Arkansans, or many of us at least, are well aware of the potential of good eating that is in our outdoors – deer, squirrel, rabbits, ducks, geese and more. This is in addition to an appealing variety of fish.
And there are feral hogs, many of them. Too many of them.
Debate comes forth about the use of these critters on the dinner table, but more and more Arkansas hunters and their families are partaking of lean feral, or wild, hog meat in assorted forms.
Feral hog meat comes with no governmental health certification. But neither does deer meat or squirrel meat. Feral hogs can carry scary diseases like swine brucellosis, pseudorabies and hog cholera. Thorough cooking eliminates these dangers, the experts concede.
Outside of these red flags is the abundancy of feral hogs – many thousands of them in southern Arkansas and many hundreds in other parts of the state. Feral hogs are now found in all 75 Arkansas counties.
All right, you shoot or trap and kill a feral hog. What comes next?
Stephen Halter of Enola was on a deer hunt recently in Cleburne County when a hog showed up. He shot it.
"I dressed it out like I do a deer," said Halter, who has had previous experience with feral hogs in southern Arkansas.
He got the hog, a modest sized one, back to camp where there was a cleaning rig, a hoist with a gambrel which lifts animals by the hind legs. This is much more efficient than skinning them out on the ground.
Halter had gutted the hog, so he skinned it, again "like I would a deer." Then he cut out the backstraps, roasts and other choicer pieces with the remainders saved for stew meat or ground meat. He did not use this hog’s meat for sausage making, although this is a final destination for many Arkansas feral hogs.
Feral hogs are much leaner than domestic hogs. The abundant fat associated with the latter is present only in small amounts with the feral hogs.
Halter said another method some Arkansans use with feral hogs is to strip the hide. This means making long shallow cuts a couple of inches apart then pulling off the hide in strips.
Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry is a program in which hunters’ meat can be channeled to needy families. All the meat, mostly deer, is processed into ground meat then distributed through food banks all over the state.
"Yes, we take feral hogs when we can get them," said Ronnie Ritter of Hot Springs, the head of Hunters Feed the Hungry. "We like to get a bunch of hogs at one time, though."
The organization operates with a network of meat processors across Arkansas, and not all of these processors work with feral hogs. Many do, though.
As with deer, a hunter can bring a freshly killed carcass to a participating processor and donate it to Hunters Feeding the Hungry. Ducks and geese are also taken by Hunters Feeding the Hungry.
If the donating hunter can chip in a little money, that is a help too.
These participating meat processors are business operations, and if the funds are short for Hunters Feeding the Hungry to pay even a reduced processing charge, the program suffers, and good, healthful meat can’t get to less fortunate people who could certainly use it.
A suggestion for someone who may kill a feral hog is to do a little homework in advance. If you don’t want to butcher it yourself, find a friend or a neighbor who will help. Or find a meat processor who will take hogs.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.