If you are one of those Texans who get annoyed at that herd of does in your flower bed or the rutting buck that kamikazes into your Tahoe, consider yourself on notice: Things are about to get worse. Much worse. With a population now exceeding 2.6 million, feral hogs in Texas have hit critical mass. Females can have up to two litters a year, with an average of five to six piglets each, and they are outbreeding deer, humans, and every other large mammal in the state. Like many creatures of the night, they roam in packs, long-toothed and short-tempered, willing to eat nearly anything, including their young. Picture a smellier version of the zombie hordes from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead , running 30 miles an hour and not particularly caring whether they eat your brains or your leg.
If you were to invent the perfect invasive animal, you could not do much better than a hog. Smarter than dogs and as fast as deer, they are also extremely tough. While many of the stories about bulletproof hogs are apocryphal, some of the larger boars do have a gristle plate that will stop a bullet fired from a handgun—my father once shot one with a .357 Magnum, only to watch the animal shake it off and walk away. J. Frank Dobie wrote about frontiersmen flattening rifle balls against those same gristle plates.
Pigs, along with horses and cattle, were introduced to North America by the Spanish, who probably did not realize that this hardy food animal would eventually cause $400 million a year in damage, overrunning our state’s city parks, backyards, and cemeteries. Columbus dropped a few off in the West Indies in 1493; de Soto introduced them to Texas about fifty years later. Though some claim that the introduction of Russian boars in the early twentieth century made the pigs more aggressive, the truth is that they have always had an attitude problem. The Greek mythological figure Adonis was killed by a wild boar; at least three Roman legions used the boar as their symbol. Having been charged several times in the Piney Woods, I can attest that things have not changed much, though I will further attest that most hogs are not bulletproof and, when properly civilized in an oak-fired smoker, are quite delicious.
So why, if these pigs are so tasty, are there still so many of them? How come hunters haven’t wiped them out? In fact, the State of Texas would prefer they did. There is no closed season on feral pigs. They can be hunted any time of the day or night, using silencers, spotlights, night-vision scopes, AR-15’s, or AK-47’s. Thanks to Stephenville representative Sid Miller’s so-called pork chopper bill, they can be hunted from helicopters starting on September 1. It may not sound like a fair fight, and it isn’t. Unless we radically change our tactics, we don’t stand a chance.
While boars might reach 400 pounds, the average size seen in the wild is just under 150. When properly prepared, they are delicious. Leaner than domestic hogs, they have a slightly nutty flavor that makes their meat more interesting than regular pork. This fact alone—they taste good—should have led them to the same fate as the Longhorn, but it has not. Pigs are survivors.
Enter Jesse Griffiths and Tink Pinkard. Jesse grew up in Denton and now runs the Dai Due Supper Club, in Austin, whose all-local meals have won praise in food magazines like Bon Appétit and Food & Wine . An avid hunter and fisherman, Jesse does not look at a feral pig and see a roving machine of destruction. Rather, he imagines several hundred intricately prepared dishes, from braised pork belly to pork chops in spring onion gravy to standing rib roast.
Tink grew up working behind the meat counter of a grocery store in Oberlin, Louisiana, and in his adult years he became interested in big-game hunting. After graduating from Stephen F. Austin State University, he spent ten years as a hunting guide in places ranging from the Rockies to South Texas. He has faced down charging grizzlies and wrestled hundred-pound catfish out of the Brazos (which, thanks to another bill just passed by the Legislature, is also now legal). He trains his own hog dogs, and he has guided people on boar hunts all over the state, including a group of Zimbabweans who wanted to hunt them with spears.
Last year, Tink and Jesse decided to put together a unique class: a field-to-table course that would show students how to hunt and butcher a feral hog, then prepare a dozen dishes. Think Ted Nugent meets Emeril Lagasse. “You’ve got an invasive and destructive species, which also happens to be delicious and plentiful,” Jesse said. It only makes sense to eat them.
Tink’s interest in teaching the class was a little less theoretical. His family ranch, near Rocksprings, was overrun with hogs, and he and his father were killing a hundred a year, mostly with AR-15’s. And yet, after giving away the meat to everyone they knew, they’d been reduced to burying the rest of the animals. “Finally, I told my dad it had to stop,” said Tink. “The killing didn’t bother me—it was the waste. A quarter of the people in Rocksprings are living below the poverty level, and we were burying thousands of pounds of meat with a tractor.”
Which brings me to Hog School, a weekend course held in March at Madroño Ranch, which sits on more than 1,500 acres in the steep country outside Medina. About four years ago, the owners, Heather and Martin Kohout, began to breed a herd of buffalo, and the ranch today, with its lush grass, distant views, and buffalo wandering around, gives you the feeling of being on the set of Dances With Wolves . Madroño is blessed with large amounts of fresh water and is, as a result, overrun with hogs. Although the Kohouts do not