A Hunting We Will Go

Just mule head

You might say that the family that hunts together has a special camaraderie inspired by adrenaline driven shared adventures. Also, they never lack for exciting stories to tell, and not least, they have no need to buy meat.  Jeanette Clever, a Witter, Arkansas grandmother says, “When I was growing up my family never bought meat at a grocery store.” Due to a constant supply of quail, partridge, deer, elk, hog, buffalo, turkey, squirrel and so on, hunters like Clever and her family fill their freezers with wild game.

jeanette dad, muleAccording to Jeanette’s dad, Jesse Reynolds, he has hunted game all 78 years of his life, which may be a slight exaggeration, but not by much.  He also says he had his children in the woods hunting with him by the time they were three years of age. So, it is not too surprising that when he takes to the hills (literally) most likely at least one of his adult children accompany him, particularly hunting wild boars in the Ozarks where they ride mules up and down the ravines after their prey accompanied by their faithful hunting dogs.

Why the preference for mules instead of horses? “Mules are tougher and more sure-footed,” says Reynolds, “and when the going gets tough, mules will out-go horses every time. They don’t flinch when you shoot off them. You don’t have to train them to ignore gunfire; it’s born in them.”

Jesse has trailer-hauled his mules to Colorado and mule packed-in 30 miles or so to camp in the back country hunting bear, elk and deer.  He’s hunted mountain lions, bob cat, bear, deer, quail, pheasant and elk in Idaho and Washington State with gun and bow. He’s traveled to Alaska and Canada for moose and caribou.  Jesse and his late brothers were known as the “Reynolds Mountain Mule Skinners.”

Admittedly, more men than women hunt wild hogs because by anybody’s standards it can be dangerous, but Jesse claims, “Jeanette isn’t afraid of anything. She’ll ride her mule off a bluff or down the side of a mountain following a baying dog!”Jeanette 2 mules

Jeanette explains, “A few years ago I went on a seven day cruise with my mother and sister, and I didn’t have any fun.  I hated it. Wild hog hunting is my idea of fun, and yes, hunting wild boars is the scariest thing I do, but it is also the most fun! The boars will try to get you so you want to be ready to climb a tree if you need to.”

Stories abound of near misses and close calls while hunting wild boars and bears. Several times this family of hunters credits their dogs with jumping between them and attacking animals. Jesse has a nice bear skin rug he got after a bear chased him until he fell to the ground and when Jesse thought it was all over — his dog, Mac, “got the bear fighting him instead of chewing on me”.  While still on the ground, Reynolds rolled over and shot the bear, being careful not to hit Mac, whose back was broken in the fight. Thankfully, Mac lived to go on many more

Wild hogs will attack anything. They can also do a lot of property damage such as destroying gardens so they are sometimes killed because of the nuisances they are instead of for their meat, but the Reynolds’ family eats what they kill. They do their own skinning and dressing of their kills, and Jesse is partial to the sausage he makes from wild game.

Hunting in the thickly-forested Ozark’s hills and rocky bluffs would intimidate most people, but it just adds to the adventure for the Reynolds family.  After they turn the dogs loose to bay up a feral hog, a hunter usually gets off the mule to make his or her shot while the dogs hold the hog at bay. That is how the plan is supposed to work, but an experienced hog hunter will try to have an escape plan ready because sometimes the hogs go after the hunter. Once when a big boar came at Jesse he used the boar’s momentum to throw the hog over his shoulder, but the enraged animal came back at him and went for his throat. Jesse held his arms up trying to protect his head, and “the boar grabbed one of my arms and tried to run off with it.  That was one time I got chewed up pretty good,” admitted Reynolds, “but my insulated coveralls helped protect me from a worse mauling.”

Jeanette mule faceJesse and Jeanette have both had their dogs chewed up, but never fatally. An Airedale named Grunt had a habit of grabbing hogs by their ears until one time a big-tusked boar stabbed Grunt with its tusks puncturing an artery. “My brother took his shirt off to staunch the bleeding until we could pack him out to the veterinarian,” Jesse explained.

“The dogs are very loyal,” says Jesse, a U.S. Army veteran. “They’ll do anything to protect us.” (Think real-life enactment of the movie, “Old Yeller.

During one wild hog hunt in the Buffalo River area, Jeanette’s dog, Fishhook (now deceased) was with them even though at the time Fishhook was 13 years old but still eager to accompany the humans and four mountain curs along on this particular hunt. Once the dogs had the scent, the chase begun that resulted in Jeanette’s killing a 350 pound boar. A slight problem arose though when the hog landed in an icy pond of freezing water.  Jeanette tried to rope him to pull him out, but when that failed, she stripped down, waded in barefoot and pulled the hog out by the tail.

Another time, Jeanette broke her hand when she fell over a log while running from an attacking sow.  One of the dogs had the sow penned and wouldn’t let it loose so Jesse told Jeanette to catch the dog.

“When my daddy tells me to do something, I do it,” said Jeanette. She got off her mule and had the dog by the tail pulling it off the sow when the sow decided to go after Jeanette. Then when Jeanette fell during the chase, it chewed on her leg until Jesse shot it.  Between the humans yelling, the barking and pig squealing, it got pretty loud in “them thar hills”. It was a good thing that it was so cold (15 degrees) because Jeanette’s many layers of clothes helped reduce her injuries. “And,” she says, “I was lucky it was a sow and not a big boar with tusks!”

Because of the type of terrain in the hill country, many locals own and ride mules. Male and female mules are sterile. You get a mule from breeding a horse and a donkey. Crossing a male horse with a female donkey produces what is called a “jenny”, a mule with shorter ears than a “jack”, which is a male mule produced by breeding a female horse with a male donkey.

The Reynold’s affection for their mules reminds me of Festus, and his partiality for his mule, Ruth, on the old “Gunsmoke” television series of yesteryear.   I don’t believe Festus was any more devoted to Ruth than the hunters and mule riders nestled among the Ozarks are to theirs. And, if you bring up the old adage about “stubborn as a mule” they are quick to tell you a mount needs to be stubborn to make it up and down the steep, rocky hills, bluffs and ravines common to the Ozarks. The riders have to concentrate on staying in the saddles in such rough terrain so the more sure-footed their beast of burden, the safer and more relaxing the ride.  This area of Arkansas is referred to by lots of people as, “God’s Country,” and according to the Reynolds Mountain Mule Skinners a man can’t ask much more of life than to live here where the hunting is plentiful, with a good mule to ride and dogs eager to track!