Any hunter who has ever faced down a mean and nasty boar feral hog tipping the scales at more than 250 pounds might want to offer a silent “thank you” to upper crust diners in the U.S. and Europe.
The wild pigs — particularly big boars — that rule the brush and have spread across Texas like a plague are valued as fine table fare at many high-dollar restaurants, and the demand for feral hog meat is helping to chip away at the Lone Star State’s population.
“The demand has remained pretty steady,” said Allen Gilbert, sales manager of Frontier Meats in Fort Worth. “This is really the busy time of year because a lot of hunters are out in the field and are catching the hogs. We are seeing some that are in real good shape and others that are in real poor shape — it just depends on the range conditions.”
Just like any other market, the price for live feral hogs fluctuates with the economy. Estimated prices for the live hogs starts at about $5 per head for animals that weigh from 50 to 59 pounds (nothing under 50 pounds is accepted); about 13 cents per pound for those in the 60 to 79 pound range; and about 25 cents per pound for hogs weighing 80 to 99 pounds.
Processors pay a premium of about 35 cents per pound, plus a $5 to $10 per head bonus, for hogs weighing 150 to 249 pounds; and any boar or sow topping 250 pounds brings in about 45 to 50 cents per pound plus at least a $10 per head bonus.
Gilbert said that Frontier Meats collects the feral hogs from trappers and hunters across the state and has them shipped to the processing station in Fort Worth.
“We get them from all over. It just depends upon the weather because they are all over the state,’’ he said.
Although state officials estimate the Texas feral hog population is about 2 million animals, Gilbert said he believes the number is well above that, and many hunters and trappers taking advantage of the wild-swine market.
“The prices now are not quite as good as they were several years ago,” said Charlie Brown of Kenedy, who traps hogs when he is not working as a catfishing guide at Choke Canyon Reservoir.
“At one point in the past, feral hogs were bringing more than domestics,” he said. “The (processing plants) were paying 45 cents per pound for smaller hogs and 60 cents per pound and a bonus for everything over 200 pounds.”
Brown said that although his recent trapping efforts have been for his own consumption, one of his associates has gathered and shipped more than 400 hogs for sale this year.
Although wild hog meat is similar to domestic pork, the cuts are darker in color and much leaner, with a slight gamey taste popular with many hunters who harvest the hogs as bonus animals during hunting seasons.
“The meat from the big ones can be pretty strong,’’ Brown said. “I think people have to be a little crazy to eat something from a big boar unless it has been really doctored up a lot.”
Frontier Meats is one of the main processing centers for feral hog meat in Texas and has been purchasing wild swine on the hoof for about 20 years. The animals are inspected by state and federal officials, butchered and then the meat is distributed to domestic and foreign markets. Unlike domestic beef, feral swine meat is not graded with scores such as “prime,” “select” and “choice.”
Texas Parks and Wildlife lists feral hogs as unprotected, exotic, non-game animals that can be hunted year-round with no bag limits. A hunting license and landowner’s permission is required to hunt wild swine.