By Jessica Haavisto
Skunk Pig. Rat. Musk Hog. Collared Peccary. Only one of these names is correct. The Peccary, or better known as the Javelina in western states, is a small mammal not related to pigs at all despite the uncanny resemblance.
Javelina is easy to say. A friend’s toddler enunciates the beast well. Try have-uh-lean-uh and now you’ve got it.
While they have significantly less offspring per year than wild hogs, they can still damage agricultural lands and backyards if left unchecked. And unlike the apparent free-for-all on wild hogs, javelina are a managed species in the U.S. and protected by ethical and regulated hunting.
The memorable odor associated names are derived from the fact that they have musky scent glands below their eyes and on their back in the hip region. Often they can be seen rubbing their jowls on each other’s back to share scent which helps identify members of their herds.
This musky dorsal gland emits pheromones when they are startled or stressed or when they are marking territory which can range from as little as a few to several hundred acres. Often a javelina can be smelled long before it is seen.
Most sources claim they have poor eyesight but after hunting them, I’d have to strongly disagree. While eyesight may be the poorest of their senses, they can spot movement very easily at distances that push the average compound bow range.
A significant amount of hunters claim javelina meat is stringy and inedible but I doubt the majority of those who say so have even tried to make a meal out of them. Several hunters would claim hogwash and actually find them to be a great addition to the freezer and household menu.
Forums about hunting and caring for them in the field will try to convince you to do everything from field-dressing them or performing the gutless method immediately, getting the hide off as soon as possible, wearing multiple sets of gloves and using multiple knives and so on. Hogwash on this too.
With the exception of general field-dressing or the gutless method immediately post-harvest if one chooses to do so, it makes no difference in the quality or taste of the meat whether you skin them immediately or not. There is also no difference whether you wear gloves or not or even if you use the same knife to process several at a time.
Use common sense. If it’s hot out, care for your game. If nighttime temps dip and daytime highs are in the 60s, simply hanging them in the shade a day or two never did any javelina meat any harm. Another common sense tip is to not cut that musky dorsal gland if you don’t want everything in your camp to smell like skunk.
From personal experience in our camps, we wait until we have a handful of animals before the processing begins. Each javelina is field dressed and hung in the shade. Then we break out the assembly line when it is worth it.
No one uses gloves. No one worries about changing their knives. And we will even rotate jobs. Skin em, quarter and cut them up, wash in clean water, de-bone them and then freeze. After this, cook them or process how you choose.
I get it. Not everyone has time to process their own meat. There are enough of us that hunt together every year though that we make a holiday out of it.
Some connoisseurs slap those tenderloins raw into the skillet with some eggs or potatoes and say it is the best meat ever. Some will cube and slow cook it making green chili or soups and stews. Some make sausage and I can’t imagine eating biscuits and gravy without it. Hot Italian, summer, breakfast, chorizo, brats and I feel like I’m turning into Forrest and Bubba on the floor of the barracks.
There is a trick though. Half of the mix is pork shoulder and the amount of spices are doubled. The javelina and pork should be cubed into two inch chunks and mixed in a cooler with the spices and left to sit up to 48 hours chilled but not completely thawed. Then, the mix can be run through a quarter-inch grinder plate and packaged directly in one pound bags or put into a stuffer for filling casings.
Any wild game sausage recipe will do so be mindful of your flavor preferences and experiment in small batches. If you desire summer sausage, the same javelina to pork ratio works good and again go heavy on the spices, except the salt, before you stuff and smoke it.
In plastic bags or casings wrapped in butcher paper, the end result will last several years in a chest freezer without sacrificing flavor or mouth feel.
We all know wild game meat is lean and that you have to cook it low and slow. Poor flavor and meal experiences are the result of poor cooking and not the animal or hunter themselves if the meat is cared for properly in the field.
When your recipes call for sausage, now you have something that will add a depth of flavor Jimmy Dean can’t mass produce. Add it to meatballs, meatloaf, spaghetti, lasagna, country pepper gravy, tacos, chili dogs, plain old chili, burgers, stews, chili verde, tamales and then some.
If you’ve never hunted javelina, I’d encourage you to get a tag and go for it. Like anything, it can be frustrating if you don’t see them but when you do, the stalk and sometimes success that comes with harvesting one is a blast. There are multiple seasons where I’m from and multiple opportunities give you a chance to learn fast. Plus, they are just a fun animal to watch.
And if you do hunt them, don’t let anyone tell you they can’t be eaten. We do ourselves a huge disservice by not experimenting. And if you’re looking for ways to cook them up or tips for processing, don’t hesitate to ask. Get yourself some of that skunk pig and cook it up at your next BBQ. I’ll be waiting for an invite.