Becoming an Enlightened Carnivore
Outrider helps facilitate responsible hunting experiences
I recently found myself sitting shotgun in a Tahoe, slowly lurching across a field cratered with wide, deep holes.
"See this? This is all because of pigs," says Catherine Manterola, shaking her head from behind the wheel. "They're invasive, they're everywhere, and they're detrimental to the land."
Manterola's family, who runs a cattle and agriculture operation on 3,000 acres of Texas pastureland, is all too familiar with the extreme damage done by feral hogs, who create these deep crevices while rooting for food. According to a study at Texas A&M, there are an estimated 4 to 5 million feral hogs in the United States, and around 2 million of them live in Texas, where they cause a staggering $52 million of damage to Texas agriculture. With a high breeding rate and few natural predators in the area, these numbers are not expected to recede anytime soon.
"You could come out here and shoot 100 pigs in a night and you're not going to make a dent," adds Logan Crable from the backseat. Just minutes earlier, we'd been huddled in the blind together, speaking in hushed whispers and scanning the property for movement. We'd spotted a couple grazing does and a waddling armadillo, but the hogs evaded the deer feeders earlier in the morning.
The two had invited me to join them for a hog hunt at the Bar W in Calvert, where Manterola's family has run a working ranch along the Brazos River for over 150 years. Manterola is also deeply entrenched in the culinary world. She's back in the U.S. after working for Mesamerica, Enrique Olvera's summit on Mexican cuisine, in Mexico City and Kitchen-at-Camont, under Kate Hill, in southwest France.
Crable grew up hunting in Virginia, then worked in fashion and art photography in Brooklyn. He moved to Savannah, Ga., to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he opened a coffee shop and art gallery. When Crable moved to Austin three years ago – drawn here by the city's active outdoor lifestyle – he founded Outrider, an online marketplace that connects landowners to hunters. While Airbnb acts as a portal that facilitates leases and rentals for condos, houses, hostels, and other types of short-term lodging, Outrider focuses on plots of land (with a minimum of 11 acres) suitable for hunting. It's a lucrative business in a state where $1.7 billion is spent annually on hunting related sales, yet 97% of the land is privately owned.
"When I moved to Texas, I found myself totally locked out of the hunting world," says Crable, who didn't know any landowners when he relocated to Austin. He found corresponding online resources to be scarce.
"Finding an expensive weekend trophy hunt was easy, but finding more affordable single-day access was near impossible," says Crable. "I was just looking to spend time outdoors and fill my freezer. And after digging around forums and talking with hunters, I realized that I was not the only one with this problem."
Outrider currently lists more than 150 hunting opportunities and just recently launched an app in the Android store. Users can search by location (currently across 13 states, with limited listings in Mexico, Canada, and even Argentina) or species (like whitetail deer, axis deer, wild boar, dove, duck, turkey, and alligator). Landowners' offerings include half-day and full-day hunts, plus overnight and weekend-long hunts with lodging. Some will also offer cleaning, processing, and meal preparation for additional fees.
The Manterola family is one of the 40 Texas landowners who began working with Outrider when they beta launched last fall. The partnership has allowed them to monetize their land while eradicating a fraction of the feral boar destroying it.
"As a new outfitter in an area known more for cattle and agriculture than for hunting, Outrider has been a key component in connecting the Bar W with folks in our area looking for a place to hunt," says Manterola. "Beyond just being a platform to list hunts, the Outrider team has been so supportive and helpful when setting up our hunting packages and even helped us set competitive and fair pricing."
Shooting a trophy buck at the Bar W Wildlife Division will cost you over $2,000 (an average rate in Texas), but a wild boar is just $200 for the first, and $100 for each additional hog shot by the same hunter. And while most game animals are regulated by a hunting season and management plans decided upon by regional biologists, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department allows hunters to kill invasive wild boar year-round with no limitations. In recent years, companies have even surfaced offering heli-hunting, and just this past spring, Texas lawmakers approved the hunting of hogs from hot air balloons.
Crable says Outrider's user-friendly platform and affordable options – plus the accessibility of year-round hog hunting in Texas – attracts a mix of experienced hunters, first-timers, and everyone in between.
"Hunting for the first time can be very intimidating, with a lot of barriers to entry," says Crable. "We've found that our landowners and outfitters sometimes prefer working with hunters that are doing it for the first time or just getting back into it. They enjoy the educational element and the gratification of being present for one's first harvest."
When I first arrived in Calvert, Manterola asked me what appealed to me about hunting. Save for a brief vegetarian stint bridging high school to college, I've always been an omnivore. I've also always been aware of the many implications of eating meat, yet felt a palpable disconnect between animal and plate. I was nervous – to be sure – but felt like I should experience a hunt to truly understand and appreciate the sacrifice that comes with each harvest.
We began that afternoon with rifle target shooting. I grew up in suburban New Jersey and didn't shoot a gun until moving to Texas 12 years ago. Even then, I'd only used pistols during my occasional shooting range visits.
"Guns are intimidating and they should be," said Manterola, showing me how to handle, load, and unload a .243 Savage rifle. "I teach and preach gun safety almost to exhaustion."
