As one person referred to shooting a feral hog from a helicopter: “This is a hunters' trifecta!” Hunting, hogs and a helicopter—all at one time. Texas is the only state in the U.S. that will allow any wild animal to be killed from a helicopter. That animal is the feral hog, sometimes referred to by Texas land owners as the “400-lb rat.”
Texas House Bill 716, Section 43-102 takes effect on Sept. 1, 2011. It is the authorizing document for a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD)-administered program. The actual name of the bill is the Texas Hog Depredation Act, but is fondly referred to by Texans as the “Pork Chopper” bill. TPWD has had an aerial shooting authorization in effect prior to HB 716, but it was somewhat convoluted and placed the cost of depredation directly on the land owner. Many could not afford the price. This new bill relieves the private owner of the cost, which basically will transfer to the shooters or hunters, who will be paying for the privilege of shooting from a helicopter.
Why such drastic action by state lawmakers? There’s a simple answer. These wild porkers are taking over the state’s agricultural land and are even moving into the outskirts of some urban areas. We’re talking millions of hogs here, not just a few thousand. Less than 10 years ago the estimate of the Texas feral hog population was 2.2 million and today it is over 4 million and climbing rapidly. Texans can brag that they have over half the feral hog population of the U.S. within state borders.
In Texas, feral hogs cause more than $400 million in damages to crops, fences, irrigation ditches, livestock, wildlife, golf courses and even yards each year. They carry a number of diseases, some of which are transferable to humans and livestock. Hog brucellosis, pseudo-rabies, tuberculosis, trichinosis, hog cholera, anthrax, tularemia, six varieties of stomach worms, Lyme disease—and of course fleas, ticks and lice—are all part of the package. And they almost breed exponentially.
Enter the helicopter. Of all the methods tried for control such as no season, no limit hunting, trapping and snaring, the helicopter and aerial shooting have proven to deliver the best results. As an example, ground hunting usually produces a kill of six to eight per hour or, at best, 60 hogs a day. Helicopter shooting, on a good day, could produce 30 per hour. Even with those statistics, aerial shooting for the past 12 months has resulted in an estimated kill of only 70,000 hogs, a drop in the bucket, so far. The new regulations should elevate that number.
The word is getting out to the hunting community nationwide and there appears to be no limit to the number of hunters just waiting to get their first “Pork Chopper.” Helicopter operators are reporting inquiries from every state including Alaska and Hawaii. One such operator, Vertex Heliservices of Houston—already an experienced aerial hunting company—has established a social media marketing program along with a traditional program aimed specifically at safety and training for the average hog hunter who is stepping into a new and unfamiliar world of shooting from a moving aerial vehicle at a moving target.
Look for the full story, including Pat Gray’s first-hand experience hog hunting with Vertex Heliservices, in the October issue of Rotor & Wing.