One thing Ed Hornick learned during many years working in wild animal damage control was that sometimes the animals control you.
Wildlife adventures can indeed get pretty wild — and human involuntary reactions are hard to squelch.
Hornick, now an 83-year-old produce farmer who lives with his wife Darla just northeast of Glen Rose, evidently has a memory as sharp as a bobcat claw.
When Hornick took the animal damage control job in 1994, he wasn’t told that there would be any tree climbing.
He recalled a time a few years ago when he and a coworker were shooting some of the dangerous feral hogs in Bosque County, and the tables almost turned on them. His coworker fired at and wounded one of the animals, then Hornick shot and killed a nearby boar. But the wounded animal got to its feet and started charging at the two men.
Hornick said he told the man with him that he was “about to see how fast an old man can climb a tree.”
Fortunately the hog’s hostile intent was overcome by another gunshot wound. He crumpled to the ground and died about 50 yards away from Hornick and his coworker.
Hornick started trapping animals at age 13, and eventually became a professional trapper. He began working in 1994 for Animal Damage Control, which was connected with Texas A&M University. Hornick said his official job title was animal damage control technician.
“Part of it is federal, part of it is state. I worked through Texas A&M,” Hornick said. “Animal Damage Control is what it says — trying to control damage caused by coyotes and beavers.
“I worked for the wildlife service. I was hired by the supervisor for the Fort Worth district. But we were paid by the state and the county. Somervell dropped the program a few years ago. I retired for good in 2009.”
Once, Hornick walked up on a rattlesnake, which may have been just as surprised as he was.
“It was as big as my arm. It had its head up in the air … we made eye contact,” said Hornick, who didn’t give a moment’s consideration to the theory that you should freeze in such a situation to avoid being bitten. His involuntary reaction was to run, and he escaped without injury.
“I shook for an hour,” Hornick recalled.
An incident that occurred when he was working in Bosque County involved a large, exotic red stag that charged him in anger when he inadvertently interrupted the animal’s “romantic” encounter with a female.
“He’d kill you in a heartbeat. I rode up on him while he was mating,” Hornick said. “Then came a whole herd of them. I made it out a gate safely.”
Feral hogs are incredibly harmful to both agriculture and the environment, experts say. One report estimated that the wild pigs cause an estimated $1.5 billion in damage annually to agriculture and the environment combined.
Hornick used a .35-caliber rifle when he sought feral hogs. The hogs proved to be intelligent, avoiding some methods such as cage traps and hot wires, he said. They aren’t seen as frequently in Somervell County as often as they are in some other areas, he noted.
“I’d kill about 150 per year,” he said. “Some would kill that many per month. They are not classified as a game animal. You can kill them at any time.”
Hornick said he probably killed more than 2,000 coyotes in all in Somervell County and Bosque County combined. Hornick said that his mission was to take out animals that were reported as causing damage locally.
He once caught a bobcat in a snare, but let it go.
“They didn’t report any killing (by bobcats),” Hornick said he was generally called out based on ‘how ferocious the thing was.”
He said he never saw any big cats, although he saw a few visible signs of them.
“Nobody in our district ever saw one. They’ll hang around deer feeders,” Hornick said.
He said he found a dead deer, but came to the conclusion that it was a bobcat kill rather than a big cat such as a mountain lion. The deer was covered by leaves, suggesting that the predator was saving the rest for a later return to the scene.
“A big cat won’t eat tainted meat very much,” Hornick said. “They like it fresh.”
Hornick said that in about 1998, he was recognized as being the first animal damage control worker in the Fort Worth district to catch an otter, which is rarely found in North Texas.
“They eat a lot of fish,” Hornick said, adding, “Most of them are in Louisiana.”
“I set my first trap as a kid, trapping possum. I was semiprofessional even from a young age,” said Hornick, who was born in Roanoke and lived on what was called the Roanoke Route, between Roanoke, Grapevine and Keller. He moved to Somervell County in 1968.
As a fur trapper, Hornick sold gray and red foxes, ringtail cats, bobcats, nutria, beaver, raccoons, mink, possum and even skunks.
“Just about any of the fur-bearing animals have hunting seasons,” Hornick said.
“The most valuable in this part of the country was bobcat, and then the red fox. They made coats out of them, too,” said Hornick, who explained that the spotted bobcat furs were in high demand.
He said that the fur market in this area was at its peak about 40 years ago, when demand was greater than it is now.
“At that time, back in the 70s, there was really a big market for furs,” Hornick said. “There were six or seven buyers that would come to Glen Rose.”
WHEN A DIME WAS A DIME
During the two-month peak fur season, December to January, Hornick said he “would sell a couple thousand dollars worth of furs. I kept them frozen until the last day of the season.”
He noted that his younger years were “back in the days when you made a dime, it was a dime. It was 25 cents each for possum fur. My first job, I got 30 cents an hour. I carried groceries at the grocery store.”
He said he had an older brother who had a job where he received a raise to earn 60 cents a hour.
“We thought he was getting rich,” Hornick said. "We said, ‘You realize he’s getting paid a penny a minute?’ Farm labor was sun up to sun down, and people were glad to do it. We picked beans for our neighbor and we would get 2 cents a pound.”
Although Hornick no longer does much of the usual hunting or fishing outdoorsmen enjoy, he remembers one factor that made those activities fun.
“The anticipation of what you are going to have,” Hornick explained. “I always liked running trout lines. I liked that as much as a rod and reel.”
These days, running Hornick Produce, Hornck said he has a significant number of buyers each month — and he’s doing what he “was raised up around.”
The most popular vegetables for sale on the Hornicks' 62-acres of land are tomatoes, cantaloupes, black-eyed peas, purple hull peas and pecans.
As long as water is available for the crops, the produce business holds far fewer surprises than animal damage control. At least the tomatoes won’t try to bite you.