One of the reasons for visiting Japan this winter was to learn how to trap, process and cook wild boar and deer from my uncle and auntie who lives on the Southern tip of Izu Peninsula. Since these posts will contain a lot of bloody pictures and a video of the kill, I contemplated quite a bit whether to share it to this level. However, as I’ve written before on meat consumption, I firmly believe that with our top predators eradicated, we have a responsibility to keep these pest species under control who are now decimating our forests and inhibiting regeneration. And if we must cull the population, we really must show some respect and eat it well with as little waste as possible. Plus, if shit hits the fan, you might come to value this knowledge more than you think.
Through my travels, I’ve been lucky enough to try some of the most highly regarded meat from wagyu beef, mangalitza to iberico pork, but uncle Kinuo’s meat and auntie Kinta’s dishes still remain high in my altar of mind blown food. Their meat was sought after by a Michelin starred restaurant in Tokyo just through word of mouth and that’s a testament to the quality of their meat. No gamey smell or toughness as you’d expect from wild animals, nutty, creamy fat, tender texture. The question is, ‘What is my uncle doing differently from everyone else?’ and ‘How does my auntie cook them so well?’. They are getting older and I decided I had to steal the skills off them sooner rather than later.
I will be going over the capturing, processing and cooking in separate posts. To be fair though, wild boars in Izu are known to have grown fat on acorns, much like Iberico, so it may not be possible to replicate the depth of flavour elsewhere in the world. But I am in no doubt that the process I will share with you will improve the taste regardless. It is also worth noting that my uncle has designed some novel systems to allow him to work on his own at aged 70. These ingenious ideas are definitely worth knowing.
Please be aware before you read on, that some readers may find the following posts distressing. As an ethical omnivore, I am prepared to kill happy animals to eat and hope that by sharing what I’ve learnt in detail, we can shift towards a more sustainable meat consumption that actually tastes fucking great. This post will dig deep into wild boar processing since we didn’t catch any deer this time but the process is exactly the same.
Hunt or Trap?
In order to get the best meat out of a boar, there are several key factors that must be met.
- The blood letting should be performed at the time of the kill. This means that the heart must continue to pump while the blood is allowed to flow out.
- The body, where the bulk of the meat is, must be free of bullets/pellets if a gun is used to put the animal down.
- The body temperature can rise to mid 40’s with the adrenaline and must be cooled down as soon as possible after the kill. Preferably within an hour.
- The gutting and dissection should be performed in a hygienic space to reduce bacterial infestation.
These conditions almost completely eliminate hunting wild boar as an option. The shot (if using a gun) must leave the heart and the brain functioning while disabling the animal which is difficult to execute from a distance. The location of the kill cannot be so far in the mountains that you can’t drag the animal out within a short time window and transport it to a clean space where there is running water close by.
Traps on the other hand, can be set close to a road, above a vehicle for easy loading, for more efficient daily checks and for faster processing after the kill. They allow the hunter to aim for the perfect shot or stab that fulfills the first and second requirements.
Uncle Kinuo has made all of his traps with basic materials from hardware shops rather than purchasing expensive ready made traps. This allows him to stock up on spare parts and fix the gear cheaply. A large male boar is capable of breaking steel wires, or degrading it to a point where it would be dangerous to reuse and ongoing maintenance of traps is something that is required more frequently than I thought.
To explain in more detail, a noose is placed around a metal frame and the wire tightened by compressing the spring into the pvc pipe. The trap is then placed onto a pvc stand allowing the center of the trap to sink which releases the noose around the animal’s leg and tightens it with the pressure being released from the spring. Watch the video below to see the trap in action.
In this model, the trap is anchored to a tree with a diameter of at least 15cm. The wire is set around a bendable frame and the spring is compressed to load the trap. This non-lethal system allows the trap to be loosened if a non-target animal such as a cat/dog or a wondering hiker is caught and can be released unharmed. Note in above pictures that the trap is set in a bottle neck location with bamboo sticks to the sides and large rocks to the top and bottom. This increases the chances of an animal placing their foot onto the trap mechanism.
If a female deer is caught, he uses a baseball bat to knock it unconscious and stabs the animal accurately using the spear shown above. It reduces the cost and the bureaucratic nightmare of bullet traceability in Japan. If a stag or a big boar is caught, he shoots them behind the ear to prioritise safety since they can and will rip their leg off and attack an approaching human.
My uncle has copied the commonly available box trap and built several of these using a welder. The benefit of this is that it is the safest system and you can guarantee the cleanest kill since it is easier to immobilise and lock the animal down to determine the best angle and depth of the spear wound.
The downside to this is that they are costly and labour intensive to make, heavy and cumbersome to set and sometimes takes weeks to lure the boars into the trap. It is also fairly difficult to immobilise the animal from outside of the cage as you can see in the video below. It is possible to make a taser from a car battery and a few bits and bobs from a hardware store, but the difficulty of determining the voltage high enough to knock it unconscious but low enough that it doesn’t stop the heart will vary greatly depending on the size of the animal and it’s a hard one to get right.
After a week and a half of waiting and on the last day of my scheduled stay, 3 boars were caught in a box trap close to home. A mother boar and two babies. It may seem cruel to some but they are the correct target to reduce the population density since wild boars can reproduce very quickly. I stress the fact that they’ve lived a happy life, roaming through the mountains freely and munching wild plants unlike the factory farmed cousins in cages too small to move, covered in their own feces and pumped to their teeth with antibiotics and growth hormones. I will also note that this death could be seen as merciful considering a natural death may involve slow starvation and extended pain in cases of injury or old age.
I watched my uncle kill the mother boar and replicated the process with two baby boars.
- First catch the boar’s muzzle and lock it to the top of the box trap to stop its movement and to expose the area under the throat.
- Use a second snare to lock a front arm, reducing the movement further.
- Spear the boar from the upper chest area where the neck meets and into arteries and veins near the heart.
- Leave to bleed out which could take up to five minutes.
I was taken back by the ferociousness and the power with which the mother boar fought back and understood instinctively how dangerous it is to go near a full blown male boar 80, 90kg in weight attached to a tree by a single thin wire. The pungent wild smell permeated the air and steam was evaporating from the mother boar who fought admirably to her last breath. I watched with absolute fascination as she bled, began to excrete and fell one limb after another as her last gagging breaths left her lungs. I was astonished to gaze eye to eye into a wild animal as it changed from fury to acceptance and finally glazed over with a blue hue. If you are interested and quite sure, watch the video of the moment of the kill below.
We washed the boars roughly in the nearby stream and brought them back to the house. My uncle uses a wheel barrow with a removable V shaped panel that he’s made and ties a couple of strings to stabilise the barrow when off loading animals from the truck.
Once back at the house, we washed the body and legs thoroughly using a coarse brush, removing as much dirt, blood and fecal matter as possible. We left one baby boar in a river and the other in a bathtub to cool while we began working on the mother. Check back on part 2 of the series for the next stage of processing.