I was gravely aware of the power resting against my shoulder and felt my palms become instantly clammy. I made each move slower than the next, took a deep breath and peered through the scope with a yoga-like gaze before squeezing the trigger. I was just as surprised as my hunting buddies when I nailed the center of a wine box about a hundred yards away ... several times.
After huddling in the blind until sundown, Manterola admitted she'd never actually shot a pig from a blind, but rather spotted them in transit from water to woods. And sure enough, it was on our way back to the cabin that we encountered a pack of at least 20 black pigs scattering toward the forest edge when caught in our headlights. But with black calves all around us in the darkness and no spotlight on hand, we abandoned mission until the next day.
That night, we settled into Bar W's cozy cabin, with its rustic shiplap walls and denim patchwork pillows. Manterola prepared venison "trash salad" – a ranch favorite involving ground venison, greens, tomato, onion, Fritos, and Catalina dressing – and we cracked open beers around the fire. They patiently answered my many questions about hunting. Crable explained how hunting licenses help fund state game departments and how vital hunters are in the data collection managed by said departments – a key component of conservation and wildlife management.
"Texas does a great job at understanding the hunting culture and the hunting economy," said Crable. "Every landowner guiding hunts has a very good idea of what's on his property and what can be managed or taken for his herd to increase or be leveled."
"Avid hunters are the best conservationists," added Manterola. "Because we want to shoot bigger, healthier deer and doe. We want a healthy population."
The next morning, we rose before the sun, sweeping the property with a green spotlight in search of the largely nocturnal hogs, to no avail. We peered out from a different blind – no whispers this time, just patient silence as the sun gradually brightened the land. And it was once we decided to pack up and were making the bumpy drive across the hog-dug trenches that we spotted two pigs, making their way back from market (or the Brazos River, as it were).
"PIGS!" yelled Manterola, stepping on the gas and barreling forward. "Who's shooting?"
"I'll do it," I said, taking the rifle from Crable and doing my best to steady my adrenaline-roused hands once we'd come to a stop. I'll admit, shooting something from 75 yards away on the first shot was an exhilarating feeling. The beast spun around and then took off running again – something I'd been warned would likely happen. (Due to their incredibly thick skin, hogs often need to be shot more than once.)
"Those things are like cockroaches," said Manterola as Crable took off running into the woods after it. As we pulled the vehicle up, we heard two more shots and my eyes grew wide as reality set in. I knew the hardest part was yet to come. We climbed through thick brush to find Crable and the defeated hog, which they guessed to be around 75 pounds. I stared at it, feeling a strange mix of disbelief, sadness, pride, and excitement.
My hunting companions showed me how to harvest, field dress, and clean the hog. At first, the bloody scene was difficult to watch, as expected, but it got easier. I reminded myself of all the bacon and pork belly I've consumed in my life and willed myself to accept the reality behind that. Pretty soon, I found myself rolling up my sleeves and assisting.
Manterola pointed out how lean the ribs were and gave tips for roasting perfect tenderloins as we cut out the backstraps. While some hunters choose to take the animal elsewhere for processing, she will gladly provide butchering and cooking demonstrations to anyone who hunts their land.
"I encourage all our hunters to take the time to break down their meat and use every piece – from meat to offal to bones," she says. "That, to me, is my definition of sustainable and responsible."
That day I drove back to Austin, a more enlightened carnivore with a cooler full of wild boar meat, unable to fathom how anyone could let life go to waste by hunting only for sport. I'm glad companies like Outrider are helping to shed light on ethical practices and hope they can outshine the unscrupulous hunters who give the industry a bad name (i.e., the Trump administration's recent reversal of the 2014 ban on trophy imports).
"There are definitely some bad actors out there, but in both my personal and professional experience, I've found that hunters are a passionate bunch who both love and respect the animals they hunt," says Crable. "Our hope is to help give hunting a new narrative – or just help articulate an existing dialogue surrounding sustainability that's not being heard by the mainstream."
Wild Food ClassesFor more information and education on sustainable hunting, check out the following resources:
Dai DueThis is chef/owner Jesse Griffiths' eighth year leading excursions through the New School of Traditional Cookery. Hunting classes are offered in the fall, winter and spring, and fishing classes run during the summer, with a focus on gathering food and preservation.
Salt & TimeThis Eastside restaurant and butcher shop also offers classes like Hog Butchery 101, Intermediate Hog Butchery, and Sausage Making, with all meat provided.
Feral AustinFeral makes it possible for hunters to put each animal's body to utmost use by offering one-on-one butchering and sausage-making instruction, culinary hunts and hourly workspace rates, plus a need-based sliding scale.
Central Texas Meat CollectiveJulia Poplawsky, formerly a butcher at Dai Due, started this collective with Leah Gibson of Boxcar Farm & Garden in San Marcos, to bring sustainable hands-on meat education to Central Austin. Classes offered include Turkey 101, Butchery for the Home Cook, The Whole Bird (chicken raising, slaughtering, and butchering) and more.