My last blog post, (I know, I know, it’s been a while), was an introduction to the Feral Hog, nemesis of Texas landowners and ranchers. Though it may seem like there’s nothing that can be done to combat this problem, I have mentioned before that they are tasty little beasts! My solution: if you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em! Granted, based on what you read about them, they may not seem very appetizing, but I assure you, when properly handled and prepared, they are delicious! For many people, this is the problem: lack of knowledge about proper handling and preparation. This, my friends, is the very reason that Hog School has been created.
I was raised in the woods, and have had the opportunity to hunt since I was young. If I wasn’t in the woods with my father, I was marching thru the lamb fields with my grandfather, or perched on the countertop of his butcher shop. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn how to care for, kill, eviscerate and butcher animals that range from squirrels to elk, and lots of things in between. It occurred to me that most people aren’t exposed to food preparation in this way, and there seems to be a generational gap between our grandfathers and fathers, thus leaving our generation with a lack of knowledge in self-reliance when it comes to procuring meat. Luckily, there’s an increased interest in returning to the “old ways,” and hunting for food goes way back! So if you’re a complete novice in the field of hunting, or an expert hunter but feel a disconnect between the kill and the plate, my goal is to educate you on where to find it, how to kill it, and then how to prepare it so you’d like to eat it! This holds true for deer, hogs or fish, but for now, we’ll keep it limited to our tasty problem: wild hogs!
Hog School was formed last year in conjunction with Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due. Jesse has taught courses for a couple years about the butchering and preparation of domestic swine. We got together and decided to take that a step further and teach people not only how to slaughter/butcher and cook it, but hunt it as well. Seeing as how the feral hog problem has finally reached such a point as to allow for the mass slaughter of these animals aerially, it made my stomach hurt to think about all that “food” laying there to rot. My thought to help turn the tide against such a drastic measure was to get more hunters in the field, and the only way to do that was to educate them how to get it and what to do with it once you got it!
The first Hog School was held last winter at Madroño Ranch in Medina, Texas. Owners Martin and Heather Kohout share my and Jesse’s vision about local foraging of food, and just so happen to have a beautiful ranch in the Texas Hill Country that has an abundance (i.e.: problem amount) of feral hogs. Hog School is a weekend long course that begins Friday and ends Sunday afternoon. We teach two methods of harvesting the hogs: traps and hunting. Traps are generally not my first choice, but are a very effective option and will yield a greater number of hogs. We teach clients what traps are available, and also some that can be homemade. We also hunt hogs both fair chase and sitting in stands. I no longer use dogs, though this is another method of hunting hogs in the field.
Thursday evening, Jesse and I arrive at the ranch to a trap full of hogs (again, very effective) and begin to process them, securing both material for the butchering portion of the class and dinner for Saturday night’s “Porkstravaganza.”
The clients arrive Friday around lunchtime and head straight out to the rifle range to sight in their guns and go over ranch rules and gun safety. In addition to this, I discuss the many species of animals and flora and fauna that Madroño Ranch has to offer. While they may see other animals, our main concern is with the hogs, so we’ll leave them for other schools. After a mid afternoon siesta, we take clients to sit stands and hunt the evening. Our first evening proved to be our best, with Philip Keil harvesting 2 hogs from 1 stand! Several other clients make their kills, also, and everyone meets back up at the lodge to eviscerate the hogs. With few hands to help, I have Jesse help me as we narrate the process as we go, teaching the most effective and sanitary means of evisceration. After they’ve been taught from the first hog, class is dismissed for the evening, and clients are free to munch on Morgan Angelone’s famous, “Madroño Ranch Bison Burger!” We end the first night with a walk-in full of meat and bellies full of bison and head to bed early.
Saturday begins early with a light breakfast and clients heading to the stands to watch the sunrise. While it’s early to be awake, watching the sunrise in the Texas Hill Country makes it worth it! After a morning of hunting, the clients arrive back at the main lodge late morning for, you guessed it, more food! Clients get to break after this and take a little siesta, returning in the afternoon to begin the butchering portion of the school. Jesse breaks down a whole hog and shows clients how to utilize every part from nose to tail. What began as a whole skinless pig ends up becoming sausage, French racks of rib, stock and prosciutto. Cured by Morgan Angelone, the “meat maestro,” her feral pig prosciutto is so delicious it’s hard to think that it comes from a wild ham! After the kitchen session, it’s time for cocktails and leisure time on the back deck while Jesse and Morgan turn up the heat in the kitchen, preparing one of the largest meals I’ve ever witnessed. As we sat for dinner, plate after plate of food appeared before us. The most memorable of the evening had to be the main course. It took both Jesse and Morgan to carry a giant tray piled high with pig cooked a variety of ways, one being a rotisseried whole suckling pig. We all gorged until we hurt.
Sunday morning was the final outing for all: those who hadn’t killed yet and clients who had but wanted to see more. It proved to be the slowest day of the weekend, with only one hog killed, luckily it was by the one client who’d not gotten a kill yet. Not surprising after all the pressure that had been placed on them throughout the weekend. In the end, all clients were sent home with meat and a new found knowledge of what to do with it.
We will definitely be putting on more hog schools, in addition to deer schools and fly-fishing courses this year. I feel the more people we educate as to the tastiness of our problem, means more responsible hunters/trappers in the field, which will help to reduce feral hog numbers and means more clean food for hungry people! My friend Phillip Meyer attended last year’s hog school and wrote a great article about his experience in the August 2011 edition of Texas Monthly. It has some great pictures from the weekend also. For more information on the schedules for this year’s schools, you can visit www.daidueaustin.net. I will also have info on them as it comes available.