Hunting Feral Hogs From The Sky
Texas Feral Hog Hunters Are Shooting From The Sky. And Somebody’s Making A Lot Of Money.
By Brad Goins
Since 2011, it’s been legal to shoot feral hogs from helicopters in Texas. The practice, which one can imagine generating some pretty colorful journalistic stories, may now have been going on so long that it’s ceased to rouse much interest in this country.
This year, the two big stories about aerial hog hunting in Texas came from Britain, in articles published in the spring by the U.K. news service Reuters and by the prominent London newspaper The Daily Telegraph. The New York Times also ran a feature on the Texas phenomenon at about the same time.
Texas media seems to have grown downright blasé when it comes to the hunting phenom. This March, the Houston Chronicle did run a nuts and bolts story explaining to aerial hunters what licenses they need and so forth. Aside from that, it’s been mighty quiet in the Lone Star State. Even a summer legislative bill to make it legal to hunt from a hot air balloon only managed to generate a few ripples in state media.
It’s a little odd that attention to this trend has waned to such an extreme degree. Aside from the obvious photographic opportunities offered by images of hunters shooting from helicopters, the basic aerial hunting story is a fairly interesting one — not least of all because of its business aspects.
Reuters reported that Texas is closing in on 3,000 paid helicopter hunts a year. Consumers can spend up to $50,000 on a single helicopter hunting package.
Go Hog Wild … With Promotion!
As of spring, the state of Texas has authorized 150 businesses to offer consumers the opportunity to hunt feral hogs (and in some cases, other nuisance animals) from helicopters. I decided to briefly look at a small representative sample of these businesses.
Skyhunter Outfitters promises “The Ultimate Helicopter Hog Hunting Experience of a Lifetime!” — with exclamation point and all. Shooting grounds are an hour from Dallas. A big box in the middle of the home page highlights the words “Get ready to go … Hog Wild!”
Then there’s Pork Choppers Aviation of Haskell, Texas — an operation for those who are “looking for the best damn hog hunting experience out there … We offer the most memorable and adrenaline-packed experience in the industry.” Note that those in the business are referring to the business as an “industry.”
If you don’t want to shoot from the air, but do want someone to get rid of the pest animals on your property, the staff of Pork Choppers are on hire to do the job themselves.
The Houston-based Heli Hog Hunt makes promises just as big as those of its competitors (or as big as Texas, one might say). Promotional copy offers this hunting and consuming advice:
“Do not be fooled by the pretenders. HeliHogHunt [here spelled as one word] is the original, the professional, the ultimate in helicopter hunting and aerial gunnery adventures.”
These adventures will be “an absolute blast, literally.” If we take those words exactly as they’re written — that is, if we take them literally — they mean the consumer will in fact experience an actual blast of some sort: in short, a real blast, rather than an adrenaline rush or some other phenomenon that takes place separately from a three-dimensional blast. The consumer might want to make sure he’s in the right head space for such an experience when he climbs into the chopper.
A Real Industry, Apparently
Also promised are aerial hunting experiences that “are the most fun you can treat friends, family or corporate clients to.” That reference to “corporate clients” is a strong indicator that someone is writing about a real industry here.
This new industry has been around long enough to at least get established. A big step in that establishment took place when the country’s best-known gun lover, Ted Nugent, talked to Brett Winterble on SiriusXM in March, 2013. He talked about the fire from the sky industry as if it were already most definitely “a thing.” Said Nugent:
“I took my machine gun in the helicopter — in the Texas hill country — me and my buddy ‘Pigman.’ His name is ‘Pigman’; I’m the Swine Czar. I killed 455 hogs with my machine gun. I did it for Bill Maher and all those other animal rights freaks out there. My haters will hate me more for that.”
Nugent claimed he fired more than 750 rounds a minute from the copter. He said his reason for the hunt was to reduce the amount of damage to the Texas land that is routinely inflicted by feral hogs — the sort of damage that is well known by rural residents of Southwest Louisiana. The meat from the kill, he said, was given to the needy.
“We distributed tons of the most delicious pork to the soup kitchens and homeless shelters of this state. Everything we did was perfect — win, win, win. I had to adjust my halo as I was machine-gunning hogs.”
Even though the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture is presently spending $26 million a year on feral hog control, some major groups do oppose the practice of aerial hunting. The Humane Society is one.
Reuters quoted Jack Mayer, who works at the Savannah River (Georgia) Laboratory and is the author of the book Wild Pigs in the United States. Mayer claims that all the feral hog hunting in the U.S. put together has so far failed to make a significant dent in the feral hog population. “You are not even stemming the tide,” he says.
The Hot Air Balloon Non-Controversy
Since Sept. 1, it’s been legal to shoot feral hogs from hot air balloons in Texas. No one in the entire chain of Texas state government seems to have had significant ethical qualms about this entirely new type of hunting.
In fact, the single Texas representative to offer testimony about the bill expressed only a concern for consumer safety, arguing that hot air ballooning is less strictly regulated than other forms of flight.
Mayer says that a major benefit of hot air balloon hunting is that it gives the hunter a steadier shot than a helicopter flight allows for. There is also, he says, an advantage in the quietness of hot air balloons. Some have complained that the noise of helicopters scares the hogs. As a result, they scatter and become harder for the shooter to hit.
As the hot air hunting venture is only a few weeks old, it’s obviously too early to see whether it will become a real industry. But based on the success of the helicopter experience, it’s way too early to count it out. How the basket of a hot air balloon will react to the kick of a machine gun, I have no idea.