Culling feral hogs from the sky in Texas
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[June 12, 2017]
By Michael Hirtzer
(Reuters) - In Texas, the pigs do not fly
but the hunters do.
Tourists looking for ever more thrilling holidays are taking to the
skies above Texas to shoot wild hogs as part of the state's effort to
limit the spread of an invasive species that annually causes millions of
dollars in damage to farmland and livestock nationally.
For up to $50,000, people can hunt the feral hogs from a helicopter and
even use a machine gun to mow them down.
"There's only so many places in the world you can shoot machine guns out
of a helicopter and no one shoots back," said Chris Britt, co-owner of
HeliBacon, one of the companies offering the aerial hog hunts.
HeliBacon says its customers alone gunned down about 10,000 feral hogs
in the last 18 months, but that barely makes a dent in the Texas'
population of more than 2 million, a total higher than any other state.
There were 2,752 helicopter hog hunts in Texas last year, up 81 percent
from 2011, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department data. About
34,400 hogs were killed in those hunts, up 53 percent.
The total U.S. population of the hogs is estimated at more than 6
million, and state and federal government officials are increasing
efforts to rid themselves of the pesky animals.
There are nearly 150 companies and individuals permitted to hunt
invasive feral hogs from helicopters as part of the Texas' so-called
pork chopper bill passed in 2011. State legislators last month sent a
bill to Governor Greg Abbott that would allow hog hunting from hot air
At HeliBacon, based south of Dallas, packages for two start at about
$3,600 and corporate group packages cost as much as $50,000, including
airfare, lodging, ammunition, trophy photos and upgrades from semi- to
fully automatic firearms.
"They love it," Britt said of his customers that include father-and-son
trips and groups from the oil industry. "They don't take the meat, it
becomes vulture food."
Animals rights activists are not fans.
"The Humane Society of the United States opposes the use of aerial
gunning – whether from a helicopter or a hot air balloon – as a means of
resolving conflicts with wildlife populations because it is
unnecessarily cruel, dangerous and costly compared to other wild pig
control methods," said Samantha Hagio, a director at the agency.
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However, aerial hunting is one of the most effective ways to
eradicate hogs in open areas such as Texas fields of corn and rice
that are destroyed, said Jack Mayer, manager of environmental
sciences at Georgia's Savannah River Laboratory and author of "Wild
Pigs in the United States."
Even so, hunting and trapping are not keeping up with the rate of
breeding and the feral herd continues to grow.
"You are not even stemming the tide," Mayer said by phone.
Wild boars were brought to Texas and released for hunting in the
1930s. They bred with free-ranging domestic animals and escapees
that had adapted to the wild, according to the Smithsonian. Since
hogs, wild or otherwise, are not native to the United States, they
have no predators and proliferated across Texas and other states.
About $25.55 million was appropriated this year to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture to tackle feral hogs on the national level
and the agency is testing unmanned drones to track the hogs that
thrive in swamps and forests, said Dale Nolte, the USDA's feral
swine program manager.
Helicopter hunting already is allowed in Louisiana and Oklahoma
legislators are considering a bill that would permit aerial hunts
Hot air balloons could allow hunters to approach hogs more quietly
than a helicopter or give shooters a steadier shot, Mayer said.
In South Carolina, where aerial hog hunting is not permitted, farmer
Rusty Kinard pays a local hunter $25 for each hog killed on his
land. Still, there are hundreds near his fields and the hogs ate
through nearly 30 acres (12 hectares) of peanuts last month.
"We will kill them suckers, every one we can," he said.
(Reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Editing by Marguerita
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