armadillo hunting hook and barrel feature
Illustration by Sam Morton

Armadillo Hunting

There is no such thing as an armadillo. The “creature” purported to be an armadillo is, in fact, a hoax originally concocted by the Arizona highway department as a way to add interest to what tourists would have otherwise thought to be some endlessly dull roads. The deception worked so well that states throughout the southern half of the country—all of which have plenty of dull roads—have now adopted it.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let me back up a ways, and I’ll tell you how I discovered the truth about armadillos.

Back when I was young—and, by definition, foolish—I thought that the only difference between armadillos and other animals was the fact that they were born dead. I voiced that opinion to one of my then-new-bride’s cousins while we were spending a couple of days of our honeymoon visiting him on his plantation near Newellton, Louisiana. When his unseemly laughing bout finally subsided, he asked, “Would you like to make some of them dead?”

Other than the fact that he handed me a rifle instead of a gunny sack and the fact that the sun was still visible in the western sky, what followed was the armadillo version of a snipe hunt. It was black dark before we got back to his place. He wasn’t laughing. All he had to say about our “hunt” was, “I swear this is the only time in my life there haven’t been armadillos all over those dikes.”

Much later that evening, he handed me a slip of paper with a name and a telephone number on it. “If you’re ever even close to Louisiana’s true swamp country, you really should give this man a call. Be sure to let me know in advance, and I’ll vouch for you.”

That’s how one fine day several years later, I found myself sharing the front porch of a ramshackle cabin with an ageless bewhiskered gentleman who only identified himself as “Boudreaux.” He’d taken me “fishing”—don’t ask—that morning, and now we were whiling away the heat of the day, sharing a jug that, as a songwriter once put it, was “mighty, mighty pleasin.”

By and by, a man Boudreaux identified as his cousin, pulled a pirogue up on the bank in front of the cabin. After the obligatory howdies had been exchanged, Boudreaux directed me to a seat in the middle of that boat, while he occupied the stern and his cousin the bow. Boudreaux handed me a blindfold, and just before I put it on, I noted that there was an ancient, but obviously well-cared-for Thompson submachine gun across his cousin’s thighs and a 12-gauge shotgun was leaned against the gunnel within Boudreaux’s easy reach. I didn’t have a clue what I’d gotten myself into, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a snipe hunt.

About two hours later, the pirogue slid to a halt against a wooden dock. When I removed the blindfold, I beheld a huge, expertly camouflaged factory complex. Boudreaux led me through a door marked “Stockholders Only,” and after passing through some surprisingly luxurious office space, we walked through an airlock and onto the production floor.

Hundreds of men and women were working on dozens of assembly lines, repurposing snapping turtle shells and stuffing them with possums of varying degrees of deadness. The completed “armadillos” were then flash-frozen, boxed, and transported via pirogue to helipads hidden elsewhere in the swamp. Boudreaux told me that this factory’s peak production level was 2,850 armadillos per day, and that there were “a lot” of other factories hidden in swamps in Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida.

Having been sworn to secrecy, I’ve sat on this information for decades, but enough is enough. I cannot in good conscience continue to allow my fellow citizens to be bamboozled. I contacted Boudreaux to get his permission to reveal the truth about armadillos. He said, “Go ahead. Nobody would believe you, anyway.”

I’m not sure what he meant by that.