When I was a teenager, growing up in Newton County, East Texas, there was no stock law, which meant if a fella registered an ear mark at the courthouse, he could run hogs in the woods. This was a hold-over from “pioneer days”, but with the large amount of timber company land that was usually leased for cattle grazing, but on which “hunting” was generally allowed without special fees or permits (another hold-over from the old days), it meant basically free range for hog owners. These hogs were not considered “wild” animals – even though they were usually far from “tame” – and shooting them if you did not own the mark the pig was carrying was about the same as shooting someone’s cow. Hog owners went into the woods to catch and mark pigs, castrating most of the males, and then again to get them for market – using dogs and traps to take them alive. When pork prices got low, fewer hogs were “tended to”, and when the paper company tracts were sold off or the hunting rights leased and stock laws passed, the hogs that could survive were left to truly go wild.
Today, the feral hog in Texas is considered an exotic or invasive species, depending on who is talking about them. Some “hunters” kill them on sight and leave them for the coyotes, which is perfectly legal and not considered a waste as with a deer or other protected game animal. The helicopter shoots often kills hundreds at a time, and all are left in the field., although I listened to a county agent speak one night who recommended burying them. Some people are afraid to eat wild hogs, and they can carry diseases – although most are not transmitted to humans by eating the cooked flesh. It is only legal to sell feral hogs alive, and a lot of those are exported, because federal restrictions on meat processing are so strict that it is not really practical to try to process them for market here.
This being said, MANY hunters – myself included – regularly eat feral hog meat. Precautions must be taken, such as not handling hogs with bare hands, wearing gloves while butchering, properly caring for the meat, and thorough cooking – but the same can be said for most “wild” game, and all pork should be thoroughly cooked. Be sure to get all the hair and other unwanted material off the meat when butchering, wash the meat well, and keep it on ice at least several days, draining the water and replacing with more ice each day until the meat is bled out. Then at least eat some backstrap, maybe smoke some ribs, and put the everything but the hams in the freezer. The hams are possibly my favorite part of the hog. I “cure” them in a solution of kosher salt, brown sugar, and curing salt before smoking them. The pink curing salt is what gives hams their pink coloration. Home cured and smoked hams from feral hogs cam be as good as any “store-bought” hams. In fact, the best hams in the world are generally accepted to come from the Black Forrest area of Germany, where the hogs are allowed to run free in the woods. Sound familiar?
Ribs I smoke for several hours, the put in a crock pot or other electric slow cooker and cook further until the meat is literally falling off the bones. The same technique used with the shoulders is the start of excellent pulled pork bar-be-que. Backstraps and tenderloins I generally prefer fried, although we once bacon wrapped a large backstrap off a big boar and smoked it on an open fire to excellent results. Neck meat is for sausage, and the shoulders are generally the very best meat for top quality sausage, if you prefer to go that way. All “scraps” from processing the various cuts go into the sausage grinder. We mostly make “pan” sausage, and flavor it as breakfast sausage, Italian, or “regular”. Some of this is mixed with venison. We use the Italian type in spaghetti meat sauce and on pizzas, and sometimes get use the regular seasoned stuff in place of hamburger meat.
I have only killed one feral hog with enough belly fat to make bacon, but it was VERY good. Using a dry salt cure found on the internet for use with commercial pork, I ended up with old style bacon with a rind – very tasty.
Although I agree with the statement by a Louisiana biologist about hog control by hunters – “We ain’t gonna Barb-e-que our way out of this problem” – I hate to shoot one and not use the meat, hate even more to see the slaughter of large numbers from helicopters left to the predators. Some charities will accept feral hog meat, but they mostly want it in processed form. If you try to give wild pork to friends and relatives, that will usually also be the case – not many will be happy to come over and help skin and butcher. If you like to hunt, and have access to an area that contains a hog population, however, a little work can have some very good eating on your table.