther Tract is very definitely a book of southern hunting culture. The photos and stories are taken mostly on the Tract, a privately owned hunting camp that has hosted generations of hunters and fishermen (although many of the tales come from hog-hunting in other parts of the Delta, including public lands on the Delta National Forest, and the Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge southwest of Yazoo City). This is the Big Woods country immortalized in William Faulkner’s epic hunting tale The Bear, and the hunters in Golding’s book, as well as Golding herself, are very aware of that fact–there are still well-heeled hunters, riding good horses and mules, running fine dogs and drinking good whiskey with the very untamed people of the swamps and thickets. In place of the bears (which are slowly coming back to the area), they have hogs. Thousands of them.

But it would be a huge mistake to say that this book was for southern hunters or hog hunters, only. The Panther Tract is for any outdoorsman or woman who likes large bore handguns, and mules and quarter horses that will swim you across a half frozen swamp, scramble up the mud bank on the other side and stand firm and easy while you blast a hog with your short-barreled .308 from the saddle. It’s about mudcaked boots and brush-shredded Carhartts and custom knives big enough to kill a hog with a thrust under its front leg to the heart, or make a dainty cut and castrate a boar for future sport and barbecue. It’s about wealthy doctors shooting a W.Voss drilling with a 7×57 rifle under a double barrel 16 gauge, alongside men whose only possession is a good pistol and a hog dog. And buddy, this book is about dogs.

My personal favorite kinds of dogs: Catahoulas, Catahoula curs, Blackmouth Curs, Mountain curs, Plott hounds and redbone crosses and pit bulls of old and distinguished lineages, and pit bulls that just wandered up one day and proved themselves in heart and blood in lethal combat with hogs, making scratch over and over again. Dogs in tracking collars and dogs in Kevlar vests to protect them from being disemboweled by a hog’s tusks, and dogs who go in naked and take hold like a snapping turtle and don’t let go till it thunders. And it’s about the hog-obsessed men and women and youngsters, some as young as seven, who are, or at least try to be, worthy of those dogs.

The traditions run deep as the Delta topsoil, the knives are sharp, the stories uproarious (“My wildest hog hunting story has to be when a big ole sow bit my finger off,” begins one). The recipes look rich enough to put a muffin top on a supermodel in 24 hours or less.

The Panther Tract is a long way from politically correct. It’s hard to imagine what PETA or even the average non-hunter would make of the pit bulls and cold beer and horses busting thin ice to get to the hounds before they get killed by the hogs. And it does not matter one whit what they make of it. Because this is a book for people who are already in on the secret.

This is a book for hunters. Get more info here.