They are destructive, elusive, and they're taking over Texas. Feral hogs are spreading so rapidly, wildlife officials are searching for ways to control them. A law that just took effect this fall has hunters paying big money to shoot hogs from the air, also known as "pork choppering."
I am particularly interested in efforts to control feral hogs in Texas, because of what they do to my lawn several times a year. Maybe you've seen the damage hogs can do in your neighborhood, as they root around for food, but where they've really taken a toll is out on farms and ranches where they ruin fields and kill livestock. So now, land owners are calling in air support.
Hunters from all over Texas, and other states, are paying about $500 an hour to take aim at feral hogs from a helicopter.
Stephan Charles flew in from Tennessee just to do this. He says you can't beat the rush of flying up to 80 miles an hour, while trying to hit a 300 pound hog that's running at 35 miles an hour. He doesn't consider it sport hunting. He thinks of himself as an exterminator.
"Hogs are not indigenous to the United States, and they're spreading and they're causing damage to agriculture and so they need to be controlled in some fashion, you know," said Charles.
Prior to September, it was legal for landowners to hire helicopter companies to shoot hogs for them, but many couldn't afford it. So, this year the legislature passed a law allowing hunters to pay for the chance to ride along and be the gunner.
Mike Morgan says hundreds of hunters have called his company, Vertex Helicopters of Houston, asking to take a mandatory safety course, then head out on hog hunting missions. Morgan supplies the specially modified semi-automatic assault rifles. The hunter pays for ammunition and air time, and the landowner gets free hog control.
"The private hunters, which there are no shortage of, are basically subsidizing the program now," said Morgan.
Within a half hour, Stephan Charles gets what he paid for -- taking out five hogs. The last one is a boar that is so big, he wants to land and take a closer look. The thrill of aerial hunting leaves this experienced outdoorsman almost giddy.
No doubt some will disagree, but Morgan argues this is humane.
"We don't just shoot a hog once and leave him there squirming around. We go back and put a number of rounds into it to make sure it's dead, so we don't have any problems with PETA."
With an estimated three million feral hogs in the state and the number growing by twenty percent a year, the aerial hunting industry may be on the verge of going hog wild.
by Jaie Avila